Coal, Sex, and Democracy

Now that the semester is over, I’m beginning to catch up on bits and pieces of trans news that I’d marked for a closer look when I had time. One item that had caught my eye was a blog post from Jacobin about the guidelines issued in April by the Department of Education suggesting that transgender students are among the groups that Title IX protects from sexual violence. In the post, “An Unlikely Transgender Rights Vanguard,” Kate Redburn writes,

As welcome, and indeed necessary, as queer legal protections are, we should be cautious about endorsing the discretionary interpretation of law by agencies. There’s nothing to say that they couldn’t just as easily have had opposite findings in these cases, thus perpetuating legal discrimination without any input from Congress, the President, or the courts. As the court wrote above, it’s a subversion of the democratic system.

….In fact, Tuesday’s DOE announcement isn’t even the first time in the past few years that an agency has interpreted federal law to protect trans* and queer people without the cover of court precedent: A series of decisions at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects against gender identity-based and gender presentation-based discrimination.

….When the Employment Non-Discrimination Act has failed to pass for nearly a decade, these advances feel like a rare step forward in the fight against transphobia. They also raise troubling questions about administrative discretion and authority.

I don’t agree with Redburn’s assessment (nor, by the way, do I agree that queer includes trans, but that’s a discussion for another day). Regulations and especially administrative guidance documents like this interpretation of Title IX are part of the political process, albeit one step removed, and they change back and forth as administrations change. And to me, it’s reasonable to interpret the language of Title IX, passed in 1972 (“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance”) to include students whose gender identity or gender expression is not traditionally associated with their birth sex–i.e. transgender students.

But the DOE interpretation might not seem reasonable to everyone, and the larger argument that important political matters ought to be decided in the legislative arena has merit. Bringing those who haven’t made up their mind into the conversation can provide a better foundation in the long run.  Gayle Trotter, a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, agrees with Redburn on this. In a discussion about the Title IX announcement,  she pointed out that people have difficulty accepting “the fact that our society has changed and our culture has changed….and part of it is because these edicts come down that are not part of the political process, that have not been debated, and people feel like they are left out of the debate.”

There is another area where the Obama administration has relied  on regulations, rules and guidance documents rather than legislation: climate change.  Just like LGBT friendly legislation, bills on climate change have gotten nowhere in the Republican led House. So just this week, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed regulations that would interpret the meaning of “air pollution” in the 1970 Clean Air Act to include greenhouse gasses. The resulting policy changes would be far-reaching, and I’m all for them.

But I’m waiting for Jacobin to publish a post condemning these new clean air regulations as subversions of the democratic process. If put in place, they would have a much greater economic effect than a letter to schools pointing out that if they fail to protect trans kids from being bullied or beat up at school, they might be violating Title IX.  If the democratic process only occurs in the legislative arena (I don’t necessarily agree), when is democratic deliberation required and when is it not?  Where’s the consistency?

 

ENDA Games update

My,  how times of changed. Yesterday, 64 Senators voted to pass the ENDA. Utah’s senior senator, Orrin Hatch, was among the ten Republicans who joined 52 Democrats and independents to vote in favor of the bill. In 1988, Senator Hatch had referred to the Democratic Party as “the party of homosexuals, the party of abortion.” And in 1999, Hatch managed to insert both feet in his mouth with this remark: “People of color can’t do anything about their color. But I do believe gay people have a choice to live within the legal rules or not. It’s up to them, they do have a choice, where an African-American has no choice with regard to the color of their skin.” The Times reports today that Senator changed his mind on ENDA at the behest of the Mormon Church.

ENDA Games

As the US Senate gears up for a vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act today–which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the workplace–the New York Times described Senators’ nervousness about the bill:

One senator recalled having to explain to a colleague that the legislation would not require insurance companies to pay for sex-change operations. Another spoke of phone calls from constituents who were convinced that their children could be taught in school by men wearing dresses. And conservative groups like the Family Research Council are warning their supporters that the bill would force Christian bookstores to hire drag performers.

The largest group of beneficiaries of the bill would be gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who face discrimination in the workplace. While the percentage of the population who could be labelled “transgender” is classified information–those who know are sworn to secrecy, I hear–I do know that the percentage of GLB people dwarfs it. Still, all of the comments above focus on gender.

It was a thirty year project for activists to convince the Human Rights Campaign and ENDA’s legislative sponsors to keep gender identity in ENDA.  For too long, the common sense wisdom was that fears like those expressed above would “kill the bill” and that, when push came to shove, it would be necessary to jettison gender identity to save sexual orientation. That’s why in the past at key legislative moments a gay realpolitik prevailed, one that pitted the Human Rights Campaign against transgender communities and allies. At one point in 2007, over 300 organizations signed a letter to press Congress (and effectively HRC) to not advance legislation that left out transgender people.  That didn’t stop Representative Barney Frank from dropping gender identity from the bill that year. “Unfortunately, in 2007 we still had the ‘ick’ factor when people were confronted with transgender,” Frank told the Times yesterday. But in this legislative session it seems that HRC and ENDA’s supporters in Congress are serious about keeping gender identity* in the bill.

Of course, right now it’s all moot–while ENDA is about to pass in Senate today, it’s not expected to move at all in the dysfunctional House this session. But getting a gender identity inclusive bill through the Senate is truly a big deal.

I was motivated to write this post because reading the Times story I couldn’t help but notice how the fears of Barney Frank and earlier iterations of HRC were borne out by the comments from legislators. And, after a little poking around online, I was also struck by how easily it is to quell those fears. Staffers at the Human Rights Campaign are working round-the-clock to counter the “misinformation” circulating among Senators and some of their constituents.  On HRC’s  FAQ sheet, we learn that:

Nothing in ENDA prevents an employer from maintaining otherwise-lawful gender-based dress and appearance standards, so long as an employee is allowed to follow the standards consistent with his or her gender identity. Of course, requiring men and women to conform strictly to stereotypical views of male and female roles may violate Title VII as a form of sex discrimination. It would not, however, be a violation of ENDA.

Employers allow employees to use the restroom and other facilities segregated by sex that are consistent with the way an employee presents in the workplace. If a transgender employee is transitioning genders on the job, that employee and the employer work together to ensure that the employee has access to the appropriate facilities.

In other words, ENDA would not protect “cross-dressing” in the office. If it  ever passes in its current form, the bill would not mandate particulars of insurance coverage, like “sex change surgery.”  And while those “transitioning genders” would get to use some sort of restroom–everyone poops, according to Taro Gomi (actually, I guess there are exceptions because HRC explains that “most everyone” uses the restroom during their workday)–that restroom might not be the men’s room, or the women’s room, but another facility. The bill text doesn’t specify when “transition” is over. If the bill were to become law, that would be decided later in regulations promulgated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Passing ENDA in the Senate is a real victory, a momentous step forward.  Perhaps if (or when?) voters toss out the louts in the House who almost had the US default on its debt, they’ll be replaced by representatives who also happen to be more favorable to LGBT rights.

But it’s something of a loss as well. It’s a loss that the fears of legislators about different kinds of gender crossings could be so easily accommodated in the qualifications, caveats, and rules yet to be written. And that conformity doesn’t reflect gender conformity so much as the logics of the workplace: to use norms or rules constrict expression of any kind (headscarves, turbans, wrongly-gendered clothes), to mark difference whenever possible  (manager vs. workers, men vs. women vs. “transgender” bathrooms), and to not pay for stuff whenever possible (retirement benefits, health care of any kind, “sex change surgery.”)

________________________________________________

*Gender identity is defined in ENDA as “the gender-related identity, appearance, or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth”

New call for papers for TSQ: “Making Transgender Count”

Call for Submissions for TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly 2.1 (2015)

“Making Transgender Count”

As a relatively new social category, the very notion of a “transgender population” poses numerous intellectual, political, and technical challenges. Who gets to define what transgender is, or who is transgender?  How are trans people counted—and by whom and for whom are they enumerated?  Why is counting transgender members of a population seen as making that population’s government accountable to those individuals? What is at stake in “making transgender count”—and how might this process vary in different national, linguistic, or cultural contexts?

This issue of TSQ seeks to present a range of approaches to these challenges—everything from analyses that generate more effective and inclusive ways to measure and count gender identity and/or transgender persons, to critical perspectives on quantitative methodologies and the politics of what Ian Hacking has called “making up people.”

In many countries, large-scale national health surveys provide data that policy-makers rely on to monitor the health of the populations they oversee, and to make decisions about the allocation of resources to particular groups and regions—yet transgender people remain invisible in most such data collection projects. When administrative gender is conceived as a male/female binary determined by the sex assigned at birth, the structure, and very existence, of trans sub populations can be invisibilized by government data collection efforts. Without the routine and standardized collection of information about transgender populations, some advocates contend, transgender people will not “count” when government agencies make decisions about the health, safety and public welfare of the population. But even as more agencies become more open to surveying transgender populations, experts and professionals are not yet of one mind as to what constitutes “best practices” for sampling methods that will accurately capture respondents’ gender identity/expression, and the diversity of transgender communities. In still other quarters, debates rage about the ethics of counting trans people in the first place.

We invite proposals for scholarly essays that tackle transgender inclusion and/or gender identity/expression measurement and sampling methods in population studies,  demography, epidemiology, and other social sciences.  We also invite submissions that critically engage with the project of categorizing and counting “trans” populations.

Potential topics might include:

* best practices and strategies for transgender inclusion and sampling in quantitative research;

* critical reflections on past, current, and future data collection efforts;

* the potential effects of epidemiological research on health and other disparities in trans communities;

* who counts/gets counted and who does not: occlusions of disability, race, ethnicity, class, gender in  quantitative research on trans communities;

* the tension between the contextually specific meaning of transgender identities and the generality and fixity that data collection requires of its constructs and social categories;

*implications of linguistic, geographical, and cultural diversity in definitions of transgender and the limits of its applicability;

* critical engagements with of the biopolitics of enumerating the population.

Please send full length article submissions by December 31, 2013 to tsqjournal@gmail.com along with a brief bio including name, postal address, and any institutional affiliation. Illustrations, figures and tables should be included with the submission.

The guest editors for this issue are Jody Herman (Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law), Emilia Lombardi (Baldwin Wallace University), Sari L. Reisner (Harvard School of Public Health), Ben Singer (Vanderbilt University), and Hale Thompson (University of Illinois at

Chicago). Any questions should be sent to the guest editors at tsqjournal@gmail.com.

TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly is a new journal, edited by Paisley Currah and Susan Stryker to be published by Duke University Press. TSQ aims to be the journal of record for the interdisciplinary field of transgender studies and to promote the widest possible range of

perspectives on transgender phenomena broadly defined. Every issue of TSQ will be a specially themed issue that also contains regularly recurring features such as reviews, interviews, and opinion pieces. To learn more about the journal and see calls for papers for future special issues, visit  http://lgbt.arizona.edu/tsq-main.   For information about subscriptions, visit Duke University Press.

Obama, homonationalism, sex classification

So, a short piece I wrote has just been published in a special symposium section on the 2012 elections in Theory & Event.The essay, “Homonationalism, State Rationalities, and Sex Contradictions,” is in no way a paen to Obama or his neoliberal agenda, but neither is it a typical rehash of the homonormative critique. (It does, though, explain what’s meant by homonormative, heteronormative, and homonational and go over each term’s provenance.) I try to move the discussion sideways, suggesting we displace the mainstream LGBT rights crowd and the queer left’s tendency to fetishize  “the state.”

Spending most of my (unfortunately rare) research time poking through agency rules on sex classification, state court decisions on “transgender marriages,” and the “freeze-frame” policy governing incarcerated trans people, I can’t help but see a much more jumbled, complex picture.

Here are a couple of paragraphs from the piece:

“While the queer critiques of homonormative and homonationalist agendas are more complex than the GLB mainstream’s celebration of recent victories, the emphasis on the interpellation of queer subjects through national biopolitical projects tends to frame the discussion around activities regulated by the federal government (commerce, war, immigration, national security, etc.) and national discourses of American identity (marriage and family). In doing so, this scholarship tends to overemphasize a unity of intention on the part of state actors and to imagine the “the state” as far more monolithic than it is. Similarly, while gay rights advocates have been forced to battle official homophobia at the state and local levels, they seek a singular, all powerful, champion to resolve the problem once and for all at the federal level. One act of Congress could end employment discrimination everywhere; one Supreme Court ruling could rid us of the patchwork quilt of laws and constitutional amendments on marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnership.”

“However, construing the election as presenting a choice between Obama the good and Romney the bad [the mainstreams LGBT position], or as a battle between Obama the not-so-great and Romney the bad [the queer left], elevates grand narratives and concepts—marriage, the state—over the thousands of ongoing and quotidian decisions that regulate life. That simplification is understandable. It’s certainly much easier to talk about same-sex marriage than to do archival excavations of applications of SSA policy, to delve into the cracks and crevices of the regulatory state apparatuses….Becoming swept up in the romance, or tragedy, of the electoral narrative, gets in the way of understanding the minute technologies of governance that regulate our lives.”




I simply can’t reduce all that I’ve found (apologies for the empiricism here) into a singular narrative–be it one of progress or not (the other being, what, something like neoliberalism in the age of declining empire).  What I can say, though, is that different decisions on sex classification represent different state projects. Sometimes those projects are contradictory.


Hats off to  Steven Johnston, of the University of Utah, for organizing the symposium and the convivial post-election conference in Utah.  You can see my piece and the other symposium contributions–including Paulina Ochoa Espejo on Obama and the Dream Act, Robyn Marasco  on “Romnesia,” and Michaele Ferguson on women as an interest group (not!)–in Theory & Event, Vol. 16, no. 1. Email me if you’d like to read it but don’t have access to Project Muse.


Next up…something on the Court, same-sex marriage, federalism, and–to add something new to this discussion–sex classification.

Revving up the engine

Stay tuned, my two followers.  After a bit of a hiatus, I’m restarting this blog. I’ll  be using it to think through knotty problems or interesting but not quite thought through thoughts as I work through the home stretch of my manuscript, the long awaited opus, United States of Sex.  I’ll also be posting on topics of the day that excite or irk me.  You can expect to see musings on states and sex classification, my take on the transgender rights movement, academia, teaching, Brooklyn.

Imagined communities have their uses (they say)–but there’s nothing like imagining an actual audience to focus one’s thoughts.  Of course, one of my two blog followers is the supremely loyal but not particularly well read Alfie Mackenzie (below).

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CFP: Decolonizing the Transgender Imaginary

Transgender Studies Quarterly 1:2: Decolonizing the Transgender Imaginary

What would it mean to “decolonize the transgender imaginary?”

Popular narratives about transgender communities, identities, and practices outside North America and Europe often imagine non-Western locales as either idyllic havens of traditional acceptance towards gender diversity, or else as backward places in which trans people, like gays and lesbians (both Euro-American constructs) are universally shunned and hated. In both schemes, the non-West forms a premodern backdrop for the civilizing, tolerant liberalism of a homonationalist or trans-normative modernity. All the while, trans people and nonbinary gender systems find ways to survive, live and thrive. In these existences, we find important challenges and negotiations to localized discourses of modernity. A transnational transgender rights movement, at times sited in the global south, has taken shape over the last decade, enabled by new media technologies that are as symbolic of late capitalist industrial modernity as are the body technologies of changing sex. Together, these contradictory flows form a transnational transgender imaginary. Who are the players in this transnational transgender imaginary? What is at stake in such representational struggles? How does imagining globally networked communities of trans people interact with already-existing global flows: post- and neo-colonialism; global capital; immigration; diaspora; refuge and asylum seeking; global labor flows such as sex work or care work, and leisure travel?

Trans and queer of color scholarship has already begun to critique the homonationalism within emergent forms of “trans-normative” citizenship in many locations. And yet the very terms “trans of color” and “queer of color” signify, for some, a concern with the racial economies of the U.S. How do these optics and critiques work in a transnational context? How might such critique inform international NGO funding or human rights activism? How do “trans of color” and “queer of color” signify differently in different continents, regions, and locales? How are issues of linguistic diversity and translation to be addressed from a decolonizing perspective?
Multiple perspectives within and without queer studies about the “queer globe” have addressed similar questions for some time. Transnational queer scholarship comments on, and often participates in, a transnational LGBT justice movement. Much of the existing scholarship on transnational gender-variant social practices has appeared in the context of queer anthropology. While this cross-cultural work has made critical contributions to theories of how sexual and gender non-normativities emerge in relation to local, regional, and global flows, it also often assumes “homosexuality” as the default category of analysis within which gender-variance is subsumed. This raises important questions about the epistemological investments that contemporary Anglophone queer and transgender studies have in the categorical (dis)articulations of gender, identity, and sexuality.

We seek to call attention to the assumptions operating in much of this cross-cultural work that both biological sex and the categories “man” and “woman” are stable and self-evident across time, space, and culture, resulting in homosexuality being privileged as the essential framework in which to categorize sex and gender. These conceptual operations impose an Anglophone, modern, and western interpretive schema on historically colonized parts of the world. How might a transgender focus alter, sharpen, critique or inform such scholarship? Conversely, when scholars, activists, and funding bodies use the term “transgender” as an umbrella for local or regional categories indexing sex and gender diversity, we risk making a similar imperialist move. How might emphasizing a transgender studies perspective do more than simply offer “trans” as a better alternative to “homo,” and instead find new ways to encounter the global diversity of embodied subjectivities? How might transgender studies contribute to the decolonization of the sex and gendered imaginaries through which we grasp a world of difference?

Framed within the context of a transgender studies journal based in North America, this special issue itself is implicated in the colonialism of the North American academy. How do we decolonize our own ways of thinking transgender? How do we decolonize transgender studies itself?

We invite proposals for scholarly essays that address these and similar issues. Potential topics might include transgender studies in relation to:

• multiple, geographically disparate modernities• trans as a site of racial, class, anticolonial struggle• indigenous studies and settler colonialism• decolonizing transgender studies• trans of color critique• critiques of cross-cultural analysis• whiteness • anthropology• transgender necropolitics• transnationality• the “third gender” debate• transnational violence, transphobia, and responses to “hate crimes”• ethnographic methods• global trans movements• the uses of “transgender” in NGO’s and the academy• trans studies from the global south• south-south dialogues • global trafficking and sex work • citizenship and national belonging • global migration • trans inclusion within queer anthropology• the innocence of difference and trans studies globally• challenges in circulation/use of transposing theories and methodologies• local categories and vocabularies of trans survival and existence

To be considered for publication, please submit an article by Feb. 1st, 2013 to tsqjournal@gmail.com. Include a brief bio, your name, postal address, email, and any institutional affiliation. Final revisions will be due by May 2013.

a paper bird

Un pajaro de papel en el pecho / Dice que el tiempo de los besos no ha llegado

Gender Strangers

Theory and Practice for Queer Life.

Unlawful Entries

Author of the forthcoming United States of Sex

Corey Robin

Author of The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin

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