dean spade

The average life span of a transgendered person is twenty-three years. The statistic is shocking, until it begins to make sense. Gender non-conformists face routine exclusion and violence. Transgendered people are disproportionately poor, homeless, and incarcerated. Many of the systems and facilities intended to help low-income people are sex-segregated and thereby alienate those who don’t comply with state-imposed categories. A trans woman may not be able to secure a bed in a homeless shelter, for example. Spade writes that just as the feminist movement tended to “focus on gender-universalized white women’s experience as ‘women’s experience,’” the lesbian- and gay-rights movement has focused primarily on a white, middle-class politic, centered on marriage and mainstream social mores.

Guernica / Trans-Formative Change

Dean Spade is the first openly trans law professor. Meaghan Winter interviews him for Guernica.

H/T The Rumpus


Sylvia Rivera, Dean Spade & Tim Eubanks talk about queer assimilation, capitalism & resistance strategies needing to center queer & trans people of color and low income queer & trans people.

from the film Market This, a Paper Tiger Television Production and made by Kate Huh, Sarit Michaeli & Tara Mateik. Market This! documents the 1999 Queeruption gathering in NYC in response to increasing assimilation of queer people in capitalist culture as well as the shows the growing edges of organizing done without centering low income people, trans people, and people of color.

Thanks to Kate Huh for sending MARKET THIS my way.

Trans people are told by the law, state agencies, private discriminators, and our families that we are impossible people who cannot exist, cannot be seen, cannot be classified, and cannot fit anywhere. We are told by the better-funded lesbian and gay rights groups, as they continually leave us aside, that we are not politically viable our lives are not a political possibility that can be conceived. Inside this impossibility, I argue, lies our specific political potential—a potential to formulate demands and strategies to meet those demands that exceed the containment of neoliberal politics. A critical trans politics is emerging that refuses empty promises of “equal opportunity” and “safety” underwritten by settler colonialism, racist, sexist, classist, ableist, and xenophobic imprisonment, and ever-growing wealth disparity. This politics aims to center the concerns and leadership of the most vulnerable to build transformative change through mobilization. It is reconceptualizing the role of law reform in social movements, acknowledging that legal equality demands are a feature of systemic injustice, not a remedy. It is confronting the harms that come to trans people at the hands of violent systems structured through law itself—not by demanding recognition and inclusion in those systems, but by working to dismantle them while simultaneously supporting those most exposed to their harms.

Dean Spade, Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law, p 41

I mean, basically, yeah.

The fundamental message of hate crime legislation is that if we lock more bad people up, we will be safer. Everything about our current law enforcement systems indicates that this is a false promise, and it’s a false promise that targets people of colour and poor people for caging and death while delivering large profits to white elites. Many might hope that queer and trans people would be unlikely to fall for this trick, since we have deep community histories and contemporary realities of experiencing police violence and violence in prisons and jails, and we know something about not trusting the cops. However, this is same ongoing experience of marginalisation makes some of us deeply crave recognition from systems and people we see as powerful or important.

Dean Spade - Their Laws Will Never Make Us Safer: an introduction to AGAINST EQUALITY: Prisons Will Not Protect You edited by Ryan Conrad

available in Spanish here.

The simplistic formula that claims “you’re either pro-marriage or against equality” makes us forget that all forms of marriage perpetuate gender, racial and economic inequality. It mistakenly assumes that support for marriage is the only good measure of support for LGBT communities. This political moment calls for anti-homophobic politics that centralize anti-racism and anti-poverty. Marriage is a coercive state structure that perpetuates racism and sexism through forced gender and family norms. Right wing pro-marriage rhetoric has targeted families of color and poor families, supported a violent welfare and child protection system, vilified single parents and women, and marginalized queer families of all kinds. Expanding marriage to include a narrow band of same-sex couples only strengthens that system of marginalization and supports the idea that the state should pick which types of families to reward and recognize and which to punish

no to state regulation of families!


(re: people freakin about Obama)

Help Support Egyptt! Please Signal Boost

(click here to donate)

Dear Friends & Community, 

We are writing to let you know of a community member who needs support after going through a major health crisis. Many of you know Egyptt, a long time activist and advocate for low income, trans communities of color. 

Egyptt was formerly co-coordinator of Trans Justice at the Audre Lorde Project. Prior to her work at ALP she was a crucial member of the Queers for Economic Justice Welfare Warriors group where she lead the way fighting transphobia within New York City’s welfare agency: the Human Resources Administration. Because of Egyptt’s work NYC’s Human Resources Administration has adopted its first ever transgender non discrimination policy, which Egyptt helped implement through many trainings of New York City employees.

Additionally Egyptt has been a long time advocate at Housing Works advocating to have New York State pass the Gender Employment Non Discrimination Act (GENDA). She is also a brilliant performer, frequently showcasing her talent at the Housing Works fashion shows and many Trans Day of Remembrance events. Egyptt is now unemployed and has lost her apartment in Harlem. 

We are turning to you, our community, to support Egyptt as she navigates this challenging moment. We want to raise 10,000 for Egyptt to get back some of what she has lost in the last few months. She needs resources to get back into housing, to replace lost possessions, and to cover outstanding healthcare costs. 

With deep appreciation, 
Reina Gossett, Pooja Gehi, & Dean Spade

Civil marriage is a tool of social control used by governments to regulate sexuality and family formation by establishing a favored form and rewarding it (in the U.S., for example, with over one thousand benefits). While marriage is being rewarded, other ways of organizing family, relationships and sexual behavior do not receive these benefits and are stigmatized and criminalized. In short, people are punished or rewarded based on whether or not they marry. The idea that same-sex marriage advocacy is a fight for the “freedom to marry” or “equality” is absurd since the existence of legal marriage is a form of coercive regulation in which achieving or not achieving marital status is linked to accessing vital life resources like health care and paths to legalized immigration. There is nothing freeing nor equalizing about such a system.
—  Dean Spade & Craig Willse, “Marriage Will Never Set Us Free”
What I hope that love is—whether platonic, romantic, familial, or communal—is the sincere wish that another person have what they need to be whole and develop themselves to their best capacity for joy or whatever fulfillment they’re seeking.

Dean Spade

via Make zine

Capitalism is fundamentally invested in notions of scarcity, encouraging people to feel that we never have enough so that we will act out of greed and hording and focus on accumulation. Indeed, the romance myth is focused on scarcity: There is only one person out there for you!!! You need to find someone to marry before you get too old!!!! The sexual exclusivity rule is focused on scarcity, too: Each person only has a certain amount of attention or attraction or love or interest, and if any of it goes to someone besides their partner their partner must lose out. We don’t generally apply this rule to other relationships—we don’t assume that having two kids means loving the first one less or not at all, or having more than one friend means being a bad or fake or less interested friend to our other friends. We apply this particular understanding of scarcity to romance and love, and most of us internalize that feeling of scarcity pretty deeply…
We are interested in resisting the heteronormative family structure in which people are expected to form a dyad, marry, have kids, and get all their needs met within that family structure. A lot of us see that as unhealthy, as a new technology of post-industrial late capitalism that is connected to alienating people from community and training them to think in terms of individuality, to value the smaller unit of the nuclear family rather than the extended family.

Dean Spade,  For Lovers and Fighters

How perfect is this ugh, I love him.

Could the veterans of the Stonewall and Compton’s Cafeteria uprising against police violence have guessed that a few decades later LGBT law reformers would be supporting the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a law that provides millions of dollars to enhance police and prosecutorial resources? Could they have imagined the police would be claimed as protectors of queer and trans people against violence, while imprisonment and police brutality were skyrocketing?
—  Dean Spade, Normal Life, p. 89
Sometimes while I ride the subway I try to look at each person and imagine what they look like to someone who is totally in love with them. I think everyone has had someone look at them that way, whether it was a lover, or a parent, or a friend, whether they know it or not. It’s a wonderful thing, to look at someone to whom I would never be attracted and think about what looking at them feels like to someone who is devouring every part of their image, who has invisible strings that are connected to this person tied to every part of their body. I think this fun pastime is a way of cultivating compassion. It feels good to think about people that way, and to use that part of my mind that I think is traditionally reserved for a tiny portion of people I’ll meet in my life to appreciate the general public. I wish I thought about people like this more often. I think it’s the opposite of what our culture teaches us to do. We prefer to pick people apart to find their flaws. Cultivating these feelings of love or appreciation for random people, and even for people I don’t like, makes me a more forgiving and appreciative person toward myself and people I love. Also, it’s just a really excellent pastime.

Dean Spade, “For Lovers and Fighters” (see here)

I myself don’t tend to lean towards the poly side of things, but this section of the essay was just too gorgeous a sentiment not to quote.

This makes me think about how some men’s jackets are really beautiful on the inside with colorful linings in less traditionally masculine hues than what the outside of the jacket suggests. I like the idea of secret pleasures inside clothes, especially for when we’re going under cover at our jobs or in other hostile environments. It also makes me think about people wearing undergarments that are differently gendered than what their external clothing indicates they might be wearing. I like to think about people cultivating their own secret expressive pleasures in those ways. It seems like a healing response to coercion.
Because I spend so much time now in a very professional, gender normative work environment, I have to remind myself that I love weird people, I am weird, I want to be weird, and being normal is truly horrifying. I’m thinking of that experience of seeing someone on the street or on the bus who is working some kind of weird, non-normative look and feeling some delight and relief, like the person’s existence is making space for you.

Dean Spade in q&a with Queer Couture 

aaaaaaaaaaaah yes! this this this this!

The term “administrative violence” draws attention to the ways in which systems that organize our lives in seemingly ordinary ways – determining what ID we carry, what government records exist about us, how roads or schools or garbage pick-up are organized – produce and distribute life chances based on violent forms of categorization. The entire framework of US administrative law is that we have agencies – whether it’s the Department of Homeland Security or the Food and Drug Administration or the Environmental Protection Agency or the Bureau of Indian Affairs – run by experts. These experts invent and deploy categories that manage and sort people, substances, buildings, curricula, human capacities, diseases, financial instruments, streets, soils, vehicles, and more. These administrators need not be elected; the basis of their authority, and thus the authority of the administrative system, is neutral expertise. Critical movements have questioned the neutrality of those ways of knowing and the categories they produce, identifying white supremacist, ableist, colonial, and patriarchal norms.
Sometimes while I ride the subway I try to look at each person and imagine what they look like to someone who is totally in love with them. I think everyone has had someone look at them that way, whether it was a lover, or a parent, or a friend, whether they know it or not. It’s a wonderful thing, to look at someone to whom I would never be attracted and think about what looking at them feels like to someone who is devouring every part of their image, who has invisible strings that are connected to this person tied to every part of their body. I think this fun pastime is a way of cultivating compassion. It feels good to think about people that way, and to use that part of my mind that I think is traditionally reserved for a tiny portion of people I’ll meet in my life to appreciate the general public. I wish I thought about people like this more often. I think it’s the opposite of what our culture teaches us to do. We prefer to pick people apart to find their flaws. Cultivating these feelings of love or appreciation for random people, and even for people I don’t like, makes me a more forgiving and appreciative person toward myself and people I love. Also, it’s just a really excellent pastime.

I do not have a prescription for successful relationships, and I don’t think anyone should. The goal of most of my work is to remove coercive mechanisms that force people to comply with heteronormative gender and family norms. People often get confused and think that me and other trans activists are trying to erase gender and make everyone be androgynous. In fact, that sounds a little boring to me. What want to see is a world in which people do not have to be criminalized, or cast out of their family, or cut off welfare, or sexually harassed at school, or subjected to involuntary mental health care, or prevented from getting housing because they organize their gender, desire, or family structure in a way that offends a norm. I hope we can build that vision by practicing it in our own queer and activist communities and in our approaches to ourselves. Let’s be gentle with ourselves and each other and fierce as we fight oppression.

I’ve been disturbed to see dynamics emerge where people create the new poly norm and then hate themselves if they cannot live up to it. If they are not perfect at being non-jealous, non-threatened, and totally delighted by their partners’ exploits immediately then they have somehow failed. I have felt this way myself. Frustrated at how my intellect can embrace this approach to sex and yet my emotional reaction is sometimes enormous and undeniably negative. At times, this has become a new unachievable perfection I use to torture myself, embarrassed even to admit to friends how awful I feel when overcome by jealousy, and becoming increasingly distant from partners as I try to hide these shameful and overwhelming feelings.

This doesn’t seem like the radical and revolutionary practice I had hoped for. In fact, it feels all too familiar, like the other traumas of growing up under capitalism—alienation from myself and others, constant insecurity and distrust and fear, self-hatred and doubt and inadequacy. I do not have a resolution for this dilemma. I only have hopes, for myself and others, and lots of questions. How do I recognize the inadequacy of the romance myth while acknowledging its deep roots in my emotional life? How do I balance my intellectual understandings with my deep-seated emotional habits/expectations? It seems like the best answer to all of this is to move forward as we do in the rest of our activism, carefully and slowly, based on our clearest principles, with trust and a willingness to make mistakes. The difficulty of having open relationships should not be a reason not to try it, but it should be a reason not to create new punishing norms in our communities or in our own minds. We’ve done difficult things before. We struggle with internalized oppressions, we chose to live our lives in ways that our families often tell us are impossible, idealistic or dangerous, and we get joy from creatively resisting the limits of our culture and political system that are both external and part of our own minds.


Dean Spade  

“For Lovers and Fighters”

This year, since I entered grad school, I’ve been thinking more and more about what it means for me to change my class status, up my earning potential, exceed the education of level of all the people who raised me (and their bosses). I’ve been thinking about how to apply anti-poverty ethics to a life where suddenly the choice of wealth (by which I mean having more than I need), and all of the insane stuff that it entails may be before me soon. I’m familiar with navigating poverty while maintaining anti-poverty politics, but not with navigating the possession of or potential for wealth. Lots of things that I believe in that are really important to me will require different action if I’m suddenly making $35,000 a year or more rather than the $6-9000 I’ve been making for the past couple of years. My role in redistribution, how I exercise my critique of the different value that is given to different work, how I look at consumerism and greed, are all going to require careful consideration as my position changes. I feel pretty good about that, but I’m pretty stressed out about the fact that I don’t see anyone else engaging these questions.

Suddenly, as most of my friends enter their late 20’s and a lot of them, like me, are getting qualified to be better paid, greed and capitalism are replacing the firm anti-poverty values my friends purport to hold. I hold the basic belief that being rich is wrong. If some people are rich, others will be poor. It is the responsibility of the state and rich people to redistribute wealth equally (clearly they aren’t doing a good job). Similarly, because I don’t think that capitalism is meritocratic, with deserving hardworking people getting rich and lazy undeserving people getting poor, I don’t believe in the right of the rich to hoard wealth. Thus, I believe that if I make more money than I need, my anti-poverty morals and politics demand that I engage in redistributing, not hoarding that wealth.

Understanding that imperative, I face the issue of applying it to my life. There are a lot of obstacles, especially the fact that capitalism is in me. Its really hard to figure out questions like, how much is too much to have, what amount of “financial security” is reasonable and what amount is hoarding wealth, what is a necessity and what is a luxury. These questions are very subjective and slippery. Also, greed and consumerism make it hard to see the answers. The way capitalism works is that mostly everyone is convinced they don’t have enough, no matter how much they have. Every luxury presents itself as a necessity. Everyone is made to feel they deserve more for being a good person and that its not their job to redistribute. Television presents a “middle class” which is in fact an extremely wealthy class level which few can maintain, but all aspire to. Poverty remains invisible to most people, and where it is visible it is excused by an elaborate mythology which places the poor to blame for their poverty by pretending that everyone who tries and works hard can be rich despite extreme inequities in every area of life.

The project of figuring out how to live with anti-poverty politics in capitalism is one of the most important things I think I’m doing, yet there is almost no one to engage with about it. None of my role models, academics, lawyers, community activists, or teachers, live in a way that I would want to copy. In fact, when I broach this topic with most people, I hear them say stuff like “you shouldn’t be afraid to be well-compensated for good work.” Frequently I find out that they believe that they hardly make any money anyway because, like everyone, they compare themselves to people who make ridiculous amounts of money. Public interest lawyers, for example, always talk to me about how little I’ll make or they make, meaning $30 or 50,000, because they compare themselves to corporate lawyers who make (starting) $100,000 a year. That mentality is exactly what I want to get outside of. I want to actually think about what I can live off (like right now I feel pretty fancy living off of a $9,000/yr stipend from school, especially considering my mom raised 3 kids on $18,000/yr when we weren’t on public assistance). But even people I know who work in anti-poverty fields, when I engage them in this conversation, act like “thinking we all have to be poor” is a naive concept I’ll grow out of once I can appreciate this concept of “financial security.” What is financial security? I think mostly its about hoarding. I do wonder a lot about whether I need to save money to support my family members who are old and still living paycheck to paycheck with no assets. Its another question of how much is enough, when does ‘security’ become an excuse for hoarding?

These are especially difficult issues to deal with because I realize I’m only encountering them because of how severely I’ve classed up, and my approach to them sets me apart from the people I come from. None of my family would think twice about getting rich and providing wealth for everyone they’re related to if they got the chance. So it feels weird to wonder whether these values are upper class values since they don’t look like lower class values, but then again they seem like nobody’s values. Watching my activisty friends become ok with the idea of being bourgie as soon as they get the chance is a major blow. I keep hearing them all say (in a kinda condescending tone like I’ll realize it soon too) “I’ve just realized that we don’t need to be poor.” Its like they’ve come out of some oppressive mind set or something, kinda self-helpy. It makes me sad and terrified that there will never be anyone to talk to about this and also wildly impressed with the pervasiveness of capitalist logic. They all really believe that since they work hard, and maybe even more since they do “good” work, they deserve wealth.

I’m not looking to develop some code about what you can and can’t have to live “right.” I don’t think there is some single answer to how to live and how to have redistributionist politics. I think that the process of making these choices will look different in everyone’s lives, depending on where they live, who they are obligated to care for, what they do for a living, where they come from, and what they expect from life. But I am desperate for a conversation around the rejection of wealth and money-hoarding. I can imagine people taking this on and teaching each other and talking to kids about greed in a complex way and actually coming up with some alternative ways of thinking about money besides greed–and not just in academic critiques of consumerism but in personal ways that involve what you actually buy every day and what’s in your bank account. I’m waiting for this conversation to take off.


“greed” by Dean Spade (

having a lot of complicated feelings about this, especially within the context of consuming/my level of consumption within the university context (even if it’s mostly paid for by other people through the financial aid that i receive)