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Unlivable Lives

Violence and Identity in Transgender Activism

The vast majority of anti-violence activism in the United States occurs within the framework of identity politics. Identity-based movements, such as those to stop violence against people of color, women, and LGBT people, have become so commonplace as to seem to be a natural way to reduce violence. Unlivable Lives examines how identity politics and anti-violence activities shape group identity and practices of activism in ways that can be unintentionally damaging to the very groups they aim to protect. Analyzing thirteen national organizations working to reduce the violence experienced by transgender people, sociologist Laurel Westbrook reveals that activists use a number of techniques with consequences that run counter to the goal of making trans lives more livable. Rather than reducing fear, these tactics may actually increase it, leaving group members convinced that a violent fate is inevitable. Provocative and galvanizing, this book envisions new strategies for anti-violence and social justice movements and will revolutionize the way we think about this form of activism.

Author Information


Laurel Westbrook is Associate Professor of Sociology at Grand Valley State University and co-founder of Sociologists for Trans Justice.