Introduction to Transgender Studies, by Ardele Haefele-Thomas
Leave it to LGBTQ book publisher Harrington Park Press — with titles like Trans Sex Work and Society and LGBT-Inclusive Hospice and Palliative Care: A Practical Guide To Transforming Professional Practice already under its belt — to have unveiled the first-ever undergraduate trans textbook earlier this year. Published in February, Introduction to Transgender Studies, authored by Ardel Haefele-Thomas, Ph.D., Chair of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Studies at City College of San Francisco, is the first-ever introductory textbook intended for trans studies at the undergrad level.
Creating a “Trans 101” textbook comes with immense pressure, but Introduction to Transgender Studies offers not just a comprehensive look at the trans community’s history and global context but encompasses the literature, politics, art and culture contributing to what is one of the world’s most vibrant communities.
How have race, sexual orientation and nationality intersected to shape the trans experience and culture? What about class, religion and ability? All is explored in this first-of-its-kind trans textbook, comprised of 12 chapters, each of which contains “Writings From the Community” — deeply personal essays relating a chapter’s theme to the real-life experiences of trans people the world over.
“I have often found that students experience a good deal of anxiety, trepidation, and confusion when studying issues pertaining to sex and gender, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation,” says Haefele-Thomas. “I wrote this book to create a safe space for the full spectrum of undergraduate students, ranging from those who have never thought about gender issues to students who identify as transgender, trans, nonbinary, agender and/or gender expansive. In short, the language and the artwork in this book are meant to be welcoming.”
Hornet sat down with Ardel Haefele-Thomas, Ph.D., to discuss the trans textbook:
HORNET: As far as you know, Introduction to Transgender Studies is the very first undergrad textbook dedicated to transgender studies?
HAEFELE-THOMAS: Yes, this is the first textbook that is a full introduction to the field of study for undergraduates anywhere in the world. There are numerous books that are aimed to the graduate student level, but there were no undergraduate textbooks.
Tell me about what brought on the textbook’s creation. Was it intended for a specific course, or is it intended to be used in a variety of courses?
Basic need is what brought the creation of this book on.
I needed a textbook for my own trans classes; however, in talking with faculty of LGBTQ+ Studies and Feminist and Gender Studies all over the world, it became clear that we all needed some sort of introductory textbook. It can be used in a variety of courses. Obviously, an “Introduction to Transgender Studies” class; but I use it in a course entitled “Transgender Lives, Culture, and Art.”
I know people who are also using this in “Introduction to Gender Studies” courses, and I have certainly used parts of it for “Introduction to Women’s Studies” and “Introduction to Feminist Studies.”
Can you give me an idea of what went into the creation of the textbook? How long does something like this take?
This is, by far, the hardest thing I have ever written. I have numerous theoretical publications in academic journals and a queer literary theory book I have also written. Nothing was as difficult as this book, because I knew it was going to be the first in the world — it was going to be an introductory book that helps define an entire field of study.
The book took me four years and more research than any of the other historic and literary texts that I have written, because I had to research each and every chapter and the specific time periods of each chapter.
I asked one of my former students, Cameron Rains, who is Two Spirit, to do the artwork in the book — their drawings are meant to welcome readers and make this book a safe place to read about and discuss gender diversity throughout the ages.
Finally, I asked people from all over the world to contribute to the “Writings From the Community” at the end of each chapter. This was a global effort!
Is there a chapter of the book you consider to be the most important or groundbreaking?
Each chapter is incredibly important for various reasons. Chapters 1 and 2 are definitional. I think this is crucial because people still get gender identity and gender expression confused with sexual orientation.
Chapter 3 on sexology is absolutely crucial, because we need to understand how and why we still face so much bias — both in culture and society, but also within Western Medical models that still talk in terms of “gender dysphoria.”
Chapter 4 is a look at various uprisings that have had trans people at the heart of them. For me, as a 19th century literature, history and culture scholar, I loved the archival research and work for Chapters 8 and 9.
But, as a post-colonial/de-colonial scholar, I think I would say Chapter 7 may be the most important in so many ways. It focuses on Indigenous cultures around the globe — pre-colonization — and the ways those cultures honored and revered gender diversity outside of a gender binary.
Now that the textbook has been published, what are your goals for it?
I am hoping that people are able to use the textbook for courses and for personal education and understanding. Trans is nothing new — it may be a new-ish term, but the beauty of gender diversity has always been with us.
More than anything, I hope this book helps every single reader think about gender and the ways that the gender binary is always used to try to constrict us all.
And for Trans people, I hope they all see what beautiful history we have.
The very first undergrad trans textbook, Introduction to Transgender Studies by Ardel Haefele-Thomas, Ph.D., is available through Harrington Park Press now. It’s also available on Amazon. Head here for more info.
Reviewed by Stephan Horbelt