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May 22 2020 - 03:00 PM
Problematic Materials: Transphobia

As a proudly transgender employee of this library, I’ve never felt quite as welcome or as accepted in the workplace. I really couldn’t ask for a better team to work on. I have to begin by saying this because I want everyone who reads this to understand how much I appreciate Teachers College. However, any institution with history - no matter how reliably progressive - will gather baggage during its time in operation. Teachers College is no exception. And yet, I hope to also show that our library and its staff have done their best to create a complete and valuable collection.

We Won't Be Erased - Rally for Trans Rights, Photo by Ted Eytan, reproduced under CC BY-SA 2.0 license

With that disclaimer out of the way, the inspiration for this blog post came from a Staff Picks collection I did last year. While doing my research into writing in our collection about the transgender experience, I discovered a copy of The Transsexual Empire. The library actually owns 3. For those who don’t know, The Transsexual Empire is one of the more notorious texts of Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminism. The most neutral summary I can give is that Raymond believes that by existing, transfeminine people like me are committing a metaphysical act of rape against all women. It is a profoundly disturbing and vile piece of slander against a community which faces disproportionate and shocking levels of violence - both physical and sexual.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Raymond’s book is to trans people what Protocols of the Elders of Zion is to Jewish people. It codifies the basis for most of modern transphobic slander. Therefore, it is my distinct duty and absolute pleasure to present 3 outstanding works of humanizing literature that we have available in our collection[1 from the era and 2 from more recent eras, I’m still reading back through some of the items from my staff picks]. One of my favorite pieces in the collection is the Transgender Studies Reader, written by one of the eminent historians of transgender history - Susan Stryker. It is a historiographical study in the development of trans thought, both about us and by us. As it’s a fairly inclusive survey of writing on trans people, it covers some fairly vile transphobia as a matter of historical completeness. However, it never leaves the transphobia unchallenged. Rather, it uses primary sources as a counterpoint. In doing so, it helps prove that transphobia is not the unquestioned historical norm some would have us believe. It helps establish our active role in LGBTQIA history, one which people like Raymond would happily see expunged to suit their narrative.

While discussing materials from transgender history, I would be remiss to not also mention Imagining Transgender: An Ethnography of a Category. While more recent than some others, it is a tasteful, empathetic ethnography of transgender people that takes a special care to convey the words and feelings of trans elders and trans people from marginalized backgrounds. I feel that this is an important, humanizing part of our collection because a vital part of humanizing is engaging with the messiness of being human. This book captures an important slice of queer history, and expresses the conflict within the queer community over our descriptive language. The terms we call ourselves as a community are like the names we choose for ourselves: They become a vital part of who we are, and while there is mess in the process of finding a name for something, the naming helps make it real. The catalogued process of discourse shown in this book is a record of our vibrancy as a community and our humanity as people.

And as a final humanizing counterpoint to the vileness of Empire, I would like to highlight In Search of Eve. Other books in our collection do what it set out to do better. Others were written by trans people. Others are more sensitive. Others make a point of including the often-erased transmasculine perspective. Ultimately, I chose this for two reasons. First, it is a genuine historical document which records the words of trans elders who are no longer with us. That’s a kind of immortality that we’re not often afforded, even with regards to our own narratives. It’s proof that we, as a community, have survived the scorn and hate that people like Raymond have thrown our way. We’ve survived the AIDS epidemic. And we will survive this moment in history because you can never fully erase something innate and human from wider humanity. Second, it provides another rebuttal to Raymond: It is possible to listen to us, measure our words, and see our humanity without being brainwashed or coerced by vast patriarchal forces. The researchers behind this study listened to us, perhaps first out of academic curiosity. However, they came to appreciate us as individual humans, many of whom had suffered greatly to try and find a peace of mind and place to belong. That empathy - just listening to us and believing that we aren’t evil or insane - is all we really ask.

This post was extremely personal to me, in case it wasn’t obvious. I hope that by discussing this difficult topic publicly that I can help the Teachers College community become even more welcoming and inclusive. It’s painful to find hate speech displayed in a place you regard as safe. We work hard to make this library an inclusive and welcoming place, but we also can’t simply whitewash the parts of the past that make us uncomfortable today. I’m not sure what the answer is to the presence of hate speech in a library, but I do hope that you’ll take a look at the preponderance of other books we have on the topic. One hateful voice may be present in our collection, but there is so much good, humanizing, amazing work on display in there.

As an appendix to this post, I’m reproducing the original staff picks that inspired this project in order to give an even more complete picture of the variety of materials we have related to the trans experience.  This isn't even an exhaustive list, it's just a collection of my personal favorites.

Imagining transgender: an ethnography of a category - Valentine, David - HQ77.7V35 2007 - This book captures an important slice of queer history, and exposes a deep rift in the queer community which is often unfortunately glossed over. While "transgender" as a term may have won out over other competing terminology, the feelings and experiences of those who more strongly identified otherwise shouldn't be discarded to the dustbin of history without examination or preservation. This is an effort on their behalf.


Crossing - McCloskey, Deirdre - HQ 77.8.M39A3 1999 - Another book which I included as a historical curiosity. It helps capture the feeling of living closeted in the 20th Century. In addition, I wanted to include it as a lot of late-blooming trans people lament that much of the discourse focuses on those who come out younger. Someone may very well pick this up and feel seen for the first time in their life and may even find the courage to live the life they deserve.


In Search of Eve - Bolin, Anne - HQ 77.9.B65 1988 - I debated whether to include this book or not. Others on this list do what it set out to do better. Others were written by trans people. And others still are newer. However, it's out of a historical interest in us and our lives prior to the 1990s that ultimately led me to include this. It's a record of trans people who bravely lived as themselves through an epidemic, through discrimination, and through betrayal. That's powerful.


Gender outlaw : On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us - Bornstein, Kate - HQ77.9 .B67 1995 - This book, as the kids say, is a big mood. While some of the language is dated, the feelings contained within are definitely not. As a nonbinary person, the feeling of being completely othered by things most people take for granted is a sentiment that resonates very strongly.


Beyond magenta : Transgender Teens Speak Out - Kuklin, Susan - HQ77.9 .K85 2014 - As our stories are a large focus of this display, I felt this book was an excellent addition. Particularly heartening to me was the inclusion of (the regrettably often forgotten) intersex struggles. This is one of those books that I would like to see readily available to young people to provide comfort to trans, intersex, and questioning kids and to help their friends and families understand how best to be an ally.


Transgender 101 - Teich, Nicholas - HQ77.9.T45 2012 - This book has two major points in its favor. It's an easy-to-read primer to a difficult topic for a lot of people. The other major pro is that the author himself is a trans person, so he's not only speaking professionally but he himself is trans. This dual expertise in trans issues means that Teich is the perfect teacher for someone who wants to learn more about trans people and our lives but might not know where to start.


The Transgender Studies Reader - Stryker, Susan and Whittle, Stephen - HQ77.9.T72 2006 - This is a historiographical study in the development of trans thought, both about us and by us. As it’s a fairly inclusive survey of writing on trans people, it covers some fairly vile transphobia as a matter of historical completeness. However, it never leaves the transphobia unchallenged. Rather, it uses primary sources as a counterpoint. In doing so, it helps prove that transphobia is not the unquestioned norm some would have us believe.


The Lives of Transgender People - Beemin, Genny and Rankin, Susan - HQ77.95.U6.B44 2011 - Literature about trans people written by cisgender researchers is often a grueling read. This is, thankfully, not one of those cases. It's a sympathetic study with some interesting data and anecdotes about what it means to be transgender in America. It features a variety of diverse voices from across the gender spectrum. To anyone looking to make a deeper dive into the research about our community, this is a decent start.


Genderism - Bilodeau, Brent - HQ77.95.U6B56 2009 - This book is somewhat similar to the other studies in format. What interested me in particular was how the study authors utilized the transgender experience to hold a mirror up to the wider culture. This should particularly be on the reading list of administrators in higher education wanting to make a better, more inclusive institution.


They She He Me - Gonzales, Maya and SG, Matthew - HQ1075.G665 2017 - This one is something of a black sheep of the collection. While it's a little bit below the reading level of most of the library's patrons, it's an excellent resource for teaching younger children about the basic concepts of gender. It handily proves that anyone can grasp the topic, young or old.


George - Gino, Alex - PS3607.I4582G46 2015 - George is a novel about a young trans girl (incidentally, she prefers the name Melissa) written by a nonbinary author for middle grades and it's one of the top 10 challenged books of 2016 through 2018. Of course, there's nothing objectionable in here. It's just an extremely solid coming-of-age novel that happens to feature a trans protagonist.


Dreadnought - Daniels, April - PZ7.1.D29574 Dr 2017 - I picked Dreadnought partly because it’s a great, readable book that I’d recommend to anyone. But more than that, it’s an empowering novel by a trans author about a trans person’s struggles. Dreadnought is also a thoughtful examination of heroes and the burden of becoming a symbol. Because Danny's story is universal, trans stories can be universal. I think that's a powerful message to hear right now.


"You're in the wrong bathroom!" : and 20 Other Myths and Misconceptions About Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People - Erickson-Schroth, Laura and Jacobs, Laura - Available as an Ebook - As with any minority group, myths unfortunately propagate among those who don't know us. I included this for the benefit of those misinformed by an unsympathetic media environment. When learning about something, everyone has to start somewhere and if you've never talked about this with the trans people in your life (and, statistically, you've met multiple trans people already) I do hope you'll start your journey here.


Ambiguous Gender in Early Modern Spain and Portugal : Inquisitors, Doctors and the Transgression of Gender Norms - Soyer, Francois - Available as an Ebook - Part of the struggle of being a transgender person in a cisgender society is that your identity will be litigated (sometimes literally) by people who refuse to understand it. Unfortunately, that fact is extremely evident in this text. However, it comes with a strange kind of hope as stories which might have otherwise been wholly erased are instead preserved in the documents of the agents of our persecution.


The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You - Bergman, S. Bear - Available as an Ebook - This collection of (genuinely hilarious) essays provide a trans masculine viewpoint on the trans experience. The essays discuss topics ranging from the absurdity of your personhood being “inappropriate” to the hurdles that trans people face receiving basic medical care. Trans people reading the essays will immediately relate, and cisgender people can get a peek into the inner monologue of the trans people they know. Please be aware, though, that the author uses transphobic slurs in a self-referential manner. If that bothers you, it might be best to approach this with caution.


Trans/portraits: Voices from Transgender Communities - Schultz, Jackson Wright - Available as an Ebook - One of the best parts of this book is the sheer diversity in the voices that Schultz has recorded in his studies. It makes for a remarkable cross-section of what it's like to be trans in America. It still provides the necessary context that a cisgender person might need to fully understand the material while also giving voice to us and our experiences.


Transgender History - Stryker, Susan - Available as an Ebook - Susan Stryker's prose is clear and her points are both well-defined and well-sourced. And her main point is this: We are not strangers to American society. We have been here the entire time. We have served this country in every capacity one can imagine and we have done so with the simple hope that we will be accepted as equal and valid members of society. Even the most knowledgeable in queer history will walk away with something new.


Trans: Transgender Life Stories from South Africa - Morgan, Ruth; Marais, Charl; and Wellbeloved, Joy Rosemary - Available as an Ebook - Popular narratives about the lives of queer people can be very Americentric. Because of that, I wanted to be particular in including stories from a diverse cultural background in this display. This book is an incredibly moving collection of stories which will be instantly familiar to trans people the world over, but each brings a unique perspective on transness that can enrich our understanding of what it means to be "us" in a society that might not understand what that means.


Understanding Gender Dysphoria - Yarhouse, Mark A. - Available as an Ebook - And now for a completely different perspective on gender identity. In this book, Yarhouse makes the case to religious authorities that the theologically sound position is accepting, welcoming, and providing non-judgmental comfort to religious LGBTQ people.

Posted in: Learning at the Library|By: Ash Moore|293 Reads