Transgressive: a trans woman on gender, feminism, and politics, by Rachel Anne Williams. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2019. ISBN 9781785926471.

This is an interesting collection of essays by an academically trained philosopher trans woman that explores various facets of the trans experience. Some are derived from her personal life, some are thought pieces on sex and gender while others are deconstructions of familiar transphobic tropes. She invites the reader to read these critically, but also notes that she does not presume to be speaking for all trans folks.

TransgressiveNonetheless, there are many ideas here worth considering. In my piece on trans woman love, I dismissed cisgender men who want to have sex with trans women but never a relationship as cowards intent on preserving their place in the patriarchy. Williams thinks their behaviour is more pernicious. For straight men, we are never women or even trans women, “but rather trannies, t-girls, gurls, t-gurls, transsexuals, TS, TS gurls, shemales, ladyboys, he/shes, chicks with dicks , and so on, and so on.” She argues that the fetishization of trans women’s bodies, seeing us as an “other” rather than women or even trans women endangers our lives. “Too many men want to fuck us (or be fucked by us) yet are so poisoned by transphobia that they reflexively feel the need to defend their masculinity after sleeping with us.” Too often this leads to assault and even murder. This attitude that cis gender men have that our bodies are exotic and otherworldly “like a living, breathing sex doll with ‘unique features’… is dangerous and fuels much of the transphobic violence against trans women.”

There are several chapters tackling transphobia including one on autogynephilia (AGP). I hadn’t heard that term in ages and thought it had been discredited, but as the chapter title says, it’s the “gift that keeps on giving.” AGP is an essentialist theory that divides trans women into two categories, one more legitimate than the other, but neither one especially affirming. Those attracted to men are “oppressed femme gay men who are struggling to survive and find men as dating partners” while those attracted to women are just “living out some fetish they have where they get off to the idea of themselves being women”. As Williams notes, Julia Serano and Zinnia Jones have already debunked AGP, and her purpose is simply to ridicule it. She does a good job of it, but given the resilience of the theory and the pervasiveness of transphobia I suspect we’ll need to be playing AGP whack-a-mole for some time yet.

There’s been a lot said about the pleasures and the politics, and for some people the necessity, of “passing” as cisgender and Williams throws in her two cents here too. This is a personal essay in which she expresses how she is “learning to say ‘fuck it’ to passing” while acknowledging the satisfaction she derives from being perceived as a cisgender female.

Transgressive is an enjoyable read, Despite being an academic at heart, Williams’s essays are accessible, often thought provoking, and provide texture to the already rich life experience that is being trans.