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 failures of psychoanalysis with respect to transgender people are somewhat — and sadly — familiar. Perhaps the most famous example is Lacanian psychoanalyst Catherine Millot's Horsexe: Essay on Transsexuality, a text whose precision explaining Lacanian terminology is matched only by its tendency to sensationalize and generalize about transgender experience. Mostly, however, Lacanians are strikingly silent on the subject of transgender phenomena — striking, given that Lacanian psychoanalysis is fundamentally preoccupied with the question of “sexual difference.”1 Yet is there not something trans about psychoanalysis? Might there be something psychoanalytic about trans? Which “trans” and which “psychoanalysis”? And what is the relation between “sex” and “gender”?
It was Anna O., a “hysterical”2 analysand of Joseph Breuer, who coined the term the talking cure and thereby — in a sense — invented psychoanalysis. The invention of psychoanalysis by a hysterical analysand is not simply anecdotal, for hysteria is at the heart of psychoanalysis in other ways, too. The “truth” with which Lacanian psychoanalysis concerns itself is the idea that the subject is divided from itself; this truth goes by various names, including subjective division and, controversially, castration. In Lacanian terminology, hysteria is that psychic structure most preoccupied with subjective division. As the structure most preoccupied with the truth that Lacanian psychoanalysis wishes to support, it stands to reason that hysteria should possess a fundamental position in the discourse.
Hysteria's centrality to Lacanian psychoanalysis is relevant here because one form that the preoccupation with subjective division takes involves the critique and questioning of ways in which gender identities fail to encapsulate the body. This is one sense in which psychoanalysis itself may be trans, for various lines of inquiry in transgender studies also involve the critique and questioning of ways in which gender identities fail to encapsulate the body. These lines of inquiry are motivated by diverse objectives and arrive at diverse conclusions. Some, however — like psychoanalysis — explore the limits of language itself: “What about those messy spaces between words and around their borders?” (Wilchins 2002: 46). Some confront the unverifiable character of sex and gender, as in the words of Bo Luengsuraswat: “What proof do I have to secure my masculinity at this point?” (2010: 245). Some locate in an impasse the site from which to invent something new, as in Matt Richardson's essay on Jackie Kay's novel Trumpet: “Joss [the protagonist] advises us to ‘make it up,’ leaving us with the burden of decision: To keep chasing the genders of white society that we are excluded from or to embrace other possibilities” (2012: 376). These examples have differing points to make, but in moments like these they converge with Lacanian psychoanalysis, articulating singular accounts of the idea that “the body will never find in language a harmonious home” (Gherovici 2010: 212) and proposing solutions as to how to make do in proximity to that limit.
Near the end of his career, Lacan (1998: 78–89) articulates a new way of thinking sexual difference. His “formulas of sexuation” use the vocabulary of logic to map two positions that subjects take in language. These positions — to be “not-all” or “all” inscribed within the phallic function — are “sexes,” but there is nothing necessarily gendered about them; neither do they refer to biological sex.3 Instead, they describe stances a subject takes with respect to subjective division. According to this view, language “sexes” us in that it demands that we take a position with respect to our own division.
What happens when we take a trans look at the formulas, not expecting the formulas' positions to be occupied by (only) the “men” and “women” of normative imaginings? The formulas rely for their coordinates on neither biological theories of sex nor normative understandings of gender; instead, the positions they map are oriented around the un-gendered (but very sexy) notion of subjective division. As such, I would submit that these positions are — like the “genders” described here — “each capable of supporting rich and rapidly proliferating ecologies of embodied difference” (Stryker, Currah, and Moore 2008: 12).
Part of what Lacanian psychoanalysis has to offer the field of transgender studies can be located in the language it has developed for thinking about that suffering of the subject that eludes the social. However, the drive to support the subject in this capacity also limits Lacanian psychoanalysis's usefulness to the field — that is, to the extent that “transgender is an expansive and complicated social category” (Currah, Juang, and Price Minter 2006: xv). The meeting spaces between the psychic and the social have always been vexed for psychoanalysis, and necessarily so.
Still: what if Lacanian psychoanalysis and transgender studies could forge an understanding of sex capable of conjugating multiplicity with division, self-determination with limits, and empowerment with “castration”? This sex need not be inhabited only by norm-abiding “men” and “women” who have bowed to the “real”; it could be inhabited by the rest of us, too.
1. The notable exception is Patricia Gherovici.
2. Hysteria is a term with baggage. I am not suggesting there is any necessary link between hysteria and transgender; instead, I am interested in the possibility that certain ways of thinking about transgender may converge with features of Lacanian psychoanalysis that are radical, generous, even hope filled.
3. There are limitations here, too. For instance, while Lacan is clear that gender does not dictate one's unconscious sexuation, he uses gender-normative language to name the bodies that occupy these sites. Additionally, work needs to be done with the “phallic function,” perhaps beginning with radical rereadings of the phallus as the signifier for the subject's lack-in-being.