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Biography History Nonfiction Social Sciences

“Still at the back of the bus”: Sylvia Rivera’s struggle

By Jessi Gan, 2007

Recent U.S. transgender politics has increasingly invoked the history of Sylvia Rivera, the Puerto Rican/Venezuelan transgender activist who fought at the 1969 Stonewall riots. Although her life narrative helped transgender movements demand accountability from gay political institutions, the movements, working within a liberal multicultural logic of recognition, sometimes elided the multiple axes of her intersectional situatedness. Drawing upon an extended sketch of the contours of Rivera’s life, I argue that her contextual political praxis, informed by her life experiences, both resisted and provisionally endorsed those uses. For example, she strategically deployed identity categories while simultaneously resisting reductive definition. My essay argues that Rivera, animated by ethics of accountability to her “children” and of inclusive love, remained committed to an expansive view of the project of social justice.

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