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Study for Struggle: Normal Life

For several years, I’ve been hearing positive things about Dean Spade’s book Normal Life: Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law, first published by South End Press and more recently published in a second edition by Duke University Press. Happily, I finally got a chance to read it, and now I can see why so many people appreciate this book! Not only does Spade elaborate a transformative politics of gender liberation, but he also offers a wonderfully accessible introduction to neoliberalism, a grounded critique of rights-based approaches to social change, and useful frameworks for understanding power and structural violence. In addition, Spade lifts up instructive examples of movement-based efforts that center the well-being of trans and gender-nonconforming people who are among the most vulnerable, exemplifying what he helpfully describes as “trickle up” social justice. Normal Life is a great book!

Here’s one gem from Spade:

I argue for a model of thinking about power and law that expands our analysis to examine systems that administer life chances through purportedly “neutral” criteria, understanding that those systems are often locations where racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, xenophobic, and transphobic outcomes are produced. Through this lens, we look more at impact than intent. We look more at what legal regimes do rather than what they say about what they do. We look at how vulnerability is distributed across populations, not just among individuals. This allows us to shape resistance strategies that have a better chance at actually addressing the conditions that concern us, rather than just changing the window-dressing that attends them.

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