Sociology, Research

Sociology's Ann Travers featured on Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences Blog

October 18, 2018

From The Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

Guest blog by Ann Travers, Associate Professor of Sociology at Simon Fraser University

My research with and on behalf of trans and gender nonconforming kids brings my personal experience together with my scholarship in a particularly powerful way. I was a gender nonconforming kid and experienced very harsh gender policing. I now identify as trans non-binary and wish there had been more options when I was growing up. My own experience really influenced my efforts as a parent to keep people from imposing gender categories and norms on my own children. This often felt like a losing battle, as people and institutions are relentless when it comes to dividing children into girl and boy categories and attempting to restrict the range of behaviors and interests children are able to express.

Interviewing trans kids and their parents has been a very powerful experience for me. I necessarily viewed each interview as an important piece of social action research on behalf of justice for trans kids. This involved making the kids and parents feel really heard and sharing their triumphs and tragedies with them. Some of the trans teens I interviewed had been forced to leave home by unsupportive parents, and I strongly felt the significance of my role as a trans adult in affirming who they are and that they matter. Many of the kids and parents had harrowing stories to tell, and establishing the intimacy and trust it took for their stories to be told was a key part of the research. I really had to be there for them and to share some of myself with them. My interviews with trans kids and parents of trans kids have been the most moving and important research in which I have ever engaged.

One of the most powerful experiences I had while writing the book was realizing that I had “forgotten” who many of my participants “really are” in terms of assigned sex at birth. I experienced this as wonderful and liberating, and the exact change in consciousness that I hope my book contributes to stimulating. That my hope for a future where gender self-determination for everyone becomes taken for granted seems so much more possible now that I have experienced the possibility of a disconnect between gender and genitals on a personal level.

I wrote this book within the tradition of scholar activism established by the great sociologist W.E.B. Dubois and draw on the contributions of black feminism and other scholarship by people of color to situate trans kids within mutually reinforcing systems of privilege and oppression. I consider single issue scholarship and activism to be indefensible: trans kids are not just harmed by trans-negativity and cis-sexism but also by racism, colonialism, poverty, anti-immigrant sentiment, etc. Trans kids are in every population, and centering the more typically visible binary gender conforming middle and upper class white trans kids in social change efforts fails to address the complexity of oppression that most trans kids experience. In order to meaningfully improve the life chances of all trans kids, it is necessary to adopt coalitional politics to fight racism, poverty, colonialism and xenophobia. It is my hope that The Trans Generation motivates future scholarship and activism relating to trans people of all ages to take up overlapping oppressions.