This section includes eighty-six short original essays commissioned for the inaugural issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly. Written by emerging academics, community-based writers, and senior scholars, each essay in this special issue, “Postposttranssexual: Key Concepts for a Twenty-First-Century Transgender Studies,” revolves around a particular keyword or concept. Some contributions focus on a concept central to transgender studies; others describe a term of art from another discipline or interdisciplinary area and show how it might relate to transgender studies. While far from providing a complete picture of the field, these keywords begin to elucidate a conceptual vocabulary for transgender studies. Some of the submissions offer a deep and resilient resistance to the entire project of mapping the field terminologically; some reveal yet-unrealized critical potentials for the field; some take existing terms from canonical thinkers and develop the significance for transgender studies; some offer overviews of well-known methodologies and demonstrate their applicability within transgender studies; some suggest how transgender issues play out in various fields; and some map the productive tensions between trans studies and other interdisciplines.
Our telling reaches across chasms of power and privilege. Struggles with willful unknowing. Stands on fault lines between people most similar. Insists upon wholeness. This is the work of translation.
—Eli Clare, The Marrow's Telling: Words in Motion
Translation, from Latin: to carry or bring across.
Translation is a necessary and profoundly hopeful act for those who trans gender, for we have been taught that transgender is marked by dysphoria, a word from Greek that means difficult to bear, difficult to carry. In order to carry or bring across, we become poets, storytellers, and artists.
Sandy Stone, a founder of trans studies, tells this story: it is 1972 at the Stanford Gender Dysphoria Clinic, and Sandy is waiting for her appointment, one of many that she hopes will establish her eligibility for sex reassignment support. Another trans woman also waiting pulls a clay pipe out of her purse. Sandy says, “tell me, if you think of yourself as a woman, why have you chosen to smoke a pipe?” The woman responds, “I am a woman. This is my pipe. Therefore, this is a woman's pipe.” Sandy suddenly understands something new (Gabriel 1995: 16). Meanings collide across time and space, and the definition of “pipe” has changed. Still, let us not forget that in many parts of the world for at least four centuries, “pipe” has acted as a polite translation for “penis.” Translation transforms us.
Much is lost in translation. With what do we replace the parts we let go? From one language to another, translators of poetry must decide: what demands unwavering loyalty? The meter, the rhyme, the literal word, or the use of space on the page? Translation creates two things: first, something new; and second, the illusion that there was an original from which the translation sprang. But there is no original: the poem is a medium, a conveyance. We ask, should our translations conform to audience expectations or transform them? We dance between, always doing both, by the very act of being.
Translation traffics in power. As Hala Kamal reminds us, “translation is not merely an act of transferring information, but a process of knowledge production” (Kamal 2008: 274; also see Wieringa, Blackwood, and Bhaiya 2007). In a world in which gay, queer, and transgender all comingle with imperialist institutions, translators carry the burden of destruction and creation. Choices must be made. In Arabic, neither “gender” nor “queer” has an explanatory equivalent. In Taiwan, T-Po is not equivalent to the American butch-femme; both pairings are multilingual and both require further contextualization. In Mandarin, tongzhi conventionally means common cause, commitment, or comrade; it carries a concept of affinity across Chinese socio-temporal contexts, specifically using the tensions of homosexual in/visibilities to arrive at a new meaning commonly translated into English as “gay.” Translators of Japanese manga into English usually choose to completely obliterate the self-gendering signifiers within Japanese first-person singular pronouns. Who, then, is the author, and to whom does the translated text belong?
We remake and even exceed language, but we do not escape it. In English alone, we constitute ourselves within grammar. To paraphrase Judith Butler, “I” still cannot speak “apart from the grammar that establishes my availability to you” (1999: xxiv; see also Stone 1991). Grammar signs gender as well as race, age, dis/ability, social status. The speaker is never indigenous, pure, or even original. Communication depends on translation. Yet what happens in the turbulent distance between mouth and ear?
Gender becomes legible through acts of translation that betray disciplinary success and failure simultaneously. Perhaps few things point out the failure of words to convey our arrival in this social body quite so well as transgender. Transgender highlights the labors of translation, inhering an implied “before” and “from which.” The present moment does not tell the story, only that there is one worth telling.
Transgender — an explicitly imperfect translation — itself carries institutional and imperial discipline: to be named and to name oneself transgender is to enter into disciplinary regimes that distribute recognition and resources according to imperial logics. As a term, transgender translates an infinite multiplicity into a single disciplinary body. But this project fails, and its failure incites creative elaboration, the proliferation of stories. Transgender demands above all the need for more context, more story, and thus the translation into transgender never arrives and rests. Instead, it begs that we continuously translate from transgender, provide new contextual elaborations that include time and place and all the disciplinary regimes through we which have named and been named, the names that are the precondition of our passing.
The Skin of Transgender
Translation is the skin of transgender,
gender's carriage, its conveyance:
we carry it
we bring it
across time from one place to another
as if there is no friction
Translation like law does not carry
does not bind
documents across borders:
birth certificate SSN driver's license passport doctor's note if lucky green card.
Translation like pronoun fails
becomes interpretation, imposition, the transposition of one body on to an other
not one, not two: it multiplies with each border crossed or
There is always friction: meaning not like an object transported
and dropped into a new place, but meaning
it bears scars, rips and tears, hydrated nourished and
It's the story we make of our lives
to get a job to get
hormones to get a ride to get across time to get
It's how we make our name make ourselves
how we find
how we invent
not just words
not just voice
your hands my hands
act it out
skin flexes over adam's apple: whose sign?