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Critique Essay Humanities Law/Legal Nonfiction Social Sciences Theory

Introduction to Special Issue The State We’re In: Locations of Coercion and Resistance in Trans Policy, Part 2

By Dean Spade and Paisley Currah, 2008

Although there is nothing new about people engag- ing in gender expressions that exceed or transgress cultural norms, the last 20 years have seen the emergence of a new dialogue in U.S. law and politics, the product of a social movement that is often termed transgender. In the imme- diate post-Stonewall era, gender nonconformity and homosexual erotic desire were often perceived as being part and parcel of the same broader phenomenon of homo- sexuality, articulated in the emerging activist rhetoric as gay identity. In the initial incendiary moments of gay liberation, people who identified as drag queens, homophiles, homosexuals, and lesbians found themselves in common cause as they resisted police brutality, defended their ability to gather in public and quasi-public spaces, and challenged the enforcement of laws prohibit- ing cross-dressing. Whether it was creating new volunteer- based groups, organizing or at least joining in street marches, or producing grassroots publications, this work often took place under the banner of gay identity. As these formations grew and evolved, activists and organizations developed a new lexicon to describe distinctions and track controversies between subgroups within the populations rallying under the gay-rights banner. As the initial incen- diary movements of gay liberation gave way to the various forms of gay politics — radical, assimilationist, and feminist, among others — the differences among the subgroups purportedly falling under that rubric became less easy to paper over with the one-word appellation gay. The constituent subgroups began to question not only the universalism of the term but also the political goals of a movement so named.

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