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Thursday, December 08, 2005

trans formations at Harvard

When I first sat down to write this post last Friday, I found myself paralyzed. I hesitated not out of fear of broaching the subject, but out of an intellectual and emotional desire to do justice to it. Currently, even mentioning the words transgender, transsexual, and transphobia, to name only a few examples, often evoke stigma, antipathy, and misunderstanding. The last thing I want to do is contribute to the confusion surrounding trans issues. With all this in mind, I felt enormous pressure to represent trans issues perfectly—to offer fully comprehensive coverage of this year’s ongoing trans activism. I wanted to strike an impeccable balance between representing activists by summarizing and analyzing their projects, and promoting the groups’ self-articulation by linking to various websites and literature.

One week later, I still haven’t figured out a way to accomplish this. But I’ve decided I no longer want to. (more in expanded post)

Trans issues deserve better treatment than a one-shot-deal information barrage. It would be unwise and unfair to use a requisite piece on transgenderism—no matter how thorough—as an excuse for subsequent silence on the topic, legitimizing a return to more mainstream subjects like racism and sexism (as though these can be completely divorced from transgenderism). So, rather than try to squeeze all the pertinent information--and my own analysis--into one airtight post (a feat I now recognize would have been impossible), I’m going to do what I believe the Crimson ought to be doing also: keep transgender activism in the headlines. Without privileging it unduly, we can demonstrate appreciation for trans activism's value to the greater progressive community by consistentently publicizing its achievements (for they are also our achievements), as well as learning from its struggles and setbacks (for they are also our struggles and setbacks).

This undertaking is bound to get messy. For one thing, my understanding of transgenderism is far from complete. I will surely make mistakes while talking about this and related topics. I hope that when I do falter, people will kindly correct me, understanding that my intentions are good even if my vocabulary sometimes isn’t. Above all, I am optimistic that everyone can learn something valuable from these forthcoming discussions, as they have the potential not merely to expand, but to transform progressive discourse. Messiness seems a small price to pay for such transformations, as long as the messiness remains respectful and productive.

Sorry that this post is basically one long prologue. But it’s all good; I’m taking my time. To paraphrase one of the speakers at last night’s Transgender Activism and Education panel: we’re not going anywhere.

Note: here’s part of the description, sent out over the BGLTSA list (among others), of last night’s outstanding panel discussion:
Transgender Activism and Education: Where the "T" Fits Into the "LGBS"

A panel discussion on issues of gender identity and expression in terms of local and national political activism, trans activism here at Harvard, the role of education in this process and where transgender and genderqueer folks fit into the lgbtq communities as a whole.
More info to come.


At 10:53 AM, Blogger wannatakethisoutside said...

Hi from Quench! Your post just got a shout-out on our blog.


Just thought I'd let you know. Great work!

At 10:54 AM, Blogger spork said...

bravo! i'm really glad to see that CC will be covering trans issues from now on. for more coverage of trans issues at Harvard, be sure to check out Quench Zine's blog - http://quenchzine.blogspot.com/

At 11:24 AM, Blogger katie loncke said...

thanks, Quench! i picked up issues 3 and 4 at last night's panel and look forward to reading them. :)

At 11:33 AM, Blogger icarus said...


another Quench-er here. thanks for covering trans issues in this post, and i hope you come to future events around trans education and activism.

At 12:01 PM, Blogger emily0 said...

Salaam from another quenchista!

Thanks for your committment to trans issues. Speaking as a transwoman, it means a lot that you recognise first that trans issues are kinda huge at Harvard and second that they deserve ongoing treatment and attention.

Keep up the good work!

At 3:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can you first please explain what transgender is as opposed to everything else there is? All I've heard is that it involves people not wanting to be either gender (and/or sex?)? Do transgender people ever have children? Is it about a denial of biological differences or an ideal of there not being any/them not affecting anything?


At 4:56 PM, Blogger spork said...

Hi Jul,

This is a good primer:

What you describe (people not feeling identified with either of the binary genders) is referred to as "genderqueer." Transgender is an umbrella term that encompasses these people as well as poeple whose genders (gender = an identity thing) doesn't match up with their birth sex (sex = a biological/physiological thing), and everyone else who otherwise falls outside the traditional gender binary of male/female.

Some trans people have children, yes, though some transition-related procedures (like sex reassignment surgery) can render one infertile.

The word "transgender" doesn't imply any opinions about whether the gender binary should exist at all or the denial of biological differences or whether they effect anything.

Thanks for asking these questions - it's awesome that you're educating yourself on trans issues!

Much love,
A Quenchista

At 6:28 PM, Blogger katie loncke said...

Thanks, Jul, for your questions, and thanks for jumping in, spork!

I think I'll also add some links to definitions in my original posts so people reading it for the first time can get a better sense of the vocabularies being used here.

[heads-up: If you're new to blogging and/or lack computer intuition as I do, the words or phrases that appear in bold red letters within the main text are links to different sites--the words themselves usually give you a clue as to what the link is about. I was really excited when someone first showed me this feature of blogs. It's like being able to go off on a tangent or offer an explanation without adding to the length of the post. Plus, following links to news articles is a great way to procrastinate while avoiding facebook-frenzy guilt and educating myself to boot. :) ]

For everyone else who has questions about transgenderism, now's a great time to ask!

At 8:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, as a trans guy who's a student at the college and a reader of cambridge common, I just wanted to say 'hi'. Thanks for putting this out there. Also, I think I will now start to read quench as well. It's great that there is a place for more than just 101's at the college.

At 10:48 PM, Anonymous Lena Chen said...

You rock for posting on this! I started reading this blog when I discovered its awesome UC campaign coverage, but it's stuff like this that'll keep me coming back for more after this election is over.


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