Extreme content warning: this article discusses open calls for violence. Discretion is advised when reading or following any of the links below.
Over the last few months there has been a surge in online hate speech directed at transgender people and trans allies. This had included calling for violence, torture and even execution of transgender people, or anybody seen to be supportive of trans people, such as doctors and parents.
Until recently, most open calls for trans eradication on mainstream online platforms have been coded or veiled, with suggestions that transness should simply 'go away' or somehow be removed from public life, but with no specifics given for the implementation of that goal. Examples include spinster users repeatedly saying "I want them gone" and "I don't even want to see them anymore. I'm sick of them, the whole gang of freaks." or a twitter user demanding that the the mayor of greater manchester "get rid of this plague", in reference to trans protestors. However, Trans Safety Network has recently observed a rise in the number of expressions of explicit violence directed towards transgender people, both from anonymous accounts, as well as named and even verified accounts on twitter.
A notable example of this escalation of rhetoric is a blog written by Lily Cade, a woman platformed by the BBC in a heavily criticised article. In a series of posts to her blog following the publication of her article, Cade made numerous allusions to violence she wished to be directed at specific transgender women, as well as all trans women in general.
In response to a video of anti-transgender activist Kellie-Jay Keen Minshull (a.k.a. Posie Parker) confronting a transgender woman, one twitter user called the woman 'it' and suggested they would murder her for using the women's toilets. Elsewhere, similar dehumanisation and threat of violence has been expressed in regards to transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, with a twitter user calling her 'it' and openly admitting a desire to punch her.
While one twitter user specified that only adult trans people should be hunted down, another anonymous account stated that transgender people in general are perverts who deserve to be executed. A common theme is hiding violent ideation behind jargon or coded references, such as the barely oblique comment "I'd like to see every one of them under a train", or a twitter user referring to trans women with the phrase "gotta rooftop em", an allusion to a homophobic execution in Syria.
Trans Safety Network has also seen communications sent directly to transgender people with threats or expressions of violence and torture. From amongst these, we have permission to publish an email sent to the academic Grace Lavery, reading:
You are the finest reason I have ever encountered for reinstituting judicial torture. Being flayed alive would be the most lenient option I would pass as a judgement against your evil soul. May you burn in Hell for eternity.
Amongst those threatening violence against transgender people are verified twitter users. Creating a hypothetical in which her mother was sexually abused by "a self-ID", English actress Frances Barber stated on twitter that she would happily go to prison for murder. The statement normalises the idea of extrajudicial execution in response to a hypothetical situation used to associate the concept of self-ID with criminality and sexual abuse. Additionally the phrase "a self-ID" is a novel way to dehumanise a trans person.
In response to Idaho's house of representatives passing bill HB 675 (a bill that aims to make providing gender affirming care to trans teens a felony offense with a life sentence, as well as making it a felony for parents to leave the state with their trans children to provide them with care elsewhere), right-wing commentator verified on twitter, Dave Reaboi suggested that life sentences were in fact too lenient and suggested the death penalty instead (although in the same thread also suggesting that this punishment would be seen as too lenient, implying a desire for torture seen in the twitter posts of his fans). In a later thread, Reaboi doubled down and likened trans health care to Nazi experimentation by suggesting the punishment for providing trans healthcare should be "the same as Mengele's", a bizarre reference to Nazi mass murderer Josef Mengele (who was never brought to justice for his crimes).
Amidst the current wave of legislation targeting trans youth and providers or transgender healthcare, former state representative for Mississippi, Robert Foster tweeted an open call for executions directed broadly at people who encourage or faciliate transition for trans youth. In a later tweet, Foster doubled down, insisting he wasn't referring to all trans youth or trans people, but only 'groomers'. This phrase 'groomers' has recently been increasingly used by anti-LGBT groups to denote anybody who tells children that is is acceptable to be LGBT, echoing common conspiracy theories of the far-right. This particular tactic of slurring any LGBT inclusivity or acceptance as 'grooming' is a common trope in anti-LGBT rhetoric to disparage all attempts to normalise queerness as inherently harmful or predatory. Forsters original tweet has since been deleted for violating the twitter rules.
The escalation of violent rhetoric directed towards transgender people and allies is an incredibly alarming trend. The proliferation and normalisation of such rhetoric is extremely damaging to the mental health of transgender individuals who are exposed to it online. Even when excuses are made, such as specifying subgroups of trans people, or attempting to target 'only the bad ones', transgender people are left feeling frightened and anxious that they will be targeted by somebody who has decided they are 'one of the bad ones'. In addition, as dehumanising language and open expressions of violent ideation become increasingly common, there is a worry that groups or individuals will become desensitised to such hostility, enabling further escalation and potentially leading to physical violence.