Sunday 10 December 2017

Review: Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter?

Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? by Heath Fogg Davis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Beyond Trans by Heath Fogg Davis, a transgender man, pushes the 'gender question' to its very limits. Who decides whether we get labelled with an 'M' or 'F' on our birth certificates. And why is this not mutable, like other aspects of our characters our. Why someone else gets to label us as male or female - and the very key difference between sex and gender. Calling us to reclaim our identities, Davis explores these topics in detail throughout the book, starting with the very essence of what sex and gender actually mean, as opposed to what people think they mean (many people believe them to be one and the same).

There are four key case studies: sex-marked ID (birth certificates, passports, driving licenses); single-sex bathrooms; single-sex colleges; and sexually segregated sports. Through each, there are very personal case studies identifying trans people, gay people, and sometimes cis people who have fallen prey to the world's assumptions. Some are quite shocking to read; particularly the case of Charlene Arcila, an African American transgender woman living in Philadelphia. She was refused entry onto the bus because the bus driver simply did not believe that the sex marker on her identification matched what he was seeing. She purchased a female-marked pass and was similarly rejected: there was no way that she was going to be able to settle this without a battle in court. Davis deals with each case sensitively, not so that you feel sorry for the people, but that you feel righteous anger and indignation on their behalf. This, I think is much more valuable in moving times forwards.

There was a similarly humiliating case in the chapter on sex-segregated rest-rooms where Khadijah Farmer, her girlfriend and a friend decided to go for a meal in New York City after spending the day at the city's LGBT Pride celebration. Farmer, an African-American out-Lesbian, went to use the restroom where she was told that she was in the wrong place. After assuring the other woman that she was in the right restroom, she went into the stall to do her business, only to have a male bouncer enter
the room having heard there was 'a man in the woman's restroom.' Farmer showed the bouncer her ID but (exact quotation), his reply was: 'Your ID is neither here nor there.' She was forced to leave the premises.

As well as these awful individual stories (also touching on the well-published female athlete Caster Semenya who became so used to being asked to 'prove' to her fellow racers that she was female, would willingly go into a restroom and show them; and the Williams sisters being described as 'apes' and 'man-like), Heath, offers clear thoughts on each of these problems. The chapters are structured to start with a case study, then some delving into history and legal things, as well as some philosophy, before offering a 'Conclusion' to each chapter, proffering some sort of solution. These solutions aren't perfect, as Davis recognises; in some ways they are more idealistic thinking that is unlikely to come to fruition. The idea of non sex-segragated sports, for example, I think will be incredibly contentious. And I'm not sure that Davis really offers a solution that will work for the majority of people. Although I recognise his points - woman with higher tester one levels can be banned from women's sports and occasionally allowed entry to men's sports, whereas men with low testosterone levels are not allowed to compete against women - this is something that I think people will fight about more than the others - even sex-segregated bathrooms. I don't know for certain, but it's a feeling I have.

As a book to read, it was interesting, but quite hard going. The heavy referencing was quite cumbersome at times, and although I was interested in what Davis had to say, I have read better books on the subject.

'Beyond Trans' is a good book - it gets people asking questions, it gets people thinking - but, ultimately, it wasn't brilliantly written, and I found it very slow. If you are interested in reading about transgender rights or LGBTQ ideas for a more inclusive future, I think there are other books that are more accessible. Still, Davis has produced an extremely well-researched book, and I give him all credit for that.

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