Towards a Radical Tenderness: A Call for Inclusivity within the Trans Movement

Plan Author

  • Vivian Gay, 2014

Fields of Concentration

Sample Courses

  • Course: Gender Trouble: Modern Women Writers in Latin America & Afro-Hispanic Diaspora
  • Course: Printmaking Intensive
  • Tutorial: Gender and Queer Theory
  • Tutorial: Trans Narratives in Children’s Books and Zines
  • Tutorial: Alternative Photographic Processes

Project Description

Hand-bound and printed multimedia artist book, and other visual works: drawings, prints, and photography exploring gender.

Faculty Sponsors

Outside Evaluator

    • Jules Rosskam, Hampshire College


In Felt Matters, Jeanne Vaccaro notes that the “everyday and unexceptional character of transgender experience receives little attention in studies of transgender subjectivity. Utilitarian transitions are somehow not ‘queer’ enough for theorizing, nor are bodies that have not yet or will never undergo hormonal or surgical intervention.” Only bodies that undergo radical “transformations” are considered valid, or “truly trans.” Trans bodies who have not undergone hormones or surgery are seen not only legally irrelevant, but socially incomplete and invisible. Although Judith Butler writes about the daily performativity of gender in terms of small repetitive gestures, Vaccaro emphasizes the lack of scholarship in these daily actions themselves, and the ways in which they are queered by those who perform them. She asks, “How does the everyday threaten queerness, and become a burden to theorizing? Why theorize transgender identities as transgressive, exceptional, non-normative, as opposed to ordinary, boring and practical?” The effect is that gender, to anyone who is anything other than cisgender, is assumed to be something dramatic, traumatic and sensational. This is not only often inaccurate, but it perpetuates the idea that trans individuals cannot have a casual, positive relationship with their genders or with their bodies.

Vaccaro talks about the creation and evolution of trans identities and the narratives of this creation using the metaphor of felted cloth. The act of felting is often a rough, imprecise, messy, joyful, and exhausting process, and there are infinite ways to do it. Each product is a unique and beautiful combination of fibers, tightened together and made whole and strong. Vaccaro sees felt as a “nonformula for an organic, mashed up mode of becoming,” explaining that, “the many valences of felt account for the dimensionality of such an experience, and importantly, do not privilege a single mode of transition (hormonal, surgical, legal) or reinforce narratives of gender ‘realness’.” In this model, there is no wrong way to transition and no wrong way to become. Every aspect of life is considered an important and intrinsic part of the process. This “felting” includes the everyday, and recognizes the importance of waking up each morning and feeling at home in one’s body, or in one’s community, or the world, and the ways in which we make that happen.


“The productivity of dialogue surrounding issues of gender mandates the evolution of language so that it continues to reflect the truth. Butler argues that the only way to create new meaning for language is to build upon the past. The queer community has a rich past upon which to draw. ‘Queer’ itself, as Butler mentions, is a word reclaimed from the last. For this reason, I argue that the dissolution of the rigidity of language used by the queer community surrounding issues of gender and sexuality and their categorization is essential. Only with this dissolution and re-building can we hope to promote inclusivity and increase communication within the community itself.”

“Showing that trans people can, in fact, lead productive lives with someone who loves them may be a step in the right direction. However, the singular depiction of trans people (usually white, heterosexually coupled, and binary) who have the desire and economic capability to medically and surgically transition as the only people who can ‘fit in’ to society is problematic. The depiction of ‘fitting in’ as a success story is problematic. Phrasing success exclusively as an economic and assimilationist ideal makes success stories in themselves problematic. All of these ideas of success disallow the possibility that people who do not fit in can have meaningful lives. According to the media, there is only one mode of success, and that mode is supposed to be applicable and desirable for all trans individuals.”


My Plan was and is very tied into who I am as a human being, and how I interact with the world. It was difficult to work on, because it was all so close to me, and I could feel everything in it that the world around me lacked. My last year at Marlboro was hard in many ways, but putting my Plan writing into the world, (writing about rethinking the idea of a queer community, and the way we talk and think about gender) writing my kid’s book, and creating the art I made for my show feel like the most important and significant work I’ve ever done.