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Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? By Heath Fog Davis.

November 3, 2017

Beyond Trans
Beyond Trans:  Does Gender Matter?  By Heath Fog Davis.  NYU Press (June 2, 2017).

5 stars

A thoughtful account of the obstacles that transgendered individuals face in our gendered world and suggestions for change.

Heath Fog Davis is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Temple University.  He transitioned into being a male when he was thirty-eight. As a girl growing up, he was a tomboy who often dressed as a boy.  He relates the humiliation he regularly faced when he used public restrooms designed for women.

Beyond Trans clearly reveals that the rigid enforcement of two gender identity is both harmful and misguided.  Rules requiring us all to be either male or female often have no relevance in the situations where they are enforced.  Davis gives us examples of how the labeling gender on bus passes leaves some trans vulnerable to the drivers to define which gender they are.  And yet actually riding the bus is not an activity that must be gendered. He was part of the effort to remove gender labels on the buses in Philadelphia.  Other examples he discusses include restrooms, sports, and single-sex colleges.

I know little about individuals who are trans and appreciated Davis introducing me to the invisible ways in which they are hurt and humiliated.  He also pushed me to think in new ways about the rigidity of our society’s gender definitions.

I urge others to read this book and think about the issues it raises for all of us who dream of more inclusive world.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 3, 2017 6:21 pm

    In the 1980s we had a program in our schools to tackle gender inequity… it was all about sexism not about trans issues… but it tackled the ways in which things were gendered when they didn’t need to be. We stopped lining up the kids in boys’ lines and girls’ lines, we stopped sorting the kids by gender for all sorts of things, and it challenged us to find non-specific strategies to use the ones we had unconsciously been using for so long. (E.g. if you are wearing blue, you can go out to recess first; if your hands are in your lap right now, you can go to collect your lunch from the canteen).
    There was a change of government and the program quietly disappeared. So much so that by the time the 21st century rolled around, I would see young teachers, themselves at school in the 1980s, happily sending the girls out to recess first *sigh* because they were sitting quietly. We have such a long, long way to go with this!!

    • November 4, 2017 11:33 am

      Good for you for trying to make a difference. Yes, it can be discouraging, but maybe we can gradually make the gender categories less rigid and omnipresent. I had never even questioned that all the places we must identify by gender are often so irrelevant.

      • November 4, 2017 6:44 pm

        Just last night, we had guests – who were talking about celebrations they’d attended for somebody’s 60th birthday, which was – bizarrely – gendered. They had a function for the “boys” at a pub, and one for the “girls” elsewhere. And what was interesting was the reaction of these (nice, good-hearted) people when I said, ‘Ah, I wonder which one my transgender friend would have gone to’…
        They laughed awkwardly. My guess is that it had never occurred to them that it could be a problem for some people. But it is also my guess that the people organising the celebrations never thought that some people might hate the assumptions that underlie a gender division like this.

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