Jews, bicycle riders and trans folk
Why are trans rights so endlessly agonized over? Illumination comes from an unexpected source
Some jokes are more true than funny. A favorite of mine goes like this: A man stands atop a soap box in city park in Berlin in the 1930s.
“The Jews and the bicycle riders will be the ruin of Germany,” he begins.
A crowd gathers. The man continues his speech, repeating the refrain: “The Jews and the bicycle riders will be the ruin of Germany.” Finally someone in the crowd interrupts.
“Wait a second,” the audience member asks,
“why the bicycle riders?”
“Aha!” the speaker replies, lighting up. “Why the Jews?”
Now set that joke aside. We’ll return to it later. In the meantime, let’s play, “Who said it?” the game where I share a quote and you have to guess what politician uttered it. Ready? Then let’s begin:
“Do we want our schools to impose on our children, from their earliest days in school, perversions that lead to degradation and extinction? Do we want to drum into their heads the ideas that certain other genders exist along with women and men and to offer them gender reassignment surgery? Is that what we want for our country and our children?”
I know what you’re thinking: Ron DeSantis. The governor of Florida has been buffing his presidential credentials with a salvo of rhetoric against trans kids, and constraints against any legal or educational steps designed to help them. A one-two punch alongside exaggerating education hinting at our nation’s racist past into ooo-scary “critical race theory” that must be stamped out.
Good try but, bzzzzt, wrong. Not DeSantis, nor Donald Trump, nor even the latest, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who in her response to the State of the Union address Tuesday divided the country between “normal” — herself and those like her — and “crazy,” which is anyone whose lifestyle departs from the straight white Christian ideal.
Ready? Vladimir Putin uttered the mystery quote, in Russian, last October, in a speech attempting to justify plunging Europe into the most extensive bloodbath since 1945: 250,000 soldiers killed in the first year, plus 14,000 Ukrainian civilians. With more to come.
You probably didn’t bother reading Putin’s speech. I did. Mostly a bunch of hooey about Russian divine destiny whose logic could just as easy be used to argue for the return of the czar.
Then Putin got to the part that keeps tugging on my sleeve. I’ll quote the lines above in context, for its full flavor.
“Do we want to have here, in our country, in Russia, ‘parent number one, parent number two and parent number three’ (they have completely lost it!) instead of mother and father? Do we want our schools to impose on our children, from their earliest days in school, perversions that lead to degradation and extinction? Do we want to drum into their heads the ideas that certain other genders exist along with women and men and to offer them gender reassignment surgery? Is that what we want for our country and our children? This is all unacceptable to us.”
Question: Why is Putin talking about gender fluidity while justifying his brutal invasion? Why is Ron DeSantis, for that matter? Or anybody? Now circle back to the opening bicycle riders joke. The answer is the same as for “Why the Jews?” — because they’re the ones who, at the moment, can be safely attacked. Pinatas that haters can beat on, trying to get at the sweet candy of self-esteem trapped inside. The who doesn’t really matter. Jews, Blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, immigrants. All fungible. Any will do, and trans people right now are perfect: increasingly public, not many of them, but enough so there’s one around when you need a victim, or, rather, someone you can pretend is victimizing you, in true “Whyare-you-hitting-yourself ?” bully fashion.
Remember, bullies are cowards. They need to posit harms to themselves in order to justify their own oppressions. Look at your life. How big a deal are trans people? What kind of actual problems have they caused you? Have you ever even met a trans person? I have; they don’t bite. And if you think you haven’t, how can you be sure?
Part of the magic trick the right-wing does is get you to focus on specifics — restrooms, school showers, books — so you don’t notice your pocket being picked. It’s a totalitarian smokescreen that works for a while, then dissipates. Reality eventually intrudes. That’s what happened to the Confederacy. What’s happening to Putin. And what will happen to Ron DeSantis, et al.