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.

They say we're sick.

The year I gained a breast, my mother lost one to breast cancer.

The year I gained my voice, my mother was losing hers to dementia,

brought on by chemo and twenty years of anti-psychotics for her schizophrenia.

The doctors say we're sick

Myself and my mom.

We each take our pills everyday from little amber bottles.

But I don't feel sick

and that gives me some feeling of

solidarity, empathy, something I can't find words for,

for my mother.

It makes me wonder if my mom feels sick?

I remember her smile when I last visited her, in North Carolina,

which I can't do often.

Laughing with her, I started to relate to her in a new way,

as a person, as a femme who wore poodle skirts and now uses a wheelchair,

who loved my Colombian father and his thick accent.

Getting in the car, my mom held my hand in hers and said

we have almost the same color of nail polish on,

the day was beautiful and so painful

I struggled not to cry, for her.

In a way we're all sick, but we're all also caretakers,

family members, chosen and biological,

and we are all there for one another,

in need or to offer help,

in a society that would leave each of us in isolation,

we are finding ways of existing together, interdependent,

and however difficult it may be at times, with love.

In an article discussing Lea T's fall advertising campaign for Givenchy and Lady Gaga's fashion shoot as Joe Calderone in Vogue Hommes, the New York Times declared “2010 will be remembered as the year of the transsexual” (Van Meter 2010). In Gaga Feminism, J. Jack Halberstam describes “the very recent rise in popularity of the term ‘transgender’ ” and states that “the tendency to read gender variance in non-Western contexts as a sign of anachronism has not been particularly productive, nor has the tendency to read all gender variance as ‘transgenderism’ ” (2012: 81). Following this claim, one can ask: What is lost in the transgender movement's increasing mainstream success, and who is left behind? How does the media's representation of transgender people in a positive light serve to normalize and regulate the image of gender nonconformance and limit the range of political possibility?

A news article describing Lana Wachowski's speech at the Human Rights Campaign awards illustrates this limiting in action. The Hollywood Reporter article is titled “Lana Wachowski Reveals Suicide Plan, Painful Past in Emotional Speech (Exclusive Video)” (Abramovitch 2012). The title performs the common narrative surrounding transgender people, the narrative that supports the model of medical intervention: we are sick, mentally ill, and without medical intervention we are suicidal. A disability studies critique is useful here when philosopher of disability Abby L. Wilkerson states, “Intersexualization illustrates the ways in which sexual disabilities are constituted in and through social environments” (2012: 193). One can ask, is being suicidal our condition, or is that condition created by the violence of a transphobic society?

The Wachowski article goes on to describe an image of transgender people that fits well within what Wilkerson describes as “normate sex”: married, white, thin, financially successful, monogamous. Wilkerson points to the “desperate need for alliance building” between the disability rights movement and the transgender/intersex/genderqueer movements. She calls for “a sexual-political interdependence: a politics, that is, that emphasizes our interdependence as allies” (ibid.: 204). Such an alliance allows for a transgender movement that does not only follow a normative model of medical transition but that openly questions the narrative of pathologization placed on transgender and gender-nonconforming people and that questions the Western biomedical model of medicine, which only treats illness instead of focusing on healing and well being. While transgender people can claim a disabled status based on our medical diagnoses and frequent interactions with the medical-industrial complex, such a claim risks appropriation and the diluting of claims for justice from other disabled people. Transgender people can work in solidarity, or interdependence, with disabled people by joining the disability movement's strategy of critiquing the authority that defines illness, opening up a decolonization of medicine that can imagine other models of health based in desire and liberation, not illness and correction to norms. At the same time, transgender people who identify as disabled should be supported by their communities when they publicly identify as disabled and speak out in solidarity with other kinds of disabilities. I am sick too. On top of having the diagnosis of “transsexualism,” I was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, and it persists in having a major influence on my life.

The transgender rights movement can learn from women of color feminism that not only are coalitions essential for success, but recognizing and embracing difference within our movements is key to creating movements that perform the world we want now. The risk of not building solidarity between disability rights and transgender politics is demonstrated by movements such as Occupy Wall Street, whose focus on an economically reductive definition of the 99 percent versus the 1 percent created a movement in which sexual assault occurred (Newcomb 2011) and camps were divided into racial and class ghettoes. Queer of color critique builds on women of color feminism to demonstrate how these issues are inseparable. Roderick A. Ferguson, in Aberrations in Black, states: “The decisive intervention of queer of color analysis is that racist practice articulates itself generally as gender and sexual regulation, and that gender and sexual differences variegate racial fomations” (2003: 3) One could transpose this to state that abelist practice articulates itself as gender and sexual regulation, or transphobic practice articulates itself as the regulation of illness. Either way, such a conjunction helps one understand that the need for solidarity between disability activists and gender-nonconforming activists is not just strategic; it connects the roots of our struggles, deepening our claims for liberation and opening the way to a decolonial vision of healing justice.

References

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