Transgender people have a complicated history in U.S. law and policy. Once thought of as a symptom of homosexuality, gender nonconformity has long been the subject of social disapprobation and legal sanction, including criminalization. Beginning in the 1950s, an emergent interest by the medical community in individuals suffering from “gender dysphoria” precipitated an identity politics primarily organized around a goal of access to competent medical care and treatment for transsexual individuals. In ways both significant and ironic, this medicalization both promoted a binary ideology of gender, most obvious in concepts like male-to-female or female-to-male transsexualism, and created space for more transformative concepts of gender fluidity and transgender identity to emerge. Long conceptualized as a kind of subsidiary of the gay and lesbian rights movement in the United States, a status that entailed considerable turmoil, the transgender movement, especially since the 1990s, has emerged as a vocal and relatively effective rights lobby in its own right. The advent of the Trump administration presents a pivotal moment that will likely test not only the durability of recent policy gains but also whether those gains can be expanded in any significant measure.
Transgender Law and Policy in the United States
Gender and Memory in Truth Projects in Brazil
Colin M. Snider
Truth commissions have become common instruments to document human rights violations for societies emerging from authoritarian violence around the world since the 1980s. First appearing as mechanisms to attempt to address rights violations and to pursue reconciliation or justice in the aftermath of Latin American dictatorships that ended in the 1980s and early 1990s, such commissions and their published reports became important tools for societies transitioning from authoritarianism and for addressing the state’s past rights violations in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, and North America. These commissions, and the reports they issue, serve to recognize the state’s responsibility in violence and repression. Such reports can be an important factor in uncovering the truth of repression and the experiences and voices of victims, victims’ family members, and survivors. These reports also often address reconciliation and even justice for victims, though such reports’ successes in these areas are more mixed. Nonetheless, truth commission reports and other truth projects from non-governmental organizations are important artifacts in documenting the repressive past for societies transitioning from authoritarian regimes. As important as such reports—from states and from non-governmental organizations alike—are, they are also a product of their particular historical, political, and social milieus. Consequently, truth project reports are important artifacts in understanding both the violently repressive past and resistance to it, and the historical moment in which such reports on that past are produced. Memory is especially integral in the production of such documents. The voices of survivors and of victims’ families allow previously silenced memories to gain public expression, even while their framing and use of language reflects the ways power operates in memory and in transitional societies. As a result, scholars can treat such reports not just as documents of authoritarian repression, but as snapshots of societies addressing transitional justice. These moments and documents not only seek to thoroughly narrate past repression; they reflect power relations at the very moment of a report’s production. As a study of these types of reports—non-governmental and official—in Brazil reveal, such documents can thus be read for expressions of power along gendered lines. The result is an ability to read truth reports both as a document detailing repression within and resistance to authoritarian regimes, and how memory serves as a site for the intersection of power along gendered, class-based, or other social markers present in the use of language, narrative structures, and memories of repression and resistance in a post-authoritarian setting.
Women and Political Power in Brazil
Pedro A. G. Dos Santos and Debora Thomé
Women have been historically excluded from positions of power in Brazil. Since the dawn of republicanism in the late 19th century, the political system has been dominated by men, and two long periods of authoritarianism stunted both the development of a strong women’s movement and the entrance of women into formal politics. Nevertheless, women have always been involved in the political process, and women’s groups have fought for women’s rights since the dawn of the republic. Successful examples include the suffrage movement, women’s movements that helped the return to democracy in the 1980s, and small victories such as domestic violence laws and maintenance of the status quo in the abortion law and reproductive rights. The end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century marked the slow increased presence of women in elected positions. The implementation of a gender quota law in 1996 and continued pressure by women politicians, those in the state apparatus, and women’s movements brought the issue of women’s representation to the forefront of debates about democratic development in Brazil. Although women still face strong barriers to enter the electoral arena, developments in the early 21st century such as the strengthening of the quota law show that the political space is slowly opening its doors to women.
LGBT People as a Relatively Politically Powerless Group
As a group engaged in struggles for representation and inclusion, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people have vied for access to social and political power. There is little dispute that LGBT people are a relatively powerless group in society, but the extent to which the group is powerless is subject to debate in political science. Scholars disagree over the extent of powerlessness because the definition of power is contested among political scientists. As such, scholars have examined the powerlessness of LGBT people in varying ways and reached different conclusions about the success the group has had in achieving rights and visibility. LGBT powerlessness emerges from the group’s status as sexual and gender minorities. Over time, the boundaries that constitute the group have shifted in response to power asymmetries between LGBT people and cisgender, heterosexuals who control access to political and social institutions. In addition, power asymmetries have emerged within the LGBT community at the intersection of race, class, and gender as well as across subgroups of the acronym LGBT. Thus, the distribution of power and powerlessness vary within the group as well as between the group and dominant groups in society. These within- and across-group variations in power shape LGBT group boundaries, representation and public opinion, and voting behavior. The powerlessness of LGBT people must be understood in relation to these contingencies that define the group’s boundaries, and the ways in which power is distributed within and across groups.
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.
Women, Equality, and Citizenship in Contemporary Africa
Robtel Neajai Pailey
Though deeply contested, citizenship has come to be defined in gender-inclusive terms both as a status anchored in law, with attendant rights and resources, and as agency manifested in active political participation and representation. Scholars have argued that gender often determines how citizenship rights are distributed at household, community, national, and institutional levels, thereby leaving women with many responsibilities but few resources and little representation. Citizenship laws in different parts of Africa explicitly discriminate based on ethnicity, race, gender and religion, with women bearing the brunt of these inequities. In particular, African women have faced structural, institutional, and cultural barriers to ensuring full citizenship in policy and praxis, with contestations in the post-independence era centering around the fulfillment of citizenship rights embedded in law, practice, and lived experience. While African women’s concerns about their subjective roles as equal citizens were often sidelined during nationalist liberation movements, the post-independence era has presented more meaningful opportunities for women in the continent to demand equality of access to citizenship rights, resources, and representation. In contemporary times, a number of local, national, continental, and transnational developments have shaped the contours of the battle for women’s citizenship equality, including the prominence of domestic women’s movements; national constitutional reviews and revisions processes; electoral quotas; female labor force participation; and feminism as a unifying principle of gender justice. African women have had to overcome constraints imposed on them not only by patriarchy, but also by histories of slavery, colonialism, structural adjustment, land dispossession, militarism, and neoliberalism. They have often been subordinated in the domestic or private sphere, with gendered values and norms then undermining their agency in the public sphere. Although African women have managed to secure some political, socio-economic, and cultural rights, resources, and representation, this has certainly not been the panacea for achieving full equality of citizenship or gender justice.
LGBT Rights and Theoretical Perspectives
Francis Kuriakose and Deepa Kylasam Iyer
The question of LGBT rights was first examined as part of gender and sexuality studies in the 1980s, predominantly in the United States. This was a result of the LGBT movement that had articulated the demand for equal rights and freedom of sexual and gender minorities a decade before. Since then, the examination of LGBT rights has traversed multiple theoretical and methodological approaches and breached many disciplinary frontiers. Initially, gay and lesbian studies (GLS) emerged as an approach to understand the notion of LGBT identity using historical evidence. GLS emphasized the objectives of the LGBT movement in articulating its identity as an issue of minority rights within the ambit of litigation and case law. However, the definition of LGBT identity as a homogeneous and fixed category, and the conceptualization of equality rights as the ultimate project of emancipation, was critiqued on grounds of its normative and assimilationist tendencies. Queer theory emerged in the 1990s as a counter-discourse to GLS, using the individual-centric postmodern technique of deconstruction as the method of analysis. This approach opened up scope for multiple identities within the LGBT community to articulate their positionality, and reclaim the possibilities of sexual liberation that GLS had previously obscured. Subsequent scholarship has critiqued GLS and queer theory for incomplete theorization and inadequate representation, based on four types of counter-argument. The first argument is that queer theory, with its emphasis on self as an alternative for wider social interaction, concealed constitutive macrostructures such as neoliberal capitalism, as well as the social basis of identity and power relations. The second argument highlights the incomplete theorization of bisexual and transgender identities within the LGBT community. For example, understanding bisexuality involves questioning the universalism of monosexuality and postmodern notions of linear sexuality, and acknowledging the possibility of an integrated axis of gender and sexuality. Theorization of transgender and transsexual rights requires a grounded approach incorporating new variables such as work and violence in the historiography of transgender life. The third critique comes from decolonial scholarship that argues that intersectionality of race, gender, class, caste, and nationality brings out multiple concerns of social justice that have been rendered invisible by existing theory. The fourth critique emerged from family studies and clinical psychology, that used queer theory to ask questions about definitions of all family structures outside the couple norm, including non-reproductive heterosexuality, polyamorous relationships, and non-marital sexual unions. These critiques have allowed new questions to emerge as part of LGBT rights within the existing traditions, and enabled the question of LGBT rights to be considered across new disciplinary fronts. For example, the incorporation of the “queer” variable in hitherto technical disciplines such as economics, finance, and management is a development of the early-21st-century scholarship. In particular, the introduction of LGBT rights in economics to expand human capabilities has policy implications as it widens and mainstreams access of opportunities for LGBT communities through consumption, trade, education, employment, and social benefits, thereby expanding the actualization of LGBT rights.
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.