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):

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


NOT Women who Became Men

Julia Serano’s Trans-Misogyny Primer mentions in its first paragraph that, “…Those on the male-to-female (MTF) or trans female/feminine (TF) spectrum generally receive the overwhelming majority of societal fascination, consternation and demonization. In contrast, those on the female-to-male (FTM) or trans male/masculine (TM) spectrum have until very recently remained largely invisible and under-theorized.” She goes on to say that this is “not merely a result of transphobia, but is better described as trans-misogyny.” In other words, people are obsessed with MTFs because they appear to them to be men who are willingly putting on the guise of the weaker sex, while FTM go virtually unnoticed because it is more acceptable to be a masculine woman than a feminine man.

This transphobia and trans-misogyny is difficult for any non-gender-conforming person to deal with, but for people like Jamison Green it presents a unique sort of problem. Green is a trans man who is passing – and therefore has the ability to blend into the cis population without comment – but chooses to be out about his trans identity. He gives talks for students about trans identity and is an advocate for FTM acceptance. Because of the erasure of FTM narratives it is very difficult for him to be out in this way, and because of widespread transmisogyny it is almost impossible for him to be seen as a man after he tells his story. Instead he is seen as a woman who became a man and he is searched for telling signs of “who he used to be,” even if he now looks exactly like a cis man should.

It is difficult for Patrick Califia for a very different reason. Califia did not transition until he was in his 40s, and says that his socialization as a woman makes him reluctant to call himself a man. Instead, he calls himself FTM or transgendered. He admits to “not wanting to be female, but not having much enthusiasm for the only other option our society offers.” But he also admits he feels relief now that he has transitioned. Because of the binaristic nature of gender in our society, and because it is preferable if they do not overlap too much, it is hard for Califia to find a place to fit in.

Califia later says, “Perhaps transition will be an ironic experience for me, and I will discover that I remain the same person, having changed only my physical appearance.” (p.463) This sentiment is echoed when Green says FTMs are “men who were born with female bodies, not ‘women who became men.’” (p.500) These two people talk about two different kinds of erasure: the erasure of FTMs and the erasure of anything that does not fit the binary. What they have in common is a belief that they know who they are no matter what society believes them to be.

-Caitlyn Smallwood