In her now-classic 1984 essay, “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality,” Gayle Rubin uses the term “fallacy of misplaced scale” to describe how “sexual acts are burdened with an excess of significance.” As Rubin explains, the state pathologizes and criminalizes “benign sexual variation”: those preferences or behaviors that do […]


“Nothing’s without obliquity, pain itself is not, language about pain least of all, but the shame itself of privacy should give place with a thud of longing to this much, this good, attention” -Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “A Poem is Being Written” *** Listening *** Jules Gill-Peterson’s Histories of the Transgender Child is a book that […]

Poetics of Gender Self-Determination

Children are metaphors, Jules Gill-Peterson contends in Histories of the Transgender Child. In the nineteenth century, amid rapid transformations in medicine and the life sciences, the child became a metaphor for “sex’s plasticity as an abstract form of whiteness.” Endocrinology called upon the figure of the child as a “stabilizing metaphor” that gave a form […]

Conserving Trans Life

I come to Gill-Peterson’s timely piece of trans scholarship as a teacher of medical humanities and disability studies. Histories of the Transgender Child makes a powerful case for how a trans bioethics needs to be historicized in order to do its urgent reparative work. As Gill-Peterson underscores in the book’s conclusion, one of the crucial […]

Trans Innocence

Innocent does not mean virtuous. In the preface to Histories of the Transgender Child, Jules Gill-Peterson explains that innocence is partly what “motivates” her groundbreaking history of transgender youth throughout the twentieth century. “[T]he urgency of giving up our foolish attachment to an adult innocence about trans childhood,” she writes, “motivates me in the pages […]

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