In the summer of 2015, shortly after Caitlyn Jenner came out as transgender, the 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.
Rogers Brubaker is professor of sociology and UCLA Foundation Chair at the University of California, Los Angeles. His recent books include Ethnicity without Groups, Nationalist Politics and Everyday Ethnicity in a Transylvanian Town, and Grounds for Difference.
"Pacy and stimulating. . . . The nub of Trans's argument is that we are culturally primed to be more receptive to transgender journeys, whether male to female or vice versa, because these are framed as identity or even civil rights issues, whereas racial identities are still categorical."--Marina Benjamin, New Statesman
"The value in Brubaker's book is not in readjudicating old internet battles, but in laying out current conflicts of identity in a public, accessible way; academics have been thinking and talking about the fluidity and fixedness of gender and race for a long time, but their thinking hasn't always been part of mainstream conversations. Especially with the growing number of legislative, judicial, and cultural challenges to the role of gender in American society, sometimes, it can just be useful to lay out the terms of debate."--Emma Green, The Atlantic
"Lucid, sophisticated, and judicious, Trans is an important and timely exploration of the increasingly uncertain and unsettled boundaries of identity."--Glenn Altschuler, Florida Courier
"While the ﬁrst part of Trans compares Dolezal and Jenner, the second leverages the concept of transgender to examine transracial differences. Ultimately, Brubaker would like us to recognize transracial identities in the same way we accept transgender ones. In his analysis, transracial identities generate uneasy resonances with not only the dark histories of racial passing, but also the contemporary realities of racial oppression. Still, he prods us to reflect on the new kinds of racial identities being created through interracial relations, multiracial movements and generational change. While the mainstream recognizes transgender, it remains wary of transracial. The controversy over trans identities is far from settled."--Macleans
Table of Contents
Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by Rogers Brubaker: