Scholar says many trans people are discouraged from publicly expressing a full range of emotions
Hil Malatino said he sees mostly two types of trans people in the media.
One type is people who’ve suffered some kind of trauma or victimization, like street violence. The other is “tokenizing celebratory representations of trans experience that are positive but also overwhelmingly sort of single-note,” said Malatino, a professor in the departments of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, and philosophy, at Penn State University.
But like anyone else, trans people experience a range of emotions, including negative feelings from fatigue and anger to envy and burnout. It’s just that, as Malatino argues in a new book, most are discouraged from expressing them publicly.
In “Side Affects: On Being Trans and Feeling Bad” (University of Minnesota), Malatino writes that the same cultural biases that make many trans folks feel badly about themselves in the first place also prevent them from conveying the resultant emotions. Malatino discusses the book Thu., May 12, in a virtual event at White Whale Bookstore.
“The central argument of the book is really that these bad feelings are often thought and dealt with, or suggested to be dealt with, at the level of the individual, but in trans lives, they are structurally produced,” said Malatino. “So the book is thinking through how different forms of transphobia [and] transantagonism produce such sort of reliably recurrent sets of feelings in trans lives.”
Malatino is the author of two previous books on related topics, “Trans Care” and “Queer Embodiment: Monstrosity, Medical Violence, and Intersex Experience.”
He said suppressed emotional expression has consequences in matters including health care for trans people, who are often required to demonstrate emotional stability in order to access care. “Their mental health needs to be green-lit, and in order for that to happen, historically, trans folks had to very systematically suppress the manifestations of negative affect that inform their lives,” he said.
It’s not only transphobia and transantagonism that discourage trans people from expressing negative emotions, said Malatino. Even allies who want trans people to make a positive impression can directly or indirectly suppress the communication of such feelings. “There’s this pressure to perform a kind of fabulousness, I think particularly for transwomen, but minimally a kind of affability, at least, in order to be included.”
Fixing the problem, Malatino writes, will require a broad, coalitional movement by trans people and their allies to reform the institutions, from employment to education, who make life harder for many trans people.
On May 12, Malatino will be in conversation with writer, speaker, and health advocate Zena Sharman.