Spade & Southern Comfort

In “What’s Wrong with Rights?” Dean Spade demonstrates how U.S. anti-discrimination and hate crime laws do little to serve the citizens they claim to protect (Normal Life, 79-93). For example: hate crime law uses the threat of incarceration to thwart acts of discrimination, yet they enable transphobia by perpetuating a system where trans prisoners are often sexually assaulted and/or abused. Spade also reveals how anti discrimination law relies on a perpetrator perspective that “creates the false impression that the previously excluded or marginalized group is now equal, that fairness has been imposed, and the legitimacy of the distribution of life chances restored” (86). Since anti-discrimination law primarily targets individuals who continue to attack out of motivated bias or hatred they overlook the daily instances of discrimination shaped by various intersecting identities (85). And since the focus of hate crimes is placed on prosecution, which occurs after the violence has already been committed, hate crimes fail to prevent said motivated bias (82).

One example of trans discrimination at the institutional level can be found in the documentary Southern Comfort (2001)This film documents a year spent in a trans community in Georgia, and more specifically with Robert Eads, a FTM dying from ovarian cancer. Eads was denied medical care from two-dozen doctors on account of his trans status. When commenting on his treatment (or lack of treatment) from the medical community, Eads concludes: “to them, I’m expendable.” To see more visit the following link (go to 1:19:20): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQ-JlnzNIp

In “Rethinking Transphobia and Power” Spade draws from Michel Foucault to provide an alternative model for interpreting power structures. Foucault challenges the assumption that power is mainly executed through deduction. When introducing the perpetrator/victim mode of power, Spade explains how Foucault views deduction as one of multiple components that works to inflict power. Spade uses this framework to demonstrate how “trans populations come into contact with administrative systems that distribute life chances and promote certain ways of life at the expense of others, all while operating under legal regimes that declare universal equality” (103-104). Since the perpetrator/victim mode operates at the individual level it keeps transphobic standards in place. The medical neglect of Robert Eads demonstrates this trans discrimination and the general favoring of cissexuality and conventional norms.

Disciplinary power, the following mode that Spade discusses, refers to the ways in which we are policed/ police ourselves to adhere to said conventional norms. When discussing this mode Spade touches on the invention of homosexual and heterosexual identity categories, and continues: “[t]he invention of various categories of proper and improper subjects is a key feature of disciplinary power that pervades society” (106). It is clear that Robert Eads was denied medical care on the basis of his ‘improper’ subjectivity, and likely that if he had continued life as a woman his eventual cancer would have been attended to without hesitation.

-Bianca Hasten

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