Susan Stryker was born at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma in 1961. She grew up in a military family and lived on U.S. army bases in Hawaii, the South-Central U.S., and Europe, including three years at Eastman Barracks in Dachau, West Germany, which occupied the grounds of the concentration camp once located there. In 1983 she graduated magna cum laude from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in Letters--a general liberal arts degree requiring upper-division concentrations in history, literature, and philosophy, modern and classical languages (for her, German and Latin), fine arts appreciation, history of science, and a minor field (in her case, economics). She entered the Ph.D. program in U.S. History at the University of California-Berkeley in 1983, picked up an M.A. along the way, and earned her doctorate in 1992. Somewhere towards the end of that process she came out as transsexual and publicly transitioned genders.
Susan’s work has revolved around the historicity of the self, and how the emergence of new forms of personal and collective identity are related to processes of settlement and governance, whiteness and race, gender and sexuality. Her dissertation explored the early history of Mormonism to explore U.S. territorial expansion, right-wing populist critiques of capitalism, the formation of a racialized ethno-religious minority identity, and new forms of kinship. That work had a pronounced ontological dimension, attending to the ways in which competing constructions of reality fought to ground themselves in the same material structures and spaces.
Faced with the difficulties of finding work—let alone academic work—as an out trans person 25 years ago, Susan took what she learned in graduate school and made a career for herself in the San Francisco Bay Area as a grassroots activist, archivist, independent scholar, community-based historian, free-lance journalist, non-profit executive, and media-maker focusing on trans and queer topics. In other words, she earned a living by any means necessary, including stints raising money door-to-door for a rape crisis center, driving a taxi, and working retail at a fetish boutique.
Between 1992 and 2007, Susan was a founding member of the political direct action group Transgender Nation; collected and prepared archival source material on the state of California’s response to the AIDS pandemic; wrote for Wired magazine, Utne Reader, and numerous LGBT publications; authored two Lambda Literary Award-nominated non-fiction books (Gay by the Bay and Queer Pulp); collaborated as a writer and scenarist on Brandon, the Guggenheim Museum’s first digital media installation; served for five years as the first executive director of the GLBT Historical Society, and made the Emmy-winning documentary film Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria, about the first major instance in U.S. history of collective resistance by trans people to police violence, which took place in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood in 1966.
All along, Susan continued to maintain an academic profile, and to promote the development of transgender studies as an interdisciplinary research field. She’s authored several influential articles, including “My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix” in GLQ, “Transgender History, Disciplinarity, and Homonormativity” in Radical History Review, and “Dungeon Intimacies” in Parallax. She co-edited both volumes of The Transgender Studies Reader, the first of which won a Lambda Literary Award, and the second of which won the Ruth Benedict Book Prize from the American Anthropological Association. Her introductory text Transgender History, now in its second revised edition, is widely taught at high schools, colleges, and universities throughout the United States. She is also the founding co-editor of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, published by Duke University Press.
After fifteen years in the gig economy, the academy finally felt ready for Susan. She held distinguished visiting faculty appointments at Macquarie University in Sydney and Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, as well as at Harvard and UC-Santa Cruz in the US, before being hired with tenure as an Associate Professor of Gender Studies at Indiana University in Bloomington in 2009. She joined the University of Arizona faculty in 2011, and served as Director of the Institute for LGBT Studies 2011-2016, where she was instrumental in spearheading a faculty cluster hire in trans studies.
Susan is currently on leave of absence from UA, working from her home in San Francisco on a new book that offers a long historical perspective on why transgender issues have become so prevalent today, and developing and consulting on various media projects. She travels frequently for speaking engagements and consultancies, and in the past year has visited Budapest, Manchester, Lisbon, Barcelona, Milan, Bologna, Warsaw, Minsk, Vilnius, Buenos Aires, and Adelaide. When not at the keyboard or on an airplane, she can often be found hanging out and watching world cinema with her beloved long-time partner and fellow film fanatic Mimi Klausner.