Bio-Recognition: Speculating Race, Gender, and Health
Dec 01, 2016 | - Dec 01, 2016 | 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
CRG Thursday Forum Series presents…
Commentary: Prof. Charis Thompson, Gender Women’s Studies
Trans- activism in Argentina and the US seems to find traction in a legislative and policy sense when it speaks an epidemiologic vernacular of “reduced life expectancy.” The problem of abbreviated trans life is thus made answerable by health care access, whereas the related political objectives of decriminalization and equitable resource distribution have remained comparatively elusive. This paper looks empirically to transgender health activism in Buenos Aires and New York that mobilizes a ‘popular epidemiology’ (Brown 1997) of reduced life chances as a crisis requiring more robust forms of biomedical legibility and recognition. In it, I examine how how “trans health” becomes a relatively singular mode of redress to make apparent a gamut of forces that differentially harm trans and gender non-normative subjects, particularly those who are most exposed to state violence and economic and racialized marginalization. Drawing from ethnographic work in Buenos Aires and New York City, I interrogate the stakes of routing broad claims to a more livable life through the calculus of popular epidemiology, and examine the continuities and divergences between how this takes shape in each site. I compare trans- health activist movements in Argentina and the U.S. to related health activist movements (for example, campaigns for environmental health, sterilization prevention, and abortion access) to explore the connections between social movements mobilizing epidemiologic vernaculars. Finally, I examine how such health-based claims can “answer sideways” to issues of racialized criminalization, economic marginalization, and sexualized violence—a framing that Alondra Nelson (2011) calls “social health.” The paper argues that the ethical demands of “reduced life expectancy” open up opportunities to leverage otherwise implausible political actions, and also may constrict the breadth of trans politics and health politics writ large.