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Gender and Race in an Age of Unsettled Identities

by Rogers Brubaker

In the summer of 2015, shortly after Caitlyn Jenner came out as transgender, NAACP official and political activist Rachel Dolezal was "outed" by her parents as white, touching off a heated debate in the media about the fluidity of gender and race. If Jenner could legitimately identify as a woman, could Dolezal legitimately identify as black?

Taking the controversial pairing of "transgender" and "transracial" as his starting point, Rogers Brubaker shows how gender and race, long understood as stable, inborn, and unambiguous, have in the past few decades opened up-- in different ways and to different degrees-- to the forces of change and choice. Transgender identities have moved from the margins to the mainstream with dizzying speed, and ethnoracial boundaries have blurred. Paradoxically, while sex has a much deeper biological basis than race, choosing or changing one's sex or gender is more widely accepted than choosing or changing one's race. Yet while few accepted Dolezal's claim to be black, racial identities are becoming more fluid as ancestry-- increasingly understood as mixed-- loses its authority over identity, and as race and ethnicity, like gender, come to be understood as something we do, not just something we have. By rethinking race and ethnicity through the multifaceted lens of the transgender experience-- encompassing not just a movement from one category to another but positions between and beyond existing categories-- Brubaker underscores the malleability, contingency, and arbitrariness of racial categories.

At a critical time when gender and race are being reimagined and reconstructed, Trans explores fruitful new paths for thinking about identity.

"Smart and timely, Trans examines the conjoining of 'transgender' and 'transracial' categories in the popular and scholarly discussions about Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal during the summer of 2015. A lucid, wide-ranging exploration of tensions between givenness and chosenness in contemporary identity discourse, this is a must-read for anybody interested in the questions 'Who am I?' and 'Who are you?'" --Susan Stryker, author of Transgender History

"At a time when American culture is transfixed by ‘trans,' Rogers Brubaker urges us to think with trans—to use the space that transgender reveals between culture and biology to understand how we experience race and ethnicity. Brubaker's thoughtful, humane, and conceptually elegant book provides a feast of insights about the varieties of identity that Americans today can experience and the ways that old categories continue to function in an unsettled world." --Daniel J. Sharfstein, author of The Invisible Line: A Secret History of Race in America

9780691181189, paperback

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