“Are you now, or have you ever been….”

Joseph Welch (sat on the left) and Senator Joseph McCarthy (standing on the right pointing at a diagram) during the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings. A number of people are sat in the background.
Joseph Welch (seated left) and Senator Joseph McCarthy (standing right) during the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings.
credit: United States Senate Historical Office

These words still have the power to send chills down the spine. They were the words used to demonise and destroy lives for near a decade. They were the words most famously associated with the McCarthy witch hunts — “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?”

The McCarthy witch hunts were ostensibly about countering the ‘Red Menace’ — to try and counter the possibility that any further form of socialism could “infect” the US after the New Deal projects of Roosevelt and the passing of the National Industrial Recovery Act, an act that placed into law the legal right for workers to unionise, the right to collectively bargain for better working conditions and pay.

In reality it was about control. It was about finding the opponents of the 1940s and ’50s Republican Party and its ideals; about crushing dissent through fear. The mere accusation of being “a Commie” was enough to end careers and destroy lives. And it spread, as such abuses of power always do. It wasn’t long before being associated with somebody accused of being a Communist was enough to see your own life destroyed.

It was control through fear. Through terror. We have a word for when people seek to suppress, control, or force change through terror, but we’re awfully reticent about applying it to white people with power.

75 years later and we’re seeing exactly the same dynamic in play — the use of fear and terror to try and keep an “undesirable population” in its place or even, as admitted by the two Helens, destroyed.

These tactics, when first used by the so-called ‘Gender Critical’ hate movement, started off being used to demonise and silence trans and non-binary people. ‘Are you now, or have you ever been, trans-identifying?’

This rhetoric was and is employed with aim of silencing the voices of trans and non-binary people. It seeks to paint us as being inherently biased and untrustworthy when it comes to trans issues. When it comes to talking about our own lives

But it’s now spread to anybody who is a relative of or is close to a trans or non-binary person. Now the same rhetoric designed to terrorise is being asked of anybody who is supportive of trans and non-binary people. The question that demands of the person in the sights of a hate movement. ‘Are you now, or have you ever been, a relation of or close to a person who is trans-identifying?’

On the surface it appears to be the same act of suppression used against trans and non-binary people. A question designed to try and paint the experiences and opinions of trans-supportive people as inherently biased and untrustworthy. Of those opinions not being genuine or honest, but instead used as a vehicle to destroy ‘decent society’. To paint trans-supportive people as being corrupting to ‘the very moral fabric of our communities and neighbours. Of our family and children’.

And that in itself is an act designed to elicit fear and terror in anybody who wishes to step forward and be publicly seen in their support of trans and non-binary people.

But it goes much deeper than that. The same hate movement that asks the question also seeks to forcibly out any trans or non-binary relative of any ally, regardless of the harm that may and does cause. They go out of their way to try and gather information on anybody an ally may know, the closer the better, to try and dox them if they are trans or non-binary. And if a trans or non-binary person is forcibly outed then it’s well known that others will come along to further hound and harass that person, even to the point of actively trying to force that trans or non-binary person into suicide or to seek to murder them by proxy.

These are acts designed to elicit fear in any potential ally who thinks of stepping forward. These are acts designed to terrorise anybody who seeks to step forward and be publicly seen to be supportive of trans and non-binary people. And they are working. Families with children who are trans or non-binary are now terrified of stepping forward to advocate and fight for fear that their children will be doxxed; will be targeted for relentless abuse and harassment.

We have a word for when people seek to suppress, control, or force change through terror, but we’re awfully reticent about applying it to predominately white people with power.

In the end the McCarthy witch hunts ended because McCarthy overreached; overestimated the extent of his own power and influence. 7 years of being freely allowed to terrorise the people of the United States had led him to vastly overestimate his own competence.

His career was ended by a Boston lawyer named Joseph Welch who — when McCarthy attempted to smear a young associate of Welch’s by spuriously and falsely claiming that he had ties to a communist organisation — destroyed McCarthy with 33 words. 33 words that have lived on history.

“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness […] Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”

Will that observation and question ever be asked of those who target trans and non-binary people and allies? Who use fear and terror to try and suppress and control us?

Will it ever be asked of prominent figures in the so-called “Gender Critical” hate movement?

Will somebody in the right place and the right time ever eviscerate the movement the way Welch did?

‘Until this moment I think I never really guaged your cruelty or recklessness. Let us not terrorise these people any further, Ma’am. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?’

Perhaps.

Because until somebody does this use of fear and terror will continue to be used.

“Are you now, or have you ever been, a relation of or close to a person who is trans-identifying?”

Well, are you?

(*edit note: ‘overestimated’ changed to ‘overestimate’ in para 14. Italicising the penultimate para)

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store