The ‘Marxist’ allies of transphobia?
Marx-Engels photo (AP)

Much of the world was quite alarmed by the fact that Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party, was recently elected as the new Prime Minister of Italy. Hers will be the furthest right-wing leadership in post-war Italy, and her party has direct roots in the fascist party of Benito Mussolini. She has recently been quite open about that she is against the movement for queer liberation, and trans rights in particular. In a televised speech, she said,Yes to the natural family, no to the LGBT lobby, yes to sexual identity, no to gender ideology!”

One might think that this attack on “gender ideology” was an isolated phenomenon or perhaps something that would only excite far-right social conservatives. There are examples, however, of such arguments gaining an audience even among leftists. After discussing these, we can show some positive embrace of the queer community among the broader communist movement.

In early 2022, comedian Dave Chapelle had a Netflix special called “The Closer.” In that program, he said, “Gender is a fact. Every human being in this room, every human being on Earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on Earth. This is a fact.” He went on to state that he was “Team TERF.” Activists will recognize that this means “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist.” Proponents of this philosophy typically extend solidarity to Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual people, but not to trans people. In fact, they often define their feminism in ways that exclude trans people from the queer community.

Many may not know it, but TERFs and social conservatives often join forces in specific campaigns. Some common ones include demands for trans women or girls to be excluded from sports or for “women-only” spaces such as change rooms.

In the last few days of 2019, J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved Harry Potter franchise, publicly endorsed transphobic commentary by Maya Forstater, a tax expert at the Centre for Global Development in the U.K. whose contract with her employer was ended for, among other things, calling trans women “men.” In fact, the matter went to the British courts for resolution.

Instead of using her platform as a successful author to build solidarity with the trans community, Rowling tweeted that people can “dress however you please” but not “force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real.” It is quite heartening to learn that many powerful celebrities like Mark Hamill, whom readers may know from the Star Wars films, publicly called Rowling out for her transphobic remarks.

Some Marxists, too, oppose trans liberation, and they do so by referencing the Marxist canon. They argue that “transgender ideology” is liberal, or even worse, bourgeois. Left activists who are on social media will often encounter the claim that communists should only focus on the (narrowly defined) traditional working class. Those taking such a position argue that any focus on contradictions other than class represents identity politics and distracts workers from the real struggle.

They’ll often quote Friedrich Engels in his 1884 work, Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State:

“The overthrow of mother-right was the world’s historical defeat of the female sex. The man took command in the home also; the woman was degraded and reduced to servitude, she became the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children. This degraded position of the woman, especially conspicuous among the Greeks of the heroic and still more of the classical age, has gradually been palliated and glozed over, and sometimes clothed in a milder form; in no sense has it been abolished.”

The quote says that it is women’s material reality that leads to their oppression. It is true that capitalist ideology is predicated on many oppressive assumptions and narratives. These include patriarchy, racism, and heterosexism. It could also be said that bourgeois ideology is also predicated on transphobia as an essential element.

What “Marxist” transphobia actually challenges is something that many of us in the Communist movement take for granted—that trans liberation is worth fighting for. It is not, as they claim, a waste of time, or a distraction from the real struggle. It is inexorably linked to and is an essential element in the battle for working-class liberation.

Though the media often focuses on the wealthy and well-connected celebrities who are trans, the reality is that most trans people are very much a part of the working class. This is not only due to their relationship to the means of production, but also their marginalized status under capitalism. Transphobia is not Marxist.

Recently, Cuba has offered us an antidote to social-conservative “socialism.” When Cuban Communist Party leaders wanted to codify same-sex marriage and LGBTQ adoption into law, a consultation process was developed. There were town hall meetings held all over the country. In a recent plebiscite, over two-thirds of Cuban voters endorsed what many argue is the most progressive and queer-positive family policy in the world, and it includes marriage equality, grants adoption rights to LGBTQ people, and recognizes that families come in a variety of forms.

This progressive role of leadership in policy is not new for Cuba. The country has, for a long time, funded and provided gender-affirming surgery for its trans citizens. Let’s also consider the very refreshing fact that many newer members of Communist Parties around the world (especially younger members) actually come from the LGBTQ community. Let us consider these two factors as precedent-setting within Marxist-Leninist thought!

The proletariat contains not only the traditional working class, but also all those who face daily oppression, violence, and discrimination directly due to capitalism and its enforcement of hegemonic bourgeois ideology. It is incumbent on all of us who are part of the struggle against exploitation and oppression to ally ourselves with the LGBTQ community, and we have to remember there is a “T” in the acronym for a reason.

For so long, liberatory literature, culture, and revolutionary zeal around the world have sprung from the fact that Communist Parties and their publications are tribunes of the oppressed. We cannot take that position for granted. We must not attack oppressed people based on antiquated and limited notions of what counts as “material reality” and thus worthy of struggle and solidarity. Transphobia itself stands in opposition to the material reality of the oppression suffered by so many who actually comprise today’s movement.

The left has to stand with—and not against—those fighting for their own liberation, those who see themselves as part of the international struggle to defeat capitalism and oppression as a whole.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article represents the opinions of the author.


Brian W. Major
Brian W. Major

Brian Major has worked in the field of community mental health and addictions for 15 years, being clean and sober himself for over 23 years. Brian is a member of the Communist Party of Canada in Barrie, Ontario.