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Life and Death of Latisha King: A Critical Phenomenology of Transphobia

by Gayle Salamon New York University Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 192 pages
AU$44.99 NZ$46.95
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What can the killing of a transgender teen teach us about the violence of misreading gender identity as sexual identity? 

The Life and Death of Latisha King examines a single incident, the shooting of 15-year-old Latisha King by 14-year-old Brandon McInerney in their junior high school classroom in Oxnard, California in 2008. The press coverage of the shooting, as well as the criminal trial that followed, referred to Latisha, assigned male at birth, as Larry. Unpacking the consequences of representing the victim as Larry, a gay boy, instead of Latisha, a trans girl, Gayle Salamon draws on the resources of feminist phenomenology to analyze what happened in the school and at the trial that followed. In building on the phenomenological concepts of anonymity and comportment, Salamon considers how gender functions in the social world and the dangers of being denied anonymity as both a particularizing and dehumanizing act. 

Salamon offers close readings of the court transcript and the bodily gestures of the participants in the courtroom to illuminate the ways gender and race were both evoked in and expunged from the narrative of the killing. Across court documents and media coverage, Salamon sheds light on the relation between the speakable and unspeakable in the workings of the transphobic imaginary. Interdisciplinary in both scope and method, the book considers the violences visited upon gender-nonconforming bodies that are surveilled and othered, and the contemporary resonances of the Latisha King killing. 
"Undertakes exactly the kind of parsing, original thinking, attention to detail, and care for its subject that the act of violence at the story's core aimed to hollow out. Salamon's combination of courtroom reportage and phenomenological thinking feels fresh here, as her book bends the conventions of academic discourse to witness enmeshed bodies moving in real time space and time."-Maggie Nelson,author of The Argonauts

“Why is there so much hate and transphobic violence in the world? Gayle Salamon’s new book is a powerful response to this question. . . points towards the difficult task of thinking about forms of difference and the violence that often attends them, and suggests that examining how gender is differently perceived is a crucial step beyond acknowledging that transphobic violence exists.”-Medical and Health Humanities

“[Salamon] turns our perspective on the trial away from its grueling examination of the gender non-conformity of Latisha King and onto the gendered embodiments of the teachers and attorneys instead."-Lambda Literary

This beautifully crafted work in slow and critical phenomenology allows us to understand the fatal consequences of skewed gender perception. Salamon takes us through the trial of Latisha King, murdered by a classmate who understood transgendered expression as an aggressive assault. Paying close attention to how the participants in the murder trial discuss and enact their normative passions about how the body should appear, Salamon shows us how phenomenological description that open up for strong criticism modes of perception and action that bear lethal consequences for those who contest hegemonic gender norms. This book is a model of careful and thoughtful philosophy and cultural criticism, bringing to life the resources of a phenomenological tradition that can name, describe, and oppose the obliteration of queer and trans lives. This work is as electric as its slow, making us think, and teaching us to see.-Judith Butler,author of Gender Trouble

"The Life and Death of Latisha King is no ordinary true-crime narrative, but a hard-hitting philosophical investigation into gender and its cultural depiction."-Foreword
Gayle Salamon is Professor of English and Gender and Sexuality Studies at Princeton University. She is the author of Assuming a Body: Transgender and Rhetorics of Materiality, which won the Lambda Literary Award for Best Book in LGBT Studies in 2011.