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The Rise of Transgender Social Movements: Narrative Symbolism and History  

B. Lee Aultman

Trans is both an umbrella term for heterogeneous identities and a discrete collective identity type unto itself. It now encompasses a wide range of binary and nonbinary identifications like transsexual and transgender. Social movements arising that take up trans issues do so with certain caveats. Many make the important distinction that “trans” describes human practices and social identities preceding the construction of its modern name and meaning. Furthermore, social movements and activism advance the argument that trans embodiments are not confined to Western or medical imaginaries. Indeed, what is expressed within trans identity narratives have gone by other cultural names, with diverse histories all their own. The rise and ongoing role of American trans activism within social and political domains are careful to consider the narrative histories being summoned. Trans social movements are generally aware of the risks that analytic terms like movement or protest might imply. For better or worse, scholars often associate the rise of social and political protest movements of the 20th century in broadly fantastic terms. The emergence of trans communities, however, unfolded over the course of a century. The episodic ruptures that mark historical events (Compton’s Cafeteria or the Stonewall riots) tend to spur organizational consolidation. Indeed, many of the most recent trends in trans activism then consolidated into organized interests. On that many scholars can agree. But the historical process that led to this point of trans politics is not clear-cut. Often eclipsed by the twin narrative of queer liberation, trans social movements linger among a number of narrative histories. Three periodizations help identify how trans narratives of identity and social justice are deployed, by whom, and for what purpose. The nominal period marks the rise of transsexual identities as they emerged within the space of medical currents in the early 20th century. Trans people in mid-century America may have participated in the power of medical discourse in their own lives. For example, autobiographical texts describe psychic pain, depression, and suicidal ideation that were alleviated only through transition. Naming provides intelligibility to an otherwise opaque set of phenomena. The symbolic period moves away from privileging the medical archive to highlight the connections made between radical identity groups and the growth of organized resources by and for trans activists. Narratives here are socially symbolic and detail how terms like transsexual and transgender(ist) entered a complex cultural milieu. Many activists would permanently shape the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, and agender (LGBTIA) communities for decades. The symbolic emphasizes a politics of narrative origins. Identifying the events and voices that shaped the mainstream conception of trans issues is critical to contemporary movements for social justice. The pluralist period reflects upon the various institutional interventions that shaped popular discourse around sex and gender in everyday life for trans people. It typically recasts the last three decades of the 20th century as a crucial epoch in trans activism (for both social and political forces). Between 1980 and 1990, new energy emerged that ran on the heels of a new posttranssexual politics. What emerged in the early 2000s was a rapid growth of organized advocacy and interest-group formation. Many of the organizations are still active and continue to shape national, state, and local policies. They represent one form of a blend of movement-related strategies for participating in the construction and durability of trans politics.

Article

Spain’s LGBT Movement  

Kerman Calvo and J. Ignacio Pichardo

The LGBT movement has been successful in improving the legal and social standing of sexual minorities in Spain; this includes the recognition of same-sex marriages, joint adoption, and the right to change identification in public registers. The movement has also contributed to a wider acceptance of LGBT diversity at the societal level. LGBT mobilizations in Spain started in the 1970s, with the transition toward democracy. The first political generation of activists believed in gay liberation, supported revolutionary ideas, and defended street protesting. This did not prevent activists from seeking collaboration with the state, as urgent legal action was required to end the criminalization of homosexual relations. After a decade of demobilization, a new generation of activists revamped LGBT activism in Spain during the 1990s, again with a well-defined political agenda: reacting to the devastation caused by AIDS, and also to the changes taking place in the international stage, the new “proud” generation demanded not only individual rights, but also family rights. The legalization of same-sex marriage (and joint adoption) in 2005 was the outcome of a vibrant cycle of mobilization. Contrary to some expectations, the Spanish LGBT movement has not become the victim of its own success. By shifting its attention toward the goal of substantive equality and by reaching out to new communities, the movement remains influential and vigilant against threats posed by the consolidation of new forms of conservative countermobilization.

Article

Canada’s LGBT Movement and Interest Groups  

David Rayside

The Canadian LGBT movement has had enormous success in gaining political and legal recognition for sexual minorities—as much as any of its sister movements in other countries. This is especially remarkable because the sexual repressiveness of the Canadian social and political climate remained largely in place until the 1990s. And although activist groups across the country have had challenges in marshalling resources, mobilizing beyond the regional level, and overcoming internal inequities, advocacy pressure has been effective enough to produce a political sea change with few precedents in other issue areas. Starting in the 1990s, Canada experienced a country-wide “takeoff” in the formal recognition of sexual diversity, most dramatically in the legal status given to same-sex relationships. Even if a vocal minority of the general public opposed such moves, the acceptance of sexual minorities as legitimate members of the Canadian mosaic has become politically normalized. Sexual diversity is far from being fully accepted, and those communities traditionally under-represented in the LGBT movement still face marginalization in a period of growing socioeconomic inequality. But the movement has made impressive gains, aided by social and institutional factors that have allowed activist leverage when the political winds blew in their favor. This success, however, presents new challenges, creating complacency within and beyond LGBT circles and increasing the difficulty of mobilizing people and resources. The decline of religiously conservative opposition to the public recognition of sexual diversity in Canada has also created room for the movement to become more fragmented than it has been in the past. And yet there is still much need for advocacy. Socially conservative politicians are still pandering to public anxiety about recognizing sexual diversity. Activist attention is still needed in areas such as schooling, policing, social service provision, and immigration. Trans people, “two-spirited” Indigenous people, and sexual minorities within Canada’s large ethnocultural and religious minorities are often on the margins of their own communities, the broader society, and the LGBT movement itself. From the early 1970s through the mid-2000s, the Canadian movement’s trajectory was similar to activism elsewhere. A “liberationist” period generated a long-lasting strand of radicalism alongside a slowly growing current focused on seeking rights through mainstream political channels (Adam, 1987, 1999). The analysis to follow first points to distinctive elements of the Canadian social and political context and then traces the evolution of what would become the LGBT movement from these early stages and into a period of legal and political “takeoff.” It points to strong commonalities in movement agendas, even across imposing regional lines, but also recognizes the challenges of mounting coherent movement responses to remaining inequities in a political environment so marked by activist success.

Article

Nonbinary Trans Identities  

B. Lee Aultman

Nonbinary trans identities have historically referred to a range of gender non-normative embodiments and self-making practices that stand on the outside of, or sometimes in direct opposition to, the Western binary classifications of sex/gender (i.e., man or woman, male or female). These identities include but are not limited to androgyny, genderqueer, genderfluid, gender nonconforming, and genderf*ck. Increasingly, nonbinary has become its own free-standing identity, without many of the historical connotations that genderqueer, for instance, might invoke. Nonbinary people identify themselves with gender-neutral pronouns or a fluid mixture of gendered pronouns in social practices. Some transition and take on embodiments that have a particular gendered aesthetic. This may or may not include sexual reassignment surgeries and other procedures that are body confirming. In short, nonbinary people have varied and robust social lives. The umbrella category of “trans” helps to situate some of the meaning and history of gender-non-normative identities. On the one hand, it can be a productive political vehicle that mobilizes communities of similarly felt histories toward collective action. On the other hand, it can limit the range of recognized embodiments and practices that have participated in the historically pertinent conventions that trans describes. The history of nonbinary identities is then a complex prospect. Such identities alter the categorical assumptions that underscore transsexual and transgender identities within binary terms. The complex narratives and histories of nonbinary trans identities raise some timely questions about the conventions of sex/gender in contemporary life. What constitutes one’s enduring sense of gender now that the binary itself has come under dispute? Should the gender binary be protected and for whom? In what varied ways do nonbinary identities alter a commonly shared imaginary of the bodily aesthetic? What role does desire play in the ongoing social changes in this long revolution of the body? The politics that emerge from these questions are becoming increasingly pressing as technology can now link otherwise isolated people across global boundaries. And finally, the reception of nonbinary identities offers important spaces of dialogue about the proliferation of identity politics, political movements, and the social divisions of labor these forces demand.

Article

LGBT Military Service Policies in the United States  

Andrew Goodhart and Jami K. Taylor

For most of its history, the U.S. military has maintained a policy of exclusion toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people serving in uniform. The justifications for these exclusions have included the view that being homosexual or transgender is a psychological disorder, that it undermines military morale and effectiveness, and a fear that LGBT people would be vulnerable to foreign espionage. Explicit policies banning consensual homosexual sex—and excluding from service those who engage in it—date to the period between World Wars I and II, but de facto efforts at exclusion have existed since the early days of the republic. Regulations governing homosexuals in the military came under pressure in the 1970s and 1980s as societal views toward lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people changed, and those LGB service members discharged under the policy increasingly challenged their treatment in court. (Public pressure to change regulations governing transgender people in the military arose mostly in the 2000s, though litigation efforts date to the 1970s.) In addition to general shifts in public and legal opinion, the debate over LGB people serving in the U.S. military was affected by the experience of foreign militaries that allow LGB people to serve. United States law began to loosen formal restrictions on LBG people serving in uniform with the passage of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) in 1994, but it still required LGB people to serve in secret. Changing public perceptions of LGB people and problems implementing the ban galvanized support for eliminating such restrictions. In 2010, President Obama signed legislation repealing DADT and removing all restrictions on LGB people serving in the military. However, transgender people do not enjoy the same rights. The Trump administration has revised Obama-era rules on transgender service members to enable greater exclusion. The issue is being contested in the courts and appears ripe for further political and legal dispute.