Being and Becoming Professionally Other

Identities, Voices, and Experiences of U.S. Trans* Academics

by Erich N. Pitcher (Author)
©2018 Textbook XIV, 216 Pages


Being and Becoming Professionally Other: Identities, Voices, and Experiences of U.S. Trans* Academics is a path-clearing book that provides a rich, in-depth account of the lived experiences of 39 transgender or trans* academics.
Despite increased visibility of trans* issues within higher education, college environments remain unfriendly, and in some cases, overtly hostile to trans* people. While there is much discussion of gender equity and faculty diversity, these conversations rarely include trans* academics’ voices. As a study participant described, trans* voices are often out of place at best—or worse, completely discounted in academe, a betwixt place.
By not fitting into a particular mold, trans* academics experience a variety of adverse events including microaggressions, outright hostility, and exclusion. These adverse experiences create a context wherein trans* academics engage in various forms of additional labor. While not necessarily unique to trans* academics, these various forms of labor provided evidence to support my assertion that trans* academics are or become professionally Other.  Given this Other status, trans* academics must form broad coalitions to bring about change within higher education organizations. Additionally, higher education leaders have an opportunity to change organizational contexts to better support trans* academics by radically re-imagining colleges and universities.
This text would be an excellent choice for graduate and undergraduate courses about gender, qualitative research methods courses, and courses about academic careers, and organizational theories.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Being and Becoming Professionally Other
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1: Introduction: The Transgender Tipping Point
  • Contextualizing a Study of Trans* Academics
  • Trans* People in the US
  • Scholarly Inquiry About Trans* People
  • Community
  • Financial Insecurity
  • Trans* Oppression
  • Contextualizing Trans* Experiences at Work
  • Non-Trans Minoritized Academics
  • Trans* Academics’ Partial Stories
  • Brief Methods Overview
  • Positionality
  • Research Questions
  • Chapter Summaries
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 2: Theoretical Interlude: Embodied Sedimentation
  • References
  • Chapter 3: Embodied Sedimentation: Trans* Academics’ Gender Identities
  • Constructed Sample
  • Thick and Thin Layers of Gender Identities
  • Identity Turning Points
  • Salient, Multiple Identities
  • Methodological Notes
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 4: Theoretical Interlude: Microfoundations and Inequality Regimes
  • References
  • Chapter 5: “A Sense of Paranoia and Hypersensitivity”: Articulations of the Microfoundations of Trans* Academics’ Experiences
  • Misgendering: Interpersonally and Digitally
  • Hyper-Visibility and Invisibility
  • Exercising Agency in Disclosing Trans Identity/Status/History
  • Being and Becoming Professionally Other
  • References
  • Chapter 6: Theoretical Interlude: Institutional Logics Perspectives and Neoliberal Governmentality
  • References
  • Chapter 7: Within the Academic Market/Workplace
  • Architectures of Neoliberal Subjectivity
  • Rising Market Logic
  • Rising Corporate Logic
  • Convergence of Market and Corporation Logics
  • Declining State Logic
  • Neoliberalism and Re-shaping Trans* Subjectivities
  • Methodological Notes
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter 8: Theoretical Interlude: Thinking Through Thresholds
  • References
  • Chapter 9: “A Threshold Across”: How Organizational Contexts Shape Trans* Academics’ Experiences
  • Threshold: Isolation–Community
  • Threshold: Alienation–Familiarity
  • Threshold: Precarity–Security
  • Threshold: Silence–Voice
  • Coda on Thresholds
  • Methodological Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 10: Theoretical Interlude: Articulating Resistance
  • References
  • Chapter 11: Uncovering Trans* Academics’ Resistance and Disruption
  • Being Present as Disruption
  • Disrupting (Cis)Gender Norms
  • Resisting and Disrupting Inequality Regimes: Race and National Belonging
  • Resisting and Disrupting Through Teaching, Research, and Service
  • Teaching
  • Research
  • Service
  • Methodological Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 12: Theoretical Interlude: Critical Scholar/Activist Stance
  • References
  • Chapter 13: Pulling Across Thresholds: Towards a Coalitional Politics of Liberation and New Vision of Gender in Academic Organizations
  • Participants’ Needs
  • Towards a Coalitional Politics of Liberation
  • Spaces of Possible Action for Trans* Academics
  • Dear Cisgender Academics and Institutional Leaders
  • References
  • Methodological Appendix
  • Methods
  • Sampling
  • Data Collection: Approaches and Procedures
  • Data Collection Irregularities
  • Trustworthiness and Credibility
  • Ethical Practices and Authenticity Criteria
  • Limitations
  • Interview Protocols
  • Understanding the Organizational Context, Interview 1
  • Program/Departmental Context
  • Institutional Context
  • Disciplinary Context
  • Institutional Change
  • Understanding Participants’ Perspectives as Trans* Academics, Interview 2
  • Understanding Trans* Being
  • Intersections of Identity
  • Supportive, Neutral, Hostile Contexts
  • Sites of Gender Regulation
  • Narrative Prompt
  • References
  • Index

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As with many academic texts, this is a work of many. I would not be where I am without the help of so many people. My work is animated by a community of scholars and friends who believe in what I do, believe that trans* lives are worth living, and who will stand by my trans* kin and me as we continue to battle systems of oppression in our lives. You know who you are and I love you for it. I do want to acknowledge a few people by name who were especially supportive of me during this past year.

I would like to thank my partner Bailey who saw me through a very dark and difficult year where depression loomed as I attempted to survive a hostile and discriminatory workplace. Your encouragement to press on truly made the difference and I thank you for witnessing my pain and suffering and for still loving me, though I think I was really hard to love on those seemingly endless sad days. Without you, I most certainly would not be here.

My mother was also a huge support for me during this difficult year in which I undertook the writing and revision of this text. When I told you I would be writing this book, your sense of pride was physically palpable, though you were 2,000 miles away. Your willingness to spend hours and hours with me on the phone talking through the difficulties I faced during the year I wrote this book meant more to me than you can ever know. Your financial ← xi | xii → support this year meant that I could buy a beautiful house so that I would have an office where I could do the intellectual work I feel called to do.

Thank you to my advisor, mentor, and friend, Kris Renn. Your unwavering belief in me, your pride in my work, and your steadfast commitment to me truly makes my work feasible. Thank you for all your support, mentorship, and kinship. Your kind words encourage me.

Thank you also to Treese, my Judy. You know my soul and my call to this work perhaps even better than I. Your unwavering friendship and commitment to our shared work of trying to make this place a little more livable always pushes me forward. Your advice, support, and love continue to sustain me, even in my darkest hours.

Charlene, I am so grateful you came into my life. You inspire me to dream, hope, and imagine in new and interesting ways. Your care and concern for me, my work, and especially your excitement for this book, kept me going when I would have rather taken a nap. Thank you for your many gifts, amazing chats, snarky text messages, and lunches at Thai Chili.

Finally, to the 39 trans* academics who shared their lives with me, thank you. You have given me far more than I can ever reciprocate. The gift of your stories and belief in and gratitude for this work continue to give life to my scholarly and intellectual endeavors. Without you, none of this was possible, so I owe you the deepest gratitude for the many, many hours you spent making this work a reflection of you and your experiences.

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The Transgender Tipping Point

Given that we [trans people] are systematically constructed in ways that run contrary to our own self-identifications, given that we are fundamentally viewed as illusory—as either evil deceivers or as openly bogus—how do we find the moral integrity and realness which has been taken from us?

—Tallia Bettcher (2007, p. 59)

One may also inhabit the limen, the place in between realities, a gap “between and betwixt” universes of sense that construe social life and persons differently, an interstice from where one can most clearly stand critically toward different structures.

—María Lugones (2003, p. 59)

Trans* academics are always already within a series interstices: possible and impossible, real and imagined, inside and outside, visible and invisible. As Bettcher (2007) noted, in the face of trans violence, trans* bodies and the “realness” of one’s gender become contested, discounted as an illusion. The issue of the realness of trans* identities is critical to understand how everyday practices related to gender come to shape the experiences of trans* academics. Relatedly, in drawing on the experiences of two non-binary Black college students Nicolazzo (2016) asserted “trans* collegians continue to wrestle with passing and realness as normalizing concepts themselves, particularly in ← 1 | 2 → relation to other identities they hold” (p. 1185). These same notions of passing and realness influence the various ways trans* academics experience their workplaces. That is to say, what constitutes a “real” trans* person and what one passes for (e.g., a cisgender woman) are part and parcel of how academic organizations as social systems regulate and administer gender (Spade, 2011). The regulation and administration of gender ultimately influences trans* academics’ experiences in profound ways.

In addition to the persistent question of realness of trans* identities is the notion that trans* people are “between and betwixt” (Lugones, 2003 p. 59). While Lugones (2003) described a multitude of identities including race, ethnicity, nationality, and sexual identity, the notion of being between and betwixt is a rather useful way to think about trans* identities. In and through processes of ascribing, performing, and reading gender (Butler, 1990), one can come to understand the various ways in which gender “embodiment is intersubjective” (Salamon, 2010, p. 46). As such, trans* academics’ genders are contested, intersubjective, and unfixed in a variety ways.

In this book, I am concerned with the interstice of trans* and academic, and the various tensions that shape trans* academics’ workplace experiences. Further, I am interested in the ways that trans* academics are simultaneously “in” institutions of higher education, but not “of” the institution. For example, while a white trans man might appear on the surface to be much the same as the kinds of men who have traditionally been given access to the professorate, there is an embodied history that a white trans man holds that a white cisgender man does not. I address this issue of embodied gender history in further detail in chapter three.

In order to contextualize this study, I bring together disparate literatures that work to address the space from which one might come to understand the variable experiences of trans* academics. First I provide a brief history of trans issues in the US. Next, I describe scholarly inquiries about trans* people in broad terms, focusing particularly on the issues of community, financial security, and trans* oppression. Then, I describe the context of trans* workplace experiences and then highlight the ways that racially and non-trans* gender minoritized faculty experience the academy. Following from there, I offer a selection of partial stories to introduce the larger story arc of what it means to be and/or become professionally other by sharing experiences from Susan, Joy, Max, Martina, Nick, and Nathan. In offering these partial stories, I describe the methods used in this study and offer a description of the format of the book and conclude with chapter summaries. ← 2 | 3 →

Contextualizing a Study of Trans* Academics

Trans* People in the US

As Stryker and Aizura (2013) suggested, the early 1990s marked a rather sudden shift in “possibilities for thinking about, talking about, encountering, and living transgender bodies and lives” (p. 1). This shift to becoming subjects of creating knowledge about our lives as trans people is a marked departure from the prior articulations of knowledge about trans people as objects of study (Stryker & Aizura, 2013). This shift to subjecthood was partially made possible by the emergence of the word transgender, first coined by Leslie Feinberg (1992) in a pamphlet called “Transgender liberation: A movement whose time has come” (Enke, 2012; Feinberg, 1992; Stryker, 2006). Building from Virginia Prince’s notion of “transgenderist,” the word transgender was and continues to be contested. However, questions remain as to why it is that trans is “perpetually positioned in media and public discourse as ‘only now’ now arriving on the horizon of intelligibility” (Stryker & Aizura, 2013, p. 3). Further, this political moment continues to view trans lives as “obscure, minor, exotic, or emergent” topics and “too insignificant, too novel, too ephemeral, too complicated, or too strange to matter or merit serious attention” (Stryker & Aizura, 2013, p. 3). It is precisely this kind of rarefication of trans experiences that necessitates a more poignant examination of the questions of how and why trans* lives are continuously constructed in the image of the freaky, weird other.

While this book specifically addresses the US context from the vantage point of trans* academics, transgender is a global phenomenon emerging both in the global north and south (Stryker & Aizura, 2013). To trace the lineage of trans people in the US, particularly as a means to understand trans* academic lives, necessitates a view of trans issues through the emergence of transgender studies as a field of academic study and building of trans* resistance movements.

Stone’s (1992) critical essay “The Empire Strikes Back” marks some of the earliest scholar-activist work that came to demarcate the field that would become trans studies. Stone’s (1992) work offered a foundational understanding of the need to address issues of gender in more complex and nuanced ways within feminist movements. As Stryker (2006) historicized, the early nineties was marked by several significant events in trans history, including the ejection of a transsexual woman, Nancy Jean Burkholder from the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, the performance art of Kate Bornstein, the publication of ← 3 | 4 → Gender Trouble, the formation of Transgender Nation and FTM (female-to-male) International, the production of zines addressing trans issues (e.g., Gender Trash) and the purposeful exclusion of transgender from the name of the 1993 March on Washington for Gay, Lesbian, and Bi Rights. Each of these events suggest that there are ongoing contestations of what trans is, whether trans people should be included in aligned struggles (e.g., feminist movements), and how to build kinship and community amongst trans* people.

More recently, there is increased attention to trans* lives in popular discourse and media. From former Vice-President Biden’s (Bendery, 2012) assertion that transgender discrimination is the civil rights issue of our time (setting aside the fact that the liberation of Black and Brown people was and continues to be the perpetually unresolved civil rights issue of our time), to increased visibility of trans lives via coverage of Caitlyn Jenner, the release of Janet Mock’s memoir, Redefining Realness and weekly online talk show, SoPOPular, the building of a vibrant movement of Trans Women of Color (e.g., Trans Women of Color Collective), and the creation of shows and movies addressing trans life (e.g., Tangerine) all indicate that there is now a kind of intelligibility of transgender identities.

However, increased visibility does not seem to have radically rearticulated the life chances of trans* people (Spade, 2011). For example, the 2015 US Trans Survey indicated that 46% of respondents were verbally harassed and 9% were physically assaulted in the year prior to taking the survey. Further, the early months of 2017 were especially fraught with violence towards trans* women of color claiming the lives of Mesha Caldwell, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, Jojo Striker, Jaquarrius Holland, Tiara Richmond, Chyna Doll Dupree, Ciara McElveeen, Alphonsa Watson, Chayviss Reed, Kenne McFadden, Sherrell Faulkner, Brenda Bostick, and Keke Collier.

As visibility increased for trans* people, a right-wing attack on transgender people also occurred. Beginning in 2013, Arizona became the first state in the US to introduce legislation that sought to regulate how transgender people will access public restrooms. While the Arizona bill failed, both North Carolina and Kentucky passed legislation that requires individuals to use bathrooms that are associated with their sex designation on their birth certificates. In the case of North Carolina, the bill was repealed, but as of June 2017, 16 states have considered legislation restricting public bathroom access (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2017). Resistance to these efforts has been effective in some cases, but the message is quite clear, “It’s [anti-trans bathroom bill] about us existing in public space,” as Laverne Cox stated ← 4 | 5 → (Matthews, 2017). While the acknowledgement of trans* lives is certainly welcomed, there are also consequences of this visibility.

Scholarly Inquiry About Trans* People

Transgender people in the US is also a topic of much scholarly inquiry with researchers addressing a wide range of issues including, but not limited to, gender identity formation (Beemyn & Rankin, 2011; Bockting, 2014; Devor, 2004; Factor & Rothblum, 2008), sexual identity formation (e.g., dickey, Burnes, & Singh, 2012; Kuper, Nussbaum, & Mustanski, 2012), violence facing trans communities (e.g., Lombardi, Wilchins, Priesing, & Malouf, 2002; Snorton & Haritaworn, 2013) and legal responses/defenses of anti-trans violence (e.g., Bettcher, 2007; Lee & Kwan, 2014), suicidality (e.g., Clements-Nolle, Marx, & Katz, 2006; Grant et al., 2011), notions and contestations of trans community (e.g., Costello, 2016), and the resilience of trans communities (e.g., Erich, Tittsworth, & Kersten, 2010; Singh & McKleroy, 2011; Testa, Jimenez, & Rankin, 2014). Psychological literature tends to be the field where much scholarship about trans lives emanates, deriving at least in part by the continued pathologization and medicalization of trans lives and experiences via diagnosis of gender identity disorder (Cohen-Kettenis & Pfäfflin, 2010) and now gender dysphoria (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Frequently, cisgender scholars predominate the literature about trans* people, though there is a more recent trend in which trans scholars’ now produce much more of the research about our own communities (see Stryker & Aizura, 2013).

Despite the persistent erasure of trans* lives across of many fields of study (e.g., collecting and reporting data in ways that mask trans* experiences), trans* people are too often situated as objects of knowledge creation, not as knowledge producers about our lives and experiences (Namaste, 2000; Stryker & Aizura, 2013). While I rely on prior research produced by cisgender researchers about trans lives, I seek to center the knowledge creation by and for trans people as much as possible. Most relevant to the themes of this book are prior works about three inter-related experiences: notions of community, financial insecurity, and manifestations of trans* oppression.


XIV, 216
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XIV, 216 pp. 1 b/w ill., 1 table.

Biographical notes

Erich N. Pitcher (Author)

Erich N. Pitcher, PhD, is Associate Director of Research and Communication for Diversity and Cultural Engagement at Oregon State University, and completed their doctoral work in Higher Education at Michigan State University. Erich received the 2017 American Education Research Association—Division J Outstanding Dissertation Award.


Title: Being and Becoming Professionally Other
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