An Overdue Challenge To Existing Gender Narratives

Those living on the fringes of society’s gender norms have always been two steps ahead of academic efforts to catalog and categorize. Gender scholars have tried time and time again to document and explain the changing communities and identities throughout our world and have found themselves continuously surprised by what they discover.

The groundbreaking theories that emerge from these stories may revolutionize academia, but these same ideas are old news to the communities who inspired them to begin with. For those communities who share their stories to researchers, academia may seem like an endless hole: greedily absorbing knowledge, transmuting it into the foreign language of theory, and then moving on, with little benefit to the communities this knowledge was extracted from.

As this is often a reality, so too is the fact that published research is often granted a high level of esteem in society, and drawn upon to inform real-world policies and practices. As academics push the boundaries of stored human knowledge forward, insights from research are disseminated, adapted, and implemented throughout the world. Rather than silence the voices of the community, the potential exists for academics to be platforms for the marginalized narratives and experiences that are all too often concealed by society.

We interviewed 25 gender-diverse people, all of whom we refer to by pseudonyms to protect their anonymity, reveal rich insights into the nitty-gritty of life in the San Francisco Bay Area. These interviews were conducted by Dr. Alison Ash Fogarty between January 2012 and August 2013, and the interviewees whose stories made it into this book consented to have their words shared. As authors, we draw from these stories with a deep respect for the time and labor these individuals devoted to sharing their life experiences with us, and hope to do their narratives justice.

Gender is more than a passive topic of interest; it is an ongoing and active site of crisis and conflict in every society around the world. The recent explosion of transgender representation in media, pop culture, the fashion industry, and public understanding is grimly accompanied by the continuing murders of transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, the delegitimization of nonbinary identities, and pervasive and systemic exclusion from social, economic, and political life. Visibility for transgender communities has meant broader global awareness, but not yet broader global justice.

We write this in the hopes that workplaces will change. We write this with the understanding that we are not simply taking note of an ecological constant in the world, but standing at the cusp of the next waves of visibility and social justice. The experiences and narratives that form the core of this book are not unique to the California Bay Area; nor will they stay forever as only fringe voices at the edge of small but rapidly growing communities.

Our goals in writing this are simple: we seek to humanize trans and gender-diverse people and communities as worthy of both academic study and three-dimensional portrayals, compassion, and justice. We intend this to present a sorely needed challenge to existing transgender narratives, both inside and outside of academia, and to be a useful tool for advocacy and education alike. We hope that this does justice by those individuals who volunteered their stories to us, and is able to create a better world for those whose stories have yet to be told. Our book is our effort to help create a more just future in the ways we are able.

Excerpted from Gender Ambiguity in the Workplace (Praeger, May 21, 2018).


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