Thinking Trans Care

On Tuesday, March 22, in the HUB Social Hall, I had the opportunity to listen to Dr. Hil Malatino (Penn State) do a reading from his book Trans Care (2020). He discussed the rethinking of care labor and care ethics, regarding the lack of care often shown to trans individuals due to the often transphobic and cis-centric way of thinking within our society.

Malatino begins the book with what care means to him and how fortunate he is to have people in his current life supporting him on his journey but understands that this is a privilege some trans folks are not privy to. His talk mainly surrounded topics of trans “aftercare,” not only surgical or physical aftercare but also emotional aftercare. He poses questions such as who is there to support trans individuals who are dealing with traumatic experiences and physical changes and why is this even a question in the first place. From his own personal experiences, he has found the answers among other trans individuals around him, reflecting on how they have supported him and how he often supports others. However, he notes that this can lead to deeply upsetting consequences such as fatigue and what we term “burnout.”

I am fortunate enough to have read other sections of Trans Care in my courses at Dickinson, and one that he touched in briefly in his talk was on the topic of burnout or, what the chapter is titled, “Beyond Burnout.” I found this concept of being beyond burnout very intriguing. When I have said to my friends after midterm week that I was “burnt out,” I thought I knew what it meant. However, Malatino emphasizes the true meaning of burnout that can occur to those working within care labor work professionally or indirectly. As Malatino states, that care is vital to survival because it is necessary to the process of healing. Thus, being one of the sole individuals who is providing this care is incredibly exhausting. To be one of the sole people to aid others with trauma fills care laborers with the pressure and constant weight of these suffering lives. Malatino regularly addresses how he is one of the only trans individuals at the institutions where he works and thus often becomes the academic advisor of all the queer and trans clubs on campus. Having to shoulder this additional, expected weight that cis- and straight faculty do not partake in demonstrates how care is rooted in privilege — the privilege of those who do not need to care about social justice problems because it does not affect them one way or another.

In his talk, he also discussed the much-discussed Melania Trump outfit; Trump was seen wearing a jacket with the words “Don’t really care. Do u?” He used this example to explain how care is deeply political due to the privilege embedded within care. Melania Trump’s jacket is a perfect example of how privileged individuals who are not in dire situations of trauma overlook the importance of care. Her wardrobe choice aired as debates over the inhumane action of the separation of families at the Mexico-US border and the deliberate lack of care shown by most government officials at that time. Trump has the luxury of not caring about the infants who were ripped from their mothers’ arms or middle schoolers who returned home to an empty house. People who experience trauma need care to survive. Trans individuals, like those separated families at the border, need to depend on the care of others for their survival. Their lives are at stake and legislation is being formed about their lives often without the care or compassion all human beings deserve.

Hil Malatino’s book and speech made me think about the phrase “the personal is political.” Although there is a lot of controversy over this phrase, I feel that it really amplifies what Malatino means when discussing care. When care or simply compassion is taken out of the equation in the politics surrounding human rights, it leads to these individuals being referred to as “subhuman, disposable, dismissible, and killable.” When trans folks’ rights are being taken away on a political, national scale, it breeds justification for harm. We need to rethink how we view care because people’s lives are on the line.

Written by Grace MacDougall ’24, Pride Coordinator, Office of LGBTQ Services

March 30, 2022