Socialism and Trans Rights

What has the question of the rights of transgender people, trans women and trans men, got to do with socialism?

Socialist Worker

Socialism and Trans Rights

Actually it relates to two very fundamental socialist principles. The first is opposition to all forms of oppression in society.

Our goal is a society of real equality in which all oppression of human beings by other human beings is ended. We believe that it is the struggle of the working class that is the key to achieving such a society but for socialists the concept of ‘the working class’ does not mean the old stereotype of white straight male factory workers.

The working class is, and in fact always has been, international, multicultural, able-bodied . disabled, female, male, straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

Socialists stand for working class unity because without it we cannot defeat capitalism but working class unity can only be achieved on the basis of combating all types of discrimination, bigotry, prejudice and oppression that divide people.

And this doesn’t mean just getting rid of these things in the socialist society of the future; it means actively fighting against them now – in workplaces, in public life, in unions, in the workers movement and so on.

Middle class

Nor is socialist opposition to oppression restricted to members of the working class. If middle class or even ruling class women or people of colour are discriminated against then this reinforces those divisions in the society as a whole, so socialists must oppose this.

Now there is no doubt that, like women, people of colour and gay people and a number of other categories, transgender people suffer major oppression.  One manifestation of this is the shocking rate of violence and murder against trans people. In the USA, which is one of the few countries with even vaguely accurate reporting,  the number of trans murder victims rose from 20 in 2015 to 28 in both 2016 and 2017 And, because of the way different oppressions intersect and reinforce each other, it is transgender women of colour who are most affected.

But of course murder is only the tip of an iceberg of physical, social and psychological violence and exclusion which results in a hugely disproportionate suicide rate among trans people.

For this reason socialists welcome the fact that transgender people are organising and more and more openly fighting for their rights and we stand unequivocally with them in this.

The second socialist principle involved is that when it comes to matters of sexuality and gender socialists stand for the maximum freedom which doesn’t harm or coerce others.


Of course some expressions of sexuality – sexual harassment, rape, paedophilia for example – can involve terrible harm to others and must therefore be condemned and illegal. But an individual’s decision to transition, motivated by their desire to affirm their gender identity does not inflict harm on others. It’s an important part of their self-expression.

Of course there may be some, including family members, who may feel dismayed or even wounded by such transitions but that is mainly because of their own and society’s ingrained prejudice.

Socialists do not accept that biology is destiny or that human potentialities and development should be confined and limited by their biological inheritance. Indeed there is a sense in which the whole history of humanity from the first making of stone tools through to modern science, industry, transport and medicine is a progressive overcoming of the limitations imposed on human beings by ‘natural’ biology.

‘Naturally’, of course, we can neither fly nor travel by train nor use telephones and naturally a high proportion of us die infancy.


Inevitably, as with most issues, there are people who disagree. Obviously there will be conservatives and reactionaries who yearn for the days when – they imagine – everyone knew their place and stayed in the designated blue and pink box, perhaps along with their assigned position upstairs or downstairs or in the convent.

But there are also some feminists who feel threatened by trans rights. This is partly because some feminists hold that the division between men and women is the fundamental division in history and society and that it derives from essential and unchanging features of male and female nature, They may see men, all men, and inevitably oppressors of all women.

This in turn leads them to be suspicious of trans women as not ‘real’ women and fear that they may threaten what they see as ‘women’s spaces’.

Socialists, especially socialist feminists, should try to persuade them they are mistaken on both counts. The experience of Ireland is useful here because we have a Gender Recognition Act with self identification and declaration of gender which has operated since 2015 without any damage to women’s rights or self organisation.

In short we all need, and socialists argue for, a movement based on inclusion not exclusion, in which we all fight for all the exploited and oppressed.

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