Against Transgender Rights: Understanding the Imperialism of Contemporary Transgender Politics

Summary of Weekly Reading: Against Transgender Rights

by Viviane Namaste


The purpose of Namaste’s essay is to take a position against transgender rights as they are defined, articulated, and defended in current political forms in North America.  Namaste also wants to show how efforts by activists currently attempt to enshrine and protect transgender rights, and they are deeply imbedded in imperialism. The sense of imperialism in this text mean to designate the imposition of a particular world view and concentrated framework across nations, languages and cultures. Namaste’s wants to be clear in the definition of transgender politics as well in the essay, the term encompasses middle class transsexuals, and transgendered people including male-to-female (MTF) and female-to-male (FTM). The two cases that Namaste attempts to address within the essay are

1. The struggle and effort to gain access to health insurance for transsexuals with legal employment

2. The effort to include transsexuals in human rights anti-discrimination legislation.

Namaste makes a point to state that the essay spends most of its time devoting attention to mainstream forms of political organizing for multiple reasons. Some include the following:

1. Most of the work has taken place in the last decade, more specifically within the last five years.

2. These specific political activists are declared to be successful and celebrated in certain sections of the broader transgender population.

3. These strategies of political action are endorsed as appropriate models for future political work.

Lessons from Feminist History

Namaste focus’s on the struggle for women’s rights specifically in Canada, in this section. She explains that historically suffragists views of non-Anglo-Saxon immigrants were not very openly contemptuous but certain women favored a political program the emphasized assimilation. Which Namaste points out is a form of imperialism achieved through the imposition of language and culture. She goes on to mention that critical feminist historians have helped understand that historically the appeal of women’s rights in Canada is also simultaneously a history of imperialism. Also how the appeal of “rights” concealed the social relations of racism. This theory allows the question of whether a invocation of “transgender rights” is actually liberatory, or whether it is bound within specific social relations of domination despite its rhetoric of justice and equality. This leads to the possible explanation of the current paradox in which although many feminists are supportive of the rights of transgendered people before the law and in regards to access to health care, and even though many are involved as allies in helping protect transsexual and transgendered people there is little reflection or discussion on the appeal to “transgender rights” that is central to their thought and activism. The lack of these two components leads to the questions of whether or not feminists have truly integrated the lessons from critical women’s history in Canada. Namaste concludes that the following section will expose the ways in which current articulations of transgender rights in North American are insidiously linked to imperialism, and how it appears that feminist history is doomed to repeat its mistakes.


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