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.
“Nomad science” is a concept that appears in the twelfth plateau (“1227: Treatise on Nomadology — the War Machine”) of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus (1987: 361), counterposed to a companionate concept coined “state science.” These terms offer two distinct, incommensurable ways of thinking about bodily matter and embodied form. Nomad science emphasizes the malleable, fluid, and metamorphic nature of being, while state science conceptualizes being as solid, essential, and unchanging. Given the antiessentialist focus of nomad science, it is a particularly helpful concept in thinking transgender, transsexual, and gender-nonconforming modes of embodiment, particularly those that exceed or actively contest medical understandings of trans* identity. Conversely, state science is a useful heuristic for considering the medical and psychiatric pathologization of trans* and gender-nonconforming subjects.
Nomad science is in dense dialogue with Deleuze and Guattari's theorization of nomadology. Nomadology is the study of wandering subjectivities, of beings that drift from predetermined or normative paths, particularly those paths determined and regulated by apparatuses of the state. For Deleuze and Guattari, nomadism is a form of life that is shaped by continual embarkation on lines of flight — that is, modes of escape, moments of transformation, ways of becoming other-than-normative, and ways of acting in excess of, or insubordinately in relationship to, repressive forces. Lines of flight have the capacity to deterritorialize, to undo, to free up, to break out of a system or situation of control, fixity, or repression.
Nomad science, by extension, concerns itself with experiments and inventions that are fundamentally deterritorializing, while state science is, by counterpoint, fundamentally reterritorializing. To territorialize an entity is to set and define its limits, to organize component parts into a coherent whole determined by a specific end. Deleuze and Guattari write that “state science continually imposes its form of sovereignity on the inventions of nomad science” (1987: 365); in other words, state science imposes a particular logic of organization on nomadic beings, curtailing and taming the creative inventiveness of these beings.
Deleuze and Guattari outline the salient aspects of this imposition: state science privileges the fixed over the metamorphic; it seeks to establish transhistorical, universally true theories rather than exploring specific, singular instances; in doing so, it fetishizes the eternal, the stable, and the constant, and it thus develops fixed, immutable, and essential understandings of being. State science is incapable of conceptualizing beings as they are caught up in fluid processes of becoming.
Fluids are known for their malleability, their capacity for transformation, their capacity to adjust and recalibrate at the molecular level; when one investigates fluid phenomena, one asks what a fluid is doing in a given situation, interaction, or milieu. That is, one focuses on the hows and whys of transformation. When investigating solids, on the other hand, very different properties are assumed, and these assumed properties generate very different sets of questions. Solids are firmly delimited entities. They have stable boundaries rather than blurred or porous ones; they exist as beings unto themselves. Thus a science concerned with solids tends to also be concerned with establishing the characteristics that make delimited entities what they are. Unlike dealing with fluids, where the emphasis is on transformation, with solids the emphasis falls on questions of essence that seek to establish attributes that render a solid what it is through contradistinction with what is not.
It is important to bear in mind that Deleuze and Guattari insist on understanding this alternative view of materiality as a science. This is because they propose a formal conceptual system consisting of a set of theorems that help elicit a different understanding of embodiment. They propose a series of rules of thumb (rather than laws — eschewing the juridical language of conventional scientific practice) that enable one to encounter the physical world anew, and to counter the hidebound cognition of materiality enforced by state science.
The tactic of establishing essence through contradistinction is central to the medical pathologization of trans* and gender-nonconforming subjects, which utilizes this tactic to produce gender stereotypes used in the diagnoses of gender identity disorder and gender dysphoria. These stereotypes are necessary to the functioning of the state science of diagnosing gender difference; they are utilized to establish dyadic essences of gender that are then codified within diagnostic criteria. Although the medicalization of gender nonconformance has led to development of guidelines and protocols for transition and would thus seem to be linked to a more fluid conception of gender, these practical protocols are nevertheless built upon conservative typologies of maleness and femaleness. They are not concerned with transition as a (potentially always unfinished) process but rather with the creation and suturing of firmly delimited, discrete, and binarily gendered entities. A nomad science of transition, however, would focus on the specific, resistant, and creative ways in which trans* and gender-nonconforming subjects reinvent and reconstruct themselves in manners irreducible to the medical logic of transition.
We can track a resonant preoccupation with thinking embodiment beyond static, dimorphic understandings of gender in a number of foundational texts in trans* studies. Susan Stryker asserts, early in her career, that trans* bodies should be understood as in excess of what is commonly understood as natural and that they therefore destabilize “the foundational presupposition of fixed genders upon which a politics of personal identity depends” (1994: 238). Sandy Stone, similarly, takes issue with the narrative of transsexuality offered by clinicians and calls for a counternarrative of embodiment, writing that “for a transsexual, as a transsexual, to generate a true, effective and representational counterdiscourse is to speak from outside the boundaries of gender, beyond the constructed oppositional nodes which have been predefined as the only positions from which discourse is possible” (1991: 300). This shared conception of trans* embodiment as in excess of conventional understandings of materiality has its afterlives in contemporary criticisms of the regulatory mechanisms of trans* diagnosis and medical treatment. Dean Spade has written extensively on this topic (2003, 2006, 2011), as has Lucas Cassidy Crawford, who utilizes the conceptual vocabulary of Deleuze and Guattari to think about trans embodiment as a kind of “affective deterritorialization” rather than a way of “coming home” to one of two ideal gender types (2008: 134).