- The Transgender Studies Reader
In the foreword to The Transgender Studies Reader, coeditor Stephen Whittle never uses the word “transgender,” opting instead for “trans.” He even refers to the field as “trans studies” rather than “transgender studies.” Whittle’s preference for “trans” suggests that “transgender” is already dated and anticipates an evolution in transgender studies, as reflected in this issue of WSQ, published just two years after The Transgender Studies Reader appeared. Perhaps no word better characterizes the field of transgender studies than “evolution.” As trans theory and identities move over, across, and beyond, transgender studies, as the discursive site for such movements—as exemplified by The Transgender Studies Reader—is evolving at an alarming rate. With The Transgender Studies Reader, coeditors Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle successfully encapsulate the evolutionary discourse of what (in the past decade) has been labeled “transgender studies.” What makes The Transgender Studies Reader invaluable to the field is the ability of its contributors to show how we have arrived at this moment, how individuals and ideas responded to and built upon one another. To illustrate this point, the evolving dialogues around agency and binary sex/gender ideology can be traced through various selections.
Stryker and Whittle begin the collection with the section “Sex, Gender, and Science” because the medical-scientific establishment initiated the discussion on what Stryker calls the “transgender phenomena.” The relationship between those within the medical-scientific establishment and transgender individuals is a long one fraught with tension, particularly in regard to agency. However, this tension has been dialogically generative. For example, later selections in The Transgender Studies Reader (including those by transgender authors) repeatedly reference the works and theories of Harry Benjamin, Harold Garfinkel, and Robert Stoller, all of whom have selections included. Joanne Meyerowitz’s and Henry Rubin’s contributions both attest to Benjamin’s prominence in the administration of treatment. Benjamin’s criteria for who was a “true transsexual” (and [End Page 318] thus treatable) appeared in his book The Transsexual Phenomenon, and Sandy Stone illustrates the frustrations and feelings of deception harbored by those administering treatment when they realized that patients seeking treatment obtained and used the same information. Garfinkel and Stoller are referenced in selections by Meyerowitz, Jacob Hale, and Dean Spade in conjunction with their treatment of a patient named Agnes, who successfully presented herself at the UCLA Gender Identity Clinic as “intersexed” and was able to obtain sex reassignment. Garfinkel’s “Passing and the Managed Achievement of Sex Status in an ‘Intersexed’ Person” in the volume describes his theories of gender as an interactive process as exemplified by Agnes, who later disclosed (after undergoing sex reassignment surgery) that she was not intersexed but rather had been taking feminizing hormones. For Garfinkel, this revelation further confirmed his theories. Stoller, by contrast, became an outspoken critic of what he considered patient deception and manipulation. He generated another dialogue with his popularization of the sex/gender distinction.
In “Selection from Biological Substrates of Sexual Behavior” Stoller articulates the sex/gender distinction, a problematic concept found at the center of feminist debates around transgender exclusion made legendary by Janice Raymond. Raymond’s The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male is the book most referenced in The Transgender Studies Reader. Stryker and Whittle chose the chapter “Sappho by Surgery: The Transsexually Constructed Lesbian-Feminist,” in which Raymond argues that biology defines gender and that MtFs’ undesired penetration of women’s spaces is tantamount to rape. In their introduction to Raymond’s contribution, Stryker and Whittle claim that it is “the chapter that has caused the most offense among transgender people,” and understandably so. Selections that engage with this work include those by Stephen Whittle, Kate Bornstein, Jay Prosser, Emi Koyama, Carol Riddell’s “Divided Sisterhood: A Critical Review of Janice Raymond’s The Transsexual Empire,” and Sandy Stone’s “The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto.” Raymond personally attacked Stone in The Transsexual Empire for infiltrating the women-only organization Olivia Records and then causing divisiveness among feminists (Aaron Devor and Nicholas Matte briefly discuss the Olivia controversy in their selection...