Don't Be a Mark

Republicans keep losing elections over abortion so they will double and triple down on transphobia. It's up to you not to fall for it.

Don't Be a Mark
Photo by Immo Wegmann / Unsplash

We know that abortion is a losing issue for Republicans and, unfortunately for them, abortion is going to be a huge story of the 2024 elections. That means we can absolutely expect politicians at every level to trot out the most transphobic shit possible this year—whether it be via legislation, ads, or media appearances—because they know that otherwise, they'll lose. And they're hoping that voters won't see through their cynical attempts to change the subject away from abortion. They're banking that a bunch of people will internalize GOP talking points about alleged "harm to children" and either vote for Republicans or stay home. So here's one more New Year's resolution to throw on the pile: Don't be a goddamn mark.

I want to be clear that this strategy is not new. Ohio conservatives resorted to transphobia just last year to try to block an abortion ballot measure by claiming that it would allow gender-affirming surgeries for minors and end "parental rights." (The measure passed by a huge margin.) But what will be new this year are the stakes underlying it all. Politicians will be shouting about what they view as the scourge of trans kids getting medical care, because they don't want to talk about how a Republican president could enact a national abortion ban in 2025 without Congress. And meanwhile, the well-funded conservative legal movement is busy attacking rights for trans people so basic as the ability to change their pronouns.

Yes, I'm serious. Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Michigan parents who are suing their child's school for using their preferred pronouns, per a complaint filed on December 18 and highlighted by Jessica Kant on Bluesky. The complaint says that "The District recklessly attempted to 'socially transition' the Meads’ daughter without their knowledge or consent." (Social transition is the process of changing one's name, pronouns, and/or other forms of gender expression like clothing and hairstyle.)

So while people are arguing online about a supposed epidemic of minors getting gender-affirming surgeries—a thing that only happens in exceptionally rare cases—groups like ADF are in court trying to require public school teachers to out students to their parents, and build a case that social transition is itself healthcare that can be banned because it's a "powerful psychosocial intervention."

It's important to note that while activists seem laser-focused on trans minors, they're just legislating them first because it's politically palatable. In reality, they want to ban gender-affirming care for adults, too. Leaders in the movement have openly talked about their larger reporters no less!

From an April 2023 story in the New York Times:

Terry Schilling, the president of the American Principles Project, a right-wing advocacy group pushing for restrictions on transgender rights, said in an interview earlier this year that focusing on minors had been a short-term political calculation. His organization’s long-term goal, he said, was to eliminate transition care altogether.

A good question to ask is: Why do they care about trans people in the first place? Some of them are real freaks who believe identifying as anything other than the sex assigned at birth is an affront to God, while others have made a cold, hard political calculation. After religious conservatives got utterly wrecked on marriage equality, they searched for another issue to whip supporters and donors into a frenzy. And they chose transgender people's right to exist.

But so-called "bathroom bills" generated too much backlash, so they moved on to school sports and gender-affirming care. Here's more from another Times story:

As a result, conservatives went looking for a new approach to the issue. Mr. Schilling’s organization, for instance, conducted polling to determine whether curbing transgender rights had resonance with voters — and, if they did, the best way for candidates to talk about it. In 2019, the group’s research found that voters were significantly more likely to support a Republican candidate who favored a ban on transgender girls participating in school sports — particularly when framed as a question of whether “to allow men and boys to compete against women and girls” — than a candidate pushing for a ban on transgender people using a bathroom of their choosing.
With that evidence in hand, and transgender athletes gaining attention, particularly in right-wing media, conservatives decided to focus on two main fronts: legislation that addressed participation in sports and laws curtailing the access of minors to medical transition treatments.

The Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in 2022 was a moral victory for conservatives, unlike the loss on gay marriage, but they've been paying for it at the polls ever since. You can imagine why they want to deflect away from abortion with some different issue to get people to the polls.

Sure, there are people in the world who wouldn't want their children to have gender-affirming surgery before they're 18. That doesn't mean affirming medical care, including hormone therapy, should be banned for every minor in the country. (It's just like abortion in that regard: Don't like it? Don't have one!)

The conversation about surgeries for minors and the purported need for government involvement mirrors how Republicans have twisted abortion discourse into whether Democrats can name an abortion limit they'd support. ("Oh, so you'd allow abortion at 37, 38, 39 weeks?" This is also not happening.)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is mostly slimy but I have to admit that, during the debate with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in November, he did a pretty good job pushing back on Sean Hannity's framing that it is Democrats who are extreme on abortion. Newsom reminded voters that politicians like DeSantis want to ban abortion at a mere 6 weeks or earlier. (Abortion reporter side note: Newsom said abortions later in pregnancy are "almost always" because of fetal anomaly or the life of the pregnant person. He's leaving out the fact that abortion restrictions themselves delay people's ability to get care as soon as they want it, and some people simply discover their pregnancies late—especially adolescents. All of these people deserve care. And if you're making a point about how bad GOP policies are, why not include this and fully read them for filth?)

Here's a clip:

If you hear yourself—or anyone else—say that "Republicans have a good point" on transgender people's right to exist or on abortion, no they fucking don't. There is no reason that secular governments should be able to decide if people can get gender-affirming care or an abortion. None. And for the GOP to push these policies while claiming they're the party of freedom is patently ridiculous. Keep all of this in mind in 2024 and beyond when conservative politicians try to manipulate you and everyone you know into accepting their framing.

Below is a comment about the right-wing plot to oust the first Black woman president of Harvard, but it's relevant here: "Once you’ve accepted the propagandist’s framing of an issue, each of your decisions thereafter will only spread the propaganda."

So, are you going to spread propaganda and reward propagandists, or help nip it all in the bud?


  • With apologies to the great Hamilton Nolan for cribbing from his footer format...
  • I have a new piece in Slate this week looking at an abortion ballot measure proposal in Arkansas that would be even weaker than Roe v. Wade—it would let the state ban abortion a whopping six weeks earlier in pregnancy than Roe did. Perhaps unsurprisingly, reproductive rights groups are not involved!
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