Categorical exclusions: How racialized gender regulation reproduces reentry hardship

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14 Scopus citations


Since gender organizes key reentry services such as housing, formerly incarcerated people seeking resources must successfully inhabit a gender category. Drawing on seven months of ethnography and 79 interviews with service providers and formerly incarcerated transgender people, I show that these organizational practices of gender categorization are racialized and impact resource access. Most gender-segregated housing programs rely on biology-based definitions of gender. These gender rules create workable options for trans men to stay with women, but bar trans women from women’s spaces. Once in gendered housing programs, clients need to navigate gender assessment in interactions. Trans men employed several strategies to establish gendered selves who were easily categorized as either male or female, which allowed them to access stable housing. Gender sanctioning posed a major problem for black trans women. Black trans women were highly scrutinized in women’s programs, characterized as illegitimate based on biological definitions of gender, and harassed for any perceived deviation from gender norms. When harassment escalated into conflict, they were expelled from programs. Regulation of black trans women’s womanhood led to systematic material deprivation. By understanding the connections between categorical exclusions and exclusion from resources we can better understand the reproduction of reentry hardship and inequality more broadly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)548-563
Number of pages16
JournalSocial Problems
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Gender
  • Inequality
  • Organizations
  • Prisoner reentry
  • Race

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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