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.
Pioneered by the literary scholar Shu-mei Shih (2007), sinophone is an analytic category that provides a long-overdue alternative to the discourses of “Chinese” and “Chinese diaspora” that have traditionally defined Chinese studies. The sinophone world refers to Sinitic-language communities and cultures outside China or on the margins of the hegemonic productions of the Chinese nation-state and Chineseness. As such, Sinophone communities and cultures bear a historically contested and politically embedded relationship to China, similar to the relationships between the anglophone world and Britain, for example, or the francophone world and France, or the hispanophone world and Spain. Sinophone studies therefore presents a radical break from traditional approaches to Chinese studies in that it disrupts the chain of equivalence established, since the rise of nation-states, among language, culture, ethnicity, and nationality as meaningful categories of analysis.
The concept of the sinophone is important for transgender studies because the first case of transsexuality in Chinese-speaking communities was reported not in mainland China but in post–World War II Taiwan (Chiang 2012). In 1953, four years after Mao Zedong's political regime took over the mainland and the Nationalist government was forced to relocate its base, news of the success of native doctors in converting a man into a woman made headlines in Taiwan. The story first came to public attention on August 14, when the United Daily News (Lianhebao) surprised the public by announcing the discovery of an intersexed soldier, Xie Jianshun, in Tainan, Taiwan (Lianhebao 1953b). Within a week, the characterization of Xie in the Taiwanese press changed from that of an average citizen whose ambiguous sex provoked uncertainty and anxiety to that of being considered the “first” Chinese transsexual.
Xie was frequently dubbed the “Chinese Christine.” This allusion to the contemporaneous American ex-GI transsexual celebrity Christine Jorgensen, who had traveled to Denmark for her sex reassignment surgery and gained worldwide familiarity immediately afterward due to her personality and glamorous looks, reflected the growing influence of American culture on the Republic of China at the peak of the Cold War. One newspaper headline on Xie's case, “Christine Will Not Be America's Exclusive: Soldier Destined to Become a Lady,” exemplifies Xie's transformation into a transsexual cultural icon whose status would put Taiwan on a par with the United States on the global stage as a modern and technologically sophisticated nation (Lianbebao 1953a). As was the case with Jorgensen in the United States, extensive popular press coverage in Taiwan of Xie's transition shifted common understandings of sexuality and gender, introduced the concept of transsexuality as something distinct from intersex conditions, and amplified the roles of both medical science and mass media in the construction of modern identity.
Of significance in both national and trans-Pacific contexts, Xie's experience made bianxingren (transsexual) a household term in sinophone cultures of the 1950s. She served as a focal point for numerous news stories that broached the topics of changing sex, human intersexuality, and other atypical conditions of the body. People who wrote about her debated whether she qualified as a woman, whether medical technology could transform sex, and whether the two “Christines” were more similar or different. These persistent comparisons of Taiwan with the United States, through the comparisons of two versions of transsexuality, became an important arena for articulating a sense of sinophone difference from anglophone culture as well as of Taiwanese nationalism. Xie's story highlighted issues that pervaded postwar sinophone society in Taiwan: the censorship of public culture by the state, the unique social status of men serving in the armed forces, the limit of individualism, the promise and pitfalls of science, the normative behaviors expected of men and women, and the boundaries of acceptable sexual expression. Xie Jianshun's saga, and those of other reported cases of sex change that followed in her wake, attest to the emergence of transsexuality as a modern form of sexual embodiment in sinophone society. Xie's story in particular became a lightning rod for many post–World War II anxieties about gender and sexuality and called dramatic attention to issues that would later drive the feminist and gay and lesbian movements in the decades ahead.
Press stories of Xie and other transsexuals illustrate how the Republican government claimed sovereignty in postwar Taiwan in part by deploying and demonstrating its mastery of the Western biomedical epistemology of sex. Wide-ranging debates on sex transformation had preoccupied sexologists and popular writers in mainland China during the Republican era (1912–49) in response to scientific thought's global dissemination, and these debates migrated to Taiwan along with the Nationalist government (Chiang 2012). The Republican government in Taiwan also drew on the island's history of Japan colonization. As did Britain in Hong Kong, Japan institutionalized in Taiwan a highly Westernized biomedical infrastructure. After Mao “nationalized” Chinese medicine in mainland China in the 1950s, Taiwan and Hong Kong became the two locations within sinophone cultures where Western medicine was most “advanced.” These historical legacies informed the immense media publicity showered on Xie Jianshun — and sex change more generally — first in Taiwan and afterward in Hong Kong. The rapid transfer of Western biomedical technology to these locations during the Cold War, coupled with their relatively open social and cultural milieus, enabled the sinophone articulations of transsexuality to emerge first and foremost along the postcolonial East Asian Pacific Rim.
The story of Xie Jianshun helps illuminate the broader contours of sinophone culture, because its epistemological and historical underpinnings are rooted outside “China” as conceived in a narrow geopolitical sense. It touches on legacies of both Japanese postcolonialism and American neo-imperialism; it involves the recontextualization of scientific internationalism, the Republic's nationalist state projects, and it touches as well on Taiwan's cultural, political, and economic affiliations with Hong Kong and Japan as anticommunist subregions of Cold War East Asia. Considering Xie's celebrity and influence as a sinophone (re)production of transsexuality can help push postcolonial queer studies beyond its overwhelming preoccupation with “the West” and recenter attention on China specifically and Asia more generally. Tracing the dispersed circuits of knowledge that condensed in the public representations of Xie Jianshun allows us to see the “Chinese Christine” not as a cheap knock-off of a Western original but rather as a figure through which to read inter- and intra-Asian regional dynamics and conditions of subjectivity.