Abstract

This section includes eighty-six short original essays commissioned for the inaugural issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly. Written by emerging academics, community-based writers, and senior scholars, each essay in this special issue, “Postposttranssexual: Key Concepts for a Twenty-First-Century Transgender Studies,” revolves around a particular keyword or concept. Some contributions focus on a concept central to transgender studies; others describe a term of art from another discipline or interdisciplinary area and show how it might relate to transgender studies. While far from providing a complete picture of the field, these keywords begin to elucidate a conceptual vocabulary for transgender studies. Some of the submissions offer a deep and resilient resistance to the entire project of mapping the field terminologically; some reveal yet-unrealized critical potentials for the field; some take existing terms from canonical thinkers and develop the significance for transgender studies; some offer overviews of well-known methodologies and demonstrate their applicability within transgender studies; some suggest how transgender issues play out in various fields; and some map the productive tensions between trans studies and other interdisciplines.

Microaggressions are commonplace, interpersonally communicated, “othering” messages related to a person's perceived marginalized status (Pierce et al. 1977; Sue 2010). These denigrations are often active manifestations of derogatory stereotypes. Invisible to many deliverers and recipients, they reproduce oppression on the interpersonal level. Examining microaggressions lays bare distinct ways in which gender as a dynamic system of power takes shape in trans and gender-nonconforming people's everyday lives.

Microaggressions are routine in social interaction; all social actors deliver them. These often unconscious and unintentional messages manifest as brief, unthinking slights, snubs, insults, or other indignities, frequently embedded within a stream of communication (Sue 2010). They are verbal, nonverbal, and environmental, and they can appear in facial expressions, body language, terminology, representation, or remarks. Microaggressions can be confusing to receive, difficult to notice, pinpoint, or recognize, and particularly challenging to address (ibid.). Recipients feel microaggressions' cumulative impact in stress and somatic effects comparable to those caused by a catastrophically traumatic event (ibid.). Some common effects are: chronic health problems and persistent feelings of alienation, anxiety, anger, depression, fear, hypervigilance, fatigue, hopelessness and/or suicidality (Goldblum et al. 2012; Grossman and D'Augelli 2007; Kosciw et al. 2010; Pauly 1990; Schrock, Boyd, and Leaf 2009).

Trans and gender-nonconforming people encounter microaggressions in a number of realms in their everyday lives, such as workplaces and public restrooms, and from family members, friends, therapists, medical providers, security workers, and strangers (Kidd and Witten 2008). Microaggressors express a perception of otherness, which they may associate with one or more characteristics such as disability, race, gender, or class. Some microaggressions are related to a perceived transness or gender nonconformity. For instance, microagressors scrutinize, exoticize, sexualize, or fetishize trans people (Nadal, Skolnik, and Wong 2012; Serano 2007), using such terms as “tranny,” “she-male,” “he-she,” or “chicks with dicks”; asking gender- and sex-related questions about a person's body, genitalia, identity, or history; expressing concern about a trans person interacting with children; implying that gender-affirmation surgeries constitute “mutilation” or that trans people are “mentally ill” or “freakish”; approaching non–sex-worker trans women for paid sex; offering intended compliments such as “you turned out so cute” or “I never would have known”; evaluating a person's gender presentation; exposing a person's trans identity (Nordmarken 2012). Many of these actions reflect erroneous, dehumanizing stereotypes about trans people that are represented in news stories, films, and other media (Serano 2007). Thus microaggressions maintain cis-sexism, or the idea that trans people are inferior to and less authentic than cisgender (non-trans) people (ibid.).

Besides manifesting stereotypes, many microaggressions targeting trans and gender-nonconforming people are active manifestations of conventional ways of thinking about gender. Due to the dearth of accurate information on transgender phenomena in public circulation, microaggressors misunderstand or misinterpret trans and gender-nonconforming people's gender identities, invalidating their experiences of reality and at times conflating sexual nonnormativity with gender nonnormativity. Microaggressors address trans people with incorrect gender pronouns, call them by former names, inquire about their “real” identity, ask them to explain their gender identity, and deny or fail to acknowledge their pronouns, name, or identity (Nadal, Skolnik, and Wong 2012; Nordmarken 2012; Nordmarken and Kelly, forthcoming). This “misgendering” takes place because microaggressors assume that they have the ability to know a trans person's “true” identity and that their perception of a trans person is more valid than the trans person's own self-knowledge — what Julia Serano calls “gender entitlement” (2007: 9). Gender entitlement and the cultural conflation of sexed anatomy and gender identity result in a rhetoric of deception, where microaggressors cast trans people as “deceivers” or “pretenders” who “hide” what microaggressors imagine are trans people's “true selves” (Bettcher 2007). Some microaggressors intend to legitimate trans people's identities but, problematically, assume that all trans people are the same (Nadal, Skolnik, and Wong 2012). They might apply the “wrong body” narrative to those who do not experience their gender in such a way (Nordmarken and Kelly, forthcoming).

Microaggressors may communicate disgust, dismissal, apprehension, confusion, shock, surprise, skepticism, disbelief, agitation, or other discomfort when noticing or being alerted to a person's transness. They can become defensive when corrected or reminded about their misuse of pronouns (Nadal, Rivera, and Corpus 2010). They may stare, do double takes, avoid eye contact or proximity, look away, laugh, or become silent (Nordmarken 2012, 2014; Nordmarken and Kelly, forthcoming). They may make excuses for or apologize excessively for misgendering, drawing more attention to and drawing out the uncomfortable interaction (Nordmarken 2012); conversely, they may deny that they have communicated something cis-sexist or transphobic or they may deny that cis-sexism and transphobia exist (Nadal, Skolnik, and Wong 2012). Regardless of intention, microaggressive behaviors often indicate that individuals perceive difference, communicating othering messages.

Although many trans people encounter microaggressions, they have varied experiences. Various institutionalized oppression systems, such as sexism, racism, poverty, and ageism exacerbate the impact of transphobia. Across trans populations, multiply marginalized groups encounter the most discrimination. Socioeconomically disadvantaged trans people experience the highest rates of discrimination and violence (Lombardi et al. 2001). Trans people of color encounter more discrimination than white trans people, and African American trans people encounter the most of all racial groups (Grant et al. 2011). Trans women and other trans-feminine people contend with trans-misogyny, or a combination of transphobia, cis-sexism, and misogyny (Serano 2007). They thus encounter particular kinds of gendered microaggressions that certain trans men and trans-masculine people avoid. For example, in the workplace, employers tend to demote or fire transitioning trans women or dock their pay, while they tend to support transitioning trans men, incorporating them into patriarchal social hierarchies (Schilt 2010; Schilt and Wiswall 2008). Ageism also intensifies trans people's vulnerabilities. Trans youth and elders whose families reject them face homelessness and/or abuse at the hands of their caregivers (Denny 2007; Witten and Eyler 1999; Witten and Whittle 2005).

The translation of stereotype into action can have far-reaching, overtly oppressive, systemic effects, from pathologization to murder. A complete picture of the subjugation trans people contend with is beyond the scope of this article, but a brief overview follows. The idea that trans people are mentally ill is institutionalized in psychiatric texts such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association 2013) and thus also in medical and legal transition routes. Many social institutions and sites of social life, such as medical systems, workplaces, families, and religious communities openly exclude trans people (Flynn 2006; Grant et al. 2011). State programs and institutions, such as public medical systems, prisons, and immigration detention centers, host regular harassment and abuse, refuse trans people services, and, at times, host violence (Benson 2008–9; Gehi and Arkles 2007; Howe, Zaraysky, and Lorentzen 2008; Namaste 2000; O'Day-Senior 2008; Spade 2011). In addition, trans individuals face harassment, threats, and violence on the street and in other public spaces (Kidd and Witten 2008). While overt denigrations are not microaggressions, they represent the systemic effects of unacknowledged injustice, maintaining an institution of cis-sexism and a cis-normative culture that privileges and normalizes cisgender experiences. Thus the invisibility of microaggressions and other cis-sexist actions plays a significant role in maintaining the power of the dominant gender system.

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