‘As trans people, we have a history of resistance of which we should be proud. Trans warriors stood up to the slave-owners, the feudal landlords, and the capitalist bosses. Today, as trans warriors we are joining the movement for a just society in greater and greater numbers. By raising the demands of our trans movement within the larger struggle for change, we are educating people about our oppression, winning allies, and shaping the society we’re trying to bring into being.
None of us will be free until we have forged an economic system that meets the needs of every working person. As trans people, we will not be free until we fight for and win a society in which no class stands to benefit from fomenting hatred and prejudice, where laws restricting sex and gender and human love will be unthinkable.
Look for us – transgender warriors – in the leadership of the struggle to usher in the dawn of liberation.’
Leslie Feinberg, Transgender Warriors: From Joan of Arc to Denis Roman
These were the ending words of one of the first and only Marxist histories of transgender struggle and liberation.
Transgender (or trans) people are persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behaviour does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.
Trans people are one of the most marginalised and stigmatised groups within the working class. With disproportionate levels of homelessness, unemployment, discrimination in healthcare and incarceration. Many trans people rely on self-medication or getting a private prescription due to the hostility of doctors and in order to attain that, many of us may end up resorting to survival sex work, or hiding who we are in order to sustain employment.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer (LGBT) politics are generally recognised within the mainstream left and trade union movement. But this is at best a benign neglect. This is even more so in the Marxist-Leninist movements, especially for trans people. It is well known that the austerity policies in Europe and elsewhere disproportionately affect people of colour, indigenous people, women and disabled people. But the inclusion of LGBT people, especially trans people is fundamental in a dialectical materialist analysis of the current situation. An emerging proletarian feminism has emerged in recent years to try and tackle this lack of inclusion of LGBT people in Marxist theory, predominantly from a Maoist perspective. However, this has mostly come from the United States, where the situation for trans people, especially trans women of colour is increasingly worse. What can we learn from this? More importantly, where are the transgender warriors that Feinberg told us about?
We have our own histories of resistance throughout the world, in many varieties and forms. However, one of the most crucial parts of mobilising in the current conditions is to recognise past struggles, learn from them and be inspired by those accomplishments. Whilst Sylvia Rivera is a prominent trans activist, less is known about her other work. One of Sylvia Rivera’s first actions was to protest the Vietnam War draft and following the Stonewall Riots, she began to work with the Young Lords Party, a Marxist-Leninist group comprised of Puerto Rican youth. She and her comrade, Marsha P. Johnson set up the organisation STAR (Street Transvestite [later re-named Transgender] Action Revolutionaries) and publicly displayed one of its first banners at a demonstration alongside the Young Lords (Feinberg 2006; Gilligan). The peak of anti-imperialist thought in the global north, alongside the emergence of the modern LGBT liberation movement presented what some so-called socialists and communists today would shudder in horror about, Marxist-Leninist solidarity and support for trans people. However, this wasn’t without the exclusion of many trans people at the time and has its own issues of US-centric narratives of LGBT people. The main argument here however is that trans liberation begins in anti-imperialism and requires ending imperialist warfare, both domestic and international in order to achieve a society where we can live in safety. As well as this, this piece will enforce the principle that without socialism, there will be no trans liberation and without trans liberation, there will be no socialism.
In more contemporary history in the global south, the Communist Party of the Philippines stated support for trans people and that the New People’s Army allows anyone to decide their own gender (Outrage Staff). Within socialist countries now such as Cuba, gender affirmation surgery is provided free, as is the constitutionally guaranteed right to free, universal healthcare to all Cubans. In 2012, Adela Hernández was elected to the municipal council of Caibarién in the Villa Clara Province, the first trans person to be elected in public office in Cuba. While in Cuba these important social gains have been fought for and given to trans people, which capitalist country does it? In Turkey, not only do trans people have to pay for surgery, the chances of employment even after attaining gender affirmatoin surgery and changes in documentation are still very low, alongside a lack of family and community support and high levels of violence and even murder of trans people, mostly trans women. This has been the case for trans women in Venezuela, until the efforts of black, working class trans women like Rummie Quintero (who applied as a candidate in the elections for the Constituent Assembly) and the Bolivarian Revolution begun the slow, but steady progress of opportunities for trans people:
In 2012, Rummie received recognition from the president of the National Electoral Council (CNE), Tibisay Lucena, for participating in the regulations for gender parity in candidacies. Quintero took the opportunity to propose a pilot plan for the direct employment of trans, homosexual and lesbian people into the CNE. With this proposal, people like Angela, a young trans person from a working class Caracas neighbourhood managed to gain her first stable job in which her identity and gender expression are respected. (Castrillo and Quintero)
While socialist governments in Latin America provide unprecedented social rights and economic support to women and trans people as victims of gender oppression, in Turkey, trans women are forced by social stigma into sex work after paying for their own gender affirmation surgery! Parliamentary politics in Turkey near universally excludes trans people, just as it increasingly marginalises women, and defence of the gender oppressed is left to illegal organizations which fight against the fascist order’s every manifestation, from gender oppression to the national oppression of the Kurdish people. Ivana Hoffman, who fell within the ranks of an illegal communist party while fighting against ISIS in Rojava became an international symbol of a revolutionary line within the LGBT struggle.
In Syria, The Queer Insurrection Liberation Army (TQILA) has concretely brought the fight for LGBT liberation together with the fight for Kurdish national liberation. While revisionists caught up in the conservative political culture of Brezhnevite official communist parties, in Syria or Turkey or the UK, abandon LGBT rights as “bourgeois identity politics” and the Kurdish national movement for its lack of purity, these two movements have concretely come together in the trenches to fight against the same fascism, their common enemy, for their common liberation!
The struggle of LGBT liberation has always been connected to a communist base in some shape or form (especially in imperialist countries). Trans people however, are uniquely left out in this debate. There is a tendency in the socialist and communist movement to remain hostile to working class elements that aren’t defined by this historical masculinity of the male, heterosexual industrial worker who is the ‘bread winner’ for his nuclear family. Not only is this account of working class families ahistorical and anti-Marxist, it leaves a profoundly negative impact on LGBT people, but this is especially the case for trans people, being almost all working class. Whilst socialists and communists struggle with a dominant white, male chauvinism and rape culture in all its ranks, it is inevitable that this targets and hurts trans people (especially trans women of colour) the most. For many of us, there is no other choice but to join bourgeois trans-inclusive feminist groups to attain at least some mild reform in healthcare and documentation. Within Marxist circles (especially in imperialist countries, where they proclaim being safe havens for trans people), our existence is up for debate in the scholarly guise of ‘gender critical’ politics that only serve the imperialist, capitalist agenda. In reality, these ‘gender critical’ arguments from transphobic so-called feminists are nothing more than a failed attempt to apply an anti-Marxist and mechanical materialist analysis on trans people. Their analysis reinforces biological essentialism, a concept at the very root of patriarchy, in this case used to invalidate the genders of trans people. There is no place for this failed and faulty ‘analysis’ in any revolutionary movement and it is a social duty to ruthlessly destroy any remnants of such bourgeois idealism. Transphobia is incompatible with any Marxist analysis and has done nothing but harm any potential anti-imperialist, working class movement.
Transphobia is therefore nothing more than a consequence of the patriarchal conditions imposed on workers from colonialists and imperialists. It is important to note that Feinberg was aware of this and, Gossett reiterates this by mentioning how:
Leslie showed how queer and transness are weaponized as part of settler colonial logics and imperialist ventures. In a speech at the 2007 ASWAT conference, Leslie stated: “Today we see how the imperialists — the US to Israelis — use the experiences of women, of gays, of transgenders as pretexts for imperialist war. The white supremacist ideology replaces the colonial claim of ‘bringing civilization, into imperialist claims that they are ‘bringing democracy.’
Leslie also pointed out the ways in which the criminalization of gender and sexuality are inseparable from the broader history of coloniality: “The British Mandate brought anti-sodomy laws to Palestine, a legacy the Israeli occupation kept.” Contrary to the common sense of white settler colonial sexuality and its racist and imperialist logics, Leslie emphasized that “sexuality, gender expression and bodies” cannot be “liberated without making a ferocious mobilization against imperialist war and racism an integral part of our struggle.
…Leslie’s critiques of settler colonialism are therefore all the more relevant. Leslie understood that the Palestinian struggle was not singular but rather attached to a wide history of anti-colonial resistance that continues today across the globe: “The Palestinian liberation movement is an anticolonial movement.” In Transgender Warriors Leslie showed the continuities of settler colonialism across space and time and offered historical comparisons between the occupation of Palestine and occupation of Native lands which was contingent upon the genocidal project of the formation of the settler colonial United States. (Gosset)
The times are changing and much like the death of the old Trotskyist left, the death of the bourgeois trans reformist movement is fast approaching and is a necessity to fulfil the emancipation of the working class and especially the trans working class. Now more than ever, Marxists-Leninists of the world should unite in combating any forms of hatred and discrimination of any gender-oppressed people, such as trans people. Working on theory that reflects and expands on the Maoist proletarian feminism is essential in implementing an effective practice that will build socialism and communism that will emancipate all trans working class people. The struggle for trans liberation and liberation for all oppressed genders cannot be successful in isolation from the struggle to overthrow the imperialist system itself.
In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things. (Marx and Engels)
From the beginning, communists have sought to bring together all struggles against the existing social order, the symptoms of class society. Today, the task of Marxist-Leninists remains to bring together the struggles of the poor and oppressed, including transphobia and sexism, with their confluence in the particular violence visited against trans women.
Fascism is the child of imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism. Anti-fascist struggle requires active participation in liberatory struggle, for all oppressed peoples and identities, particularly women and the gender oppressed. In the 21st century, this cannot be excluded from our understanding of “workers and oppressed peoples of the world – unite!”