Category Archives: GLBT non-fiction

“Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation” by Robert Fieseler— Love, Faith, Death and Grief (THE REVIEW)

Fieseler, Robert. “Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation”, Liveright, 2018.

Love, Faith, Death and Grief (The Review)

Amos Lassen

Some of you might have noticed that I have already written about “Tinderbox” but part of my title said “This is not a review” but in many ways it was. There are only so many ways that you can write about something and I used a fair share of glowing material back then so that will not change. I have since reread “Tinderbox” twice and I am a bit stunned at how much I did not catch inn the first reading. Hence we now have my “real” review and it will be every bit as glowing as my “non-review”. (Warning: Some of this might sound familiar).

As many of you know, I was born and raised in New Orleans and until I moved to Israel in the mid-60s, I was fairly active in the New Orleans gay and literary communities. That might help to explain why I try to read whatever comes out about the Crescent City. Robert Fieseler’s book is not only about New Orleans, it is also about gay New Orleans and when I first heard about it and that the author, like myself, was living in Boston, I knew that not only did I have to read the book, but that I would have to meet the author.

I was a bit surprised about what Fieseler chose to write about to be his swan dive into the swimming pool of gay literature. His book “Tinderbox” is an in depth and intense look at the fire at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans that killed 32 people in 1973. There were already two books written about it, one in the last few years as well as documentary film that was making the rounds of the LGBT film festival circuit and is available on DVD and Blu ray. I wondered if there was a need for another book; it seemed to me that everything that could be said had already been said. When Fieseler told me why he wrote this, he totally pulled me into himself. It was not that long ago that we had the terrible shootings at Pulse in Orlando and what I did not realize was that until that horrific incident, what happened at the Upstairs Lounge was the most brutal crime against gay people in American history. New Orleans had long ago closed the case and then we had the Pulse as if history was repeating itself.

“Tinderbox” looks at what happened at the Upstairs Lounge and incorporates it into the American civil rights movement. As we read we never lose the grief that came with what happened that Sunday in New Orleans. It is interesting that this horrible event has re-emerged as a catalyzing event of the gay liberation movement. Fieseler takes us through the tragic event that claimed the lives of thirty-one men and one woman on June 24, 1973 and what had been, until 2016, the largest mass murder of gay people. He gives us a look at “a closeted, blue- collar gay world that flourished before an arsonist ignited an inferno that destroyed an entire community.” That event alone was traumatic but so was what happened afterwards. Families were too embarrassed and ashamed to claim the bodies because the dead were gay people, the Catholic Church refused proper burial rights, the city of New Orleans was impervious to the survivors’ needs and we become aware of the total intolerance and prejudice that was part of the city, a place where whites and blacks got along but where straights and gays could not. The fire took place after Stonewall and during the beginnings of gay liberation in this country. There was a new kind of activism that came into being after the fire and it was the basis for a young gay liberation movement.

For those of you who are unaware, the arson of the gay bar the Up Stairs Lounge in New Orleans sees to have been an act of revenge, allegedly committed by a small-time crook and alcoholic gay hustler by the name of Roger Dale Nunez. Nunez had tried to hustle one of the clients at the bar and in doing so he broke the no hustling rule and was asked to leave. He became very angry and an altercation followed resulting in Nunez being punched in the face and then physically removed from the bar. Two patrons claim they heard him yell, “I’m going to burn you all out,” or “I’m going to burn this place to the ground.” Apparently, Nunez certainly came back later that evening to set fire to the bar but that was never officially proven. Due to the ineptitude and prejudice of the times, and because he committed suicide years later before he could be arraigned and justice served, the case was closed. How Nunez managed to elude the law, many times over is fascinating but it is so discouraging and disgusting the New Orleans Police Force was so inept regarding this case.

Fieseler writes not just about the fire but also about the world that allowed it to happen. New Orleans has always been a center of gay life and there were certainly no surprises about it. One would think that with the open and carefree lifestyle of the French Quarter that no one would really care about anyone’s sexuality yet the gay life of the city remained in the closet and a world of paradox replaced what we might have thought of as tolerant. We see here the furtiveness of gay life in a tolerant city as well as the official culture’s hostility to it. I have always found it interesting, however, that New Orleans drew famous people into its gay scene. I met and saw out frequently a world famous playwright, a major television star and a major film star not to mention closeted members of Congress, a famous district attorney and a mayor who drove around the French Quarter picking up boys.

What happened that Sunday afternoon was one of the worst outrages against gay people in modern America, and here Fieseler relates it to us in all that it was. In effect, he is restoring a chapter of history that was once lost to us because those involved did not matter enough to be included. We become very aware of the depth of prejudice that was and there are no exceptions and that includes the media that covered the story when it happened. And yes, there are surprises here. More than once I had to stop reading to either dry my eyes or to sit back and think about something I had not heard before and this was the community that I had once been a part of.

Fieseler brings the tragedy to life again through his meticulous research and survivor interviews and in doing so he damns homophobia and the comfort some found in the closet. He analyzes the event from many angles and as he does, he shows the failures of the New Orleans police department, the fire department, the mayor and the mayor’s office, the local and national press, the Church and so on. The broader political, spiritual and personal implications are still in effect today.

The Upstairs Lounge fire was the largest mass murder of gays in American history, until 2016 in Orlando, Florida. And yet, in 1973, Fieseler shows how the Lounge disaster for the most part was swept under the rug because you cannot have mass deaths if you want the good times to roll. Everyone in command was part of the negligence and indifference to the fire codes in the French Quarter, “the gay ghetto”; the investigation was a disaster due to the ineptitude and bias of the police and fire departments; the local and national American press buried the story on the back pages; the mayor who stayed mostly silent and away; and the closeted gay community was too afraid to take a stand. As if that is not enough— the slow response from the fire department ended in confusion over the location of the bar, its layout, its fire exits, and the need for proper equipment to help the victims escape. The burned remains of the victims were left on display for hours due to the thoughtlessness of officials and first responders, and the press corps was free to mosey through remains of the site and take photos. There was infighting, misconceptions, and a New Orleans mentality that plagued the New Orleans gay community, a community which suddenly had to now deal with the beginning of a national gay protest movement and the Metropolitan Community that now wanted more visibility and more congregants. Important and recognizable gay figures were treated with mistrust and scorn and their intentions were questioned when they tried to call national attention to the Up Stairs Lounge fire. Families too ashamed to claim their loved ones and the Catholic Church refused proper burial rights.

Fieseler is a wonderful and powerful storyteller. I watched him as he addressed the Boston History Project about his book and everyone was mesmerized. He comes alive when he speaks and when alludes to the lying implicit in the enforcement of “the closet,” and how lying causes more lying. He tells us that in New Orleans “The closet grew to function as a governing institution for non-heterosexual life in twentieth-century America, which explains precisely how a makeshift bar like the Up Stairs Lounge could burn to its foundations and, in so doing, disappear from memory.” Having come out in New Orleans, I have to rubber stamp what he said.

This is a painful book but a necessary one. We must never allow ourselves to forget that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. Unfortunately those who came before us in New Orleans had to deal with trauma, pain, and emotional shock and we become truly aware of human frailty, moral weakness, evil, and bigotry. It is not too late to accord those who needlessly died the honor they had in paving the way for the rest of us and they paid the ultimate price. “Tinderbox” will become even more important after we synthesize all that it has to say. I am in awe of the research that was conducted, I am in awe of the beautiful and informative prose with which it has been written and I am so glad that honor has been restored to a forgotten generation of civil-rights martyrs. We all owe Robert Fieseler a great deal for all he has done with this, his first book.

“The Paradox of Porn: Notes on Gay Male Sexual Culture” by Don Shewey— Porn: The Role and the Paradox

Shewey, Don. “The Paradox of Porn: Notes on Gay Male Sexual Culture”, Joybody Books, 2018.

Porn: the Role and the Paradox

Amos Lassen

I am sure that many will agree that porn has been an integral and important part of gay life for years. It has taught us what desire between two men looks. Porn has gotten us through times of loneliness and isolation, disease and disconnection, and it has contributed to our pleasure. At the same time, the images from porn have shaped and often distorted how we think about sex, what normal bodies look like, how we make connections, and how we feel about ourselves. “It’s been hugely liberating and hugely oppressive. And that’s the paradox of porn.”

Don Shewey’s “The Paradox of Porn” is an excellent analysis of what gay porn means to gay men, and, to go a step further, by extension, the state of sexual culture in America today. By following what Shewey has to say here, we begin to think about porn in different ways— psychologically, aesthetically, ethically, and socially Shewey excites the reader to think about porn – and culture – in new ways. Like many other gay men, I enjoy watching porn every once in a while and I thought that I understood why I found porn interesting and entertaining. “The Paradox of Porn” has much to say about pornography, about the lives and imaginations of gay men, and about the state of erotic gay culture.

Don Shewey is a writer, a therapist, an activist for pleasure and a gay man who has written a comprehensive history about influence of porn. I do a lot of reading and I cannot remember ever having read such a complete look at porn before. We read of both the positive and negative influences that porn has on one’s life. Without question, eroticism is “titillating, transformative and transcendent.” As if we did not know, we read here that for many men porn is much more than just a masturbatory experience. Porn can be educational and liberating as well as cause insecurity, inferiority and self-doubt. Shewey shows that porn can reveal our inner desires and thus empower us to accept ourselves and become “sexually enriched men.”

Many have love/hate struggles with porn. The knowledge, humor and wit that propels this study makes this an enjoyable read. I identified with so much that I read here. The serious and frank discussions about how porn has affected our own body images, and influenced our insecurities regarding sex about performance. For many, porn is a taboo subject; a topic that is rarely spoken about. Shewey opens a dialogue that we are all part of.

 

 

“Gay, Inc.: The Nonprofitization of Queer Politics” by Myrl Beam— The Nonprofit Structure

Beam, Myrl. “Gay, Inc.: The Nonprofitization of Queer Politics”, University of Minnesota Press, 2018.

The Nonprofit Structure

Amos Lassen

Writer Myrl Beam gives us a bold and provocative look at how the nonprofit sphere’s expansion has both helped and hindered the LGBT cause. She argues that the conservative turn in queer movement politics is due mostly to the movement’s embrace of the nonprofit structure. Through oral histories, archival research, and her own extensive activist work, “Gay, Inc.” looks at how LGBT nonprofits in Minneapolis and Chicago deal with the contradictions between radical queer social movements and their institutionalized purposes.

Beam outlines the” emotionally compelling but politically compromising role of nonprofit organizations in LGBTQ life.” We see the conflicts between mission and fundraising, between participants and donors that influence our commitments to social justice. This is the book to read to find out how social change works. “Gay, Inc.” helps us understand queer and trans resistance in and brings new insight into social movement debates about the role of nonprofits using grounded histories of resistance and conflict within queer politics.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Neoliberalism, Nonprofitization, and Social Change
  • The Work of Compassion: Institutionalizing Affective Economies of AIDS and Homelessness
  • Community and Its Others: Safety, Space, and Nonprofitization
  • Capital and Nonprofitization: At the Limits of “By and For”
  • Navigating the Crisis of Neoliberalism: A Stance of Undefeated Despair
  • Conclusion
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index

“Christianity and the Limits of Minority Acceptance in America: God Loves (Almost) Everyone” by J.E. Sumerrau and Ryan T. Cragun— Christian Tolerance and Minority Rights

 

Sumerrau, J.E. and Ryan T. Cragun. “Christianity and the Limits of Minority Acceptance in America: God Loves (Almost) Everyone”, Rowman and Littlefield. 2018.

Christian Tolerance and Minority Rights

Amos Lassen

 “Christianity and the Limits of Minority Acceptance in America: God Loves (Almost) Everyone” looks at the ways Christian women in college make sense of bisexual, transgender, polyamorous, and atheist others. explores the ways they express tolerance for some sexual groups, such as lesbian and gay people, while maintaining condemnation of other sexual, gendered, or religious groups. In so doing, this book highlights the limits of Christian tolerance for the advancement of minority rights. 


Writers Sumerau and Cragun chose to study how religious people make sense of the increasing visibility of transgender, intersex, bi+, poly, and non-religiously unaffiliated individuals in their midst and it fills a void in the understanding of how traditional, established gender and religious norms shape civic life in the United States. The dominant narrative in the sociology of religion claims and lauds the limited acceptance of gay and lesbian people within Christendom, the authors show that beneath this “veneer of progress”, there is unchallenged disdain for those outside mono-, hetero- and “cisnormativities.” Through the use of ethnographic interviews, the contours of this intolerance come to light and describe how it is constructed and maintained.

For many years, sociologists of religion and sexuality faced problems asking what American Christians thought about homosexuality. As Sumerau and Cragun show us here, it’s time to ask new questions and they go into topics that are usually not included by fellow sociologists of religion. They explore the far reaches of American Christian assumptions that privilege monogamy, monosexuality, and cisgender reality and that leave out bisexual, nonbinary, and nonreligious people. This book is a necessity for the understanding of the complete landscape of religion and sexuality in America today.



What
Sumerau and Cragun have found has much to say about the ideological assumptions that still inform much social research on attitudes—that male and female are two mutually exclusive categories, that sexual orientation must reflect this dichotomy, that religion is the sole source of morality, and that being cisgender in lifelong monogamy is necessary to demonstrate it. They show that the stereotypes that used to trouble gays and lesbians (being immature, sick, and/or untrustworthy) have not gone away but have been displaced onto less conforming categories of people: bisexuals, trans people, polyamorous people, and atheists.

Table of Contents

Introduction: What God has joined together: Gender, Sexual, and Religious Intersections in America

  1. It Is God Who Works In You: Religious, Gendered, and Sexual Attitudes

  2. Male and Female He Created Them: Christianity as Cisnormativity
  3. 
3. And They Become One Flesh: Christianity as Mononormativity

  4. The Fool Says In His Heart: Christianity as Religio-Normativity
Conclusion: So Are My Ways Higher Than Your Ways: Normativity and Emerging Movements in America

“I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé” by Michael Arceneaux— Essays

Arceneaux, Michael. “I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé”, Atria, 2018.

Essays

Amos Lassen

Michael Arceneaux has not had an easy life and he shares with us what it is like to grow up a as a creative, sensitive black man in a world that constantly tries to deride and diminish his humanity. He does this in a collection of very funny and soul‑searching sensitive essays. I think it is fair to say that we are all well aware that equality for LGBTQ people has come a long way yet voices of people of color within the community are still often silenced, and being Black in America is very definitely not easy. Those of you who are regular readers of my reviews know how often I bemoan the fact that we really do not have much writing from the Black LGBTQ community.

Michael Arceneaux writes with passion and freshness while still maintaining a sense of humor and he has no borders. He shares his journey of learning how to accept and embrace who he is even while the world told him not to do so. He shares his coming out to his mother and growing up in Houston, Texas where he was approached for the priesthood; he writes about his obstacles in embracing intimacy and the challenges of young people who feel marginalized and denied the opportunity to pursue their dreams. He is outspoken and I love him for that because you get nothing by being quiet.

Arceneaux tells the stories that need to be told and he writes about his life as he is— a black gay man with a strength of conviction and such fine wit. Here he struggles with the very things that shape our lives – “faith, family, and finding a way into the world he wants to be a part of.” His observations are keen and he sees beauty in ugliness and then puts it on paper. We see him in totality and we join him on his journey “toward contentment, wholeness and reconciliation with faith and family as an unapologetically black, queer and Southern man.” 

Arceneaux strips bare his humanity and his hilarity revealing who he is and who we are as he carefully explains why it is important to be black, gay, young, and human today. He takes directly to the core of intersectionality to reveal personal and religious trials of faith

““My Life as a Goddess: A Memoir through (Un) Popular Culture” by Guy Branum— Sharp Essays

Branum, Guy. ““My Life as a Goddess: A Memoir through (Un) Popular Culture”, Atria, 2018.

Sharp Essays

Amos Lassen

Guy Branum’s “My Life as a Goddess” is a collection of essays by the stand-up comedian who from a young age felt as if he were on the outside looking in. Branum is self-taught and introspective. He hails from a stiflingly boring farm town where he couldn’t relate to his neighbors. While other boys played outside, he stayed indoors reading. He was gay and overweight and became used to diminishing himself. However, through his reading, he started learning from all the other sad, strange, lonely outcasts in history who had come before him, and he actually developed a sense of hope.

This is a collection of personal essays in which Branum talks about finding a sense of belonging at Berkeley as well as stirring up controversy in a newspaper column that led to a meeting with the Secret Service. He writes about being typecast as the “Sassy Gay Friend,” and how, after beginning law school, he found stand‑up comedy and artistic freedom. He looks at and analyzes how society deprives us of personhood and does so with calculation especially regarding fat people, and how, it has taken him a while to accept who he is and has one can accept himself but it often takes patience and humor.

The essays are filled equally with wit, guile, and rumination yet they are sensitive and moving. He dares to say what most of us are afraid to utter and he has the guts to make it sound 100% correct. Yes, he is funny but he is also empowering, and very different from anything we’ve ever read. I found myself thinking deeply as I was laughing while I read. It is his intellectual curiosity and moral sure-footedness that make wonderful. He blesses us with insights into “walking paths less traveled” as well as into what self-acceptance means in a world that is still not ready to accept difference.

“Making Oscar Wilde” by Michele Mendelssohn— The Untold Story

Mendelssohn, Michele. “Making Oscar Wilde”, Oxford University Press, 2018.

The Untold Story

Amos Lassen

Today we regard Oscar Wilde is one of the greats of English literature. His plays and stories are beloved around the world but we are all well aware tat it was not always so. He has received in death what he so desired in life and was denied him— legitimacy. “Making Oscar Wilde” is the untold story of young Wilde’s career in Victorian England and post-Civil War America. It is set on two continents and follows a larger-than-life hero on an unforgettable adventure to make his name as a serious writer.

Writer Michele Mendelssohn combines new evidence and cultural history to dramatize Wilde’s rise, fall, and resurrection. She brings to life the charming young Irishman who wanted to captivate the United States and Britain and ultimately conquered the world. Mendelssohn shows sensation-hungry Victorian journalism and popular entertainment alongside racial controversies, sex scandals, and the growth of Irish nationalism. This is revisionist history that shows how Wilde’s early life embodies the story of the Victorian era as it sluggishly moved towards modernity.

There is a lot to think about here. This biography is as complex and political as it is fascinating and devastating. It is also the study of the construction of celebrity and reputation. Through looking at Wilde’s trip to the United States in 1882, Mendelssohn shows how stereotypes of the Irish immigrant and the minstrel show influenced us and how the strategies of Wilde and his tour manager, made him a controversial star. We see how Wilde’s being Irish played into the story of race relations in post-Civil War America.

Mendelssohn in effect rewrites history by giving us a Wilde caught in a complex web of social and racial prejudices. We see how Wilde invented himself, and was invented, as an international artist-celebrity. His world was of his making even though he could not choose the conditions. Wilde believed that the best way to intensify a personality is to multiply it.” We will never see Wilde the same way again.

“Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day” by Peter Ackroyd— An Interesting Historical Take on London

Ackroyd, Peter. “Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day”, Abrams Press, 2018.

An Interesting Historical Take on London

Amos Lassen

The first generation of lesbian and gay scholars after the Stonewall showdown compiled evidence proving that men had gone to bed with men, and women with women, early in history and often thus saying that Homosexuality was not something new. Because the social stigma against homosexuality was still potent, “these writers armored their books against condescension, brandishing complex theories about representation and identity, and thorning their texts with source notes.” Yet, even with this care the authors took to be sophisticated, however, they still provided a thrill that depended in large part on a simple intellectual— the list.

We see that here in Peter Ackroyd’s “Queer City,” that covers two millenniums of lesbians, gays, trans people and other queers who have lived in London. Ackroyd starts with a list of words for non-heterosexuals, including “catamite,” “sapphist,” “ingle,” “pathic,” “mollie,” “jemmy,” “tribade,” “tommy,” “indorser,” “fribble” and “madge,” and quickly moves on to names, famous and forgotten. Unlike his predecessors, Ackroyd doesn’t include philosophical puzzles about the nature of sexuality, or its lack of a nature. What he is saying here is that we have arrived and that our history no longer has anything to prove.

“Buffalo Trace: A Threefold Vibration” by Mary Cappello, James Morrison and Jane Walton— Enchantment and Regret

Cappello, Mary, James Morrison and Jane Walton. “Buffalo Trace: A Threefold Vibration”, Spuyten Duyvil, 2018.

Enchantment and Regret

Amos Lassen

It seemed to be that I was heading into a summer of fiction reading when I was pleasantly surprised to get a copy of “Buffalo Trace” but even more than that is that I saw so much of myself in the text of the three short autobiographical texts. They reinforced my thinking that there is never only one ad that someone somewhere has experience the same (but different) as myself. I returned to grad school with reading this and the accounts we get here are so honest that I found myself having to wipe away tears from my eyes several times. Those who were grad students in the humanities will immediately see so much of themselves in what is written here. I read a lot of memoirs and autobiographies and I have always wondered why intellectual growth is rarely included as part of coming of age. Here we get, and I quote because it is so well said, “the romance of learning and pedagogy merging with an education in Eros.” Here

three wonderful share how the became who they are (Nietzsche—a person “becomes who one is.”). I have, like the three writers here, always felt that “love, self-becoming, and thinking cannot be separated.” Now I could give you a summary of what each of our trio of writers have to say about this but then you would not have to read the book and I think that is such a beautiful book that it cries out to read and handled with care. While this is a book about our three writers, it is also a book about education. It is also a look at a generation; a generation that came of age, came out and discovered themselves in the process. They share with us the mysteries of their lives which also just happen to be the mysteries of our lives and as we share their consciousness, they become part of ours (and we have never met).

Is there a correlation between intellectual and sexual awakenings? Is there an answer to that question? We forget sometimes that we must embrace ourselves with all of our contradictions and limitations. If love is the highest goal in love, are we aware of how to really reach it? I was so reminded of learning how to deconstruct a piece of literature in order to get to its inner meaning and in this love story between three friends, we see their own personal smart, honest, and beautifully written, deconstructions as was favored by themselves and each other. This was how we once lived— amid the craziness and the belief that we could change the world. The book is subtitled “A Threefold Vibration” and I understood this to mean that we would vibrate as we read.

As a former student of the liberal arts and philosophy, these are the kinds of books I love to read. I also love to agree and disagree with some of what I read. I did that here throughout. As I read James Morrison’s contribution, I so identified especially the desire to write about almost everything. There is one statement that I have always agreed with my father about and that is when there is nothing left to learn, it is time to close the coffin. Not only do we see that practically in James Morrison’s piece but also in the writings of Mary Cappello and Jean Walton. I could go on and on but I must lave some of the brilliant surprises to be found here. It is a bit early to think about “My Bests” lists but I have a feeling that this will be among the top ten. I close the book feeling invigorated and hopeful and ever so lucky that I got to read “Buffalo Trace”.

“Trans: Gender and Race in an Age of Unsettled Identities” by Rogers Brubacker— A New Understanding

Brubaker, Rogers. “Trans: Gender and Race in an Age of Unsettled Identities”, Princeton University Press, 2018.

A New Understanding

Amos Lassen

Using the controversial pairing of “transgender” and “transracial” as his starting point, Rogers Brubaker shows how gender and race which have long been understood as stable, inborn, and unambiguous, have opened up in the past few decades in different ways and to different degrees to the forces of change and choice. Now transgender identities have moved to the mainstream very rapidly and ethno-racial boundaries have also blurred. Paradoxically choosing or changing one’s sex or gender is more widely accepted than choosing or changing one’s race and sex has a much deeper biological basis than race. Racial identities are becoming more fluid as ancestry 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. If we rethink race and ethnicity through the lens of the transgender experience (encompassing not just a movement from one category to another but positions between and beyond existing categories) Brubaker shows the malleability, contingency, and arbitrariness of racial categories.

We are at a critical time when gender and race are being re-imagined and reconstructed, and this book explores new paths for thinking about identity. “Trans” lays out current conflicts of identity in a way that can be easily understood. It extends the concept of transgender to examine transracial differences. Brubaker wants us to recognize transracial identities in the same way we accept transgender ones. He asks us to consider new kinds of racial identities that are being created through interracial relations, multiracial movements and generational change. Today the mainstream recognizes transgender yet remains wary of transracial. We still have a huge

controversy over trans identities and settlement is Today we live in “an age of unsettled identities.” To understand the categories of identity and how they are being invoked or subverted, it is necessary to study and work at understanding.

Today American culture is transfixed by ‘trans’ and we must use the space that transgender reveals between culture and biology to understand how we experience race and ethnicity. Brubacker tells us that in the summer of 2015 he became fascinated by the intertwined debates about whether Caitlyn Jenner could legitimately identify as a woman and Rachel Dolezal as black. The debates were dominated by efforts to validate or invalidate the identities that these two people claimed. But at the same time they raised deeper questions about the similarities and differences between gender and race. Unlike transgender there’s no socially recognized and legally regulated procedure for changing one’s race or ethnicity comparable to the procedures that are available for changing sex or gender. However, the term “transracial” brings into focus the ways in which people do move from one racial or ethnic category to another or position themselves between or beyond existing categories.

We can use the transgender experience as a way to think about the instability of racial identities. The distinction between sex and gender allows us to think of gender identity as an inner essence that is independent of the sexed body. This inner essence is understood as natural and changing one’s sex or gender does not mean changing one’s identity; it means changing the way one is recognized and by others. This can also involve transforming one’s body to bring it into alignment with one’s identity. We have no cultural tools for thinking about racial identity as an inner essence that is independent of the body. What is understood as constituting racial identity is located outside of the self and is open to inspection by others. An individual who identifies with an ethnic or racial category to which she is not entitled by ancestry cannot intelligibly make use of the “born in the wrong body” narrative to justify changing racial classification.

While the shift toward public acceptance of transgender has been astonishingly rapid, it has been uneven across regions, generations, institutions, and place.