Abstract

In this article, the author foregrounds transgender as a useful category of analysis to shed light on the issue of gender variance and its articulations within the encounter between Syrian queer and gender-variant refugees and the humanitarian-asylum complex. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted with Syrian queer and gender-variant refugees in Istanbul in 2014 and 2015, this article contends that transgender as a term first circulates among the queer and gender-variant circles as a thinkable possibility primarily through its function as a humanitarian category, especially as propagated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). By highlighting this specific encounter, the author attempts to demonstrate, however, that rather than focusing on what the term does to the persons it interpellates, one must map out and document the ways the term is taken up and negotiated by the Syrian queer and gender-variant populations themselves, a method that could help ameliorate the negativity attached to transgender as a Western term and show that other systems of identification and histories of gender variance in the Syrian or Syrian diasporic contexts do not simply disappear or are subsumed by transgender, but are further complicated by it and continue to exist alongside it.

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