Quotes from Before We Were Trans: A New History of Gender by Kit Heyam

“The second problem with our existing criteria for inclusion in ‘trans history’ is that they privilege an incredibly narrow version of what it means to be trans. The trans histories we tend to tell are those that conform to the trans narrative that’s centered and recapitulated in contemporary media. The non-binary writer and activist Jacob Tobia, in their memoir Sissy: A Coming-Of-Gender Story, has a brilliantly likened this narrative to the game Mad Lib: a story with pre-written skeleton format, where the teller fills in the specifics from a limited list of options.”




“Our inability to know their individual experiences doesn’t exclude these people from trans history. In a period where clothing helped to make gender – when to change your dress was to change your gender – contemporary responses show that the genders of gender-nonconforming people were understood in non-binary ways. This chapter of the past, then, underlies how the way was think about gender has shifted over time, and how we need to be expansive in our thinking about what counts as part of trans history.”



“In other words, inversion wasn’t a synonym for homosexuality: it was a spectrum of gendered and sexual experience, ranging from what we would now call bisexuality to what we would now call trans identity. …But for others, inversion offered a valuable way to make sense of their experience. Some of the ideas about how inversion changed a person’s gender are based on stereotypes – for example, when Krafft-Ebing wrote that the second-degree invert ‘feels himself to be a woman during the sexual act,’ it seems pretty clear that he was equating ‘woman’ with ‘enjoys being penetrated’ – but if those inverts were socialized to believe that those stereotypes were real, seeing being penetrated as an intrinsically female thing, then this would still have affected their sense of gender. Inversion also offered many people who experienced queer attraction an explanation for the discomfort and lack of connection they felt with normative ideas of maleness and femaleness (something that, as I’ll say more about later, still resonates with many gay, lesbian and bi people today). As a result, the idea of inversion was embraced positively by many, persisting in Britain as the dominant way of understanding queer attraction even after Freud’s work offer an alternative model that didn’t connect sexuality with gender.”



“If queer attraction and queer sex had gendered meanings in particular historical periods and cultures, I can’t – no one should – just ignore that because it doesn’t sit comfortably alongside the ideals I personally hold today.”



“It has become commonplace for groups like Indian hijras and Native American/First Nations Two-Spirit people, who cannot be accurately categorized by binary gender, to be namechecked as part of any argument for non-binary recognition. If ‘other’ cultures have non-binary genders, the argument goes, this proves that the Western gender binary is arbitrary. Some trans people have even been prompted to argue that they were not ‘born into the wrong body,’ but ‘born into the wrong culture.’”

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From: _Before We Were Trans: A New History of Gender_ by Kit Heyam

It’s important that we, as historians or as queer people, don’t treat gender and sexuality as two things that use to be entangled but have now been teased apart. There can be a tendency in white queer circles to frame this as a narrative of ‘progress’ in which we’ve moved from and outdated past where all queer relationships had to have ‘a man and a woman’, to a liberated present in which sexuality has been unhooked from gender and queer relationships are characterized by sameness and mutuality. But that narrative doesn’t represent everybody’s experience. If we frame the entanglement of gender and sexuality as a relic of an unenlightened past, we erase the experiences of many people – often, disproportionately, working-class people and people of colour. There are plenty of examples of individuals, groups and cultures for whom it’s no accurate to talk about ‘gender’ and ‘sexuality’ as separate concepts or experiences.

Where do non-binary peole fit into our existing categories of sexuality? Is gender really the most helpful way to [categorize] the people we’re attracted to, or is it time for a new model: one that reflects the fact that knowing someone’s gender doesn’t always tell you much at all about who they are?


Gabbler Recommends: Ancient Historian Reads PERCY JACKSON (+ Book Haul)

I particularly think it’s weird how Medusa still has a head in Percy Jackson. – Gabbler