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.
Line of flight, a term developed by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus (1987), designates an infinitesimal possibility of escape; it is the elusive moment when change happens, as it was bound to, when a threshold between two paradigms is crossed. “Line of flight” is Brian Massumi's English translation of the French “ligne de fuite,” where “fuite” means the act of fleeing or eluding but also flowing, leaking (1987: xvii). Gender dysphoria is one such moment of leakage, when the face you see in the mirror is not a face for you anymore, when a supposedly familiar landscape is blurred by the transposition of gender-signifying marks from one millieu to another, when the socially determined coordinates of familiarity-identity-gender no longer add up to a legible (legitimate) pattern, when materiality itself escapes the frame of representation, because this frame is built on gender binarism.
The philosophy at work in A Thousand Plateaus is, according to Deleuze and Guattari, a “geophilosophy”: a system with no verticality, no transcendence, and, most of all, no binarism — only space, a perpetually redesigned space, structured by various and contingent power apparatuses (13–15). Applied to the gender/transgender spectrum, their perspective allows us to navigate gender as a geography, as a landscape, with its gridded plains, its wastelands, its hidden underground; and to percieve gender transition as a move — that is, as a political move, a strategic or tactical move, a move in a game-space — and as movement itself, a displacement between the established plateaus of gender. Even though Deleuze and Guattari never frontally addressed the possibility of apprehending gender and sexuality in terms of geophilosophy, their understanding of spatiality, with its ability to describe and to critique power apparatuses, may prove productive in regard to gender politics. In Tendencies (1993), Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick reasserts the kinship between queer and transitivity: etymologically, “queer” means “across,” “oblique”; it seems crucial for “trans” to maintain the same disruptive impact.
The endless process described by Deleuze and Guattari as territorialization (where power apparatuses stabilize and encode planes of consistencies), derritorialization (disruption and transcoding of these planes of consistencies), and reterritorialization (such as the emergence of a new state after a revolution) offer a useful model for thinking about gender. In contemporary paradigms, both gender and “gender identity” are understood (and tested) as planes of consistencies; that is, as stable dispositives or “plateaus.” The maleness or femaleness of individual bodies is measured through scales and ranges: your testosterone level places you among men or women, as do the answers you provide to multiple-choice tests. Gender is a question of numbers — though of course these numbers are inscribed in a discourse relying on “nature,” so that uncommon ranges are labeled “unnatural.” Wrong numbers have to be corrected so that the individual (the subject?) can reenter the ranges of normality — a process similar to the “coding” inherent to territorialization. Coding, in Deleuze and Guattari's perspective, is always “trans-coded,” that is, deviated from its recurring schemes, its territory, and carried away toward a line of flight.
Gender disruptions open up the space between plateaus, the uncodified smooth space where affective intensities, not language, matter. Trans people know very well how aleatory it is to pass, how random the reading of the signs can be: a few more facial hairs, a shirt more or less open, a slightly uncontrolled voice, and you are on the other side. The product of particular intensities — your body processing hormones, clothing, surgery, moods, environnement — becomes a pattern of signs, read through social patterns re/territorializing transgender bodies. Though Massumi insists that a line of flight “has no relation to flying,” its English translation nevertheless suggests an Icarian fugue, an escape too glorious to have already happened but still there, open, somewhere between “right now” and the closest future.