I am not going to lie, after reading Dean Spade’s first chapter in Normal Life my brain was a little overwhelmed. Filled with statistics concerning various types of discrimination and injustice, Spade makes it a point to prove how flawed our country is. He begins by discussing imprisonment and how much of it is done to those who do not fall under the hetero-male white privilege umbrella. He notes how the War on Drugs and War on Terrorism provide a useful scapegoat when it comes to arresting minorities. He also points out the flaws in which we think we are attempting to better our society. For example, he says that, “Focus on gay marriage ignores how race, class, ability, indigenetity, and immigration status determine access to those benefits.” And when it comes to trans folk, the discrimination only gets worse. Homelessness, loss of jobs, and loss of benefits are major problems for a trans person. Though we have already read articles about these very things, I decided to do some research via social media to see if it had garnered recognition to this level. I found this twitter account: https://twitter.com/TransEquality and read some of the posts concerning unjustice and crime done to trans folk. Though most posts were sad and disturbing, it was hopefully seeing just how many followers and activity the account had.
Getting further into the book, Spade focuses his next chapter on how the rights being fought for concerning trans equality. The two main law form interventions, anti-discrimination laws and hate crime laws, would not only prevent discrimination but it would also “increase positive trans ability”. In this chapter he mentions early forms of protest for trans rights. The Compton’s Cafeteria riot intrigued me so I decided to find the story and put it here for everyone to read if interested: http://www.gaylesbiantimes.com/?id=17476. But Spade brought about an interesting question when discussing these laws: will the discrimination even stop? Civil rights laws didn’t stop discrimination toward African Americans so why should these laws be any different? Will discrimination ever end? I liked when Spade said that hate crimes prove the failure in our legal system. He goes on to saying that the perpetrator perspective is wrong and that the conception of oppression is wrong. This is where I got a little lost because then he went on to saying that hate crimes enforce the criminal punishment system…but that is a bad thing because the overpopulated jails are a problem. But without punishment how will this discrimination end? Should there be alternative consequences to stop these actions, and if so how can they be enforced and effective? I understand his concern with how the law problematically treats these issues, but when trying to think of other ways to stop injustice and crime I couldn’t really think of an alternative solution. Ultimately, I think that the push towards both these laws can be achieved and better the lives of many trans folk, but the deeper issues that remain will be harder to conquer.
– Colleen Griffin
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.