Weekly Topics

Week One: August 31 & September 2
How to talk about gender variant people

In this first week, we start by trying to define how we as a class might talk about trans and gender variant life, experience and embodiment. We think about what the following terms mean: transgender, transsexual, gender variant, gender diverse, third gender. Do these terms all mean the same thing? If not, what specific embodiments, cultural and geographical locations, and attitudes do they make us aware of? We look at Hale’s guidelines for writing about trans people to shape our own engagement with this topic as a class. Why were these guidelines written? How can they help us in choosing how we talk about gender variant topics?

Required Reading

C. Jacob Hale, “Suggested Rules for Non-Transsexuals Writing about Transsexuals, Transsexuality, Transsexualism, or Trans ____.” sandystone.com/hale.rules.html

Serena Nanda, Introduction plus Chapter Two OR Three in Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations.

Part I: Questions of representation and myth-making

Week Two: September 7 & 9
Anthropological perspectives, transgender studies perspectives

WordPress workshop Thursday September 9

In gender studies, we can draw on several disciplinary perspectives on gender variance outside the US to ground our thinking. One of these is anthropology. Anthropology has a long history of producing ethnographic accounts of gender variant populations. Often, gender variant populations seemed wildly exotic to Western anthropologists, drawing a distinguishing line between “modern” gendered subjects and “premodern” subjects whose understandings of themselves, gender and sexuality became topics for intense intellectual debate. Meanwhile, transgender studies has emerged more recently and with a sense of being authored by trans and gender variant people themselves. How have anthropological accounts been important to transgender writers? What investments do various authors, writing in different fields, have in adopting which stories?

Required Reading

David Valentine, “Anthropology and Transgender: The Making Of A Field.” in Imagining transgender: an ethnography of a category.

Don Kulick, Excerpt from “Introduction”, Travesti: sex, gender and culture among Brazilian transgendered prostitutes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Horace B. Miner, “Body Ritual Among The Nacirema,” American Anthropologist 58:3, June 1956. https://www.msu.edu/~jdowell/miner.html

Week Three: September 14 & 16
Third Genders and other exotic myths

At various places and times, it has been fashionable for people to use the term “third gender” to talk about gender variant people—mostly in “premodern” or non-Western contexts. The concept of a third gender is generally intended to show that some cultures have a concept of gender that includes three (or more) genders, rather than simply two, male and female or masculine and feminine. While it is important to acknowledge that not everyone thinks gender is binary, this week we look at some of the pitfalls of the “third gender” concept. Is a Thai conception of kathoey or Brazilian travesti the same “third gender” as the Sambia “third gender” Gil Herdt writes about? What is it about the “transgender native” that is so irresistible to both transgender and non-transgender Western writers?

Required Reading

Evan B. Towle and Lynn M. Morgan, “Romancing The Transgender Native:          Rethinking the Use of the ‘Third Gender’ Concept,” in The transgender studies    reader.

Gilbert Herdt, “Mistaken Sex: Culture, Biology and the Third Sex in New Guinea,” in Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History. New York: Zone Books, 1993, 419-446.

Week Four: September 21 & 23
Tourism, tolerance and Thailand

A Google search with the words “Thailand” and “transgender” yields stories of kathoey beauty pageants and cabaret shows, Bangkok as a destination for gender reassignment surgery, and a wealth of stories attesting to Thailand’s status as a “paradise” of transgender and queer life. This week we look at Thailand as an example of a nation in which transnational tourism—both Thailand’s own branding of itself as a tolerant place, and visitors’ perceptions—have a significant effect on the social status and position of gender variant people. How have non-Thai writers perceived kathoey, tom and sao phraphet song individuals they encounter? How do Thai gender variant individuals describe their lives, social status, choices and desires?

Required Reading

Alfonso Lingis, “Lust” in Abuses (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994) 105-130.

LeeRay Costa and Andrew Matzner, Chapter Two, “Gender and Sexuality in Thailand”, plus stories by Phi (68-72), Waranat (105-112) and Mumu (113-117) in Male bodies, women’s souls: Personal narratives of Thailand’s transgendered youth.

Extra credit reading: Peter A. Jackson, “Spurning Alphonso Lingis’ Thai “Lust”: The Perils of a Philosopher at Large.” Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context 2 (1999), http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue2/jackson.html

Film: Beautiful Boxer (dir. Ekachai Uekrongtham, 2003).

Part II: Our geographical roots: Gender variance in the Americas

Week Five: September 28 & 30
Locating transgender and transsexuality in the USA

In order to look beyond “Western” culture and study transnational gender variant embodiment, we need to ensure that we know how gender variance is usually represented in the United States: in medicine, popular culture, in academia and on the street. Where did the term “transsexual” emerge, and when? When did the term “transgender” emerge and when? What ideas about sex and gender do these two terms draw on, and how do they influence our knowledge about what kinds of non-normative bodies or selves people can inhabit? Who identifies as transsexual or transgender and what are the terms under which those identifications can be made?

Required Reading

Susan Stryker, “A Hundred Years of Transgender History” OR “The Current Wave” in Transgender History (.

David Valentine, “I Know What I am: Gender, Sexuality, and Identity” in Imagining Transgender.


Week Six: October 5 & 7
Berdache or Two Spirit? Understandings of Native Americans

Grades for first weblog entries online Thurs October 7

North American Native societies have been described as having “the widest range of genuine multigender systems” (Nanda, p. 6). Despite the diversity of different understandings of gender variance within Native societies, non-Native writers have often subsumed these under the name “berdache”. Writers on “berdache” made many claims about Native culture. Different writers argued that “berdache” were always or mostly treated by their Native communities as sacred shamans or having enormous religious significance; and that berdaches were homosexual (rather than gender variant). Building on our reading of Towle and Morgan in Week Three, this week we read accounts of “berdache” by non-Native writers. We also read responses to anthropology’s attempts to define “berdache” by Native anthropologist Wesley Thomas.

Required Reading

Walter Williams, “Sacred people: berdache mystical power and sacred roles” in The spirit and the flesh: sexual diversity in American Indian culture. Boston: Beacon Press, 1984, 31-43.

Wesley Thomas, “Navajo Cultural Constructions of Gender and Sexuality” in Sue-Ellen Jacobs, Wesley Thomas, and Sabine Lang, eds, Two-spirit people: Native American gender identity, sexuality, and spirituality.

Sabine Lang, “Various Kinds of Two-Spirit People: Gender Variance and Homosexuality in Native American Communities” in Sue-Ellen Jacobs, Wesley Thomas, and Sabine Lang, eds, Two-spirit people: Native American gender identity, sexuality, and spirituality.

Week Seven: October 12 & 14
Indigeneity, Gender Variance and Conquest

Midterm exam due Thursday October 14                                                      Five weblog entries to be posted by this date

In settling the USA, white governments, armies and individual settlers used many techniques of power to dispossess and dislocate Native communities from their land and cultural knowledges. As they have in the past, Native writers continue to resist colonial dispossession by reclaiming cultural knowledge from their forebears or reconstructing history in the colonial archive created by Spanish, English and French settlers. For Native Two Spirit people, this is a double project of resisting transphobia, homophobia and sexism, and resisting the continuing effects of colonization: “Two-Spirit liberation is part of a larger process of decolonization,” writes Qwo-Li Driskill. This week we read three articles contributing to the project. Driskill writes about the significance of weaving a wampum belt to restore Cherokee Two-Spirit identity; Driskill and Cruz’ visual essay locates the reclamation of Mi’kmaq Two-Spirit knowledge within his own contemporary art practice; Miranda reconstructs the story of the extermination of joyas, Native Two-Spirit people, in Spanish California in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Required Reading

Qwo-Li Driskill, “Shaking Our Shells: Cherokee Two-Spirits Rebalancing the World”. Online in Beyond Masculinities, http://www.beyondmasculinity.com/articles/driskill.php.

Deborah A. Miranda, “Extermination of the Joyas: Gendercide in Spanish California” in GLQ: Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 16: 1-2 (2010), 253-284.

Louis Esme Cruz and Qwo-Li Driskill, “Puo’Winue’L Prayers: Readings From North America’s First Transtextual Script” in GLQ: Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 16: 1-2 (2010), 243-252.

Part III: Activism, law, citizenship

Week Eight: October 19 & 21
Transnational rights, perverse citizenship

As more and more people fight for transgender rights across the world, different nations are legislating those rights in different ways. This week we look at the difficulties of gender variant subjects struggling to attain recognition transnationally. We also look at what forms of knowledge are used to buttress that recognition. In Argentina, activist Mauro Cabral writes about how legal reforms taking gender variance to simply mean “sex change”—surgical, medicalized transition from male to female or female to male—result in requiring trans people to conform to a medical model of transsexuality to obtain rights. Marcia Ochoa writes about how Venezuelan transformistas are excluded from taking part in state and transnational GLBT citizenship, and attempts to resignify, remake and “pervert” citizenship by transformistas themselves.

Required Reading

Mauro Cabral, “(Trans)sexual Citizenship in Argentina”, in Transgender Rights.

Marcia Ochoa, “Perverse citizenship: Divas, Marginality and Participation in Loca-Lization”. WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly 36:3/4 (2008), 146-169.

Week 9: October 26 & 28
State medicalization of trans healthcare: Iran and the United Kingdom

As recognition of gender variance increases, different nations are also instituting a variety of models to provide healthcare to trans people. Unlike the United States, some nations offer state healthcare to everyone — meaning that recognition of trans people may result in state0funded gender reassignment surgery, hormone therapy etc. Sometimes these measures are taken in places we might not (at first) expect them to: Iran, for example, has recently become famous for permitting trans people to change the gender of their identity documents and funding gender reassignment surgery. Under the Gender Recognition Act, the United Kingdom offers trans healthcare under the National Health Service. How does this work? What forms of embodiment and subjectivity are privileged under these models?

Required Reading

Afsaneh Najmabadi, “Transing and Transpassing Across Sex-Gender Walls in Iran,” WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly (2008).

UK National Health Service, “2008 Survey of Patient Satisfaction With Transgender Services.”

Week 10: November 2 & 4
Remembering the dead, forgetting race: debates about transgender    imperialism

Amid ongoing struggles for transgender recognition in law, politics and the academy, not everyone is able to access recognition. Some trans people can now access healthcare, limited capacities to change their identity documents and limited anti-discrimination law. Often, however, access to these rights depend on having the financial and social resources. For some people, just staying alive is difficult: transgender people of color, sexworkers and immigrants are disproportionately represented in murder, assault and incarceration statistics. This week we assess Namaste’s argument that say trans activism cannot succeed unless it tackles institutional racism, imperialism and classism. With Transgender Day of Remembrance coming up, we look at one account arguing that TDOR is overwhelmingly initiated by white middle-class activists without the inclusion of those most at risk of murder: trans people of color.

Required Reading

Sarah Lamble, “Retelling racialized violence, remaking white innocence: The politics of interlocking oppressions in transgender day of remembrance.” Sexuality Research and Social Policy 5:1 (2008), 24-42.

Viviane Namaste, “Again Transgender Rights: Understanding the Imperialism of Contemporary Transgender Politics.” In Sex Change, Social Change: Reflections on Identity, Institutions and Imperialism. Toronto: Womens Press, 2005. 103-126.

Part IV: Mobile bodies: migration and travel

Week 11: November 9 & 11
Gender variance and global immigration law

Anecdotally and statistically, gender variant populations are enormously mobile. Like other populations in poor nations, gender variant people often see immigration as an opportunity for a better life elsewhere. Immigration can also offer the chance to reinvent oneself, away from the constraints of home or family. And globally, labor economies mean that one can earn more money in Europe or the USA even as an undocumented migrant than by staying at home. But when gender variant people may already have difficulties with identity documents, how do they negotiate immigration?

Required Reading

Alisa Solomon, “Christina Madrozo’s All American Story”, in Queer Migrations: Sexuality, US Citizenship, and Border Crossings

Katrine Vogel, “The Mother, the Daughter, and the Cow: Venezuelan Transformistas‘ Migration to Europe.” Mobilities 4: 3, 367—387 (2009).

Film: Travestis pleurent aussi (dir. Sebastiano d’Alaya Valva, 2007)

Week 12: November 16 & 18
Mobility, modernity and diasporas

Building from last week’s look at immigration law and flows, this week we look at narratives positioning gender variant immigrants to “Western” nations as accessing a more liberal, modern and accepting view of gender variance or homosexuality than in their home nations. As in Manalansan’s chapter on Filipino men migrating to the USA, this is sometimes accompanied by a shift in self-identification (although we should remember that within the one geographical location, identities are never static or unchanging). How do particular identities get framed as modern or traditional, and where/how do those framings take place? How do immigration narratives of gay and gender variant subjects line up with a change of definition from bakla to gay? Is bakla always perceived as “traditional” Filipino gender variance, or is it another way of being modern? Does gay always have the same meaning?

Required Reading

Martin Manalansan, “The Line Between Bakla and Gay”, from Global divas: Filipino gay men in the diaspora.

Film: Paper Dolls, dir. Tomer Heymann (2005).

Week 13: November 23 & 25
Transgender medical travel

This week we look at gender variant travel to obtain health care, particularly gender reaassignment surgery (GRS), as medical tourism. Since its beginnings in the early twentieth century, GRS has often involved gender variant people traveling someplace far from home to obtain surgery, and the creation of destinations with reputations as the “sex change capital is the world”. European and American trans people traveled to Berlin in the 1920s; Casablanca in the 1960s and 70s; Trinidad, Colorado from the late 1970s until today; and more recently, Thailand and Belgrade, Serbia. This week we read some accounts of trans people traveling to different locations to obtain healthcare. We look at why it is practically necessary to travel, and how traveling might affect understandings of gender transition itself.

Required Reading

Jay Prosser, “Exceptional Locations: Transsexual Travelogues” in Kate More and Stephen Whittle (eds), Reclaiming genders: Transsexual grammars at the fin de siecle (London: Cassell, 1999), 83-115.

Aren Z. Aizura, “Feminine Transformations: Gender Reassignment Surgical Tourism in Thailand.” Medical Anthropology: Cross-Cultural Studies in Health and Illness 29: 4 (2010).

Week 14: November 30 & December 1
Theorizing gender variant mobility

In this last week of the course, we look over what we have learnt and think about new directions for thinking about transnational transgender scholarship.

No Required Reading this week.

Week 15: December 7 & 9
Staged Research Essay due Tuesday December 7

Week 16
No Class. Happy Vacation!

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