Fear factory

Scott Morrison is afraid.

He fears losing the prime ministership he fell into. He fears Muslims. He fears the looming threat of Australia being caught out with no baseload power. He fears that parents aren’t spending enough time with their kids because they are stuck in traffic jams, caused, of course, by immigrants.

This week, the familiar spectre of gender stirred fear in our prime minister. Not the “gender whisperers” being deployed into our schools, but the choice by Tasmania to change its laws around gender on birth certificates.

“Labor’s plan to remove gender from birth certificates in Tasmania is ridiculous,” the PM tweeted on Wednesday. “Bill Shorten should step up and commit to put motion to ALP Federal Conference to outlaw it.”

Little could quell Scott Morrison’s fear: not the detail that gender will not be removed but rather changed to an “opt-in” choice for new parents. Not the fact Tasmania’s Liberal house speaker, Sue Hickey, saw fit to cross the floor in support of the changes. Not that the legislation would remove the need for trans teens to undergo extensive surgery in order to change the sex on their birth certificate to align with their gender identity.

The push for trans rights strikes a fear into Morrison that seems less political and more primal. Of course, he sees the opportunity for gain in politicising trans people. The Coalition’s long war on Safe Schools is proof the fear of gender diversity is not Morrison’s alone. But the primacy of his fear blinds the prime minister to the reality that other people are afraid, too.

Tuesday this week, November 20, was the Trans Day of Remembrance. It is a memorial that has been observed since 1999, first initiated to commemorate the life of Rita Hester, a trans woman who was stabbed to death in her apartment in Boston. Hester was remembered as a popular, outgoing woman, loved by many in the city’s music scene. Her murder has never been solved, but it is widely believed to have been a hate crime.

This year, to mark the day, the Human Rights Campaign released a report detailing the scope of anti-trans violence. Since January, 22 trans people have been killed in the United States, 82 per cent of them women of colour.

There are other harrowing figures. According to the Trans Pathways survey, four of five young trans people in Australia have self-harmed; half have attempted suicide.

But these statistics do not seem to worry Morrison. Not when he’s facing off against a challenge to something as fundamental to his understanding of the world as the definition of gender. The world is shifting below the prime minister’s feet; he can feel it, and he’s holding on for dear life. The prospect of change, no matter the form it takes, terrifies him.

Morrison’s Australia is a country governed by fear, his fear.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 24, 2018 as "Fear factory".

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