To mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, this month History Workshop will post a series of articles reflecting on the event and its legacy.

‘If feminism is to help everyone, it has to learn from everyone. The more we learn about the intricacies, overlaps and contrasts of our experiences, the more we can dismantle the totality of gendered oppression.’

– CN Lester

Trans Like Me is a work of wisdom and compassion, which offers the critical tools and insights that we so desperately need to navigate feminist challenges today. Lester weaves together memoir, history, and feminist critique in order to raise awareness of trans lives, and to argue for the integral relationship between feminism and trans rights.

Lester uses ‘trans’ to encompass a wide range of people whose felt sense of gender sits at odds with dominant, and often Western-imperialist, ideas of a male/female binary. Drawing out the complexities and contradictions in scientific definitions of ‘sex’, they situate their own sense of gendered embodiment in relationship to recent discussions of sex, gender and the mind. Feminists have long argued that the material body cannot be separated from the culture and society which gives meaning to that body. Lester follows that path, arguing that sex, mind, body, and society constitute each other in ways that we have barely begun to understand, but which radically impact our ability to make sense of our selves.

What we do know, however, is that gender non-conforming people have existed in all societies across time and space.  Lester cites examples since Byzantium, including the castrati in early modern Italy. They show how trans people have been at the centre of modern movements for gender and sexual justice across the world. The people who first fought for the civil rights of LGBT people in the USA, for example, were gender non-conforming African Americans.

As Lester notes, trans people, particularly trans women of colour, face ‘a global epidemic of stigmatisation, discrimination, erasure and violence’. That discrimination is perpetuated by media misrepresentation and consolidated in legal and medical injunctions that support the idea that trans people are fraudulent, disturbed and intensely disturbing.

Trans Like Me employs the analytical tools honed by generations of feminists to expose the processes of marginalisation, pathologization, and misrepresentation that feed discrimination. Feminism is also fundamental to Lester’s understanding of themselves as a trans and genderqueer person.  They narrate their role as a trans activist as inseparable from their engagement with feminism and understand intersectional feminism as absolutely integral to the struggle for trans justice.  Trans experiences and voices, they argue, are equally essential to feminism.

Trans Like Me is a vital contribution to feminist scholarship. For trans people, Lester’s meticulously researched responses to arguments harnessed to deny trans rights and recognition, provides us with the tools we need to meet the constant barrage of scepticism, denial, and discrimination. In their honest and open discussion of their own experience of being trans, Lester also provides those who are curious about trans lives a path towards understanding. For those who are fearful of a future in which trans people are fully accepted in society, Trans Like Me offers a coherent and compassionate corrective to the widespread ignorance, misinformation, and fear-mongering currently purveyed by the media.

Trans Like Me is published in paperback by Virago and is available to purchase from Amazon for £11.78  Or better, order through your local bookshop!

Onni Gust is Assistant Professor in History at the University of Nottingham.  Their research and teaching focuses on the British Empire in the ‘long’ eighteenth century.  Bringing insights from feminist, queer and post-colonial theory, they think historically about identity formation in relationship to imperial space, and the role of new forms of racism, sexism and ableism in shaping identity.      

 

HWO’s Radical Books series shares subversive, seminal, and seismic texts that have shaped understandings of radical history, provoked controversy in their time, or sparked social change. Read more here.

 

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