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Surprisingly, This Is What a Trans Genocide Looks Like

Examining the anti-trans genocide that is quickly picking up steam.

By Alex Mell-TaylorPublished 14 days ago Updated 14 days ago 27 min read
Elvert Barnes Protest Photography at

Everywhere we see people comparing trans existence to an insidious threat, a malicious ideology, indoctrination, contagion, or plague. "The leftwing gender insanity being pushed on our children is an act of abuse," Donald Trump said recently.

Trans people have never been entirely accepted in our society. However, our existence has become more visible in recent years, and with this, we have seen increased calls to end the "trans threat." We are in the midst of a moral panic as a highly motivated portion of our society attempts to legislate trans people out of existence. And because such a thing is impossible, the methods they are resorting to are becoming more and more extreme.

Before rounding people into camps or dumping them into pits, there is the long, deliberate process where those who wish to do harm convince themselves that their path is righteous, and that the other side is ridiculous and undeserving of empathy. In many ways, this latest wave of anti-trans hate started as a joke. The "I identify as something ridiculous" joke, the infamous "one joke" where conservatives, through comedy and speeches, likened trans identity to something inherently absurd. Ted Cruz, for example, infamously said his pronouns were "kiss my ass."

This sentiment has not died down, but a darker element has become more prominent in recent years. Through misinformation texts like Irreversible Damage and the film What Is A Woman?, hate activists have erroneously likened trans identity to something inherently dangerous, especially to children. We have seen people compare trans identity (and queer identity in general) to the act of "grooming" or establishing a relationship with a minor to make them more amenable to sexual acts. This strategy is not unique to trans people and has a long history of being employed for anti-gay rhetoric and, ultimately, anti-semitism.

This language has also not just stayed inside conservative circles either (it was never just there) and has permeated every aspect of our culture. These talking points have been repeated by liberal entertainers such as comedian Dave Chappelle and writer JK Rowling. They have appeared in New York Times editorials and even escaped the lips of loved ones and friends.

This is the backdrop we need to keep and mind as we discuss the steps of genocide. It's never just an immediate jump into killing fields and gas chambers. It begins with words, book bannings, censures, discriminatory policy, and finally, the lighting of a match and the pulling of a trigger.

What is genocide?

The definition of genocide is hotly contested among academics and policymakers. It is usually framed as acts perpetrated by one group intending to destroy parts or the whole of another. For example, sociologist Vahakn Dadrian defined it in 1975 as:

“…an attempt by a dominant group, vested with formal authority and/or with preponderant access to overall resources of power, to reduce by coercion or lethal violence the number of a minority group whose ultimate extermination is held desirable and useful and whose respective vulnerability is a major factor contributing to the decision for genocide.”

Not everyone agrees with this perspective. Some limit genocide to something done solely by a state apparatus, falling outside "legitimate warfare" or to specific groups of people. As with every definition (to any word), there is never a universal consensus, as certain definitions are satisfactory to some and exclude others.

If we are strictly going by the definition set out in the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide — something that has over 150 signatories — then queer people are not included in this scope at all (note this framework was also adopted in the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court). This convention only applies genocide to a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, not a sexual or gender one.

Yet while there is some value in this convention, claiming that a definition, first ratified in 1948, is the only valid one selects an arbitrary line crafted decades before Stonewall and the mainstream movement for LGBTQ+ rights. Queer people were being sent to concentration camps alongside other Holocaust victims, with some being forced to carry out their sentences even after the camps closed. To this day, some countries still have the death penalty for queer people, which have been described as genocides in all but name.

In other words, there is still a systemic effort by political actors, state or otherwise, to eradicate queer people, including trans people, from existence, and that horror deserves to be highlighted.

We will assume that the current UN definition is flawed in this area. Yes, you can include other groups of people that powerful white men may not have considered in the 1940s. If you have problems with that, examine that tension — it might lead you to some interesting places. As Adam Jones wrote in their book titled Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction:

"…the debate over genocide definitions should not blind us to the core problem to be addressed. As the Zen adage has it, let us not mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself….So much energy goes into the definitional struggle, and so much emphasis is put on words that minimize the extent of the event that first, the significance of the event and its enormous human tragedy are written out of existence, and then the event itself becomes as if something else."

Do not howl at the finger-pointing at these anti-trans laws and practices instead of listening to others' pain. As we shall soon see, terrible harm is being done to the trans community, and these cries of genocide are far from unfounded.

We will still be using the UN framework in our analysis because it's the most recognized one, and there is value in utilizing it to critique both what belongs in this definition and what is missing. According to the UN Genocide Convention, there are five main acts of genocide:

  • Killing members of the group.
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

A genocide needs only one of these actions committed with “the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a group” to qualify. If genocide were expanded to gender expression, trans people in the US would currently qualify rather straightforwardly for two of these aspects, one would be debatable, and two would be on their way.

Eradicating trans community

“Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

During many genocides, there is an attempt to strip away the rights of the group the aggressor wants to destroy — a death of a thousand cuts that brings society from a position of tenuous tolerance to one where they are comfortable with the population's death. For example, during the pre-War period in the 30s, Germany passed hundreds of laws against Jewish people, barring them from Civil Service, universities, economic institutions, and much more. The Cambodian Genocide had years leading up to it, where Pol Pot purged more "moderate" communists from leadership. America's Genocide against indigenous tribes not only involved many acts of terrible violence but also laws that "justified" stealing native people's land.

The current moral panic meets this pattern very directly by trying to make trans life more difficult at a systemic level in the hope of laying out a more exterminationist framework further down the road. Transness is merely the questioning of the gender binary (i.e., the false notion that only male and female genders exist). It is not something that can ever truly be eradicated (how can one remove the existence of a question?), but you can make every aspect of gender expression so difficult that trans people cannot exist in public life as who they are.

We are seeing this now with regressive laws that seek to deny trans people, specifically trans children, access to gender-affirming care, such as puberty blockers and hormone treatment, all of which are relatively safe (see Dear Ted Cruz: I Do Regret My Transition). Nearly a hundred bills have been introduced this legislative term, with 11 states proposing the outright criminalization of such healthcare, and the language being used is quite extreme. "'Gender-affirming care' makes about as much sense as 'Depression-affirming care' or 'Schizophrenia-affirming care,'" rightwing author John Hawkins commented on an NPR story, "There are few things sicker and more evil than encouraging mental illness in children."

Framing this group as mentally ill or not in their right minds gives these actors the rhetorical power to legislate us away under the banner of “curing” us (see also conversion therapy). If we are not really capable of making decisions, then surely one can use the power of the state to deny our wants and desires under the banner of safety.

From departments of health gatekeeping same-sex marriage to sanitation being used to justify racial segregation, this is a frequent argument brought out by reactionary conservatives, and the reasoning is ultimately exterminationist. One does not frame a group as “unclean” and expects for them to be on equal footing. Nazis were also framing their genocide under the rhetoric of health, depicting Jews as a pestilence or virus that must be dealt with. It’s a common tactic to use the language of safety as a pretext to hurt others.

This anti-trans "safety" rhetoric is seen not only in laws, but also with the executive offices of conservative governments trying to close the door to this vital healthcare. The Texas Attorney General's office has called prescribing puberty blockers "child abuse" under state law. Missouri officials have begun investigating a transgender youth clinic using this very language. Missouri’s Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey saying: "We take this evidence seriously and are thoroughly investigating to make sure children are not harmed by individuals who may be more concerned with a radical social agenda than the health of children." Dozens of similar investigations have been opened nationwide, with the end goal of shutting this care down.

There is also the most straightforward prohibition, which is legal recognition. The ability for someone's new name and pronouns to be reflected in public documents has been seriously resisted in recent years. Montana passed a ban recently on changing the gender on one's birth certificate (though it has thankfully been blocked by a judge). Tennessee, Oklahoma, and West Virginia have similar laws, and more are being introduced in legislatures across the country.

Finally, we have the ability to exist in public spaces, which a government can seriously hamper. Employment and housing protections technically exist for gender discrimination (see Bostock v. Clayton County for employment and Biden's HUD executive order, respectively), but these rights are very tenuous. Housing is protected under an executive order, and that takes simply one bad election to reverse course, and of course, just because these rights exist on paper doesn't mean they are enforced universally. Trans people report discrimination in this area all the time.

With employment, those rights are enshrined via the Supreme Court, but all over the country, states have been attempting to carve out exemptions, particularly of a religious nature. A case out of Texas, in particular, had a lower court rule that businesses could discriminate against employees under this rationale, and it is currently being deliberated by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Time will tell if courts narrow their scope enough to legally push for such exemptions, as we have seen with abortion, or if these rights established in Bostock will indeed hold.

In other areas of public life, state and local governments have also passed legislation to limit trans people's use of their preferred bathroom or to play in a sports team that reflects their gender of choice. Drag shows have likewise been targeted in this moral panic. These are not specifically about transgender people (Drag Queens and Kings embody a gender expression, not necessarily a Trans gender identity), but when your view of gender is so regressive, any deviation is viewed as dangerous. These laws are, again, about whether trans people can exist publically. Even if these laws, in some cases, only affect a minority within a minority, it's ultimately about signaling to the trans community that we should not feel safe in this country.

We see above a network of laws and government actions; all meant to make trans identity more difficult and ultimately push for its eradication. Without even going into the other steps, these laws, taken together, constitute an act of genocide, and unfortunately, we are just getting started.

Removing Trans Parents

“Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

It is common during genocides to remove children of a hated group away from their parents so they can be reared "correctly" by members of the aggressor group. Tens of thousands of Aboriginal Children in Australia were, for example, taken from their families via assimilation policies. The governments of the United States and Canada often took children away from their tribes through state-boarding schools so that they could lose connection with their language, religion, and culture.

A quick note: this is one of the only elements of "Cultural Genocide" that remained within the original UN definition. This was a battle that lawyer and scholar Raphael Lemkin, a key party in the UN Genocide Convention and originator of the term genocide, ultimately lost, as the current definition only includes physical and biological elements. Lemkin wanted culture to be at the forefront of this new word because he perceived genocide as attacking the identity of a people or group, but these elements were not retained for various reasons, including signing parties such as the United States and the United Kingdom being uncomfortable with them. The fact that these countries have perpetuated cultural genocide was probably just a “coincidence.”

This omission is frustrating because there are hallmark elements of cultural genocide happening right now within the United States when it comes to trans people that would not meet the UN's definition, even if gender expression were recognized. In states such as Florida, legislation has surfaced that requires the education department to review all literature that will be viewed by children, and a lot of queer literature is being removed as a result.

From Missouri to Louisiana, we see similar moves in school boards across the country, and the pretext given is usually to "protect" children from sexually charged content. The Missouri law aims to ban "sexually explicit content," bigotedly interpreting the mere presence of queer people in a narrative as sexual. These books are being purged from schools and libraries in an effort to tell a more sanitize history where Trans and other Queer people do not exist.

If you want to destroy a people, you have to destroy the idea of them. Community cannot be born if you do not know about what resources and histories are out there. In removing the history of our queer ancestors, conservative exterminationists can depict deviations from the gender binary as current anomalies rather than natural outgrowths of expression we have seen throughout history.

Yet even disregarding this larger element of cultural genocide happening to trans people right now and simply focusing on the removal of children, the current moral panic is quickly moving to meet this criterion. All over the United States, Republicans are introducing and passing bills that would criminalize parents who support their trans children — hence, removing them from their care — and it's the same logic as the book bannings above.

In Florida, a recently introduced bill (Senate Bill 254) would grant Florida courts emergency custody of kids who receive gender-affirming care. According to Yahoo News, the justification for this law comes from the same statute that “protects” children from domestic violence and abuse. The law reading:

“A court of this state has temporary emergency jurisdiction if the child is present in this state and the child has been abandoned or it is necessary in an emergency to protect the child because the child, or a sibling or parent of the child, is subjected to or threatened with mistreatment or abuse or is at risk of or is being subjected to the provision of sex reassignment prescriptions or procedures….

Likewise, the Governor of Texas last year directed the Texas Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) to begin investigating the parents of trans teens for child abuse. These investigations have been temporarily blocked by an Austin judge against members of the LGBTQ+ parents organization PFLAG, but only because the scope of the directive was deemed too broad. The governor’s office is still fighting the injunction in court, and the Republican legislature is pushing to change the law legally to criminalize such medical care outright. If that were to happen, these investigations could theoretically resume.

As we can see from the examples above (and the many others being lobbied for across the country), the rhetoric of "child abuse" and "mistreatment of children" is being used to justify the transfer of trans children from a safe, loving environment toward one that will break their identity. This is a mass relocation waiting to happen, and while we are not quite at the level of every trans child being ripped away from their parents, the legal framework for that horror is being built now.

Inflicting harm

“Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group”

We have so far been focusing on the discriminatory elements of these laws, but harm is a large part of many genocides, as oppressor groups mutilate, rape, and torture their intended targets. Again, queer people were also interned during the Holocaust, alongside and, in some cases intersecting with other persecuted groups such as Jews and Roma. Nazis intent on finding a "cure" performed horrific experiments on queer inmates.

This rationale is very similar to today's conversion therapy, where there is an attempt to cure a queer person using pseudoscientific methods. This practice is legal in over half of all US states and has been described by a UN Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity as akin to torture. Some studies have indicated that conversion therapy correlates highly with increased suicide. One anonymous person in The Guardian claimed that sleep deprivation was used on them for years to make them more compliant:

“I would get there on a Friday evening, in time for mass. I would have food, and then it was time for prayer, which went on until 1am. Then I’d be allowed to go to sleep, but I had to be up for 6am for another mass. The lack of sleep was deliberate — to make you more compliant. It’s simple — if you’re tired, you’re more likely to agree to things.

After morning mass, I’d sit for hours and hours in an office with someone talking at me. And I genuinely mean talk at me, I never got to speak. “You’re not gay, you’re not gay,” they said repeatedly. “Why do you think you’re gay?” They tried to convince me that being gay was a terrible choice. I told them that I wasn’t gay, it wasn’t my sexuality that I was in conflict with — [but] my gender identity, or what I now call it: that I was transgender….

Over time, I became withdrawn. To be told for hours at a time that what you say is wrong, you learn that it’s better to say nothing at all. It went on like this for three years. I didn’t have anybody to help me — and I started to believe that, actually, they might be right. I collapsed mentally — I was doubting my gender, my sexuality, my own mind.”

This practice is still happening to children all over the United States, and there is an effort from anti-trans legislatures to expand this tortuous practice. In Indiana, for example, a bill (Senate Bill 350) was introduced to prevent regulation of this practice throughout the state. While trans advocates have had some victories in banning conversion therapy, especially for children, it remains an uphill battle in most of the US.

It should likewise be noted that forcing a trans person to "detransition" (i.e., moving away from their previously preferred gender, either willfully or by force) or denying a trans person care outright is a type of harm. If I, as an assigned male at birth or AMAB person, were to stop taking estrogen right now, I would start experiencing hot flashes and go through some menopausal symptoms. It wouldn't kill me, but it wouldn't be a pleasant experience.

Many trans people, including children, currently have developed entire identities around their preferred genders. Girls, boys, and enbys who have delayed their puberty or started going on hormones, some even going stealth (i.e., not letting anyone know they are trans), now have to experience that work being undone in states such as Tennessee. Girls whose voices are cracking. Boys who can no longer grow facial hair. That is traumatizing, and that's not to mention the danger that people who pass may suddenly find themselves in as they lose the ability to move through such spaces seamlessly.

Now returning to the criteria of genocide above, notice how the UN definition frames harm here, not just physiologically or biologically, but psychologically. There is mental harm that comes with these anti-trans prohibitions. The suicide attempt rate for trans people is already high, sitting at 40%, and is even higher for ideation. However, research shows this lessens significantly when giving trans people access to gender-affirming care and good support networks.

Conservatives often frame this reality as selfishness — as if trans people are throwing temper tantrums to get their way — but even this justification is unusually cruel. Puberty blockers are relatively safe (anyone who tells you differently is spreading misinformation). By denying someone something vital to their mental health because they aren't "asking nicely enough for it," one is still doing harm.

And as we know, this justification anti-trans legislators are spreading is a lie. One of the most prominent reasons trans people detransition is because of social stigma, discrimination, and family pressures. One of the biggest reasons trans people feel suicidal is because of the same reasons. While some people willfully detransition because they are done experimenting with this aspect of expression, in many cases, anti-trans advocates cause that pressure. They are not the "cure" but the harm. They then try to gaslight trans people into believing we are selfish and broken.

Stopping Trans Birth

“Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.”

This is where the UN definition is again severely limited because while this act applies well to ethnic, racial, and religious groups, trans people are, in many ways, a willful birth. The decision to declare your gender and your gender expression involves a hundred little steps, not all of them the same. Laws don't eliminate your transness, but they can make it so that your expression becomes very difficult. The person inside you, the one you want to be, openly, dies in darkness.

In part, this is why the fight over trans healthcare for children is so vital. If you want to medically transition to a gender you were not assigned at birth, then preventing your initial puberty will make the process of hormones (if you choose to do that later on ) much more successful. The older you get, the less effective hormones are from a developmental standpoint. As UCSF notes in a very helpful guide about estrogen intake:

“Starting hormone therapy in your 40s, 50s, or beyond may bring less drastic changes than one might see when beginning transition at a younger age, due to the accumulated lifetime exposure to testosterone, and declining responsiveness to hormone effects as one approaches the age of menopause.”

This delay does not mean your transition later in life is less valid (you are listening to the words of someone who transitioned much later), but it does make everything that much more difficult. It denies the world of a trans birth that much sooner, and that appears to be the logic of these laws.

All over the US, laws are being passed that stop medical transitions. Tennesse horrifyingly just banned gender-affirming care for minors. The same has occurred in Mississippi and Florida. As a mother of a trans child said of the Florida bill: "you're basically being told that your child shouldn't be able to be who they are, and that it would be better if they didn't exist in the way that you, medical professionals, and the child who is thriving, feel is best for [them]."

Trans adults are not immune from this legislative backlash either. Another bill in Tennessee, if passed, would prevent people from using Medicaid to pay for gender-affirming care. Oklahoma is not only considering a similar bill but one that would prohibit gender-affirming care for any hospital using state funds.

Bills like this are being introduced all over the country. While it's too soon to know what laws will pass when the dust settles, again, the end goal is unmistakable: it is to deny trans people, not just the resources that would make their lives easier, but to delay indefinitely the ability for them to be birthed into the world at all.

Trans Death

“killing members of the group.”

The systemic killing of a group of people is an undeniable act of genocide. It barely requires reinforcing. Look at the Holocaust in Europe or the Armenian Genocide — so many dead. When exterminationist rhetoric goes unchallenged, bodies tend to pile up.

And not every one of these killings needs to be organized from the top down. The Cambodian Genocide was known for brutal mass killings via central processing hubs (e.g., prisons, pits, etc.) but also killed many more people through incompetence, such as neglecting to treat malaria, overwork, and mass starvation. The American Indian Genocide was (and is) filled with not just organized state massacres but extra-judicial killings, where white settlers, empowered by propaganda and an indifferent legal system, lynched Indians, oftentimes on a whim.

However, we should emphasize that even here, there are intersections with trans identity. One act of colonialism from white settlers was stigmatizing different gender expressions among various Indian tribes, and the Khmer Rouge wasn’t exactly accepting of queer people.

America is already a place where these extra-judicial killings are happening to trans people. We could point to the recent Q-Shooting, where a shooter, empowered by anti-queer propaganda, shot up an LGBTQ+ nightclub and killed five people. We could also look at the many murders of trans individuals that happen every year. Trans people are killed all the time because their otherness makes individuals uncomfortable, and even when not killed, they are disproportionately victims of violent crime.

Trans people’s free expression is currently being legislated into nonexistence, which empowers people to act against us. There is the terrifying development of how many of America's conservative militias have started targeting queer events, coming to pride festivals and drag-story hours, armed with guns and other equipment. There are nearly 100 far-right militias across the country, and some, such as the Proud Boys, have forced their way into queer events. Sometimes these members have gotten violent or alluded to violence. These provocateurs have pushed or shoved counter-protestors. Others have harassed queer organizers, likening them to pedophiles and saying the vilest language. "Most of us want to kill all of you," a man allegedly yelled at counter-protesters at an event in Texas.

These are armed, organized groups perpetuating exterminationist rhetoric. Their infrastructure is already set up to inflict more intense brutality: one does not buy and bring a gun to a peaceful event simply to shove people. What happens when these militias no longer feel they have to hide behind the pretense of civility? "Kill your local pedophile," a Proud Boy allegedly shouted at a drag queen story hour in California.

Now, thankfully, there has been incredible organization from the left against these fascist militias, but if we fail to keep fighting them, trans people are headed for more bullets, mobs, and organized lynchings.


We could argue that trans people are currently experiencing laws that "deliberately inflict on our lives a calculated effort to bring about our physical destruction." We could claim harm, particularly mental harm, is being perpetuated against us. We can even argue that trans people are experiencing elements of cultural genocide the UN definition fails to consider. Conversely, one could claim that genocide isn't happening at all because gender expression and sexual orientation, as well as political groups in general, are beyond the scope of the Genocide Convention.

The conversation around genocide is frustrating because the popular zeitgeist’s definition (i.e., concentration camps and gas chambers) fails to encapsulate the complexity of the current legal definition, and the legal definition is severely curtailed to exclude many groups and categories of harm. The law does not view this matter holistically, which is a failure because genocide does not fit neatly inside the lines of strictly drawn definitions. Cultural, biological, physical, and psychological elements intermingle to create a cocktail that is always unique and always deadly. To point at a single nitpick and claim this harm against trans people isn't happening is again howling at the "pointing of this harm" instead of recognizing the horror unfolding around us.

Our current flawed political framework is partly to blame for this confusion. There is an alternate future where political actors did not push Raphael Lemkin's more holistic definition of genocide into the background. However, that would be a timeline where we recognized the genocides committed by modern Democracies, not just rogue fascist groups.

America has always been a country very good at genocide. We were founded on it. The conditions we mentioned here can arguably apply to several other groups within the US. Indigenous communities in the US have been experiencing ongoing genocide for hundreds of years, and you can make the case that Black Americans also meet this criterion.

In truth, the reason for this sudden hatred against trans people isn't because America has suddenly become worse for Trans people — it's always been bad for us to live openly here — but because conservative Americans finally understand that we exist. Three decades ago, we would have been lumped in with gay men and women, flattening the distinction between gender and sexual orientation. Fascists and proto-fascists are targeting us now because we seem new and strange, and they impossibly wish to use transness as a wedge issue to exterminate the greater queer community and otherness in general.

We are already very far along in this process, and we shouldn't have to reach the point of literal gas chambers to call out the genocide happening in front of our very eyes. Unless something is done, we are two legislative cycles away from the right to medically transition via puberty blockers, hormones, and surgeries being banned in at least one-third of all states, regardless of age. We are one presidency away from housing and employment protections being stripped away. Several more from gender expression itself becoming codified. Nothing good can come from that arrangement.

We are already in the middle of a movement to exterminate the trans community. The question is how bad things will get. Nothing is ever an inevitability. We do not have to accept the calls of death we are hearing (and one hopes we don't). We, however, must first recognize that this is what the road to trans genocide looks like, and it’s paved with “calls for safety,” “decency,” and “the common good.”


About the Creator

Alex Mell-Taylor

I write long-form pieces on timely themes inside entertainment, pop culture, video games, gender, sexuality, race and politics. My writing currently reaches a growing audience of over 10,000 people every month across various publications.

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