Transgender Histories, Identities, & Politics

This course will critically investigate the category transgender – not to cast doubt on the identities, movements, and communities that have arisen around this term, but rather, to investigate the historical, political, social, and cultural conditions and contexts which have enabled it. At the heart of this course is a series of critical questions: where did “transgender” come from? What does it enable as a category? What does it obscure? How can it be seen as a term located in the terms of U.S.American understandings of personhood? What are the problems and possibilities of using “transgender” to describe non-normative genders cross-culturally? What are the contexts within which “transgender” can be used to make claims of the state in a representative democracy? What possibilities and problems are presented by using the term to describe people who refuse it as descriptive of their experiences? But there are other questions we want to ask too: What issues arise when non-transgender identified people investigate, and ask questions about, those who take this category to be meaningful about their lives? And what does “transgender” tell us about the organization of gender and sexuality in the contemporary United States?

Dr. David Valentine
Sarah Lawrence College