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Critique Essay Humanities Nonfiction Social Sciences Theory

The (Mis)Measure of Trans

By Christine Labuski and Colton Keo-Meier, 2015

This essay considers the utility of research questions that articulate aspects of transgender lives to the nontransgender populations with whom they share a wide range of bodily and lived experience. By foregrounding transgender’s instability as a research variable, the authors argue for more precise methodological orientations in trans research, particularly regarding gender and sexual orientation. Drawing on their own data with trans men whose sexual attractions have shifted during transition, they argue against unidimensional interpretations of this experience. Feminists and critical race scholars suggest that race and gender frequently function as “proxies”: variables that reduce the complexities of biosocial bodily experience to more quantifiable forms of data. The authors argue that much of the research conducted with transgender persons suffers from similar reductions, narrowing the epistemological frameworks through which these populations are subsequently investigated and understood. By contrasting the National Transgender Discrimination Survey’s focus on the measurable experience of discrimination with research that makes broader claims regarding “the transgender population,” the essay invites researchers to develop a set of best practices that resemble those of feminist science studies scholars.

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