Social Inclusion of Transgender Women

Raewyn Connell, preeminent sociologist on gender, is a transgender woman. She explains the personal consequences that transgender people face in having to constantly explain themselves to other people. She notes that sharing transitioning stories are important, but the everyday policing of this narrative is costly.

There is great pressure on transsexual women to explain themselves: to family, to police, to psychiatrists, to endocrinologists and surgeons, to employers and workmates, to government officials, to border guards, to journalists, and even to researchers.  The demand for self-exposure is both wearing at a personal level, and tends to define transsexuality as bizarre, tabloid-fodder, craziness.

Self-exposure has consequences for other people in one’s life.  Gender transition isn’t a solo event: it’s not a matter of one person’s identity singing inside a bell jar. Transition is very much about relations with other people, about changing location in social spaces.  On this terrain, one person’s liberation can be another person’s nightmare.

Connell argues that on top of all the social issues, feminism largely excludes transgender women. Connell goes beyond identity politics, focusing on the economic, power relations, and everyday causes that concern transgender women. This includes social justice, childcare, equal employment, education, protection from violence, as well as support managing the medical interventions involved in physical transitioning.

These issues are important to all women, but mainstream feminism has not fully integrated transgender advocacy into its core activism. Connell argues:

A major part of transsexual politics is the pursuit of these claims for justice. Clearly, collective struggle is important in reaching them, and transsexual women’s own politicization is at the core of this. Solidarity from others is also needed. Transsexual women are a small group, and most are not in a strong social position; the traumas of contradictory embodiment and transition, and the effects of discrimination and contempt, cannot be waved aside. Support from other feminists is the most strategic resource for empowering transsexual women.

Photo: TASA