This article responds to the call, long latent in queer theory, for more nuanced portrayals of vocality. As Andrew Anastasia writes in the introductory issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, accounts of vocality that consider only the voice’s discursive or linguistic qualities “relegate the embodied voice to a service role of rendering audible the coherent thought.” Similarly, for trans-gender individuals undergoing vocal change, media technologies of vocality like the telephone and the answering machine—the subject of this article—do more than render subjects audible. Through a sustained engagement with archives concerning Cher and her transgender son, Chaz Bono, including the documentary Becoming Chaz (dir. Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, US, 2011) and memoirs and coming- out guides written by Chaz, and with a particular focus on an exchange concerning an answering machine that lodges Chaz’s changing voice, this article examines how sonic archives are, for Cher and Chaz as for earlier listeners, contested sites of mourning and becoming. Through a reading of Chaz’s voice on Cher’s answering machine, one that considers the projects of phonography and telephony on which it is based, and which draws as well on the concurrent archival concerns of the television show Transparent (Amazon, 2014–19), the article demonstrates how the epistemic and affective stakes of transgender bodies are mediated through specific sonic technologies that give rise to forms of mournful archives. It seeks to show how the answering machine subtends histories that conflate literal death and gender transition; for Chaz, it also affords more radical possibilities than verbal practice alone. Attending to the answering machine complicates the association between voice and agency on which a slogan like “Silence = Death” relies and yields a rethinking of media history and sound studies as they relate to queer lives.
Lilia Kilburn; Epistemology of the Answering Machine: Cher, Chaz, Mourning, and Some Trans Archives. Camera Obscura 1 May 2020; 35 (1 (103)): 1–37. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-8085099
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