Summary and Opinion

Summary and Opinion

Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the

Limits of Law


South End Press Brooklyn, NY

copyright © 2011 by Dean Spade

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Preface 7

Introduction: Rights, Movements, and Critical Trans Politics 19

1 Trans Law and Politics on a Neoliberal Landscape 49

2 What’s Wrong with Rights? 79

3 Rethinking Transphobia and Power— Beyond a Rights Framework 101

4 Administrating Gender 137

5 Law Reform and Movement Building 171

Conclusion: “This Is a Protest, Not a Parade!” 205

Acknowledgements 229 Index 233 About the Author 249



In 2002, I opened the doors of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP). I had raised enough grant money to rent a desk and a phone at a larger poverty law organization, and had spread the word to other service providers like drug treatment centers, legal aid offices, mental health centers, needle exchanges, and community organizations that I would be providing free legal help to trans people. I never would have guessed the number of people who would call the organization for help or the gravity and complexity of the problems they face.

My first call came from the men’s jail in Brooklyn.1 Jim, a 25-year-old transman, was desperate for help; he was facing a se- vere threat of rape and already experiencing harassment. Jim is a trans person with an intersex condition.2 He was raised as a girl, but during adolescence began to identify as male. To his family he remained female-identified, but in the world he identified as male, changing clothes every night when he returned home and trying to avoid contact between his family and everyone else he knew. The stress of living a “double life” was immense, but he knew it was the only way to maintain a relationship with his fam- ily, with whom he was very close.

When Jim was nineteen, he was involved in a robbery for which he received a sentence of five years probation. During