Beyond the Bathroom: Centering and Affirming Non-Binary Trans Perspectives in Heath Fogg Davis’s “Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter?”

AT FIRST GLANCE, the title of political theorist Heath Fogg Davis’s new monograph Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? seems like an anti-feminist screed or a call for a post-trans rejection of gender as a schema for identity. The mistaken, latter reading would treat transgender as an outdated identity shot through with its own normative set of assumptions about the interface between identity, narrative, and gendered embodiment. This vision of transgender identity harkens back to the early 2000s’ call for an anti-identity politics, one that posited a kind of cultural utopia outside structural racism, sexism, and heterosexism. The politics readers might misidentify in Davis’s red herring title crystalized in arguments that, after the election of the United States’s first black and mixed-race president, Barack Obama, America had entered a post-racial moment. An analogous post-trans identity would insist on a similar irrelevance of gender to suggest that sexism is a structural problem of the past. Davis has no such illusions that we are in or even anywhere near such a moment.

Beyond Trans’s short answer of the title’s question is yes, of course gender matters, in part because systemic oppressions have not disappeared. However, Davis makes a thoroughly convincing case that what he terms “sex classification policies,” which bolster sex-identity discrimination by regulating gender, should not matter. Davis identifies sex-identity discrimination — the ways in which people are gendered according to the male/female binary — as a subcategory of sexism. Sex classification policies, thus, are informal and institutionalized ways in which sex-identity discrimination takes place in our everyday, routinized life: checking a sex-identity box on an employment application or policing who may enter the men’s or women’s restroom. In the book’s introduction, Davis asks if we might stop “trying to assimilate” transgender people into the binary regime of sex-classification policies and instead “tackle the genesis of ‘transgender discrimination’ — sex classification, itself.” That shift moves the conversation to the much more fundamental question of how and why we administrate sex as an identity category at almost every juncture of our lives. Liberalist equality, a strategy taken by the mainstream transgender civil rights movement (among others), prioritizes assimilation and accommodation into extant systems of binary sex-classification. This approach centers the idea that changing policies to explicitly allow trans people access to sex-segregated spaces and correcting identity documents to reflect their gender identity will prevent discrimination or at least make trans people feel more welcome.

Read more via LARB