Transforming Citizenships: Transgender Articulations of the Law

Transforming Citizenships: Transgender Articulations of the Law

Transforming Citizenships: Transgender Articulations of the Law

Transforming Citizenships: Transgender Articulations of the Law

Synopsis

Transforming Citizenships engages the performativity of citizenship as it relates to transgender individuals and advocacy groups. Instead of reading the law as a set of self-executing discourses, Isaac West takes up transgender rights claims as performative productions of complex legal subjectivities capable of queering accepted understandings of genders, sexualities, and the normative forces of the law. Drawing on an expansive archive, from the correspondence of a transwoman arrested for using a public bathroom in Los Angeles in 1954 to contemporary lobbying efforts of national transgender advocacy organizations, West advances a rethinking of law as capacious rhetorics of citizenship, justice, equality, and freedom. When approached from this perspective, citizenship can be recuperated from its status as the bad object of queer politics to better understand how legal discourses open up sites for identification across identity categories and enable political activities that escape the analytics of heteronormativity and homonationalism. Isaac West is Assistant Professor in the Departments of Communication Studies and Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Iowa.

Excerpt

In 2006, during my first summer in Atlanta, Georgia, sex-panicked residents in the gayborhood around Piedmont Park took it upon themselves to intensify their policing efforts and crack down on suspected criminal activities. At just under two hundred acres, Piedmont Park is a stunning green space in a pink haven in a blue city in the red South. The crown jewel of Midtown, it has long been a gathering place for any number of activities, including public sex. Undoubtedly, more than a few of Midtown’s current residents have firsthand knowledge of this history even if they have conveniently forgotten their own participation in it. Therefore, the communal outrage directed at those whom they had termed “transvestitutes” was not animated by surprise or shock as much as it was by naked financial self-interest and the judgment that sex work is somehow more threatening and shameful than the free exchange of pleasures. In addition, racial prejudices played no small part in these confrontations between the primarily white residents and the presumed non-residents who were often people of color.

Like so many gayborhoods around the United States, Midtown has experienced a renaissance if measured by the metrics of gentrification. The demolition of older properties to make way for the construction of pricey, high-density housing, restaurants, and other amenities associated with middle- to upper-class American life is often trumpeted as a successful revival of a supposedly once-dead urban core. The steady increase in property values and taxes, along with revised zoning laws, slowly and unevenly squeezed out many of Midtown’s previous residents and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) businesses, including the iconic, twenty-four hour bar, Backstreet. As is so often the case with gentrification, race and class conflicts have complicated . . .

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