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Working Notes

"The Inconvenient Truth About Tina Brandon" is an inconvenient essay. It has a history of publication rejections. It has been construed as transphobic, and it has been challenged for disrupting tenets of Queer Theory. This is to be expected, because it is about trauma, and trauma is trauma specifically because it resists being accepted or assimilated. If this paper fit comfortably into existing categories of identity there would have been no need to write it and Teena Brandon might be living today.

Does this essay belong in a journal issue with the title "Are Lesbians Going Extinct?" The answer is "no," if that means it should insist that Teena Brandon was really a lesbian with a case of mistaken identity. This paper does not make that claim. What it does claim is her status as an unrecovered survivor of incest with Complex PTSD who appeared to be in active syndrome up to the time of her death.

I believe this paper does belong in this issue of Trivia, which is why I submitted it. Many lesbians are survivors of child sexual abuse. The last decade has seen increasing numbers of biological women who formerly identified as lesbians (like Brandon) transitioning to claim male identities. Positions in the lesbian and trans communities have become polarized, opening deep divisions between us. Accusations of "essentialism," "pathologizing," "misogyny," and "patriarchal privilege" are hurled back and forth across the battle lines.

In my experience, protracted conflict can be an indication of inadequately and/or inaccurately conceived contexts. Trauma research offers radical perspectives on identity, both lesbian and trans, and opens up new space for dialogue, space with a possibility of common ground. Trauma literacy can inform radical feminism, and I wrote the paper with that intention.

Is this a lesbian paper that belongs in lesbian space? That question can be hotly debated, and what better qualifier for inclusion?

About the Author

Carolyn Gage is a lesbian feminist playwright, performer, author, and activist. The author of nine books and more than fifty-five plays, she is the 2009 winner of the Lambda Literary Award in drama. Her website is