Mia Fischer, Terrorizing Gender: Transgender Visibility and the Surveillance Practices of the U.S. Security State, Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2019, 282 pp., $45.00 (hardcover).
In May 2014, Katy Steinmetz published a story in TIME titled, "The Transgender Tipping Point." The story, which extensively featured transgender actor Laverne Cox, lauded a new era of visibility and representation of transgender people in the media. Indeed, within the last decade, transgender people have perhaps attained more media representation than ever before, with television series such as Orange Is the New Black, Transparent, Pose, and Euphoria receiving praise for portraying transgender characters (played by transgender actors) with more care and nuance. At the same time, however, debates around other media productions such as Dallas Buyers Club and The Danish Girl, both of which cast cisgender male actors as transgender female characters, point to uneasy discourses about what "proper" transgender representation should look like.
However, as transgender activist Tourmaline (formerly known as Reina Gossett (1)) reminds us in her 2016 commencement address to Hampshire College: "Just because we're being seen, doesn't mean we're any safer, hypervisibility endangers us, representation is a trap [sic]" (para. 16). This pithy quote, referenced in the coda to Mia Fischer's 2019 book, Terrorizing Gender: Transgender Visibility and the Surveillance Practices of the U.S. Security State, calls attention to a seeming paradox: While we might be quick to celebrate the fact that transgender people have never been so openly represented in the public eye, so too must we contend with the fact that transgender people have also never been so openly targeted by acts of physical and political violence.
This paradox has not gone unnoticed. In 2017, Tourmaline, along with Eric A. Stanley and Johanna Burton, coedited a volume titled Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility, which offered multiple critiques of visibility politics from scholars and activists alike, including Stonewall Riots veteran Miss Major. Most notably, Toby Beauchamp's book Going Stealth: Transgender Politics and U.S. Surveillance Practices, also released in 2019, asks how U.S. surveillance practices disproportionately affect transgender and gender-nonconforming people, pointing to such political issues as identification documents, TSA body scanners, and bathroom bills.
At first glance, Mia Fischer's project has a surprisingly similar premise. In Terrorizing Gender: Transgender Visibility and the Surveillance Practices of the U.S. Security State, she also seeks to understand how surveillance and representation...