There is a dearth of literature that addresses trans people’s social care needs and the role for social work. In this book, Kate Norman sets out to counterbalance this, as well as offering an alternative perspective to the dominant medicalised discourse regarding trans people’s needs and experiences. Throughout, Norman interweaves empirical findings from her Ph.D. project which explored the social care and support needs and experiences of trans people in Scotland. What has resulted is a book focused on three main themes: the provision of support by social care services (generic and specialist) to trans people and their families; issues pertaining to trans identity and status, including discrimination and transphobia; and, finally, the impact of transitioning on trans people’s relationships. I am not convinced that the title of the book does it justice, as it does not, in my opinion, accurately and clearly reflect the content. It would, however, draw my attention because of the paucity of literature pertaining to trans people published in the UK. Norman starts by setting out a theoretical framework in relation to gender and trans and, whilst there is an earlier glossary, I could not help but wonder whether a reader new to the discipline of trans/gender theory would find this accessible and easy to digest. Rather, it might have been useful to have more detailed discussion about definitions and the diversity of identities found across the gender spectrum early in the opening chapter. At times, I was perturbed by the use of terminology, particularly with reference to the typology of trans identities offered by Ekins and King (2006); for example, on p. 37 and later, Norman refers to ‘FtM migrants’—a term referring to someone ascribed a female gender identity at birth but who has transitioned (or migrated) to live in a male identity. My individual reaction perhaps, but I found this term to be depersonalising and somewhat incongruent with the ethos of a book promoting care and support. Notwithstanding, Norman draws on a wide range of sources and ideas to illuminate the diversity of trans identity and the process of transitioning and its impacts. The section on discrimination and transphobia is very useful, as Norman draws attention to these widespread problems that have evolved from the entrenched societal norm of gender normativity and from cisgenderism (a prejudicial ideology similar to racism which considers people who identify in their birth-ascribed gender (i.e. they are not trans) to be superior to those who do not). In addition, the reader is helpfully introduced to the argument that, throughout society, there is a systematic neglect and dismissal of trans people and their needs, termed trans erasure in a powerful treatise by Serano (2007), and this is kind of realisation is critical for any reader interested in gaining insight into trans people’s social experiences. Finally, the attention given to the problematic, albeit small, group of feminist writers who continue to denigrate trans identity also helps the reader to understand the scale and nature of trans discrimination and marginalisation. As noted above, the book explores the possibilities for improved social support to trans people, and so a notable gap is bridged. Moreover, this includes the partners, children and other family members of trans people—a significant omission in current service provision. Therefore, there is a clear value in this book’s ability to raise awareness of trans identity, the impact of transitioning and the social problems commonly experienced (such as isolation, for example). However, Norman uses ‘social work’ and ‘social care’ without explicit definition and a more critical discussion of the role of both would be helpful as, whilst participants in Norman’s study indicated that they thought that social work intervention would have been/would be helpful, the reality of the narrow remit of contemporary social work provision is not explored. As such, some important limitations in terms of what is proposed and what is available, and realistic, are not explicitly dealt with. This is an ambitious book, covering considerable ground in terms of exploring trans people’s identities, transitioning and perspectives in relation to society as a macro structure, as well as to social care provision, more specifically. A strength lies in the use of empirical data, with participant quotes illuminating important observations throughout. Furthermore, as argued frequently throughout the book, the social care needs of trans people and the social dimension of transitioning are neglected in favour of a biomedical approach to care and interventions and, in bringing attention to this problem, Norman succeeds in countering the prevailing medical discourse pertaining to trans people’s experiences. References Ekins R. , King D. ( 2006 ) The Transgender Phenomenon , London , Sage Publications Ltd . Serano J. ( 2007 ) Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity , Berkeley , Seal Press . © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.
The British Journal of Social Work – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 5, 2018
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