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Book Review: “Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Identity”

| Feb 12, 2018
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This month’s book is a bit of a curve ball — Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability by Jack Halberstam. I saw it in the book store, and said to myself, “Self, quick and quirky sounds perfect!” It was a mere 136 pages of text, but the 27 pages of notes, sources, etc, should’ve been a clue.

Jack Halberstam is Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, Gender Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California. That should’ve been my second clue.

The University of California Press wrote the following about it:

In the last decade, public discussions of transgender issues have increased exponentially. However, with this increased visibility has come not just power, but regulation, both in favor of and against trans people. What was once regarded as an unusual or even unfortunate disorder has become an accepted articulation of gendered embodiment as well as a new site for political activism and political recognition. What happened in the last few decades to prompt such an extensive rethinking of our understanding of gendered embodiment? How did a stigmatized identity become so central to U.S. and European articulations of self? And how have people responded to the new definitions and understanding of sex and the gendered body? In Trans*, Jack Halberstam explores these recent shifts in the meaning of the gendered body and representation, and explores the possibilities of a nongendered, gender-optional, or gender-queer future.

Book cover
So, I started reading and. . . DAMN! This book is hard core academic. It reads like a doctoral thesis — definitely a hard slog. Nothing quick about it at all! Once I realized what I had in my hands, my brain shifted gears to Academic mode. I almost broke out a highlighter!

Think I’m exaggerating? Try this sentence on for size. It’s about a movie.

“In the end, it was impossible to get a conversation going about the intersections of transphobia, homophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiment in Germany or about the film’s use of a queer relationship to highlight the tension between the commonsense narratives of an expansive German immigration policy that offers solace to refugees from intolerant Muslim countries, on the one hand, and the harsh reality of new forms of German nationalism that define themselves over and against Muslim citizens, on the other.” (p 42)

That is one sentence — 79 words — and yes, it’s grammatically correct. And this isn’t an outlier. Hell, the Preamble of the US Constitution (another single run on sentence) is only 52 words!

The chapters include:

1. Trans*: What’s in a Name?
2. Making Trans* Bodies
3. Becoming Trans*
4. Trans* Generations
5. Trans* Representations
6. Trans* Feminisms
7. Conclusions

Actually, this book is based on six different annual lectures by the author — each of the chapters being one of the lectures. The conclusion is new material.

Right — so I’ve told you how it reads. So what is it about? Exactly what it says it is. Each chapter is self-contained, and stands alone. This is hard core stuff.

So, here’s the review — if you want an academic hard core read about where the Trans* movement is today, and the state of Trans* theory, this is your book. It isn’t easy, no, but it IS rewarding. I feel much more on top of the issues having slogged through it. If you want something light yet informative, look elsewhere — the only thing light about this book is the weight.

If I ever get accepted to a doctoral program (Penn State rejected me) this will be one of the books I reference for my thesis.

I think the next book I read will be lighter. Like maybe James Joyce.

Be well.

Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability by Jack Halberstam. ISBN: 9780520292697

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Sophie Lynne

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