Image: Solomon Brager, "Queer & Trans Youth, You Are Loved," artwork as displayed in the Department of Gender and Women's Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. (photograph by the Department of Gender and Women's Studies, UIUC)

By Toby Beauchamp, Sawyer K. Kemp, Ava L.J. Kim, Damian Vergara Bracamontes, and Mimi Thi Nguyen

Trans studies today is a vibrant, rapidly expanding field in conversation with many different disciplines and interdisciplines, and current pedagogical approaches to the field centralize trans scholars, intersectional analysis, and transnational and decolonial frameworks. We are now far from a time when trans studies educators’ options were so limited that we had to rely on either hostile texts by pathologizing medical professionals and skeptical gender theorists, or trans-positive work that nonetheless centered white, wealthy subjects of the global north and often focused on proving trans people’s basic existence. Alongside the exciting growth of trans studies, however, is a dramatic rise in anti-trans violence. It is unique not in its form, but in the scale and speed with which lawmakers, state actors, and related authoritarian movements are working to systematically criminalize trans participation in public space and eradicate trans life. In the United States, headlines repeatedly remind us that in the first three months of 2023, state legislatures introduced more than 400 bills seeking to block and criminalize drag, athletics, bathrooms, health care, and education for trans people. These attacks are interconnected with a global assault on trans and queer life, itself part of escalating fascism and authoritarianism across the world.

As scholars and teachers invested in trans studies, we must reckon with these political conditions. The standard approach – though much improved from decades past – now strikes us as insufficient for both ourselves and our students as we work together to historicize, analyze, and respond to our current moment. This is not least because the current moment so often encourages a narrow focus on law and legislation, which contributes to a growing sense of apathy and doom. News headlines and other political discourse repeatedly suggest that new legislation will eliminate trans people by defining us out of existence, falsely equating gendered life to state definition. Consequently, the legal sphere comes to dominate our modes of resistance and our political imaginations. As attorney and abolitionist organizer Derecka Purnell observed, “If you look at these bans targeting queer and trans kids and families, who are prevented from getting gender-affirming care, the way that people are responding is to outsource the resistance to lawyers and have them go fight: donate, sue in court, threaten to file an injunction. I think that outsourcing resistance lets fascism flourish because it then becomes a problem that we are not confronting with mass mobilization and organization.” This micro-syllabus offers materials to help students historicize current anti-trans legislation, contextualize it within broader legacies of repression and resistance that stretch beyond the law, and think across multiple strands of political struggle.

The five of us are connected through our past and present work in Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where we have used institutional resources to nurture trans studies, gradually generating and sustaining a network of scholars invested in this field across disciplines and institutions. We collectively developed this micro-syllabus out of our own urgent search for pedagogical tools that could help us meet this political moment. The modules below are not intended as a complete syllabus. Instead, we suggest a collection of texts to select from in the process of redesigning trans studies courses. Each section includes materials that provide historical context, a diagnosis of the present, and a call to action. These action items include both strategies needed to combat anti-trans violence and various forms of collective care in our communities. Acknowledging the many queer, trans, and gender nonconforming students in our classrooms who feel overwhelmed by the recent onslaught of attacks, we hope that these texts can offer the language and space needed to make sense of the present and provide examples of survival, resistance, and change.


A key argument levied against trans-inclusive legislation and against trans liberation more broadly is the claim that trans identity is a new phenomenon, emerging only in the last few years from fringe sectors of the LGBT community. This alleged novelty is the basis for other forms of opposition – novelty suggests gender diversity is an unserious, passing phase, yet ironically also conveys a sense of a sweeping and alarming viral fad (“the transgender craze” of Schrier’s infamous subtitle). This claim is all the more pernicious because it is patently untrue: transgender activists were foundational to the American gay rights movement, and gender nonconforming people were documented targets of sexological research at the turn of the century. But this, too, is an abbreviated history of sex and gender variance and the attempts to contain, explain, and moralize its occurence.

Scholars of early and premodernity have shown this history is even longer. The Medieval Feminist Forum’s 2019 special issue on “Visions of Medieval Trans Feminism” and the Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies Early Modern Trans Studies” mega-issue show that not only do we have evidence of trans life in historical archives, we have even more evidence of institutional and social enforcement of rigid sex and gender norms on a population that does not always cohere. The history of trans people is not recent, but neither is the history of cisnormativity a new, “natural,” nor invisible narrative. Postcolonial approaches to trans studies show that the dominant narrative of cisnormativity is in fact deeply embedded in white supremacist logics of domination. Unpacking these histories is a transgender archival methodology. The readings in this section cast a wide historical and geopolitical net, showing that the annals of trans identity is not just a history of transgender people, but a history of the maintenance of sex categories as a function of state and institutional power.


The contemporary emergence of trans-exclusionary feminism (TERF) alongside a “gender critical” or anti-gender movement coheres around the notion of a singular, biologically determined womanhood that is at risk of infiltration or dissolution by a diverse set of forces – with trans politics somehow at the helm. As Greta LaFleur and Serena Bassi, coeditors of a special issue of TSQ, observe, “[Trans-exclusionary perspectives] can undergird, at once, calls for a putatively stabilizing return to traditional gender roles in the home and the state and demands for greater legal and policy-based protections for girls and women in sport, employment, and state services; anti-colonial critique and imperialist nationalisms; and biological essentialisms and the explosion of gender norms.”

The readings in this section grapple with the wide range of trans-exclusionary politics and movements found in local, domestic, national, and international formations all over the world, and the rhetorical ploys and moral panics around vulnerability, “nature,” and crisis that target trans being as a threat. To do so, these authors attend to those histories of feminisms that collude with violent right-wing hegemony but also the liberal, bourgeois, white feminist exclusions that continue through the present.


Anxieties about transgender deception have affirmed and encouraged calls for technological and scientific approaches to determine if and how gender matters. Consider, for example, the debates around sex tests used for transgender, gender non-conforming, and racialized bodies to determine their eligibility in athletic competitions. Proponents argue that sex tests help guard against “unfair advantage.” This notion of unfair advantage, however, rests heavily on the myth of natural bodily capacities and the body as a site of truth, premises that have been central to governance since colonialism to perpetuate inequality and promote white supremacy.

The readings in this section highlight the ways bodies are mobilized to offer truths about gender and sexuality. Authors trace, for example, the definitional uses of chromosomes, genitals, and hormones to constrain and predict gender and gender capacity. Such efforts, they show, reinforce discourses of the gender binary that frame women as weak and vulnerable, in contrast to men as naturally aggressive and uncontrollable sexual beings, both rooted in notions of race. We can see the internalization of these logics in Westbrook and Schilt’s analysis of everyday people’s participation in the process of determining gender and their uneven policing of gendered spaces. These social imaginaries of race, class, gender, sexuality, class and more, are central to biopolitical projects that can enhance or diminish life chances accordingly. For this reason, T.B. Singer argues for the importance of moving away from top-down classifications that enact administrative violence, to local, grounded, and ephemeral forms of self-identification that can encompass a broader grouping of gender-non conforming people. Building on Eve Sedgwick’s concept of “nonce taxonomy,” Singer offers examples of the ways street vernaculars can navigate and contest hegemonic classifications as needed, in recognition of the material reality of the distribution of resources for precarious populations. 


As of April 2023, 46 of 52 states and territories in the US have introduced bills restricting LGBTQ+ rights this season, with a central component focused on gender affirming care (GAC). The bills, all of which share language and deviate only slightly, in essence make providing gender affirming care a crime with varying penalties, depending on the state. These bills can and should be considered alongside the post-Roe v. Wade passage of anti-abortion policies to control and police gender and sexuality. While transgender folks are disproportionately impacted by these new policies, the implications of anti-GAC policies extend beyond LGBTQ+ communities and the medical field. Cancer survivors seeking breast implants, for example, might be affected by new definitions of gender affirming care. Family law may see a growth of custody cases based on the illegality of GAC. Healthcare providers may now be subject to lawsuits, fines, and revoked licenses.

The majority of these bills seek to dismantle gender affirming care, largely through rhetoric of protecting America’s youth from medical experimentation. Yet, scholars, activists, and reporters have documented the inconsistencies in such arguments by pointing to the ways these policies preserve medical intervention for intersex youth without their consent. Looking at both intersex and transgender communities together highlights the underlying aim of these policies to control gender, based on assumptions that non-normative gender is a problem that requires “correction.” As intersex activist Sean Saifa Wall articulates, “We’re told that these procedures need to be done for our wellness, but what is underlying that is that we’re actually abnormal, that we actually need to be fixed to be normal.” While this current moment can frame medicine and politics on opposite sides of the political spectrum, these readings remind us that medicine has always been a political project, and to be wary of situating medical institutions and practitioners as saviors of trans life.

This section also grapples with the long history of the regulation of gender and sexuality by medical institutions and practitioners, and draws from the rich scholarship in disabilities and feminist studies. Included scholars explain how medical institutions and practitioners sought to establish authority over gender, and functioned as its gatekeepers. Katie Batza, for example, turns to the deployment of sickness and wellness as political constructs that have shaped gender and sexual minorities since the late nineteenth century. Others show the ways the medical establishment created a set of norms for the identification and treatment of transgender patients, often in ways that reinforced gender binaries and ideas about appropriate gender performance. Indeed, many of the scholars in this section highlight how the lack of diversity in transgender life histories undermines understanding and possibilities of trans desires and care. Critical of this diagnostic battlefield, these authors interrogate the production of transnormative subjects the juridico-medical establishment creates through its research and procedures. They interrogate the impact that notions of cure have on trans life, such as suggesting gender normativity as the “natural” cure to gender transgression and the only desire for alteration.

Transgender studies scholars also highlight the need to think with an intersectional framework, one that exposes the ways gender affirming care bans are already focused on a select privileged few, primarily white, middle class, dual parent households. As Hil Malatino explains, the politics of access to forms of medical transition are already predicated on the “simultaneously geographical, economic, racialized and gendered,” and are “contingent on questions of employment, insurance, citizenship and carceral status.” Thus, like Malatino, Cass Adair offers that any critique of gender affirming care must include an analysis of the violence of capitalist and racist resource distribution. In addition to evaluations of the role of the medical and legal establishments that seek to regulate trans life, these texts also offer visions of endurance, suggesting intercommunal connections and self-recognition as a politics to love and heal and otherwise survive what Malatino terms lag time. They remind us to avoid reactionary responses that exclude detransitioners from the trans community and to move beyond biopolitical systems of authenticity. Instead, the authors suggest an opportunity to practice trans-ing, arguing that transness is “robust, omnipresent, and can potentially emerge at any time.”


Since the late 19th century, anxiety about gender- and race-segregated bathrooms has been a powerful vehicle for ruling “public” space in the name of protection and safety. These rhetorics construct access to various spaces as a form of citizenship, with many groups over the last century deemed threatening to an imagined figure of white, cis-femininity. As Toby Beauchamp writes in Going Stealth, “the gendered public bathroom… make[s] possible a fuller form of citizenship and greater public participation for certain groups” while strengthening a protectionism that “implicitly casts others as threats to public safety.” Working in tandem with the attacks on trans children, the anti-trans bathroom ban both removes trans people from public life and envisions women and children as mere objects to be protected.

Attacks on public space, however, extend beyond legislation and bathrooms. The gay club, long treated as one of the only explicitly queer spaces, has endured decades of police violence, and in recent years, mass shootings. Building on the same rhetoric as anti-trans bathroom bills, these gruesome attacks are a direct result of the same ideology: a threatened “victimhood” that claims to remove unwanted threats to an imagined white-civility. The readings in this section include historical materials on gender-regulated bathrooms, reflections on shootings at Pulse in Orlando and Club Q in Colorado Springs, impassioned defenses of queer spaces against police and gentrification, and cautions against a spatial politics based in “safety.” Including various forms of media, this section conceptualizes space as a collective project of becoming without turning to a reliance on citizenship, nationhood, property, and respectability.

This section also moves between different spaces to connect multiple forms of gender-based violence: first, street harassment and incarceration; second, bathrooms and cruising grounds; third, gay or queer “neighborhoods;” and fourth, gay and lesbian night clubs. Understanding interpersonal violence as inherently connected to police violence and gentrification, the pieces below examine both marginalized and spectacular case studies, all while making space for queer and trans community.


Since the beginning of 2023, Republican-led state legislatures in Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Idaho, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia, have targeted drag performance. These bills are often construed so broadly as to criminalize any gender-nonconforming performances, including any “male or female impersonators,” with possible misdemeanor or even felony charges. Because the breadth of these bills is so staggeringly (and intentionally) indeterminate, these campaigns do not just target drag performers but also any non-binary or trans person as criminal in status-being.

In Arresting Dress, Clare Sears examines the emergence, operations, and legacies of San Francisco’s 1863 cross-dressing law during the second half of the nineteenth century. Sears proposes a concept of “problem bodies” to collectively refer to the bodies that government officials defined as social problems because of their performance of cheap labor (the Chinese laborer) or participation in marginal street economies (the disabled beggar, or the city prostitute), as well as bodies marked as a threat due to their departure from emerging gender norms, including the “degenerate” female impersonator, the feminist dress reformer, and the “bogus man.” These laws and those emerging right now target “problem bodies” at the margins of the human — not as some body whose actions created public disorder but as some thing whose existence constituted a social threat.AsSears observes, “These dangers were more than figments of lawmakers’ imaginations; they were real disruptions to an unequal power structure that positioned the respectable family as the basis of social order and systematically reserved economic, political, and social resources for white normatively gendered men.”

Through these readings, such crimes of fashion demonstrate that clothing matters because it is through clothing that bodies are so often made to matter. Or as Brielle Nicole Williams notes in her reflection, “$$$ickening”: “There seems to be an almost cultural dissonance that comes with liberal, well meaning ideas behind transness and queerness and the concepts of ‘living in your truth’ and ‘wear whatever you want.’ That sounds good in theory, but there are levels to privilege when it comes to wearing whatever you want, and what does personal style mean to a member of a marginalized community where expression of self could make you a target, or a justification for your death, assault etc. What does any of that mean when your survival is inherently tied to every outfit you wear?”


Children – as both symbolic figures and embodied persons – lie at the center of almost every anti-trans moral panic currently underway, including bans on bathroom use, sports, health care, books, and drag. As Amy Littlefield and Heron Greenesmith report, right-wing organizations have explained that “the long-term plan is in fact to eliminate gender-affirming care, and that focusing on young people first is an attempt at ‘going where the consensus is.’” Despite continuously invoking children as evidence for both the importance and the danger of trans identity, legal and public discourse frequently sublimate trans youth themselves, instead foregrounding the adults around them.

As Jules Gill-Peterson shows in the space of the clinic, and Erica Meiners shows in carceral logics, the figure of the child is a flexible one, mobilized through racialized, classed, and gendered frameworks of childhood innocence. Anti-trans factions alternately position trans youth as confused, victimized, and threatening, wielding the protection of (some) children as rationale for suppressing and criminalizing trans life. For example, Mikey Elster examines a strategy of “insidious concern” that positions children as “in need of saving from themselves,” using a paternalistic rhetoric of care to pursue the destruction of the trans child. (As a counter to such discourse, we might turn to the 1987 Gwendolyn Brooks poem “To the Young Who Want to Die,” which speaks to the reader as an equal, offering compassion and recognition.) To fully grapple with contemporary uses of children as a political tool, we need nuanced context that can elucidate what Julio Capó, Jr. and Shevrin Jones describe as the “long history of antigay policy and a political culture that has cloaked forms of homophobia, transphobia, sexism and anti-Blackness as efforts to protect the rights of parents and the well-being of their children.” This section includes several texts that can help students make sense of that history as it informs current political uses of – and violences against – children.

Meanwhile, supportive parents frequently invoke parental rights in arguments defending their trans children. Notably distinct from “the right to parent” espoused by reproductive justice advocates, the claim of parental rights – even when deployed in defense of trans youth – invests in normative familial ideals and positions children as a form of property. To support students in understanding how the figures of the child and the family are mobilized for various forms of control, this section also includes texts addressing the histories and political import of LGBT family activism (including the position of children in marriage equality campaigns). These analyses can then inform further study centralizing youth liberation and family abolition, helping students imagine other ways of organizing our care structures and social worlds.


In her now famous “Y’all better quiet down” speech at New York City’s Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally in 1973, Sylvia Rivera took the microphone amidst boos from the mostly gay, mostly male, and mostly white crowd to demand attention for “your gay brothers and your gay sisters in jail.” The speech has become famous not only for Rivera’s passionate rhetoric, but because it emblematizes divisions in the gay liberation movement between assimilationist demands for acceptance and inclusion and radical demands that challenge the carceral state, draw attention to poverty and homelessness, and question the logics of capitalism. Even at this early stage of Gay Liberation, the limitations of inclusion-logics of justice were already clear.

As the legal fight for transgender justice has developed, we increasingly see a model of mainstream reform grounded in increased “visibility” and “inclusion.” Yet, as Foucault famously quipped “Visibility is a trap,” and so while campaigns of visibility and advocacy have been effective for some, they also put many trans people at risk as targets for transphobic violence. This model has had two primary impacts. First, “inclusion” within traditionally cisnormative institutions without unpacking structures of power within those institutions has fed the growing rhetoric of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” with variable–usually little–degrees of actual support for minoritized communities. This corporate Human Resources approach to sociological difference treats all oppressed communities as interchangeable tokens of difference and alterity. Sara Ahmed has written at length in Complaint! about the bureaucratic difficulties of actually using this model to achieve real and material justice. The second outcome of inclusion models of justice has been an increased emphasis on hate crime legislation that increases penalties for identity-motivated crimes. However, as Dean Spade and Francisco Galarte have shown, this legislation does not diminish the violence levied against trans people, but only increases the power of the carceral state–an institution which has historically harmed trans and gender nonconforming people at an immense scale.

This paradox of inclusion and the rift between assimilationist policies and radical imagining have become a cornerstone of contemporary trans theory. Enriched by intersectional feminism, prison abolition, disability justice, and trans of color critique, the readings in this section invite critique and complicate easy narratives of reform.

  • Survived & Punished, “Trans-Specific Reforms at NY City & State Levels That Fail to Free Trans People or Dismantle the PIC.” “Preserving Punishment Power,” New York: 2022. 5-7.


Toby Beauchamp is Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where his research and teaching focus on trans studies, surveillance, and policing. He is the author of Going Stealth: Transgender Politics and U.S. Surveillance Practices (Duke, 2019), and has published in journals including GLQ, Feminist Formations, Radical History Review, and Surveillance & Society.

Sawyer K. Kemp is Assistant Professor of English at Queens College of the City University of New York. Prior to working at QC, they were the inaugural Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Associate in Transgender Studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign from 2020-22. Sawyer’s work on transgender representation and theatrical performance has appeared in Shakespeare Studies, The Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, Shakespeare Bulletin and in the edited collection Teaching Social Justice Through Shakespeare (Edinburgh University Press, 2019).

Ava L.J. Kim is the 2022-2023 Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Associate in transgender studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. In July of 2023, she will begin an appointment as Assistant Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Davis. Ava completed her PhD in English at the University of Pennsylvania and her BA in Creative Writing at Macalester College. Her work can be found in the journal, American Studies, and is forthcoming in TSQ and About Face: Stonewall, Revolt, and New Queer Art.

Damian Vergara Bracamontes is an Assistant Professor in the Gender and Women’s Studies Department at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Vergara Bracamontes is a scholar of Latinx migration studies, critical prison studies, and queer and trans of colour critique, with a focus on the social life of the law. He is currently working on two projects, one on LGBTQ immigrant detention and his manuscript, The Administration of Illegality and Mexican Migrant Life, which traces the formation and consolidation of illegality in a new phase of prolonged social exclusion and control. His work has appeared in Ethnic Studies Review and Routed Magazine.

Mimi Thi Nguyen is Associate Professor and Chair of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her first book is The Gift of Freedom: War, Debt, and Other Refugee Passages (Duke University Press, 2012), and her second is The Promise of Beauty, also forthcoming from Duke UP. She is part of an editorial collective with Patty Ahn, Michelle Cho, Vernadette Vicuna Gonzalez, Rani Neutill, and Yutian Wong for Bangtan Remixed, a critical reader on K-Pop sensation BTS (Duke University Press, 2024). She has also published in Signs, Camera Obscura, Women & Performance, positions: asia critique, Radical History Review, The Funambulist, and ArtForum, among others.