This Week's Must-Reads in Honor of Nex Benedict

In the U.S., trans youth have been among the primary scapegoats of a new age Nazism – marked for violence, exclusion and elimination.

This Week's Must-Reads in Honor of Nex Benedict
(Photo: Nex Benedict's obituary page)

Your weekly curated list of must-reads is here. From militant bakers to the prosecution of librarians, the rights of embryos, and why Republicans might shut down the government this March (hint: it’s because they hate trans people), here are some important stories you may have missed this week. 

Alabama’s Unhinged Embryo Ruling Shows Where the Anti-Abortion Movement Is Headed by Melissa Gira Grant. “This decision by the Alabama Supreme Court last week is a huge victory for anti-abortion groups, who have long sought to pass fetal personhood laws. This time, by declaring not just a fetus but a fertilized egg in a lab the equivalent of an ‘unborn child,’ the courts have done them one better.”

Republicans Issue New Government Shutdown Threat Over Trans People by Erin Reed. “On Wednesday, the House Freedom Caucus published a letter threatening a government shutdown in which it outlines a number of policies that are needed to supposedly avert such a result. Listed among these policies are restrictions on gender affirming care, transgender participation in sports, DEI programs, and defunding Planned Parenthood.”

US’s Third Ceasefire Veto Underscores Its Complicity in Israel’s Genocidal Acts by Michel Moushabeck. “Why is the U.S. proposing a new draft resolution and a “temporary ceasefire” when in fact Israel — a party to the Genocide Convention — was already ordered by the ICJ’s verdict to stop killing Palestinians and allow unhindered humanitarian aid to enter Gaza?”

Meet the Militant Bakers Feeding France’s Migrants by Martin Fort. “Yann is a member of Internationale boulangère mobilisée (Activist Bakers International, or IBM), an informal network of militant bakers working on various social projects. Founded in February 2018, the group consists of volunteers who join projects whenever they can and bake bread in pop-up locations.”

South Carolina Ban on Prisoners’ Media Interviews Violates First Amendment, Lawsuit Says Lawsuit by Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg. “‘The South Carolina Department of Corrections (‘SCDC’) enforces the nation’s most restrictive policy on media access to prisoners,’ the complaint says. The suit alleges that the state ‘bans interviews by anyone, on any topic, and by any real-time means: in person, by video, or by phone. And although correspondence by mail is allowed, publication of a prisoner’s written speech is similarly prohibited.’”

West Virginia House passes bill allowing prosecution of librarians by Steven Allen Adams. “Opponents of the bill said that while the bill does not ban books, the bill would have unintended consequences for public and school libraries, resulting in increases in challenges to even classic books and attempts to criminally charge librarians over books not pornographic in nature, but books that include descriptions of sex. They also said it could result in improper criminal charges against library staff.”

“What Can I Even Say Without Having to Go to Jail?” by Julianne McShane. “Whether advocates face prosecution for discussing abortion with survivors ‘is likely to play out very differently depending on the local conditions,’ including the strength of a state’s confidentiality protections—which vary widely—and whether local prosecutors are motivated to pursue such cases against advocates.”

12 Years After Degrading Mass Strip Search, Women in Prison Won $1.4M Settlement by Brian Dolinar. “The mass strip search was not conducted for security purposes. There was no history of contraband or violence at Lincoln — indeed, there is rarely much violence in women’s prisons. What happened was a coordinated effort to teach new guards how to totally humiliate and dehumanize the incarcerated women.”

Trump and allies planning militarized mass deportations, detention camps by Isaac Arnsdorf, Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey. “Trump pledges that as president he would immediately launch ‘the largest domestic deportation operation in American history.’ As a model, he points to an Eisenhower-era program known as ‘Operation Wetback,’ using a derogatory slur for Mexican migrants. The operation used military tactics to round up and remove migrant workers, sometimes transporting them in dangerous conditions that led to some deaths. Former administration officials and policy experts said staging an even larger operation today would face a bottleneck in detention space — a problem that Trump adviser Stephen Miller and other allies have proposed addressing by building mass deportation camps.”

Women Speaking Up About Sexual Abuse Behind Bars Face Retaliation in California by Victoria Law. “In August 2023, survivors at Dublin filed a class action suit against the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) for continuing to allow the conditions that fostered ‘the rape club.’ Their suit also demands an end to placing survivors into solitary confinement as well as improved access to off-site medical and mental health care.”

Longer Reading

It’s a lengthy read, but this piece by Oliver Eagleton discussing the intellectual evolution and contributions of Swedish sociologist Göran Therborn is definitely worth your time. Therborn's work contrasts the dialectical struggles of the industrial age with the complexities of the present era.  This paragraph felt particularly important:

No longer invested in the fantasy of endless growth, unable to deliver social progress at home or abroad, it is reduced to superintending distributive conflicts in conditions of stagnation. [Liberalism] has replaced technocracy (policy fixes that promise perpetual improvement) with managerialism (easing social tensions in the absence of such fixes). This is a symptom of the broader ideological condition known as ‘presentism’: confinement to the horizon of the immediate. The left, too, suffers from this affliction, since its rejection of capitalism is based on an affective revulsion rather than an alternate vision. The dialectics of the twenty-first century have deprived it of a spontaneous futurism. Which means that the right alone can claim a monopoly on opposition to the present—by retreating into the past.

Rest in Power, Nex Benedict

As a non-binary Native person, I am holding Nex Benedict in my heart this weekend. Nex was a gender expansive 16-year-old whose mother was a member of the Choctaw Nation. Nex died on February 8, after enduring a beating in their high school bathroom on February 7. Nex’s grandmother and adoptive parent, Sue Benedict, said of their identity, “Nex did not see themselves as male or female. Nex saw themselves right down the middle. I was still learning about it, Nex was teaching me that.” 

Nex had been bullied for their gender identity, and two years ago, a mentor of theirs was targeted by Libs of TikTok. In a country where trans children are under attack, Nex lived in Oklahoma, a state that has led the nation in legislative attacks on queer and trans people. Lawmakers in the state have forwarded 54 bills targeting LGBTQ people this year. 

The investigation into Nex’s death is ongoing

All children should be safe and protected, but queer and trans children are under siege in the United States. Their bodies and their schools have been declared battlegrounds by Christo-fascists, who are willing to target teachers, librarians, parents, and students in their hateful crusade. In mourning Nex, I think about how much trans and Native youth have stacked against them. From higher rates of depression to a greater potential for homelessness, these young people are struggling to survive their own lives. They also live in the crosshairs of a fascist political party that seeks to exclude them from public life and prevent the expression or recognition of their true identities. 

In the U.S., trans youth have been among the primary scapegoats of a new age Nazism – marked for violence, exclusion and elimination. When I think about the young trans activists I’ve had the honor to work with, I marvel at their courage to be themselves in such a world and to defend one another and their futures at such a time. We should all experience their plight and their courage as a call to action.

We should all feel compelled to defend children in any time or place where they are threatened. All children deserve to live in safety and to know that their community will protect them. Sadly, queer and trans children are being vilified and portrayed as monsters by fascist actors. How will we act against this? 

In my own work, I have supported and worked with the young organizers of Trans Texas Futures – a group of trans high school activists in Texas. I have been deeply impressed by their work and honored to support their projects. However, we know that we must answer a larger political call in these moments as well and work together to decide what it truly means to fight fascism in our communities and in these times. Trans people, migrants, and imprisoned people are on the frontlines of human disposability in the U.S. If we intend to beat back the march of fascism, we must fiercely defend these communities. Anything less amounts to an unforgivable surrender.

On Thursday, I saw someone share lyrics from a song by Choctaw artist Samantha Crain in Nex’s memory. The song is called “When We Remain,” and it is written in the Choctaw language. The English translation reads:

When we remain, we will not be like the beautiful bones of a forgotten city. When we remain, we will be the flowers and the trees and the vines that overcome the forgotten city. We have woven ourselves into the cloth of the earth. We have mixed our breath into the expanding sky.

I will be holding those words close this weekend as I think of Nex. I will also be thinking of the words of Nex’s grandmother, who said, “I was so proud of Nex. They were going some place, they were so free.”

May we fight on in their name.

In solidarity,