Transgender History in the US and the Places that Matter

By Susan Stryker
A street sign that says "Hudson St." and "Sylvia Rivera Way"
Sylvia Rivera Way, New York City, New York.

Photo by Gotty, 2007.

The word “transgender” first appeared in print in American English in 1965, and entered widespread use only in the 1990s.[1] Thus, it might seem to name a relatively recent phenomenon without much of a history—one that has had scant time to leave many traces in the built environment or inhabited landscape. In most respects, “transgender” is just today’s term for referring to the ways people can live lives that depart from the conventional patterns according to which all bodies are assigned a sex at birth (male or female) and enrolled in a social gender (girl or boy), form gendered personalities (subjective feelings of being a man or a woman or something else), and come to occupy the social and kinship roles considered normal for people assigned to their particular birth-sex (for example, becoming a wife or father). In so doing, such people cross over (trans-) the gender categories that organize the historically specific ways we all imagine ourselves to be the particular kind of persons that we are. Such “gender variance” is a common feature in human cultures. It seems that however a given culture constructs its typical ways of being a person, some members of that culture do it differently, for whatever reason.[2] Read more » [PDF 2.6 MB]

[1] Cristan Williams, “Transgender,” TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly 1, no. 1-2 (2014): 232-234.

[2] Susan Stryker, Transgender History (Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2008), 1.

The views and conclusions contained in the essays are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the U.S. Government. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute their endorsement by the U.S. Government.

Part of a series of articles titled LGBTQ America: A Theme Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer History.

Last updated: October 10, 2016