Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex

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Here we find collections like the Against Equality series or the Beyond Marriage statement, critiquing the demand for gay marriage as culturally conservative and largely irrelevant to poor queer people, ignoring the rich diversity of family structures today.

The queer left, like any specific current of radical intellectual and organizing work, is heterogeneous and varied, though common themes emerge. One major current targets the tepid liberalism of mainstream gay activists on their politics of class, state violence, and American empire. Against Equality, again, has critiqued the demand for gays to serve openly in the military as bolstering US imperial aggression.

Queer and trans radicals, across a range of issues, link cultural assimilation of gay elites, state practices of social regulation, and the intensified suffering of the poorest queer people of color.

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Socialist leftists have reacted to these queer intellectual currents in contradictory and confused ways. To take as an example, consider the International Socialist Organization ISO , one of the largest US groups from the Trotskyist tradition, best known for its antimilitary organizing on college campuses. The ISO has been making new inroads toward trying to intervene in queer left debates, with peculiar effect. Drawing from the gay rights legacy of the early Bolshevik state, and a Leninist analysis that sees civil rights as a stage in the struggle for socialism, the ISO has long defended gay marriage and gay activism, unlike some other socialist counterparts.

But until recently, despite its many vocal gay members, the ISO was totally unknown within this queer left milieu, and their marriage activism had won them few sympathizers in these circles. Whatever one thinks of Darkmatter, they share good reasons with many sections of antiracist organizing in being skeptical of the legacy of white participation and white domination of social movements speaking in the name of black and brown communities.


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The ISO is attempting to build out its base and work with working-class queer and trans people of color. They are unable to grasp or appreciate, however, the major political insights emerging from these very circles. For the uninitiated interested in what the queer left has to offer, there are a few excellent introductions.

The second edition of Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex is one such strong and illuminating collection representing the very best of radical queer politics around the specific topic of trans people and prisons. It is here Captive Genders offers a pinnacle of queer radical thinking from a nonacademic press.

Gay mainstream politics has largely ignored the experiences of trans people in prison. When they have dabbled in issues of policing and incarceration, mainstream gay groups have largely supported more incarceration in the form of sentencing enhancement in hate crimes laws. Some have suggested changes in prison policies to be better protective of trans prisoners, such as constructing specialized, segregated units. Captive Genders brings together a variety of trans voices on the issue of mass incarceration, solidly committed to a far-left, anti-prison politics. A few, such as Miss Major or Bo Brown, are long-time veterans of queer radical organizing going back to the s.

Overall, the work is strong and worth the read. The new, expanded second edition includes pieces by recent movement luminaries Cece McDonald and Chelsea Manning. Her essay in Captive Genders is one of a few recent pieces reflecting her leftward turn while incarcerated. Gay immigrant advocates argue that gay relationships with US citizens should provide adequate grounds for undocumented immigrants to remain in the country. They have advocated for this by highlighting the most class-privileged and culturally normative cases, and distancing themselves from the more common experiences of working-class immigrants and those with criminal records.

Nair takes aim at this approach armed with skilled writing and a strong argument. Lamble, point by point, iterates why queer and trans politics and anti-prison and anti-police activism belong together. Lamble details the over-criminalization of low-income queer and trans people of color, the violent enforcement of gender norms in prisons themselves, the enlisting of LGBTQ elites in supporting prison expansion, and the ultimate core argument of abolitionist politics: investing in social services with dignity and other alternatives will better address violence and crime than mass incarceration.

Its authors, Morgan Bassichis, Alexander Lee, and Dean Spade, each played pivotal roles in major radical trans nonprofit organizing projects and are well-respected movement leaders. Erica R. Meiners considers the extensive post-incarceration controls placed on sex offenders in the historical context of the criminalization of gay sex.

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Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex

Tommi Avicolli Mecca, Nadia Guidotto, and Jennifer Worley all consider historical cases of police harassment of gender nonconforming and queer people. Captive Genders , therefore, takes us well beyond a politics that sees gay and trans rights in terms of individual tolerance or institutional acceptance. Here I attempt to bridge some of the language and frameworks familiar to Captive Genders with other related and contrasting political traditions.

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Overall, I would discern the following insights and themes from queer and trans radical thinking as of particular interest, novelty, and substance for other left intellectuals. State institutions, the queer left has argued and demonstrated, use a whole set of social practices to regulate and police gender expression, sexual identity, and sexuality at the expense of queer, trans, and gender nonconforming people.

Rather than tweaking these institutions to be more inclusive of some specific minority identity, critics have argued, we need to radically restructure normalization, disciplinary power, and social regulation as constituent elements of state practice. She was released in after serving nineteen months for second-degree manslaughter.


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  6. Skip to main content. By Eric A. Add to Wish List. Staff Reviews This is a groundbreaking book about the relationship between trans people, the prison industrial complex, and how state violence permeates our every day lives.

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    Melt's Picks. Focusing discerningly on the encounter of transpersons with the apparatuses that constitute the prison industrial complex, the contributors to this volume create new frameworks and new vocabularies that surely will have a transformative impact on the theories and practices of twenty-first century abolition. Davis, professor emerita, University of California, Santa Cruz "The contributors to Captive Genders brilliantly shatter the assumption that the antidote to danger is human sacrifice. In other words, for these thinkers: where life is precious life is precious.