an illustration of a small, fragile doll cupped in a pair of hands
(Illustration/Jonah Sam Kaye)

Laws targeting the freedom of trans people should sound familiar to Jews

I am a Jewish trans woman. I’m scared and have good reason to be.

In 2023, 588 anti-transgender bills in 49 states were introduced and 85 passed. Already, only a month into 2024, 393 anti-transgender bills in 37 states and Puerto Rico have been introduced.

On Jan. 10, West Virginia Senate Bill 197 was introduced. SB 197 prohibits “obscene materials in or within 2,500 feet of West Virginia schools.” It accompanies SB 195, which changes the definition of “obscene materials” to include “transvestite and/or transgender exposure in performances or displays to minors.”

If passed, violations of SB 197 could result in prison time.

Proponents of the bills will argue that they protect kids against “predatory” drag shows and don’t criminalize trans people.

But the introduction of a bill to “protect children” from “obscene content,” while simultaneously redefining obscene content, provides just enough ambiguity that any transgender person could be considered “obscene” simply for wearing gender-nonconforming clothes.

If these bills pass, any trans person in West Virginia could be targeted, and their passage will only galvanize similar legislation designed to limit trans people from safely navigating public life in America.

I believe it’s useful to draw a connection between transphobia and antisemitism. If wearing a kippah within 2,500 feet of a school became a crime, observant Jews might stop wearing kippot in public. But the bill’s chilling effect on public expressions of Jewishness would be much broader and would result in antisemitism becoming more socially acceptable. I would fear the threat of violence simply because I am Jewish.

It’s not just the legislation that’s dangerous. At CPAC 2023, Daily Wire host Michael Knowles said, “For the good of society … transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely — the whole preposterous ideology, at every level.”

His call for “eradication” is a call for trans genocide, even with his obfuscating language.

There is no such thing as transgender ‘ideology’ because trans people aren’t a monolith.

Transgender “ideology” is an anti-trans dog whistle that is used to stoke fear that trans people are taking away rights from cisgender people. There is no such thing as transgender “ideology” because trans people aren’t a monolith. We’re a community of people, and we organize politically to make sure that we are treated as equals.

Using transgender “ideology” this way is similar to white supremacists saying that the “Jewish lobby” is dangerous. What do they mean when they say the Jewish lobby is dangerous?  Who comprises this lobby?  The term transgender “ideology” is rooted in fear-mongering and is used as a tactic that reframes trans liberation — our desire to have equal rights — as a sinister political ploy to oppress and silence people who don’t agree.

The U.K.-based Holocaust Memorial Day Trust lists 10 stages of genocide. Stage four is dehumanization: “Those perceived as ‘different’ are treated with no form of human rights or personal dignity.”

Knowles’ hate speech normalizes the dehumanization of trans people, but with enough opaque language that he can claim he hates the concept, not the people. An antisemite could say, “I hate the institution of ‘international Jewry,’ not specific Jews.”

Trans people are simply people. We aren’t harassers or predators. Making such a claim is the same as pedaling any of the myriad antisemitic conspiracies. The political ads supporting anti-trans bathroom laws accusing “men dressing up as women” to enter bathrooms and assault girls is stage six of genocide: polarization, which is when “propaganda begins to be spread by hate groups.”

Trans persecution isn’t aligned one to one with the 10 steps of genocide tied to the Holocaust. But several of the steps have disturbing parallels, and the anti-trans movement uses similar tactics. The further America moves along these steps, the harder it will be to reverse course.

I need my Jewish community to be educated because America has been cascading down a tragically familiar road, and the end goal of this type of legislation is to “eradicate” trans people.

Trans people are overwhelmingly victims of crimes that anti-trans groups claim we perpetrate. According to Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law’s 2021 study, “Transgender people are over four times more likely than cisgender people to be victims of violent crime.”

According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, “Nearly half (46%) of respondents were verbally harassed in the past year because of being transgender… (47%) of respondents were sexually assaulted… in their lifetime and one in ten (10%) were sexually assaulted in the past year. In communities of color… 53% of Black [trans] respondents were sexually assaulted in their lifetime and 13% were sexually assaulted in the last year.”

Inform yourself about the bills that erode trans rights and about who is voting to take away our rights. Pay attention to how individuals talk about us in the same way you would notice how a candidate talks about Jewish people. In our upcoming election cycles, consider the plight of trans people when you listen to and vote for candidates and propositions. Trans people deserve equal human rights — nothing less.

Jonah Sam Kaye
Jonah Sam Kaye

Jonah Sam Kaye (she/her and they/them) is an artist and writer in Palo Alto. She is the creator of the webcomic “She Used to be Fractal.”