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 reveal is a moment in a trans person's life when the trans person is subjected to the pressures of a pervasive gender/sex system that seeks to make public the “truth” of the trans person's gendered and sexed body. While the reveal is frequently used as a narrative technique in literature and film, it also profoundly impacts trans people's actual lives, as seen in media event reveals, like Christine Jorgensen's, and as experienced by trans people in a variety of situations in daily life — such as border crossings, doctor's visits, and job interviews.

At stake in reveals is the issue of agency. Inextricably bound to narrative, the reveal can be seized upon by a trans person as a moment to exert agency and reveal oneself, to determine the meaning of one's own life and body. Unlike the act of coming out for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, which can have the effect of affirming an “identity,” the reveal results in a predicament in which the meaning of the trans body is contested, and competing “truths” vie for dominance. And yet such a “performance,” of revealing instead of being revealed, frequently demands that trans persons continuously reassert and defend their truth.

When used as a narrative technique in literature and film, the reveal presents previously “hidden” or unknown information to the audience, often in a manner that twists the plot or produces a climax. In popular narrative fiction and film representations of transgender people, the moment in which a trans character's trans status is discovered by the audience, or by another character, typically functions as a reveal. This reveal is often highly sensationalized, dramatized, or eroticized, though it is also sometimes depicted as comic. Reveals involving trans women, like those in The Crying Game (dir. Neil Jordan, 1992) and Transamerica (dir. Duncan Tucker, 2005), often display the trans woman's genitals, as an excitatory practice which, projected at a presumably heteronormative, cissexual audience, increases the likelihood that the audience will react with shock and revulsion. Film reveals of trans men generally shy away from an explicit genital reveal, though “female” body parts are often highlighted, as with the display of chests between one trans man and another in Albert Nobbs (dir. Rodrigo García, 2011).

In mainstream film, the reveal stages a denaturalization of widespread assumptions about gender and sex — namely that one's gender must match one's sexed body — but it typically does so in a manner that regulates and corrects gender noncompliance, narratively reinscribing a binary gender system as “natural” and desirable. Structuring an audience's knowledge of a character's transgender status as a reveal can contribute to the perception that living a transgender life involves concealing “the truth” of sexed bodies. The moment of the reveal provokes a struggle over the meaning of the trans body, a struggle in which the trans person often “loses” to dominant discourses about trans lives, the conclusion being: that's really a man. As such, the reveal places many trans people in a vexed situation in which the terms that would make a trans person intelligible are already predetermined.