- The Trans Generation by Ann Travers
By Ann Travers
NYU Press, 2018. 288 Pages. https://nyupress.org/books/9781479885794/
The last decade has witnessed a veritable sea change in sociopolitical reckonings with gender, including trans-related law, policy, and visibility—and its blowback—as well as a new generation of families who embrace transgender identities and transitions for young children. In this increasingly trans-aware landscape, Ann Travers' The Trans Generation offers a timely and incisive sociological treatise on the needs of transgender kids. Travers conducted in-depth interviews with 19 transgender kids, as well as with 23 parents of transgender kids, from the U.S. and Canada. Travers focuses on the binaristic bureaucracies and environments in which these kids are embedded—including classrooms, bathrooms, and locker rooms, as well as school records, sports teams, and medical clinics. In this way, the book is a far leap from a legacy of scholarship that treats transgender persons as the object of interest, and instead interrogates the social institutions, and agents, that react and respond to them—or that fail to. Travers' focus is also distinct from Tey Meadow's Trans Kids; Meadow describes the parents and social movement advocates who work to institutionalize atypical gender identities for children in school, medicine, psychiatry, and the law, while Travers exposes the everyday constraints these kids experience themselves, especially in school settings.
Travers also departs from more conventional applications of the theoretical canon in gender studies—the (re)workings of gender, for example, from interactional, performative, and/or structural perspectives—and adopts instead a critical disability conceptual framework. This framework emphasizes how cis-normative, binary-ordered spaces unduly dis-able and disadvantage transgender students. Though most of the study's participants come from middle-class backgrounds, Travers situates the work within broader systems of race, class, ability, colonialism, and neoliberalism, constantly reminding readers of the most marginalized non-conforming bodies within a "larger assemblage of power relations" (43). Travers achieves this deftly by detailing several upsetting but illustrative cases from their sample. Travers also draws upon critical scholarship on racism, queer necropolitics, and trans-of-color critiques, which bookends the work and forges a broader anti-oppression approach. As Travers concludes, " [T]he most precarious trans kids need to be at the center of all our social change efforts: this can be accomplished only through a redistribution of culture and material resources and the abolition of incarceration as a system of control" (201).
Perhaps the greatest empirical contribution of the book is the first-hand accounts from the kids themselves, who mark a sorely-needed voice in this budding research domain and a rarity in childhood studies in general. Travers admonishes a history of silencing children, by academics and lay people alike, and prioritizes the kids' own intimate testimonials throughout. Travers starts with the kids' sense of their own gender and sexual identities—including a "crash course" in new terminology and vocabularies, of which their generation is at the forefront (25)—and proceeds, chapter by chapter, with accounts of their fraught negotiations in "Schools," "Spaces," and "Healthcare," so titled. As part of the book's youth-centered and trans-centered approach, Travers also explicitly rejects referring to the interviewees' assigned birth sex categories (and often "forgets" them anyway), deferring solely to the self-defined identity markers and pronouns of the youth themselves. This models for readers, of all kinds, what gender-inclusive language and practices might look like: " The social disruption I am advocating for in this book can therefore be more fully experienced in the reading" (8).
Direct interviews with gender-nonconforming kids are an extremely delicate undertaking, to which many of us are resistant for fear of impacting the children negatively. However, Travers demonstrates a capacity for responsible scholarship on this vulnerable population in their commitment to applied, activist-oriented research. As Travers writes, "I intentionally conducted each interview as an act of emotionally invested social action research" (9). As an openly nonbinary-identifying person, Travers' candid reports of their own experiences with gender nonconformity further ground their relationship to the kids they studied in advocacy, pride, and affirmation. As a researcher of parents of...