Hi! This isn’t the kind of thing I usually post, but it’s been a weird and scary week to be a trans person in America. Trump’s administration is moving relatively quickly on trying to reverse the wins transgender, intersex, and gender-nonconforming people have made over the last decade to have their civil rights and access to public services and health care protected.
For once, a large number of cisgender people are paying attention to trans people, our lives, our interests, and our issues. A large number of people have asked for advice from trans people as to what they can do to support us. The first thing you should be doing is: giving the most vulnerable of us jobs, access to housing, court support, and money (in particular, donating to trans elders like Miss Major or to homeless trans teenagers etc who may advertise their donation pages on social media sites like Tumblr or Twitter). You should also be giving your time towards policy initiatives such as the ballot measure in Massachusetts, or supporting legal efforts like the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.
But cis people should devote time to reading about trans people’s history and what our current challenges may be in America/around the world.
Trans people, young or old, newly out or cynical, including me, also benefit from this reading, which helps us think about ways to plan for what may be difficult years ahead. I want to share what I know to encourage others to do reading on trans history, trans interaction with the law, trans health, and trans presence in public.
This list is heavy on more academic titles, but I think that these books bring something specific and useful to the table.
The following list IS NOT comprehensive. The first two books are your assigned homework for this week: they are accessible to almost everyone, and the language they use is easily digestible. The other books on this list are equally vital and will deepen your understanding of the legal issues and current debates surrounding trans people, especially around race, but they may be harder to procure (depending on your location) and some use more academic language.
- Trans Bodies, Trans Selves (2014) by Laura Erickson-Schroth (Editor), Tobi Hill-Meyer (Co-author), Jennifer Finney Boylan (Introduction), Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (Afterword).
This massive volume of information on transgender bodies, health, sexuality, legal existence, and relationships is a great starting place both for young or newly out trans people and for cis allies who want to better understand our diversity, as well as particular challenges. With a huge range of essays, articles, interviews, art, medical information, and advice, it can be hard to read cover to cover, but is an excellent reference material.
2. Transgender History (2017; updated edition). Susan Stryker
This accessible, enjoyable history is a good primer on the legacy of trans elders in the United States and a reminder that most ground that is covered now has been covered before. Susan Stryker first published her book Transgender History in 2008. This new edition includes information on trans advocacy and activist movements from just after World War II through 2017, including the Trump administration and the rise of the alt-right. It includes discussion of common popular arguments around trans people and our rights.
Eric A. Stanley (Editor); Nat Smith (Editor); CeCeMcDonald (Foreword).
“Captive Genders is an exciting assemblage of writings—analyses, manifestos, stories, interviews—that traverse the complicated entanglements of surveillance, policing, imprisonment, and the production of gender normativity. Focusing discerningly on the encounter of transpersons with the apparatuses that constitute the prison industrial complex, the contributors to this volume create new frameworks and new vocabularies that surely will have a transformative impact on the theories and practices of twenty-first century abolition.”
—Angela Y. Davis, professor emerita, University of California, Santa Cruz.
When I read the first edition of this book in 2012, it taught me a lot about the way that the prison system in the United States interacts with trans people it incarcerates. It made me think about the ways in which my experience as a free person was largely indebted to my race and class, and the ways in which our country punishes gender-nonconforming people disproportionately cruelly and subjects them to environments where they are likely to face violence.
Dean Spade, a notable trans lawyer, discusses the limits of civil rights advocacy and legal reforms which focus on hate crime legislation and inclusion in legal spaces; traditional calls such as “love is love” or “equality for everyone” fail to address the ways that trans people are socially and economically marginalized in specific ways that aren’t solved by broad legislation geared toward legal inclusion. One critique he makes which I agree with is that hate crime legislation expands the system of incarceration which enriches private prison contractors while not actually repairing the harm done to trans victims; at the same time, pink-washing measures such as trans/gnc houses in prisons or gender-equity training for correctional staff merely serve to further institutionalize the imprisonment of trans bodies. Spade points to grassroots trans activism which raises demands which go beyond inclusion in current systems and actually materially address transgender people’s needs.
5. Black On Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity (2017). C. Riley Snorton.
This heady, groundbreaking history—defined by the author (head of Black Sexuality studies at Cornell) as Afropessimist and Black feminist— is the first to specifically cover black trans history —a topic frequently left out of both LGBT histories and specifically trans histories. Snorton draws on a huge range of archives to discuss the legal and social issues faced by black trans people, and the construction of the most-acceptable transsexual identity in twentieth-century America as inherently white, while also discussing the way that the construction of sex itself is predicated on violence against Black bodies (since the founder of gynecology relied on the torture of enslaved Black women to make his conclusions about the female anatomy and its treatment).
6. Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility (2017). Reina Gossett (ed.), Johanna Burton (ed.), and Eric A. Stanley (ed.).
This collection of new essays grapples with what it means to be transgender in art, film and writing. Reading it is a good way to start getting a grasp of contemporary trans discourse and also helps cis and trans people think critically about the way gender is represented in art (even those trans people long since tired of discussing our place in the world).