Abstract

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.

The ubiquitous use of the LGBT initialism across various social, academic, and political discursive contexts in the United States suggests that the constitutive categories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender are equivalent, informed by similar experiences, and, as such, appropriate to collapse into a single category: LGBT. This brief analysis of LGBT, or what Dean Spade (2004: 53) incisively dubs “LGB-fake-T,” highlights the ways in which its consolidation and subsequent circulation produce troubling exclusions and marginalizations when it is taken to represent a cohesive collection of identities and political interests.

Denaturalizing the presumed coherence of LGBT requires attention to how the constitutive categories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender have been linked to concepts of gender and sexuality. Joanne J. Meyerowitz (2002), in her history of transsexuality in the United States, traces the processes through which doctors after World War II began to theorize sex as biological, gender as socially shaped, and sexuality as desire.1 Nan Boyd's 2003 history of queer San Francisco furnishes a useful analysis of how these theoretical distinctions between gender and sexuality later influenced assimilationist lesbian and gay political groups, some of which made concerted efforts to align their respective identities exclusively with private expressions of same-sex desire (i.e., sexuality) and away from public expressions of nonnormative gender. The emergence of a seemingly bounded transgender category in the 1990s that attends these increasingly rigid conceptualizations of gay and lesbian categories is compellingly argued by David Valentine (2007) to enable imagining gender variance outside the categories of lesbian and gay, the result of which was the construction of white, gender-normative lesbian and gay subjects, a construction that poses transgender people, butches, queens, cross-dressers, working-class bar-goers, queer people of color, and all combinations thereof as deviant, or other.

It is from this brief overview that the question of how LGBT began to circulate arises. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, some transgender activists in the United States argued that they ought to be included in the mobilizations of mainstream lesbian and gay political groups. They cited the policing of normative femininity and masculinity as the roots of the discrimination that they were fighting, the violence of which is equally directed at transgender people, lesbian women, and gay men. In response, and perhaps seeing the value of demonstrating a commitment to diversity and inclusion within a liberal, rights-based political context, various lesbian and gay groups amended their titles and mission statements to claim that they serve the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, communities.

Though some consider LGBT utopian in its commitment to inclusion and representation, its widespread use has also been subject to strong critiques that depart from the position that listing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender identities in the LGBT initialism poses them as discrete, ordered categories. For instance, Susan Stryker (2008: 148) argues that listing “T” with “LGB” — and at the end, no less — locates transgender as an orientation. In other words, LGBT privileges the expression of sexual identity over gender identity, the result of which is the conflation of transgender with desire rather than with expressions of gender that inflect sexuality. The paradox of LGBT, then, is that although the inclusion of transgender alongside lesbian, gay, and bisexual opened up new political alliances across these groups, it also closed off possibilities for coalitions with different political groups — such as activists fighting for immigrant rights who face concerns over documentation that are similar to those of transgender people — by naturalizing sexuality as the similarity that binds lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender groups together.

1. The relationship of sexuality to gender has been actively taken up by feminists and queer theorists as well. See Judith Butler's “Against Proper Objects” (1994) and “GLQ Forum: Thinking Sex/Thinking Gender” (2004).

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