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Critique Humanities Natural Sciences Nonfiction Social Sciences

Irreducible Damage: The Affective Drift of Race, Gender, and Disability in Anti-Trans Rhetorics

By V. Jo Hsu, 2022

Abstract: This essay examines social panic surrounding trans youth, arguing that rhetorics supporting “rapid onset gender dysphoria” (ROGD) emerge from and reinforce hegemonic scripts about race, gender, sexuality, and dis/ability. Building from Jay Dolmage’s concept of “disability drift,” I demonstrate how anti-trans activists channel other social anxieties into transphobia. Arguments about ROGD frame trans people as infinitesimally rare and as threats to all other communities, but these claims rely on the same narratives used to stigmatize mental illness, to dehumanize people of color and queer people, and to police the bodies and behavior of cisgender women. Introducing the concept of “affective drift,” I consider how ROGD rhetorics draw from ableism, racism, and heteronormativity to fuel transphobia and vise versa. In direct opposition to the logics of ROGD, then, I propose that rhetorical studies is equipped to foster connections across contrived social divides, and to enact solidarity in one another’s struggles.

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