Color image of a group of protestors holding signs on the side of the road.A photo of my hometown’s 1 Million March 4 Children protest. London Ontario, 2023. Photograph by WG Pearson.

By Chris Aino Pihlak

It was September 2023, and I was working away at some piece of academic minutiae while a few blocks away fascists marched against trans and queer existence. Such events have become all too familiar.  This time, it was the 1 Million March 4 Children. Social conservatives across Canada marched on September 20th, 2023 against ‘gender ideology’ and sex education through the familiar weaponization of the need to ‘protect our kids.’

It was February 2022, and I was working away at some piece of academic minutiae while the governor of Texas announced that the parents of out trans children would be investigated for child abuse. The governor, attorney general, and other members of the far-right Republican party rallied against ‘child abuse’ and ‘bodily mutilation’ through the familiar weaponization of the need to ‘protect our kids.’

It was August 2023, and I was finalizing my thesis defense while in America over 100 bills had passed that target all manner of trans and queer existence. In increasing numbers of states, trans woman like me can’t pee, play sports, get healthcare, or exist without some fascist stoking a moral panic about it.

 I remember in 2016, a few months into being publicly out as a trans woman, the North Carolina legislature announced its then infamous transphobic ‘bathroom bill’ that would’ve forced me to use the men’s room. It all feels so quaint. For years now trans people, though particularly trans women like myself, have been used as a political wedge issue to animate far-right political mobilization across the world. My comrade Penelope Higgins showed me that the only thing Republican voters want more than a crackdown on sex education and adolescent trans health care is an even further militarized border.

Those of us in the Canadian settler-state aren’t immune. Just as it’s a white-supremacist myth that Canada is an anti-racist paradise neither has this settler-state avoided the global rise of fascistic transphobia. The building entrance I use every morning to go to my office is the same one where Jordan Peterson erupted onto the stage in 2016 with his viral transphobic tantrum against Bill C-16. In a rant filled with the usual buzzwords, Peterson spoke against the supposed totalitarian politically correct move by the ‘radical left’ to have the Canadian settler-state apparently force individuals to not misgender trans people. Since the tirade, Peterson and many like him have grown wealthy from umpteenth lucrative speaking engagements across Canada. Beyond such ideologues, for years now the Canadian far-right People’s Party has stoked moral panics over sex-education, trans people existing, and the recent imperfect ban on conversion therapy. And now in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan we have right-wing governments passing anti-trans legislation to pander to transphobic voters.

All these thoughts passed through my mind on the day of the 1 Million March 4 Children. But there were three new ones. The first was my decision to not join the counter-protests out of a desire to avoid the protestors’ fascist trans misogynistic bile. This act of refusal/cowardice/protection-of-peace/selfishness continues to chew at me. The second was that I needed to finish reading Gay New York for class.  I am a trans woman doing her PhD in trans history in the 2020s, and life is full of such moments. But my experience isn’t unique. For so many of us marginalized scholars, white-supremacist, anti-Palestinian, anti-Black, and Islamophobic fascism festers around us while we putter away at our work. But I am stalling.

            I don’t like the third thought. But it’s why I’m here. I know so many who counter-protested the fascists. Trans and non-trans, queer and straight, I know people who showed up against these Million March protestors. I also know one of the protestors. Yup.

We had both been volunteers at a pro-sex work, feminist women’s shelter. We bonded over our mutual love of animals and fighting the patriarchy. For different reasons, we eventually left that space. I ended up in grad school, where I work on trans feminine social history. For her, the loss of this community space created a pit of profound loneliness. What filled it, as it so often does, was the lavishly funded far-right network of podcasts, YouTubers, and network television. In the span of a few years, my close friend who intuitively accepted my trans womanhood, now saw those like me as queer contagion-spreading groomers. But her experience isn’t unique either. This robust seductive public square has radicalized countless lonely, disaffected people. In it, those like my former friend can be part of an emotionally nourishing community. We must fight this. We must destroy this. We have to.  

But who is ‘we?’ Any of us interested in anti-fascist queer and trans liberation. We all need to build a counter-public square to the fascist media ecosystem on one hand, and feckless, enabling, neoliberal centrist corporate journalism on the other. This counter-public would fight all interconnected structures of oppression as a dual power organization. Dual power refers to the building of tangible anti-capitalist forms of being that operate parallel to our current neoliberal carceral modes of social organization. Part of this counter-public structure would combat transphobic propaganda and celebrate the joy and agonies of being a trans person at this moment. If this all seems too ambitious, the good news is that it’s already being done.

The Trans Data Library is a journalistic project that counters fascist transphobic narratives along with naming-and-shaming those at the front lines of stoking stochastic violence against us. Trans Reads is an online repository of texts on all aspects of trans existence. For a decade KJ Rawson’s Digital Transgender Archive  has provided tens of thousands of scholars and non-professional historians open access to primary sources on past trans existence. And Gender Reveal is one of countless trans podcasts that have interviews and discussions with trans people. It is particularly noteworthy for its curated starter-packs on topics like prison abolition, or how to medically transition.  

There are trans indie presses like diskette, Little Puss, and oestrogeneration which put out media that celebrates the joy and minutiae of past and present trans existence. We have Instagram accounts like homohistoric, SEXCHANGETBT, and fagdykery that post fun little snippets of past trans life that are community-centered, non-academic works of public history. And there are community historians/archivists like Zagria Cowan, Boring Kate, TGirlsOnFilm, and Carta Monir who do the wonderful work of archiving, hosting, and popularizing otherwise gate-kept glimpses at past trans life. The work is being done.

But what should trans academics who do trans history do? More. We should do more. As institutional historians, we have a duty to do more.

Yet this isn’t a retread of what others have so brilliantly said elsewhere. As a social historian, I am speaking to other trans social historians. In contrast to trans legal and medical scholars, we can make two key interventions: counter ahistorical narratives of past trans people as isolated freaks, and in doing so humanize the rich, complex, and oftentimes fun realities ofpast trans people.

But with this desire to fight transphobia, there is an obvious temptation to sanitize the messiness of the past. In refuting the myth of us as lone monsters, some might want to position trans people as respectable to the cis het mainstream. This is an understandable desire, and one that animated some trans activists for at least a century. But we shouldn’t do this. And not just because it never works. It’s also boring. As iconic trans historian Morgan M. Page always says: trans history is brimming with dirt, gossip, and glamour! We should not hide from the messiness of trans history. We should embrace it. Trans social historians who tell complex trans social histories humanize, demythologize, and give colourful texture to those who came before us. For one example, Reed Erickson was a wealthy trans man who for decades funded trans medical research and community groups. He was also a ketamine and cocaine-loving playboy that owned a leopard named Henry. In addition to trans healthcare, he bankrolled research into human-dolphin communication. Reed was messy, problematic, and an incredibly compelling dude. Dare I say: his story is fun! Though exceptional, he was not alone. Like so many other past trans people he moved through trans, non-trans, and mixed social circles. But so often cis people don’t know a single trans person, and when we’re on the news it’s as an amorphous scary blob or a singular nefarious actor. And this is bullshit.

Books like The Two Revolutions, How Sex Changed, Mother Camp, Imagining Transgender, and Smash the Church, Smash the State! are just a few works that show trans or gender-fucky subcultures across history. My work on 20th-century trans feminine magazine networks overflows with gossip, re-tells of community events, and uncomfortably resonant moments of existing as a trans person. Our work is on fascinating trans social worlds, subcultures, and networks. We’re already halfway there! But we need to embrace more accessible public dissemination of our scholarship, and to engage with contemporary trans community more robustly.

And that’s the most important part of this. Regardless of the success of a truly expansive anti-fascist counter-public, it is a deeply emotionally nourishing act of community care for us to show other trans people the messiness, frivolity, and daily lived reality of our ancestors. In other times of state repression, some of us still survived, socialized, bitched each other out, and laughed together.


Chris Aino Pihlak is a trans woman and social historian at the University of Toronto who studies past articulations of trans feminine existence. In addition to her interest in trans feminine porn studies, she is a scholar of twentieth-century, Anglophone trans feminine subcultures.