The Potency of Discursive Aggression in Trans Peoples’ Lives.

By stef shuster

Walking into a restaurant in downtown Metromidwest, Charlie orders a half sandwich/half soup to go. Upon placing their order, the person working the cash register looks up, smiles, and says, “Thank you Ma’am. Have a good day. Your order will be ready shortly.” Charlie levels their gaze, mumbles that they are not a lady, and continues to the waiting area for their lunch order to be called. Returning to work, Charlie sees several co-workers congregated around the conference room. One calls out, “Hey man. We were just talking about going out after work. Do you want to join in?” Charlie quietly sighs, and agrees to go out with their co-workers after work. They continue reflecting on the everyday challenges experienced in social life as a 25-year-old White genderqueer person, “I just don’t know what to say. They are my co-workers. Good people. And this is the first job that I have really liked, I don’t want to offend anyone or risk getting fired. I’ve tried before to correct them when they mis-gender me, but they just don’t get it.” Charlie shares that while these moments in interaction are common, they are difficult to negotiate, “I just expect it at this point. You know? Like – strangers don’t know that there people like me who do not identify as women or men. And my co-workers are trying to do the best they can.”

             These moments described by Charlie show us how many trans-identified people confront the limitations of language in everyday life. In my recently published piece in the August issue of Gender & Society, I examine the narratives of 40 trans people and focus on how language and talk uphold social order and regulate gender in interaction. I introduce “discursive aggression” as a term to describe how communicative acts are used in interaction to hold people accountable to social and cultural-based expectations (i.e., other-enforcement), and how individuals hold themselves accountable in anticipating the unfolding of interactions (i.e., self-enforcement). Through talk, discursive aggression regulates trans people in everyday social settings (like when Charlie is referred to as “ma’am”) and produces for them the feeling that they are not received in the ways they wish to be known, that they are made invisible, and that their self-authorship in naming and claiming a gender identity is questioned (such as when Charlie’s co-workers refer to them as “man”). Because language and talk are pervasive features of everyday life, indeed the building blocks for how individuals make sense of our selves and each other, there are limited options to respond to discursive aggression in the day-to-day interactions we have with strangers, co-workers, friends, and family.

Casual team meeting in open office discussing business
Person stands discussing business with team sitting holding documents & mugs in casual meeting in open office

  My work shows how trans people anticipate negative consequences for responding to discursive aggression. In being aware of others’ expectations for how interactions should unfold, trans people may engage in self-silencing to uphold the social order. That moment described by Charlie in seeing their co-workers and not wanting to risk correcting them out of fears of being fired, demonstrates how potent discursive aggression can be and translates to Charlie engaging in self-silencing out of fears of negative consequences they may experience by even the most well-meaning people. This particular dimension of accountability processes further shows us how power inequities play out in interaction, and how subordinated groups put in significant work to help others “save face” by not correcting mistakes, prioritize the needs of family members and friends over their own needs, and are boxed in by restrictive cultural expectations. Moving forward, scholars might consider other intersecting identities, and interactional dynamics to sort through the contexts that set the stage for people using discursive aggression–intentionally or unintentionally–to maintain their privilege in ways previously overlooked in existing scholarship and to document how power is inflected through talk and used to uphold cultural expectations and norms in interaction.

stef shuster is an assistant professor of sociology at Appalachian State University. Their research examines the social construction of “evidence” in three domains including medicine, social movements, and in the construction of knowledge. Their work has recently appeared in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior and Social Psychology Quarterly.

Advertisements

Gender & Society in The Classroom’s Guide for Syllabi on Immigration

This collection of articles provides analyses of how gender informs the migration process, produces new gendered outcomes and relationships, and how men and women navigate their lives as (im)migrants. Gender is central to all the research here, but gendered processes, outcomes, and experiences are shaped by the state, work, and family, as well as the intersectional identities of (im)migrants. Spanning research from several countries, these articles will prompt students to question conventional notions on how, for instance, migration leads to gendered empowerment or how human rights-based measures are automatically beneficial for immigrant women. This research also provides insights on how the consequences of migration also provide new gendered opportunities for experiencing masculinity, re-arranging care work, and creating more sustainable and supportive communities. Despite these opportunities, migration and immigration (enforcement) policies also have its costs; the article on immigrant organizing against deportation and research on migrant domestic workers underscore the enduring struggle for legibility and mobility.

Andrews, Abigail. 2014. Women’s political engagement in a Mexican sending community: Migration as crisis and the struggle to sustain an alternative. Gender & Society 28 (4): 583-608.

This article demonstrates how Mexican women’s migration to the U.S., and subsequent return migration creates new gendered opportunities for women to become politically engaged in sustaining their communities of origin. This article includes a wide array of data, including participant observation, 51 life story interviews with Mexican Mixtec men and women in Vista, California and San Miguel, Mexico, and survey data. Faced with the ‘crisis’ of living undocumented lives in the U.S., many migrant women returned back home to help build sustainable communities through civic participation, which was previously limited to men. Women’s increased participation in these spaces were successful, newly acceptable and often, necessary as many migrant men remained in the U.S. to fulfill breadwinning duties. This article lends insights on how hostile contexts of reception and subsequent return migration creates gendered consequences and new opportunities for survival.

Das Gupta, Monisha. 2014. “Don’t deport our daddies”: Gendering state deportation practices and immigrant organizing. Gender & Society 28 (1): 83-109.

This article focuses on Families for Freedom (FFF), a grassroots organization dedicated to assisting families that have deported or deportable immigrant fathers with criminal convictions. Das Gupta expertly outlines how researchers and activists have often relied on the affective pull of heterosexual family ties to challenge deportation. The data for this study includes personal narratives, or testimonios and interviews with members of FFF and the New York chapter of the New Sanctuary Movement. Das Gupta finds that FFF testimonios protest deportation by placing an emphasis on the emotional, care and parenting work that fathers provide for their families. Interviews with FFF leaders also reveal the strategies the organization must use to build solidarity and make criminalized fathers legible. Aside from the research and arguments presented, students will likely benefit from reading Das Gupta’s useful background on contemporary immigration and deportation policies.

Choo, Hae Yeon. 2013. The cost of rights: Migrant women, feminist advocacy, and gendered morality in South Korea. Gender & Society 27 (4): 445-468.

Focusing on frameworks of citizenship, this paper explores how feminist organizations in South Korea used a discourse of victimization and human trafficking to argue for human rights-based provisions for marriage migrants and migrant women working as hostesses. Choo’s data includes extensive fieldwork with Korean migrant advocacy organizations and Filipino migrant communities. Choo finds that migrant women in her study did not pursue human rights-based provisions because doing so would contradict the moral and stigma-reducing logics they have assigned to their relationships and work. Claiming victimhood to access human-rights provisions, in some cases, also appeared to make less economic sense. Highlighting immigrant women’s agency, this research illustrates how there can be a cost to accessing certain rights.

De Regt, Marina. 2010. Ways to come, ways to leave: Gender, mobility, and il/legality among Ethiopian domestic workers in Yemen. Gender & Society 24 (2): 237-260.

Recognizing the dearth of literature on migrant domestic workers in the Middle East outside of research exclusively on exploitation or violence, this article focuses on how gender shapes the migration trajectory of migrant domestic workers and how (il)legality subsequently impacts their mobility. Spanning more than a ten-year period, the data for this article includes extensive fieldwork and interviews with Ethiopian migrant domestic workers working in Yemen. Students may appreciate reading interview narratives that demonstrate how the pre-migration options have important consequences for migration. Migrant women recruited through family members often experience more mobility compared to women who are recruited through agencies as contract workers.

Schmalzbauer, Leah. 2009. Gender on a new frontier: Mexican migration in the rural mountain West. Gender & Society 23 (6): 747-767.

Challenging the notion that migration is always empowering for women, this article provides important insights on how the context of reception matters for how migrants experience their new lives and gendered relationships. Pulled from ethnographic data gathered in rural Montana, Schmalzbauer demonstrates that the process of migration and settlement in Montana reproduces gendered relationships between partners that typically impacts women in a negative way. The lack of available jobs for women means migrant Mexican women are relegated to the home, even when they may have had previous work experience. Women are further socially confined because of the geography of the area and limited public transportation. As a destination with few migrants, Mexican women also feel their presence is especially highlighted in public places which is an especially dangerous problem for undocumented women. Despite these issues, for those with children and experience living in high-crime urban areas, the area represents a safer place to raise their children.

Gender & Society in the Classroom is curated by scholars in the field and is a listing of articles that would be relevant in certain classrooms. These lists are not exhaustive but contain a small section of important articles that can begin to start classroom discussion on a variety of topics.

Organized by Cassaundra Rodriguez, University of Massachusetts. Comments or suggestions contact gendsoc@oakland.edu

Gender & Society’s Classroom Guide for Syllabi on Teaching Sociology of Gender

We are always curious here in the G&S offices as to which articles from our journal are being used in the classroom. We decided to ask a few of our editorial board members to share this information with us and all of you for the upcoming school year. George Sanders, Oakland University, agreed to be the first to share what G&S articles he will be using for  Sociology of Gender. We hope you find this list helpful as you too get ready for another year in the classroom!

While ostensibly an article focused on embodiment, in “‘Getting your Body Back’: Post-Industrial Fit Motherhood in Shape Fit Pregnancy Magazine” [Dworkin, Shari L. and Faye Linda Wachs. 2004. “Getting your Body Back”: Post-Industrial Fit Motherhood in Shape Fit Pregnancy Magazine. Gender & Society 18 (5): 610-624], Dworkin and Wachs address a variety of important sociological themes, making it highly versatile. In this article, the authors conducted a content/textual analysis of Shape Fit Pregnancy magazine (quite thoroughly, it should be noted, since they looked at every issue since its very first one). Dworkin and Wachs, in short, find that the messaging to women is straightforward and consistent—the pregnant body is something akin to a necessary evil and once women have given birth they ought to strive to “bounce back” as quickly as possible in order to conform to the ideal typical body of emphasized femininity. Beyond revealing ways in which norms shape our understanding of our bodies (and, indeed, guide us to actually shape our bodies), the authors also address: emphasized femininity, second shift and third shift, commodification of feminist social movements, matrix of domination, and post-industrial society.

In “Hetero-Romantic Love and Heterosexiness in Children’s G-Rated Films” Martin and Kazyak examine the role of popular kids’ movies in reinforcing heteronormativity [Martin, Karin A. and Emily Kazyak. 2009. Hetero-Romantic Love and Heterosexiness. Gender & Society 23(3): 315-336]. In their article they discuss two prominent themes related to heteronormativity. First, heterosexual relationships are highly idealized, “not ordinary or mundane but, rather… powerful, exceptional, and magical” (p. 317). Second, women are presented as the objects of the male gaze. One of the reasons this article is so appealing for a sociology of gender classroom is that it lends itself to concrete examples instructors can use during a class session. While the article’s time parameters are limited to movies that appeared between 1990 and 2005, there are an abundance of clips online that feature more recent movies. Students can then be encouraged to reflexively consider movies they remember seeing as a child and can deploy their own sociological imagination by seeing how abstract sociological concepts apply to their socialization into our heteronormative society.

Betsy Lucal’s article “What it Means to be Gendered Me: Life on the Boundaries of a Dichotomous Gender System” [Lucal, Betsy. 1999. What it Means to be Gendered Me: Life on the Boundaries of a Dichotomous Gender System. Gender & Society 13(6): 781-797], has been a mainstay in my Sociology of Gender course. Lucal is a woman who describes her outward appearance (both in body and dress) as being prototypically masculine. In her article she deftly describes numerous occasions that, because of her appearance, disrupt the otherwise well-greased flow of social interactions. Here, students learn how deeply entrenched our taken-for-granted expectations around gender norms really are. Too, because the article draws on auto-ethnographic strategies, they can broaden their appreciation for lived experience as a legitimate resource for social scientific research. Furthermore, Lucal highlights the ways individual agency is best understood along a continuum as opposed to something more dichotomous and static (i.e., as something one has or doesn’t have).

Hybrid masculinities, Bridges and Pascoe’s conceptual corrective to Connell’s classic work on masculinities, has found traction in a number of Gender and Society articles. I am excited to try out one recently published piece in the forthcoming semester: “Aggressive and Loving Men: Gender Hegemony in Christian Hardcore Punk” by Amy D. McDowell [McDowell, Amy D. 2017. Aggressive and Loving Men: Gender Hegemony in Christian Hardcore Punk. Gender & Society. 31(2): 223-244]. In it, McDowell examines how musicians and audience members alike perpetuate gender and sexual inequalities through compromise and complicity. The article not only serves as a nice exploration of religion and gender, it also reveals ways men navigate dominant, subordinate, and marginalized forms of masculinity. I imagine my students will gain a stronger understanding of the negotiation involved with performing any identity (not simply men performing masculinities). Additionally, I think some students can identify with the ways in which a broad array of cultural “scenes” reinforce heteronormativity and norms around gender and sexuality.

In “Not Yet Queer Enough: The Lessons of Queer Theory for the Sociology of Gender and Sexuality” [Valocchi, Stephen. 2005. Not Yet Queer Enough: The Lessons of Queer Theory for the Sociology of Gender and Sexuality. Gender & Society.  19(6): 750-770], Valocchi provides us with both a wonderfully approachable overview of queer theory (via an examination of four popular books in the field) as well as suggestions for further integrating queer theory into the sociology of gender. For students, the article can serve as one component of a broader primer in queer theory. Here students can learn more about core concepts like intersectionality, ethnographic methods, and sexual identity as well as more advance ideas like performativity, fluidity, and subjectivity. While queer theory may be considered intellectually challenging to students in a lower-level sociology of gender course, the author does a marvelous job of highlighting its importance and usefulness to the up-and-coming sociologists in any gender classroom.

Gender & Society in the Classroom is curated by scholars in the field and is a listing of articles that would be relevant in certain classrooms. These lists are not exhaustive but contain a small section of important articles that can begin to start classroom discussion on a variety of topics.

Organized by: George Sanders, Oakland University. Comments or suggestions please e-mail gendsoc@oaklnad.edu.

Gender & Society in The Classroom’s Guide for Syllabi on Bodies and Embodiment

 

These articles are offered as resources for courses that address gender, the body and embodiment. They approach the topic from a variety of perspectives and identity and are useful in disrupting assumptions about sex, gender and the body.

Mora, Richard. 2012. “Do it for your pubic hairs!”: Latino boys, masculinity and puberty. Gender & Society 26 (3): 433-460.

This article highlights the embodied experiences of Puerto Rican and Dominican adolescences. Through ethnographic research, the body becomes the central way boys in puberty understand their masculinity and social world. The author examines how the boys construct masculinity through social practices and interactions that directly reference their changing bodies. Due to the research subjects’ positionality as second generation immigrants, they construct a masculinity that emphasizes toughness and physical strength.

Hammer, Gili. 2012. Blind women’s appearance management: Negotiating normalcy between discipline and pleasure. Gender & Society 26 (3): 406-432.

This article discusses how blind women use appearance management and use their body as a tool to disrupt or reject stigmatizing beliefs about themselves made by society. The author confronts how most literature about women’s appearance focuses on visual interactions where women “see and are seen” with them taking an active role in using sight with these interactions, which ultimately leaves out how disabled blind women negotiate these interactions. What she found were women taking on a visibility politic that challenged normative beliefs about how blind women perform or embody femininity to actively challenge how others view them.

Schrock, Douglas, Lori Reid, and Emily M. Boyd. 2005. Transsexuals’ embodiment of womanhood. Gender & Society 19 (3): 317-355.

This article draws on in-depth interviews with nine white, middle-class, male-to-female transsexuals to examine how they produce and experience bodily transformation. Interviewees’ bodywork entailed retraining, redecorating, and reshaping the physical body, which shaped their feelings, role taking, and self-monitoring. These analyses make three contributions: They offer support for a perspective that embodies gender, further transsexual scholarship, and contribute to feminist debate over the sex/gender distinction. The authors conclude by exploring how viewing gender as embodied could influence medical discourse on transsexualism and have personal and political consequences for transsexuals.

Hennen, Peter. 2005. Bear bodies, bear masculinity: Recuperation, resistance, or retreat? Gender & Society 19 (1): 25-41.

Looking into the subculture of Bear communities, this article takes a look at how gay men embody Bear culture through resistance against stereotypical association of homosexuality with effeminacy by embracing larger, fleshy hairy bodies. This article also discusses how Bears look, act and perform masculinity within the subculture. By looking at how Bear embodiment is performed, Hennen shows that while Bears can be subversive in challenging normative forms of masculinity they still repurpose it as an attempt to form normalization.

Beauboeuf-Lafontant, Tamara. 2003. Strong and large black women?: Exploring relationships between deviant womanhood and weight. Gender & Society 17 (1): 111-121.

This article questions the societal and cultural image of Black women as strong and suggests that this seemingly affirming portrayal is derived from a discourse of enslaved women’s deviance. In highlighting connections between perceived strength and physical size among Black women, the analysis extends current feminist theory by considering the ways in which the weight many strong African American women carry is reflective of the deviant and devalued womanhood that they are expected to embody both within and outside their culture. This article also provides a stark contrast to the many of the themes found within literature about the body, eating disorders and body image that focuses on white women by taking into account the how the intersections of race and gender impact how black women’s bodies are framed in society.

Williams, Susan. 2002. Trying on gender, gender regimes, and the process of becoming a woman. Gender & Society 16 (1): 29-52.

In this article it discusses how adolescent girls “try on” or experiment with gender as a means to fully create sense of womanhood. Based on a 4 year study of 26 adolescent girls this article is a good reference to understanding how femininity or sense of gender is created not only through experimentation but also how communities have differing forms of femininity due to class, due to class, race and gender differences.

Gender & Society in the Classroom is curated by scholars in the field and is a listing of articles that would be relevant in certain classrooms. These lists are not exhaustive but contain a small section of important articles that can begin to start classroom discussion on a variety of topics.

Organized by: Amanda Levitt, Wayne State University.  Comments or suggestions please e-mail gendsoc@oaklnad.edu.

Gender & Society in The Classroom’s Guide for Syllabi on Transgender and Non-Binary Gender Identities

The following Gender & Society articles focus on the growing scholarship on transgender and non-binary gender identities.  As this body of scholarly literature continues to grow, as will this list of articles that may be used as supplements to other readings in the classroom.

Jenness, V., & Fenstermaker, S. 2016. Forty Years after Brownmiller prisons for men, transgender inmates, and the rape of the feminine. Gender & Society 30 (1): 14-29.

In this essay, we draw on a growing body of research, including our own work recently published in this journal, to consider the social organization of prison rape as it relates to transgender women. Just as Brownmiller (1975) focused attention on rape as a male prerogative, a weapon of force against women, and an agent of fear, our central focus is on “the rape of the feminine” in the context of prisons for men and with an eye toward the intersection of the state and violence. In the next section, we inventory some alarming facts about the rape of transgender women in carceral environments built for men (and only men). Thereafter, we describe and theorize the unique space and social relations in which this type of rape emerges in relation to the social organization of gender in prison. We conclude with comments about the relationship between embodiment, gender, and the rape of the feminine in a carceral context.

Davis, Georgiann, Jodie M. Dewey, and Erin L. Murphy. 2016. Giving sex: Deconstructing intersex and trans medicalization practices. Gender & Society 30 (3): 490-514.

Although medical providers rely on similar tools to “treat” intersex and trans individuals, their enactment of medicalization practices varies. To deconstruct these complexities, we employ a comparative analysis of providers who specialize in intersex and trans medicine. While both sets of providers tend to hold essentialist ideologies about sex, gender, and sexuality, we argue they medicalize intersex and trans embodiments in different ways. Providers for intersex people are inclined to approach intersex as an emergency that necessitates medical attention, whereas providers for trans people attempt to slow down their patients’ urgent requests for transitioning services. Building on conceptualizations of “giving gender,” we contend both sets of providers “give gender” by “giving sex.” In both cases too, providers shift their own responsibility for their medicalization practices onto others: parents in the case of intersex, or adult recipients of care in the case of trans. According to the accounts of most providers, successful medical interventions are achieved when a person adheres to heteronormative gender practices.

Averett, K. H. 2015. The gender buffet LGBTQ parents resisting heteronormativity. Gender & Society 30 (2): 189-212.

Many parents and child-rearing experts prefer that children exhibit gender-normative behavior, a preference that is linked to the belief that children are, or should be, heterosexual. But how do LGBTQ parents—who may not hold these preferences—approach the gender socialization of their children? Drawing on in-depth interviews with both members in 18 LGBTQ couples, I find that these parents attempt to provide their children with a variety of gendered options for clothing, toys, and activities—a strategy that I call the “gender buffet.” However, the social location of the parents influences the degree to which they feel they can pursue this strategy of resistance. Factors such as race, social class, gender of parents and children, and level of support of family and community members contribute to the degree to which LGBTQ parents feel they can allow or encourage their children to disrupt gender norms.

Rahilly, E. P. 2015. The gender binary meets the gender-variant child: Parents’ negotiations with childhood gender variance. Gender & Society 29 (3): 338-361.

Until recently, raising a young child as transgender was culturally unintelligible. Most scholarship on transgender identity refers to adults’ experiences and perspectives. Now, the increasing visibility of gender-variant children, as they are identified by the parents who raise them, presents new opportunities to examine how individuals confront the gender binary and imagine more gender-inclusive possibilities. Drawing on Foucault’s notion of “truth regime” to conceptualize the regulatory forces of the gender binary in everyday life, this work examines the strategies of 24 such parents, who represent 16 cases of childhood gender variance. Specifically, I analyze three practices—“gender hedging,” “gender literacy,” and “playing along”—through which these parents develop a critical consciousness about gender binary ideology and work to accommodate their children’s nonconformity in diverse discursive interactions. Taken together, their newfound strategies and perspectives subvert traditional conceptions of “gender-neutral” or “feminist” parenting, and reveal new modes of resistance to the normative transmission and regulation of gender practices.

David, E. 2015. Purple-collar labor transgender workers and queer value at global call centers in the Philippines. Gender & Society 29 (2): 169-194.

This article examines new patterns of workplace inequality that emerge as transgender people are incorporated into the global labor market. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 41 transgender call center employees in the Philippines, I develop the concept “purple-collar labor” to describe how transgender workers—specifically trans women—are clustered, dispersed, and segregated in the workplace and how their patterned locations in social organizational structures serve a particular value-producing function. These patterned inclusions, I argue, come with explicit and implicit interactional expectations about how “trans” should be put to work in the expansion and accumulation of global capital. In this way, the study examines the production and extraction of queer value and the folding of trans women’s gendered performances into commercial exchange. Data show how the affective labor of transgender employees is used to help foster productivity, ease workplace tensions, and boost employee morale. This study of transgender employment experiences opens new lines of inquiry for understanding gender inequalities at work, and it builds on scholarship that combines political economy approaches with transgender studies.

Jenness, V., & S. Fenstermaker. 2014. Agnes goes to prison: Gender authenticity, transgender inmates in prisons for men, and pursuit of “The real deal”. Gender & Society 28 (1): pp. 5-31.

Historically developed along gender lines and arguably the most sex segregated of institutions, U.S. prisons are organized around the assumption of a gender binary. In this context, the existence and increasing visibility of transgender prisoners raise questions about how gender is accomplished by transgender prisoners in prisons for men. This analysis draws on official data and original interview data from 315 transgender inmates in 27 California prisons for men to focus analytic attention on the pursuit of “the real deal”—a concept we develop to reference a dynamic related to how gender is accomplished by transgender inmates. Specifically, among transgender inmates in prisons for men, there is competition for the attention and affection of “real men” in prisons: the demonstrable and well-articulated desire to secure standing as “the best girl” in sex segregated institutional environments. Our empirical examination sheds light on the gender order that underpins prison life, the lived experience of gender and sexuality for transgender inmates in prisons for men, and how that experience reveals new aspects of the workings of gender accountability.

Westbrook, L., & K. Schilt. 2013. Doing gender, determining gender: Transgender people, gender panics, and the maintenance of the sex/gender/sexuality system. Gender & Society 28(1): 32-57.

This article explores “determining gender,” the umbrella term for social practices of placing others in gender categories. We draw on three case studies showcasing moments of conflict over who counts as a man and who counts as a woman: public debates over the expansion of transgender employment rights, policies determining eligibility of transgender people for competitive sports, and proposals to remove the genital surgery requirement for a change of sex marker on birth certificates. We show that criteria for determining gender differ across social spaces. Gender-integrated spaces are more likely to use identity-based criteria, while gender-segregated spaces, like the sexual spaces we have previously examined (Schilt and Westbrook 2009), are more likely to use biology-based criteria. In addition, because of beliefs that women are inherently vulnerable and men are dangerous, “men’s” and “women’s” spaces are not policed equally—making access to women’s spaces central to debates over transgender rights.

Pfeffer, C. A. 2012. Normative resistance and inventive pragmatism: Negotiating structure and agency in transgender families. Gender & Society 26 (4): 574-602.

Transgender individuals and families throw existing taxonomic classification systems of identity into perplexing disarray, illuminating sociolegal dilemmas long overdue for critical sociological inquiry. Using interview data collected from 50 cisgender women from across (primarily) the United States and Canada, who detail 61 unique partnerships with transgender and transsexual men, this work considers the pragmatic choices and choice-making capacities (or “agency”) of this social group as embedded within social systems, structures, and institutions. Proposing the analytic constructs of “normative resistance” and “inventive pragmatism” to situate the interactional processes between agency and structure in the everyday lives of this understudied group of cisgender women, this work theorizes the liminal sociolegal status of an understudied family form. In so doing, it exposes the increasingly paradoxical consolidation and destabilization of sociolegal notions of identity, marriage, normativity, and parenthood—challenging, contributing to, and extending current theoretical and empirical understandings of agency and structure in twenty-first-century families.

Meyer, D. 2012. An intersectional analysis of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people’s evaluations of anti-queer violence. Gender & Society 26 (6): 849-873.

The author uses an intersectionality framework to examine how lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people evaluate the severity of their violent experiences. Previous research focusing on the severity of anti-LGBT violence has given relatively little attention to race, class, and gender as systems of power. In contrast, results from this study, based on 47 semi-structured, in-depth interviews, reveal that Black and Latino/Latina respondents often perceived anti-queer violence as implying that they had negatively represented their racial communities, whereas white respondents typically overlooked the racialized implications of their violent experiences. Furthermore, while lesbians of color emphasized their autonomy and self-sufficiency to challenge this discourse, Black and Latino gay men underscored their emotional and physical strength to undermine perceptions that they were weak for identifying as gay. Results also indicate that LGBT people experience forms of anti-queer violence in different ways depending on their social position, as Black lesbians faced discourse that neither white lesbians nor Black gay men were likely to confront. Thus, these findings suggest that topics primarily associated with homophobia should be examined through an intersectional lens.

Connell, C. 2010. Doing, undoing, or redoing gender? Learning from the workplace experiences of transpeople. Gender & Society 24 (1): 31-55.

Drawing from the perspectives of transgender individuals, this article offers an empirical investigation of recent critiques of West and Zimmerman’s “doing gender” theory. This analysis uses 19 in-depth interviews with transpeople about their negotiation and management of gendered interactions at work to explore how their experiences potentially contribute to the doing, undoing, or redoing of gender in the workplace. I find that transpeople face unique challenges in making interactional sense of their sex, gender, and sex category and simultaneously engage in doing, undoing, and redoing gender in the process of managing these challenges. Consequently, I argue that their interactional gender accomplishments are not adequately captured under the rubric of “doing gender” and suggest instead that they be understood as “doing transgender.” This article outlines the process of and consequences of “doing transgender” and its potential implications for the experience of and transformation of gender inequality at work.

Dozier, R. 2005. Beards, breasts, and bodies doing sex in a gendered world. Gender & Society 19 (3): 297-316.

Gender is commonly thought of as dependent on sex even though there are occasional aberrations. Interviews with female-to-male transgender people, however, suggest that sex and sex characteristics can be understood as expressions of gender. The expression of gender relies on both behavior and the appearance of the performer as male or female. When sex characteristics do not align with gender, behavior becomes more important to gender expression and interpretation. When sex characteristics become more congruent with gender, behavior becomes more fluid and less important in asserting gender. Respondents also challenge traditional notions of sexual orientation by focusing less on the sex of the partner and more on the gender organization of the relationship. The relationship’s ability to validate the interviewee’s masculinity or maleness often takes precedence over the sex of the partner, helping to explain changing sexual orientation as female-to-male transsexual and transgendered people transition into men.

Gender & Society in the Classroom is curated by scholars in the field and is a listing of articles that would be relevant in certain classrooms. These lists are not exhaustive but contain a small section of important articles that can begin to start classroom discussion on a variety of topics.

Organized by Jenny Lendrum, Wayne State University. Comments and suggestions contact gendsoc@oakland.edu.

Trump and the Politics of Fluid Masculinities

By James W. Messerschmidt and Tristan Bridges

In the 1950s, a collection of sociologists and psychologists (which included, among others, Theodor Adorno) wrote The Authoritarian Personality. They were attempting to theorize the type of personality — a particular psychology — that gave rise to fascism in the 1930s. Among other things, they suggested that the “authoritarian personality” was characterized by a normative belief in absolute obedience to their authority in addition to the practical enactment of that belief through direct and indirect marginalization and suppression of “subordinates.” While Adorno and his colleagues did not consider the gender of this personality, today gender scholars recognize authoritarianism as a particular form of masculinity, and current U.S. president Donald Trump might appear to be a prime illustration of a rigid and inflexible “authoritarian personality.”

Yet Trump’s masculinity avoids a direct comparison to this label precisely because of the fluidity he projects. Indeed, the “authoritarian personality” is overly fixed, immutable, and one dimensional as a psychoanalytical personality type. Sociologists understand identities as more flexible than this. Certain practices of Trump exemplify the fluctuations of masculinity that illustrate this distinction, and the transformations in his masculinity are highly contingent upon context. While this is a common political strategy, Trump’s shifts are important as they enable him to construct a “dominating masculinity” that perpetuates diverse forms of social inequality. Dominating masculinities are those that involve commanding and controlling interactions to exercise power and control over people and events.  These masculinities are most problematic when they also are hegemonic and work to legitimize unequal relations between women and men. Here are a few examples:

First, in his speeches and public statements prior to being elected, Trump bullied and subordinated “other” men by referring to them as “weak,” “low energy,” or as “losers,” or implying they are “inept” or a “wimp.” (“Othering” is a social process whereby certain people are viewed and/or treated as somehow fundamentally different and unequal.) For example, during several Republican presidential debates, Trump consistently labeled Marco Rubio as “little Marco,” described Jeb Bush as “low energy Jeb,” implied that John McCain was a “wimp” because he was captured and tortured during the Vietnam War, and suggested that contemporary military veterans battling PTSD are “inept” because they “can’t handle” the “horror” they observed in combat. In contrast, Trump consistently referred to himself as, for example, strong, a fighter, and as the embodiment of success. In each case, Trump ascribes culturally-defined “inferior” subordinate gender qualities to his opponents while imbuing himself with culturally defined “superior” masculine qualities. This pairing signifies an unequal relationship between masculinities—one both dominating and hegemonic (Trump) and one subordinate (the “other” men).

A second example of Trump’s fluid masculinity applies to the way he has depicted himself as the heroic masculine protectorof all Americans. This compassion may appear, at first blush, at odds with the hegemonic masculinity just discussed. For example, in his Republican Convention speech Trump argued that he alone can lead the country back to safety by protecting the American people through the deportation of “dangerous” and “illegal” Mexican and Muslim immigrants and by “sealing the border.” In so doing, Trump implied that Americans are unable to defend themselves — a fact he used to justify his need to “join the political arena.” Trump stated: “I will liberate our citizens from crime and terrorism and lawlessness” by “restoring law and order” throughout the country — “I will fight for you, I will win for you.” Here Trump adopts a position as white masculine protector of Americans against men of color, instructing all US citizens to entrust their lives to him; in return, he offers safety. Trump depicts himself as aggressive, invulnerable, and able to protect while all remaining US citizens are depicted as dependent and uniquely vulnerable. Trump situates himself as analogous to the patriarchal masculine protector toward his wife and other members of the patriarchal household. But simultaneously, Trump presents himself as a compassionate, caring, and kind-hearted benevolent protector, and thereby constructs a hybrid hegemonic masculinity consisting of both masculine and feminine qualities.

Third, in the 2005 interaction between Trump and Billy Bush on the now infamous Access Hollywood tour bus, Trump presumes he is entitled to the bodies of women and (not surprisingly) admits committing sexual assault against women because, according to him, he has the right. He depicts women as collections of body parts and disregards their desires, needs, expressed preferences, and their consent. After the video was aired more women have come forward and accused Trump of sexual harassment and assault. Missed in discussions of this interaction is how that dialogue actually contradicts, and thus reveals, the myth of Trump’s protectorhegemonic masculinity. The interaction on the bus demonstrates that Trump is not a “protector” at all; he is a “predator.”

Trump’s many masculinities represent a collection of contradictions. Trump’s heroic protector hegemonic masculinity should have been effectively unmasked, revealing a toxic predatory heteromasculinity. Discussions of this controversy, however, failed to articulate any sign of injury to his campaign because Trump was able to connect with a dominant discourse of masculinity often relied upon to explain all manner of men’s (mis)behavior — it was “locker room talk,” we were told. And the sad fact is, the news cycle moved on.

We argue that Trump has managed such contradictions by mobilizing, in certain contexts, what has elsewhere (and above) been identified as a “dominating masculinity” (seeherehere and here— involving commanding and controlling specific interactions and exercising power and control over people and events. This dominating masculinity has thus far centered on six critical features:

1) Trump operates in ways that cultivate domination over others he works with, in particular rewarding people based on their loyalty to him.

2) Trump’s dominating masculinity serves the interests of corporations by cutting regulations, lowering corporate taxes, increasing military spending, and engaging in other neoliberal practices, such as attempting to strip away healthcare from 24 million people, defunding public schools, and making massive cuts to social programs that serve poor and working-class people, people of color, and the elderly.

3) Trump has relied on his dominating masculinity to serve his particular needs as president, such as refusing to release his tax returns and ruling through a functioning kleptocracy (using the office to serve his family’s economic interests).

4) This masculinity is exemplified through the formulation of a dominating militaristic foreign policy (for example, U.S. airstrikes of civilians in Yemen, Iraq and Syria have increased dramatically under Trump; the MOAB bombing of Afghanistan; threats to North Korea) rather than engaging in serious forms of diplomacy. Trump has formed a global ultraconservative “axis of evil”— whose defining characteristics are kleptocracy and dominating masculinity — with the likes of Putin (Russia), el-Sisi (Egypt), Erdogan (Turkey), Salman (Saudi Arabia), Duterte (Philippines) among others.

5) So too has this dominating masculinity had additional effects “at home” as Trump prioritizes domestically the repressive arm of the state through white supremacist policies such as rounding-up and deporting immigrants and refugees as well as his anti-Muslim rhetoric and attempted Muslim ban.

6) Trump’s dominating masculinity attempts to control public discourse through his constant tweets that are aimed at discrediting and subordinating those who disagree with his policies.

Trump’s masculinity is fluid, contradictory, situational, and it demonstrates the diverse and crisscrossing pillars of support that uphold inequalities worldwide. From different types of hegemonic masculinities, to a toxic predatory heteromasculinity, to his dominating masculinity, Trump’s chameleonic display is part of the contemporary landscape of gender, class, race, age and sexuality relations and inequalities. Trump does not construct a consistent form of masculinity. Rather, he oscillates — at least from the evidence we have available to us. And in each case, his oscillations attempt to overcome the specter of femininity — the fear of being the unmasculine man — through the construction of particularized masculinities.

It is through these varying practices that Trump’s masculinity is effective in bolstering specific forms and systems of inequality that have been targeted and publicly challenged in recent history. Durable forms of social inequality achieve resilience by becoming flexible. By virtue of their fluidity of expression and structure, they work to establish new pillars of ideological support, upholding social inequalities as “others” are challenged. As C. J. Pascoe has argued, a dominating masculinity is not unique to Trump or only his supporters; Trump’s opponents rely on it as well (see also sociologist Kristen Barber’s analysis of anti-Trump masculinity tactics). And it is for these reasons that recognizing Trump’s fluidity of masculinity is more than mere academic observation; it is among the chief mechanisms through which contemporary forms of inequality — from the local to the global — are justified and persist today.

*Originally posted on Democratic Socialists of America.

James W. Messerschmidt is professor of sociology and chair of the Criminology Department at the University of Southern Maine. He has written widely on masculinities, and his most recent book is Masculinities in the Making.

Tristan Bridges is assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. With C. J. Pascoe, he recently co-edited the anthology, Exploring Masculinities.

Critiquing and Creating Social Spaces

By Christopher Matthews

I was happy to be asked to write a blog post shortly after publishing this paper in Gender and Society. I remember sitting down at my laptop to start the process of translating my academic arguments into less opaque language. Part way through this process I realized that what I was writing didn’t have the impact that I was hoping for; the post was turning into a simplified summary of my paper. “Surely,” I remember thinking to myself, “a blog post should be more than this?” With some time I realized that my frustration was connected to broader issues related to the translation of research, public engagement and active scholarship.

There have been useful attempts within academia to begin developing impact of scholarship, that is, actually doing something based on research findings. One crucial element of this in the UK has been the significance that is placed on evidencing the impact of research in order to obtain funding in the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Unfortunately, my research in boxing has had almost zero measurable impact when considered in this manner. This is why I struggled to develop what I considered to be an interesting blog post at the time, I wasn’t ready to start telling people beyond academia about my research, as I’d not done anything really significant with it yet!

My paper was based on ethnographic research I undertook in a boxing, martial arts and weight lifting gym in England (see Matthews, 2014, 2015 for more detail). The central critique I made in the paper was that while there’s lots of evidence of broad societal shifting in various ways towards equality there are social-cultural spaces that remain, and perhaps become increasing, resistant to such change. When my analysis is broken down to this level it becomes a simple idea, and it is, so while the paper makes a relatively significant contribution to academic knowledge, the obvious question follow; so what? Or what’s next? And this is why I feel the need to create not only critique.

boxing
Luke Jones at Bexhill Film Company

Boxing, as a cultural phenomenon, has a long history of being a site for difference, inclusion, diversity and challenging social norms. Yet, it is still dominated symbolically and quantitatively by certain men and narratives about manhood. The legacy of boxing’s historical roots in a powerful, aggressive and often violent masculine body culture still shape and frame contemporary experiences inside and around the gym. However, the rise of women’s boxing, perhaps highlighted most significantly at the London 2012 Olympic games, has made stories of female boxing fair easier to tell and live (See Woodward (2012) for a discussion).

 This Girl Can Box

England boxing and many boxing clubs around the country have made significant contributions to continuing this process. And while there is still much work to be done, many boxing clubs have become spaces where powerful, skillful and strong female bodies are presented, expected and respected.

Where boxing clubs in a general sense appear to be more resistant to change is in their ability to attract and cater for LGBTQI+ communities. In many cases this is not through any sort of open or even covert homophobia, but rather a lack of knowledge about how, and in what ways, it might be possible to break the symbolic association between boxing and certain images, ideas and stories of heterosexual men. For example, I spoke recently with a gay man who really wanted to try boxing, but when attending his local gym simply couldn’t walk through the door, as if there was a force field keeping him out.

 The clearest way of tackling this issue, is to create spaces where these ‘social force fields’ can be eroded. Indeed, there are some great examples of how this is already happening (London Gay Boxing Club, Velvet Gloves Boxing NYE). So I began working with my local gym, the Eastbourne Boxing Club (EBC), to explore the potential for starting an LGBTQI+ boxing class.

The first stumbling block is funding. One of the main reasons boxing clubs do not have such sessions already is that they believe, in most cases quite rightly I would suggest, that they simply won’t be popular enough to cover expenses. Most clubs simply don’t have the finances to enable them to take risks on sessions for groups that have not traditionally been associated with boxing. I was able to secure some funding from the University of Brighton’s Community and University Partnership Programme to help in this regard.

The next issue is to find coaches who can deliver boxing in a manner which is inclusive and considered. Fortunately the coaching team EBC is not only well qualified in the sport but they also hold progressive personal political ideals. They have been really interested in the idea of promoting boxing to the local community. I have also taken the England Boxing level one boxing qualification so that I can assist where possible.

As such, we found some free time at the gym organised free boxing classes for the local LGBTQI+ community. We are currently promoting these sessions with flyers and posters both on the internet and in hardcopy. Indeed, England Boxing has helps us with this post about the sessions.

I will conduct some research based on these sessions which will help develop my existing academic explorations of boxing, produce monitoring and evaluation information for the specific sessions while, also highlight best practice and areas for improvement. The goal is to combine this information with research from other similar projects to produce guidelines and suggestions for the national governing body and other clubs who are interested in doing something similar.

This is how I have attempted to create something based on my academic critique, and this is also why I now feel like I can produce this blog post now. Simply put, I have more of a story to tell about how my research is doing something in the world rather than sitting on a shelf in the library.

Christopher R. Matthews is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Brighton, UK. He is a competing amateur boxer who has used his active participation as central aspects of his research. He has published on a variety of topics including men’s power, sports violence, health, gender and sexuality. Alongside Alex Channon he is the co-editor of Global Perspective on Women in Combat Sports: Women Warriors Around the World and the co-founder of the Love Fight Hate Violence campaign.