Producing Trans Economicus: Deploying Market Logic in the Fight for Trans Rights

By Vipond, Evan | Canadian Review of Social Policy, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Producing Trans Economicus: Deploying Market Logic in the Fight for Trans Rights


Vipond, Evan, Canadian Review of Social Policy


"Why [would] a business organization ... consider becoming transgender-inclusive[?] At first glance, such an initiative might appear to be counterintuitive. After all, what could an organization realistically have to gain? Wouldn't it be disruptive to productivity? Wouldn't it cost money? Usually, the answers to those questions are (1) a great deal, (2) not if you do it effectively, and (3) not nearly as much as you'll probably save and/or make" (2013, para. 1-2).

-Vanessa Sherdian, "Transgender in the Workplace: What's In It for Your Organization?"

Introduction

Through liberal discourses of freedom, equality, and social progress, marginalized persons are offered protection from discrimination, inclusion in civil society, and access to social services. Under neoliberalism, this is achieved through the application of market logic to noneconomic spheres and an emphasis on individual, rather than civil, rights.1 In recent years, accompanying the increasing visibility of trans2 persons in mainstream media, there has been a cultural shift towards the acceptance of trans persons and the pursuit of trans rights and access to social services. In Canada and the United States, the mainstream trans movement has predominantly focused on gaining access to and insurance coverage for transition-related medical care, the right to change one's legal gender designation without proof of sex reassignment surgery (SRS), securing protection from discrimination in employment and housing, and, in the U.S., the right to serve openly in the military.3 The (limited) success of these advancements is representative of equality, inclusion, and social progress, which have purportedly proliferated under neoliberalism. However, through a false separation of the economic and political spheres, neoliberalism obscures, (re)produces, and exacerbates social and economic inequalities, systemic oppression, and discrimination.

This paper explores the slippages, contradictions, and unforeseen setbacks that arise in the fight for trans rights in Canada and the U.S. in the contemporary neoliberal context. Through a critical political economy framework, I argue that deploying discourses of productivity, selfsufficiency, and equal opportunity in the fight for trans rights ultimately perpetuates socioeconomic inequalities that are (re)produced and obscured through neoliberal capitalist processes. Critical political economy demonstrates the links between the social, economic, and political spheres, allowing for an interrogation of the social, economic, and political processes that simultaneously grant some trans persons access to and inclusion in the state through 'equal rights,' while contributing to the further disenfranchisement of others, namely, trans persons of colour, un(der)employed trans persons, trans sex workers, and disabled trans persons.4 Drawing from Michel Foucault's (2008) articulation of neoliberal governmentality and reformulation of Homo economicus, and Dan Irving's (2009, 2012, 2013a; 2013b) foundational work on the productive, self-sufficient, and self-made trans (male) subject, this paper names and troubles the emergence of the 'ideal' neoliberal trans subject: Trans economicus.

This paper is organized into four sections. The first section provides a brief overview of Foucault's (2008) theorizations of neoliberal governmentality, market logic, and human capital. Through a reconfiguration of Homo economicus in the late 20th Century, the neoliberal subject is constructed as productive, self-sufficient, and entrepreneurial (self-made). For trans persons, who often face social, legal, and economic exclusion due to systemic transphobia and disenfranchisement, embodying the subject of Trans economicus allows them to gain access to and inclusion in the state and civil society by demonstrating their productivity and participating in the market. The second section troubles liberal discourses of equality, inclusion, and social progress, which are frequently deployed in the fight for trans rights and to secure access to social services. …

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