The Current Wave by Susan Stryker

In this chapter taken from Transgender History Stryker chronicles how transgender activism strove forward in the 1990’s for reasons that had to do little with transgenderism. Stryker explains how a novel of certain historical factors like the political concept of queerness, the AIDS epidemic all play parts in revitalizing transgender politics in the last decade of the 20th century.

The New Transgender Feminist Theory

In the 1990’s the word “transgender “ first obtained it’s current definition as a catchall term for all nonnormative forms of gender expression and identity. Members of the gender variant community as well as academics like Virginia Prince and Ari Kane were searching for a word to describe how they permanently changed their social genders without permanently altering their genitals.  Holly Boswell a trans activist published a journal called Chrysalis Quarterly, which stated “transgender” was a word that encompasses the whole spectrum of gender diversity that lumps together rather than splits apart the many subgroups within a large heterogeneous community. In 1992 Sandy Stone an academic wrote a article entitled The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttransexual Manifesto in which she makes use of the new theories of gender beginning to circulate amongst the academic circles. Stone’s article helped give the emerging “transgender movement” a political and intellectual agenda. Stryker then continues on to discuss the new “queer” version of gender, from the view point of feminist scholars. One of the feminist ideas was the concept that gender was “repressive” and it’s one purpose was to hold women down, causing them to become second class citizens. Two other developments interior to feminism that Stryker chooses to mention are  scholarship and community formation. An example would be the “sex wars” that occurred in 1982 at a Barnard Conference on women. The topic was differences within feminism about female sexuality.  Individuals took sides on whether or not there could be feminist position on issues like pornography, sex work, and sexual kink, or if those practices were constituted as violence against women. The individuals against the sex positive camp entrusted cross dressing and transsexual genetic modification into the same category inhibited by incest, rape and prostitution, Whereas the sex positive camp believed that the criticization of these practices was in fact a condemnation of the women who practiced them.


Sandy Stone

AIDS & The “New Transgender”

Since the transgender population was seen as vulnerable due to social stigma, poverty, survival prostitution, etc AIDS funding projects directed money to harm reduction strategies aimed at trans individuals. Thus the AIDS epidemic played a crucial role in revitalizing the transgender movement. AIDS organizations became the center of transgender activism, specifically in communities of color. Projects like ContraSIDA por Vida, encouraged healthy decision making, and promoted safe sex education, in hopes of building up self esteem and cultural pride. The AIDS epidemic also shaped sexual identity politics, since AIDS first became apparent in the gay, white male culture it was dubbed GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency). The connection between the disease and the gay population only impeded a adequate public response.  Therefore the AIDS heath crisis caused gay men and lesbians to think about how cultural politics and the ways in which homosexual communities were related and intersected with broader social structures. As a result a new political alliance was formed which encompassed communities regardless of race, gender, class, nationality, or sexual orientation.


A once appellation for gay people, queer became the face of the new “in your face” attitude that combated the anti-AIDS prejudice. With it’s “so what?” retort this newly politicized sense started to appear on flyers, at New York ‘s Gay Pride. Shortly after Queer Nation chapters began appearing all over the United States.  The new voice for the gay, lesbian, bisexual community allowed transgender issues to re-enter the communities dialogue.


LGBT (and Sometimes I)

The 1992 formation of the Transgender Nation organization created a direct link between the new queer politics and the transgender movement. The TN group’s main goal was to engage in practices that would disrupt the functioning of the heterosexist state. One idea was to “erupt into visibility” in the everyday spaces of city life, by how one dressed. An example of a “shocking” outfit would be tee shirts with cryptic or provocative messages, Doc Martens (which is amusing since I own a pair currently, and no one finds them remotely shocking), tattoos, piercings, and Day Glo stickers that exclaimed pro queer slogans. The positive uprising of the Transgender Nation organization spurred a movement in which a 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights voted to add Transgender to the title of the march. By 1995 the formerly gay, lesbian, and bisexual organizations began to add “T” to the ends of their names.  Just to clarify at that time the majority of transgender advocates used the word “transgender” to describe a cut across sexual orientation categories, rather than a noun describing a separate “species” of sexual identity, Stryker explains. Continuing into the 1990’s a new political movement emerged known as the intersex movement. Led by Cheryl Chase who was biologically assigned male at birth but a few years later doctors reversed their decision and told her parents to raise her as a girl, preformed surgery to reconstruct what was once considered a small penis, into a large clitoris. Once Chase discovered this had happened to her when she became a adult, she decided that no child should suffer what she had experienced, and she formed the Intersex Society of North America.

Forging a National Transgender Community

Although many Transgender organizations were established across the United States, there were certain milestones that helped chronological ize the establishment Transgender Community. In 1991 the first Transgengder conference was held in Atlanta Georgia. Throughout the years this event has become one of the largest regular transgender gatherings in the country. Throughout the 90’s transgender themes became more apparent in mainstream media, as well as in the art scene. For example the 1992 box office hit The Crying Game tells the story of Dil a character dealing with gender ambiguity. Many “zines” started to appear with the transgender theme like Kansas City’s TransSisters: The Journal of Transsexual Feminism. The 1990’s gave way to a burst of Transgender activism; next Stryker discussed twenty first century transformations of the transgender movement.


Twenty First Century Transformations

According to Stryker transgender reality in the twenty first century is a more or less continuation/consolidation of the trends of the preceding years. Specifically Transmen are gaining more recognition, to the point where younger generations are associate “transgender” more willingly with female bodied masculinity than male to female individuals. This is aided by popular culture artists like hip hop performer Katastrophe, and dancer Sean Dorsey. Transgender media has become more frequent and less prejudicial, with the help of cable shows like TransGenerations, and films like TransAmerica. On college campuses and in high schools a Transgender Day of Rememberance is observed, and it has publisiced the persitance of anti transgender predujice and violence. Prior to 2007, only one state offered transgender protection at the state level, now there are more than 100 in additon to 13 staes in BC. According to Stryker the old LGBT movement is splintering and transgender issues are now clearly cutting the edge of the social justice agenda, with growing acceptability in the media and in young people hopefully sometime in the near future transgender people will finally be accepted as equal members of society.

I’ve included a link of Susan Stryker speaking  about Transgender History at the Transgender Leadership Summit in San Diego:

You can find more information about Stryker’s novel Transgender History through this link:




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