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Review: Trans* by Jack Halberstam

book review May 01, 2024

Trans* by Jack Halberstam is a contemporary overview of the shifts that have occurred in what it means to be transgender and how transgender people are represented in film and on television, as well as the conflicts that occur within the queer community. 



Image Courtesy of University of California Press 


"Trans* will argue that new visibility for any given community has advantages and disadvantages, liabilities and potentialities. With recognition comes acceptance, with acceptance comes power, with power comes regulation" (p.18). 


Halberstam argues, much like Kit Heyam in Before We Were Trans, that how we understand transgender people now differs from the way we understood them in the past because historically, transgender people didn't use the same language we do today. In addition, he writes, "the history of transsexuality has been hard to tell and transexuals have often lived secretly and in hiding; many have not been able to access or afford medical assistance, and others may not have known where to turn even if they had the resources" (p.26). 


Additionally, Halberstam discusses how being transgender has become a marker of exclusion and how many of the conversations around transgender and gender rights focus on children's activities and bodies and work to advocate for societal change on their behalf (p.46). 


"For some children, their gender variance is the beginning of a lifelong sense of gender nonconformity. For others, gender variance is a stage to pass through; and for still others gender variance in childhood has little or no connection to how they might identify as adults" (p.70). 


Halberstam goes on to write about how transgender people have been portrayed in film and on TV, both poorly and dangerously, and how all of that changed in the 1990s when transgender people began to be realistically represented in films (p.92). He finishes with a commentary on the conflict between feminists, lesbians, and transgender women in chapter 6. 


At 136 pages, Trans* is a relatively quick read with six chapters and a conclusion; however, it requires close attention. Halberstam intertwines some of his personal stories within the pages, keeping the reader engaged throughout the scholarly text. It's the perfect read for anyone looking to expand their knowledge of transgender history. 



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