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The Trans 100

April 9, 2013

The Trans 100, a list of 100 significant trans people in the style of such lists as the OUT 100 or the Forbes 500, was released recently. Created by Jen Richards of We Happy Trans and Antonia D’orsay, Executive Director of This Is How, the list highlights 100 trans people in the USA, selected from 500 or so community nominations.

While I hold no animosity towards Jen or Antonia, and I do think everyone on this list is worthy of praise for their work, I believe the idea of highlighting small groups of individuals for specific praise is the worst kind of emulation of assimilationist LGB(t) activism. It shows an implicit belief in meritocracy, and erases the collective reality of most (all?) political accomplishments. Accepting this list as a useful reflection of trans lives and the political struggles of trans people without analysis or critique – especially by cis people – seems to me a grave error.

I’ve heard the list was created in response to there not being enough trans representation on the OUT 100, but honestly my response to that is, “Well, f*** the OUT 100.” If we want to free this world from the impact of hierarchal power structures we have to stop creating them. It really disturbed me to read Jen Richards in an interview explain the list’s creation as being at least partly inspired by the Forbes 500. This is perhaps where my politics diverge from those who see the Trans 100 as useful, as I do not see modeling any radical resistance on capitalism and its structures a worthwhile road to go down.

Collage of thumbnail portraits of Trans 100 list members.
A collage of thumbnail portraits of Trans 100 list members.

A few months ago during a discussion of the list on Facebook one of the creators responded to my concerns by saying that she was glad people like me would keep her accountable. That scares me, and is a huge part of why I can never ever trust these structures. What, me, a white person on the internet in Canada keeping a white person on the internet in the US accountable – for what? That sounds like the worst recipe for unaccountability I can think of.

Politically, my activism is centred in radicalizing the experience of transness, focusing it in things like anti-capitalism and anti-poverty work. So, even if the idea was from trans people, this is a still a slick GLAAD-sponsored cocktail party, and feels entirely counter to that goal. When your activism involves going to parties with entities who work to erase you, I can’t but help but feel you’ve been duped. Even as a public relations exercise, these kinds of lists set up inevitable hierarchies. If we learn anything from the history LGB activism it is that creating a more-palatable version of your experience inevitably leads to people being thrown under the bus later on. We as trans people have experienced that again and again at the hands of the LGB community.

So, again, before anyone accuses me of attacking the list members: The content of this list is admirable. Every one of those trans people sound like they’re phenomenal and have contributed immensely to the lives of other trans people. I think Jen and Antonia did this with good intentions, but the structure and the existence of the list is worthy of criticism. It might just be “a list on the internet of trans people,” but it reflects the culture of inequality it was created in, and thus does its part to prop up that system and way of thinking. If we want change we must push back at these systems, not embrace them.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 9, 2013 9:31 am

    Thanks for the critique. We come at it from somewhat mutually exclusive positions philosophically, but we still have the same overall goal.

    Dyssonance (aka Toni D’orsay)

  2. April 9, 2013 9:39 am

    Thanks for the comment, and I do really mean no personal offense at my disagreement with the need for lists like these. I feel it’s important, too, for cis people to see that trans people have different ideas on things like politics. We know this, but it’s too easy for that privileged class of people to make our experience monolithic.

  3. evmaroon permalink
    April 9, 2013 9:50 am

    Part of what happens for me at least is the echo I’ve heard for years that the trans community is tiny. Well, maybe compared to the number of North Americans who drink coffee, yeah, but we’re well beyond the point where rounding up 100 of us is even the tip of the iceberg in terms of our numbers, not to mention the work we do for other trans people. And I agree that no matter the intent or process behind this list, lists are by definition exclusionary. There’s a lot of casual mentoring and networking and emotional support that many trans folks do that will never be captured in a list like this. Are we saying that work isn’t as important as being the CEO of your own nonprofit?

  4. evmaroon permalink
    April 9, 2013 9:55 am

    Also, thank you for writing this because now I don’t have to!

  5. April 9, 2013 2:10 pm

    Thanks for this post, and for the respect with which you’ve articulated the critique. I appreciate the acknowledgment that there are good people doing good work on the list. Obviously I disagree in principle, but I understand your position, and this is one of many discussion I would like to see take place in our community.

    Personally, I am a classic “work within the system” type. 15+ years of involvement with nonprofits has taught me how to be effective in a particular way, but in the last year I’ve begun to question if there aren’t better ways to operate (the book ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Funded’ has been very eye opening). I’m going to continue doing what I can in the ways I know how, but also remain in dialogue with others who see these issues differently.

    After things quiet down a bit, perhaps we can talk about our different approaches further?

  6. Emelye.W permalink
    April 9, 2013 7:38 pm

    Just seems to me that even if there may be some political criticisms that could be advanced on this idea, that having a list of out trans people who are doing good work for the community is still very beneficial for the entire country.

  7. April 13, 2013 9:17 am

    I couldn’t disagree more about the value of this list, especially when I as an African-American trans person see my community’s contributions erased or marginalized.

    The value of Trans 100 was highlighted when less than 48 hours after it was released the Out 50 produces another trans-free predominately white LG(b)(t) one. The Trans 100 was a stark contrast to that and its launch was a major shot of positive publicity this community needs.

  8. April 13, 2013 5:15 pm

    Hey Monica, thank you for the comment. Toni, Jen and I have been talking elsewhere, and I think we really do have a lot more common ground than it might initially seem. I apologize if my critique diminished in any way my respect for everyone on the list (including you, I’m a big fan of your writing).

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