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.

Surveillance is built into the production of the very category of transgender. The Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association's Standards of Care (1979) formally defined the category of transsexual in a list of behaviors and life narratives, formalizing the diagnosis of gender identity disorder as one of the first steps in a standardized process for managing transgender lives. Following these guidelines, medical professionals approved surgery or hormones for clients fitting the standardized criteria and expected these clients to eventually eliminate all references to their former gendered lives and fully assimilate into a normatively gendered world (see Stone 1991; Califia 2003). Indeed, in many cases the possibility of medical transition depended on one's perceived potential to pass as nontransgender, an assessment process typically grounded in the regulatory norms of whiteness, class privilege, and heterosexuality.

Thus two major forms of surveillance operate through medical and psychiatric institutions: first, the monitoring of individuals in terms of their ability to conform to a particular medicalized understanding of transgender identity; and second, the expectation that medical transition should enable those individuals to withstand any scrutiny that would reveal their transgender status. These forms of surveillance also reach beyond medical contexts to influence law, policy, and social relations. For instance, legal changes of gender on identification documents typically rely on medical evidence as proof of gender identity, and the data collected as part of these legal processes (along with any form requiring one to identify as a specific gender) form a paper trail through which state agencies may track, assess, and manage transgender people. Similarly, the policing of gendered spaces ranging from public bathrooms to homeless shelters disproportionately affects gender-nonconforming people (Spade 2011). And representations of transgender people in popular media such as police dramas and daytime talk shows often encourage viewers to uncover gendered truths by scrutinizing certain bodies and identities. All of these practices reinforce the discursive and material links between the category transgender and various forms of surveillance, from the systemic to the quotidian.

Yet surveillance practices need not specifically name transgender as a category of concern in order to be intimately connected to transgender politics or to affect the material lives of gender-nonconforming people. For instance, in the years following 9/11, the US Department of Homeland Security advanced new security policies as part of the war on terror, including increased scrutiny of identification documents at airports and national borders, that almost never explicitly mention transgender populations. But transgender people, particularly trans people of color, poor trans people, trans youth, and trans immigrants, are especially targeted by such scrutiny because they are more likely to have inconsistent identification documents. Related security measures, including increased restrictions on immigration and asylum, new forms of state scrutiny of those perceived to be undocumented immigrants, and the implementation of x-ray scanning technologies in airports and prisons typically do not cite explicit concerns with transgender populations. But because these policing practices are often concerned with individuals who appear to be fraudulent or deceptive, gender-nonconforming people — culturally constructed as concealing something — disproportionately feel their effects.

Even while surveillance mechanisms discipline transgender people, the very efforts made to police and manage gender nonconformity reveal productive contradictions and fissures in surveillance practices. By seemingly displacing gender regulation onto only transgender people, nontransgender bodies and identities appear both naturally gender normative and free from scrutiny. Yet the difficulty these systems encounter in trying to classify gender-nonconforming people demonstrates how regulatory norms of gender affect all bodies and identities by enforcing categories that are made to seem natural. For example, in cases such as medical requirements for changing identification documents, contradictory requirements put forward by different regions or jurisdictions point out the state's own confusion about how gender is defined and reveal gendered categories to be contingent rather than unchanging. In this sense, the category transgender can usefully problematize the narrow, immutable taxonomies on which surveillance programs and technologies tend to rely, showing how the state's own classification systems fail to account for the complexities of bodies and identities.

References

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