Getting Past Identity: A Fresh Look at Issues in Transsexuality

By Poole, Katherine M. | Canadian Dimension, November-December 2008 | Go to article overview

Getting Past Identity: A Fresh Look at Issues in Transsexuality


Poole, Katherine M., Canadian Dimension


IN THIS COLLECTION OF short essays, Letters, interviews and speeches, Viviane Namaste addresses what she finds to be a central problem in the current body of work on transsexuality: the framing of trans issues in terms of identity. According to Namaste, this focus has served to erase the lived experiences of transsexuals and has curtailed any substantive discussion of the social and institutional conditions through which they experience oppression. In much feminist and transgender literature, transsexuals have been cast as gender revolutionaries, burdened with the goal of the subversion of binary sex. As Namaste demonstrates, this approach has served to obfuscate the everyday experiences of transsexuals by framing their lives in the terms of a pre-existing theoretical framework. Instead, Namaste finds that, "Transsexuality is about the banality of buying some bread, of making photocopies, of getting your shoe fixed," as these are the very real contexts in which transsexuals experience discrimination.

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As Namaste observes, in a Canadian context the discussion of trans identity has revolved around the case of Kimberley Nixon, a transwoman denied the opportunity to volunteer with a women's shelter due to her biological sex. In feminist analyses of this case, the questions posed have largely addressed whether or not a transwoman is a "woman." Namaste, however, collaborating with George Sitara, provides a different approach. Rather than providing answers in the confines of the established discourse of inclusion/exclusion, Namaste and Sitara bring forward a new set of questions, challenging the conceptions of both gender and the state invoked during the Nixon case.

Throughout this collection, Namaste utilizes the criminalization of transsexuality as a Lens through which to understand the institutional barriers faced by trans persons. This criminalization has taken many forms, ranging from explicit prohibitions against cross-dressing to the regulation of sex work, an occupation in which many transsexuals are engaged. …

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