Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Book Review: Transgender Rights

Transgender Rights, edited by Paisley Currah, Richard M. Juang and Shannon Price Minter (University of Minnesota Press)

This volume of essays conceives transgender as a global social movement for rights, including discussions of law, politics and economics. It is academic in tone, but much of it is accessible to a lay audience. While its essays are wide-ranging, covering such diverse topics as multiculturalism, disability laws and Argentinian concepts of citizenship, there is, to my mind, a theme to these rather disparate essays: the social contradictions of transgender identity. The title of Jan Morris's gender transition autobiography, "Conundrum," comes to mind. Paisley Currah's discussion of the transgender movement refers to it as one "that seeks the dissolution of the very category under which it is organized." Judith Butler's article about the psychiatric diagnosis of "gender identity disorder" notes that "the price of using the diagnosis to get what one wants is that one cannot use language to say what one really thinks is true." Dean Spade's critique of political economy and the gender compliance it demands discusses how the movement for gender identity non-discrimination constitutes a strategy of normalization that opposes, rather than furthers, the right of gender self-determination central to liberation.

One of the best features of the book is that many of the essays are written by transgender authors, and most of the other authors nonetheless reflect an intimate understanding of the lived experiences of transgender people, rather than an outsider's anthropological perspective. Highly recommended for anyone who wants a broad view of the early 21st century transgender movement.