A discussion for us to think about.

Gender Matters: Making the Case for Trans Inclusion

Nancy J. KnauerTemple University School of Law


Gender Matters: Making the Case for Trans Inclusion

Nancy J. Knauer, Peter J. Liacouras Professor of Law

Beasley School of Law, Temple University


The transgender communities are producing an important and nuanced critique of our gender system. For community members, the project is self-constitutive and, therefore, has an immediacy that also marks the efforts of other marginalized groups who have attempted to make sense of the world through description, interrogation, and, ultimately, a program for transformation. The transgender project also has universalizing elements because, existing within the gender system, each one of us embodies a particular gender articulation. It is through this articulation that we define ourselves in relation to the gender we were assigned at birth, the gender we choose, the gender we create, the gender we reject, the gender we are, and the gender we are assumed to be.

Lesbian and gay advocacy organizations began to incorporate transgender issues in the late 1990s, as signaled by the now ubiquitous “T” that appears at the end of the popular acronym “LGBT.” The resulting alliance, however, has been an uneasy one. The feminist response to transgender issues has been arguably even less welcoming. This Essay maintains that the progressive resistance to transgender narratives is rooted in a form of post-feminist agnosticism regarding gender that focuses on the temporal and historically contingent nature of gender. Under this view, gender is not real and, therefore, it is very difficult to make sense of transgender demands for gender self-definition. Contemporary transgender narratives challenge this base claim that gender doesn’t matter. They provide a first-hand account of gender as it is experienced at the beginning of the 21st century and establish that gender, as a social construct, matters in everyday lives. Thus, the first step to overcoming progressive resistance to transgender issues is to recognize that there continues to be great social meaning attached to gender, although we can certainly maintain that this should not be the case. Once we allow that gender matters, the transgender truth claims regarding the press and weight of gender no longer ring of false consciousness. To the contrary, the demand for the right to gender self-definition takes on a new urgency. It challenges our legal system of gender markers, the existing categories of man/woman, and the construction of the hetero/homo binary.

Part II demonstrates the difficulty of incorporating transgender narratives in a world view where gender is merely a social construct. It also explains how liberation ideology erased or demonized transgender identities in traditional feminist and LGB histories. Part III examines the commonality of all gender narratives and asks whether perhaps we aren’t all a little genderqueer? It also explores the integral role gender variance continues to play in gay and lesbian communities, despite the persistent efforts to establish sexuality as separate from gender or gender expression. Part IV reminds us that identity formation is historically contingent and discusses the opportunities presented by the use of “queer” as a strategic position of alliance. Most importantly, it asks us to imagine what types of legal reform would be necessary to create space for the type of gender self-definition envisioned and demanded by the transgender narrative – one that respects internal gender identity, gender expression, and gender embodiment. The final section outlines some specific actions steps to further trans inclusion in our law schools.

Suggested Citation

Nancy J. Knauer. 2007. “Gender Matters: Making the Case for Trans Inclusion” ExpressO
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/nancy_knauer/1


One thought on “A discussion for us to think about.

  1. Pingback: A discussion for us to think about; Gender Matters: Making the Case for Trans Inclusion « Roxie Fox's Blog

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