This article argues that activist claims about the erasure of transgender people in public health settings and research studies obscure a profusion of trans- and gender-nonconforming identities, embodiments, and terminology in public health contexts. Using the concept of a “transgender matrix,” this work explains how proliferating transgender imaginaries result in differing conceptualizations of sex, gender, sexuality, race, and culture that resonate with similarly variable public health research categorization practices. Demographic categories are double-edged swords in that they are necessary for the redirection of resources toward socially marginalized people; at the same time, they often constitute the conditions of containment of these same people. Drawing on de Certeau’s concept of a tactic, this article proposes a mode of evasion through the mobilization of alternate classificatory schemas based on interrelational race- and class-based categorical imaginaries. This is exemplified by an ethnographically documented account of the Trans-health Information Project (TIP), a federally funded public health program. TIP created nonstandard safer-sex outreach packets that employed classificatory mobility in an ongoing process of adaptation and change, mutating in response to specific racial, ethnic, and class-based differences through the use of local vernaculars. This tactical maneuver temporarily circumnavigated administrative capture.
By T. Benjamin Singer, 2015