This essay argues that the use of racial categories on identification documents is a critical piece of transgender history. By tracing the development of driver’s licenses as part of a Progressive Era racial project, this essay contends that the discourse of licenses as measures of fitness and citizenship was constructed partly in response to the supposed recklessness of “Negro” drivers. Thus driver’s licenses as tools to regulate mobility are embedded in anti-Black criminalization projects. In addition, African Americans protested racial designations on driver’s licenses, correctly anticipating that licenses would take on extraordinary status as a racialized identification document. Therefore, when transgender people argue against gender designations on driver’s licenses and other identification papers, they build off work begun by Black activists in the 1930s. Without making a fallacious analogy between race and gender, this essay argues that transgender theories of administrative violence must be rearticulated in light of the anti-Black origins of these commonplace identification documents, a rearticulation that trans and antiracist activists have already begun.


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pp. 569-594
Launched on MUSE
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