Gender & Society in the Classroom: Trans-Identities

Organized by: Jenny Lendrum, Wayne State University

The following Gender & Society articles on LGBTQIA sexualities focus primarily on articles that include discussions around personal identities. Included in the list is an article examining heteronormativity, an article exploring Latian lesbian migrants and multiple inequalities they face, and, finally, an article that re-examines “doing gender” among transpeople and the ways in which they negotiate gendered interactions in the workplace. 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.

Averett, K. H. 2015. The Gender Buffet LGBTQ Parents Resisting Heteronormativity. Gender & Society, 0891243215611370.

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.

Davis, G., Dewey, J. M., & Murphy, E. L. 2015. Giving sex Deconstructing Intersex and Trans Medicalization Practices. Gender & Society, 0891243215602102.

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.

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 trans 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.

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.

Westbrook, L., & Schilt, K. 2013. Doing Gender, Determining Gender Transgender People, Gender Panics, and the Maintenance of the Sex/Gender/Sexuality System. Gender & Society, 0891243213503203.

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, 0891243212445467.

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.

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.

Jenness, V., & Fenstermaker, S. 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.

Meyer, D. 2012. An Intersectional Analysis of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) People’s Evaluations of Anti-Queer Violence. Gender & Society, 26(6): pp. 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.

Jenness, V., & Fenstermaker, S. 2016. Forty Years after Brownmiller Prisons for Men, Transgender Inmates, and the Rape of the Feminine.Gender & Society, 30 (1): pp. 14-29.

Darwin, Helana. 2020. “Challenging the Cisgender/Transgender Binary: Nonbinary People and the Transgender Label.” Gender & Society 34 (3): 357-380.

Interviews with 41 nonbinary individuals reveal a considerable amount of ambivalence among nonbinary people regarding transgender identification. There is also disagreement about which model of transgender legitimacy determines group membership: the binary and medicalized model or the umbrella model. Those who do not identify as transgender either do not consider themselves to be “trans enough” to claim group membership alongside trans men and trans women or otherwise consider their gender experience to be qualitatively different from the transgender experience. Meanwhile, those who do identify as transgender credit the umbrella model as authoritative while acknowledging that their claims to group membership are often resisted by those who uphold the binary transgender model. Finally, those who defy an easy yes/no transgender categorization schema qualify their transgender identification with admissions of doubt that they are really “trans enough” to claim the label or through linguistic practices that position themselves as tangentially transgender or as distinctly nonbinary transgender. This range of responses illuminates the diverse gender identities that coexist among nonbinary people that cannot be neatly sorted into a man/woman or cisgender/transgender binary. Research on the sociology of gender must expand beyond both of these binary frameworks to reflect the reality of gender diversity.

Mount, Liz. 2020. “‘I Am Not a Hijra’: Class, Respectability, and the Emergence of the ‘New’ Transgender Woman in India.” Gender & Society 34 (4): 620-647.

This article examines the mutual imbrication of gender and class that shapes how some transgender women seek incorporation into social hierarchies in postcolonial India. Existing literature demonstrates an association between transgender and middle-class status in the global South. Through an 18-month ethnographic study in Bangalore from 2009 through 2016 with transgender women, NGO (nongovernmental organization) workers and activists, as well as textual analyses of media representations, I draw on “new woman” archetypes to argue that the discourses of empowerment and respectability that impacted middle-class cisgender women in late colonial, postcolonial and liberalized India also impact how trans women narrate their struggles and newfound opportunities. Trans woman identities are often juxtaposed to the identities of hijras, a recognized (yet socially marginal) group of working-class male-assigned gender-nonconforming people. Instead of challenging stereotypes of gender nonconformity most evident in the marginalization of hijras, some transgender women are at pains to highlight their difference from hijras. These trans women are from working-class backgrounds. It is partly their similarities in class location that propel trans women’s efforts to distinguish themselves from hijras. They employ the figure of the disreputable hijra to contain negative stereotypes associated with gender nonconformity, thus positioning their identities in proximity with middle-class respectable womanhood.

Gonsalves, Tara. 2020. “Gender Identity, the Sexed Body, and the Medical Making of Transgender.” Gender & Society 34 (6): 1005-1033.

In this article, I argue that the medical conceptualization of gender identity in the United States has entered a “new regime of truth.” Drawing from a mixed-methods analysis of medical journals, I illuminate a shift in the locus of gender identity from external genitalia and pathologization of families to genes and brain structure and individualized self-conception. The sexed body itself has also undergone a transformation: Sex no longer resides solely in genitalia but has traveled to more visible parts of the body, implicating racialized aesthetic ideals in its new formulation. The re-imagining of gender identity as genetically and neurologically inscribed and the expanding locus of sex correspond to an inversion of the relationship between gender identity and the sexed body as well as shifts in medical jurisdiction. Whereas psychiatrists in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s understood gender as stemming from genital sex, the less popular idea that gender identity precedes the sexed body has gained traction in recent decades. If gender identity once derived from the sexed body, the sexed body must now be brought into alignment with gender identity. The increasing legitimacy of self-defined gender identity, the expanding definition of racialized sex, and the inversion of the sex–gender identity relationship elevates the role of surgeons in producing racialized and sexed bodies.