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Transfeminist Perspectives in and beyond Transgender and Gender Studies


reviewed by Kristen A. Renn & Erich N. Pitcher - May 07, 2015

coverTitle: Transfeminist Perspectives in and beyond Transgender and Gender Studies
Author(s): Anne Enke (Ed.)
Publisher: Temple University Press, Philadelphia
ISBN: 1439907471, Pages: 250, Year: 2012
Search for book at Amazon.com


In Transfeminist Perspectives in and beyond Transgender and Gender Studies, editor Anne Enke set out to “highlight the productive and sometimes fraught potential of [the] relationship” between feminist studies and transgender studies (p. 1). To accomplish this end, Enke brought together a set of smart writers, teachers, activists, and educators–some well established, some emerging–to explore a range of topics relevant to considering transgender, gender, and feminist theories in the second decade of the 21st century. Chapter authors locate their analyses in higher education, the institutional home of such theories, and in social contexts such as health care training, immigration policies and practice, and civil rights. Taken individually, each chapter is informative and some are also provocative. Taken as a whole, the volume represents a substantive contribution to the literature on trans theory and practice in higher education and social policy.


Enke organized the book into three sections, ordered to follow “historical developments of feminist and trans theories and also transfeminist commitments to connect classrooms, social movements, and the world beyond” (p. 3). Enke offers an alternative ordering that proceeds from practical matters (e.g., campus policies regarding sex-segregated facilities, intercollegiate athletics, and immigration) to more abstract (e.g., training health care providers, trans-misogyny). Enke also provides a helpful short section on terms and concepts that are central to the text.


Chapters in Part One, “This Much Knowledge”: Flexible Epistemologies, address the “sources, proliferations, and contingencies of knowledge and authority” (p. 3). Vic Muñoz raises provocative questions—and gives provocative answers—about gender and sovereignty from an indigenous perspective. Kate Forbes takes on gender, femininity, and covering in the academy and specifically in science. Bobby Noble urges readers to consider a transfeminist reconceptualization of women’s studies, a task that will require de-essentializing the notion of the universal “woman.” A. Finn Enke uses examples from the college classroom to illuminate troubling uses of the neologism “cisgender” by would-be allies. Together these chapters raise as many questions as they answer in laying a theoretical foundation for the chapters that follow.


In Part Two, Categorical Insufficiencies and “Impossible People,” authors “track border crossings and somatic and definitional excesses as they become particularly concrete in the classroom and university infrastructures, public health, and even national border patrols” (p. 3). Chapters in this section cover specific aspects of policy and practice in higher education, sports, health professions, and immigration law. Clark Pomerleau describes systems that place trans members of the academy at the margins, for example, gender-segregated facilities and inflexible policies related to chosen names. Pat Griffin illuminates policy and practice in intercollegiate and elite international athletics, in which participants have historically been subjected to genetic and genital examinations to determine their “real” sex–and therefore “real” gender. Christoph Hanssmann describes the terrain of health provider training on trans issues, pointing to the ways that current approaches reinforce a medical model of trans identity that is not nearly adequate to undergird the provision of health services to an increasingly gender diverse population. Aren Aizura provides a primer on trans immigration legal issues that is complex in its description yet written clearly for a lay reader to understand what is at stake in how immigration policy relies on fluid interpretations of fluid gender identities, self-identification, and identities ascribed by doctors, lawyers, and government agencies. Perhaps the most “applied” chapters in the volume, these four provide concrete examples of how social institutions might move toward inclusivity—and how far they have to go.


Part Three, Valuing Subjects: Toward Unexpected Alliances, addresses “practical economies, violences, and desires that discipline gender and invites surprising–what we might call transfeminist–alliances in our academic and social-movement practices” (p. 3). Dan Irving connects critical political economy to trans studies and rights, drawing theoretical and practical lines that define identities and lives. Julia Serano introduces the concept of trans-misogyny in her argument for people of all genders to reclaim femininity.


Dean Spade challenges readers to reconsider the “logic of visibility and inclusion” (p. 185) as the central strategies in effecting gender inclusive discrimination law. Finally, Ryka Aoki uses a personal narrative from life with the Tranny Roadshow to illustrate the intersections of gender, race, femininity, safety, fear, perception, and unlikely allies in unexpected places. These chapters round out the book by demonstrating how academic and social movements can be sites for new alliances.


There are three primary strengths of this text: the thoughtful navigation of highly contested language, the range of topics covered, and the connections to allied social/academic movements. The nuanced navigation of language that Enke provides is thoughtful and necessarily cautious. This review of key terms and concepts does not fall into the trap of reifying or normalizing identity categories and ways of being. Individuals who are not familiar with contestations occurring with the language about trans identities will likely find this discussion useful.


A second strength of the text is the range of topics covered, including an international scope, a clear and strong connection between academic and activist knowledges, and the interconnections among trans and race, racism, colonization, immigration, and other arenas of social difference and oppression. By addressing a broad array of topics, this text works to decolonize trans ways of being and knowing by de-centering U.S./Western ideals about what constitutes knowledge and who are legitimate holders of knowledge.


A third strength is the connection to allied social/academic movements and the analyses of the political economy evident in Aizura, Irving, and Spade’s work. These three essays bring together new ways of thinking of trans-ing and crossings of all kinds—borders and subjecthood among them. These three chapters help to push transfeminist perspectives conceptually forward, while raising and answering important, yet challenging questions along the way. Spade raises and answers the question of “if not rights, then what?” While Irving addresses the question of the effects of neoliberalism on trans subjecthood, Aizura explores the question of why efforts to gain legal recognition of trans subjects often fail.


While the use of the conceptual tool trans-ing, or to cross, is a useful one, a concern remains about whether such a theoretical approach disembodies the lived experience of being trans in favor of the development of a tool to explain any number of crossings. If there is any agreement that “to queer” something has disembodied same-sex desire from queer bodies in favor of the conceptual tool of unsettling and deconstructing categories (as “to queer” attempts to do), then it stands to reason that there could be a similar concern about the same occurring with trans. Does using trans as an analytical tool to signify many kinds of traversing, unintentionally leave out trans bodies? While trans lives, experiences, and bodies are quite evident throughout this text, this issue of disembodying trans may emerge as a future concern. A question of whether trans works differently from crossing, traversing, or transgressing could be addressed in the second edition of this text.


This book has a wide range of audiences within and beyond transgender and gender studies classrooms. Selections from this text could be quite useful in a variety of undergraduate and graduate/professional classrooms, including courses on health care and medical training, athletic training, law, philosophy, social theory and social stratification, and writing and composition. The approachable, accessible writing style of the authors also makes this book useful to many outside of academia as well. These audiences might include LGBTQ organizations, professional associations, artists, activists, and independent scholars.




Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 07, 2015
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17956, Date Accessed: 1/28/2022 11:03:22 AM

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About the Author
  • Kristen Renn
    Michigan State University
    E-mail Author
    KIRSTEN A. RENN is Professor of Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education at Michigan State University. She is co-PI of the National Study of LGBTQ Student Success and author of Women's Colleges and Universities in a Global Context (Johns Hopkins Press, 2014).
  • Erich Pitcher
    Michigan State University
    E-mail Author
    ERICH N. PITCHER is a PhD student in Higher, Adult and Lifelong Education at Michigan State University. He serves as a graduate assistant for research and assessment for the MSU Neighborhoods Student Success Initiative.
 
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