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.

Heteronormativity is imposed with the help of a sliding scale of violence: from material (economic and legal), structural, and physical to symbolic. Symbolic violence refers to the almost unconscious, internalized modes of cultural of social domination (Bourdieu 1991). Gender relations is a prime field of symbolic power (Butler 1990). Heteronormativity refers to a system in which sexual conduct and kinship relations are organized in such a way that a specific form of heterosexuality becomes the culturally accepted “natural” order. Thus biological sex, sexuality, gender identity and expression and normative gender roles are aligned in such a way that a dominant view on sexual and gender relations, identities, and expressions is produced. The forms of resistance to the effects of heteronormativity can likewise be located on a sliding scale of subversion. The forms of subversion range from struggles for sexual rights (political struggles for legal reform and social policies) to material (economic) resistance and to symbolic forms of subversion. Symbolic subversion extends from self-defeating strategies, via various forms of adaptation, to more or less public forms of rebellion. Along its path we find secrecy, partial acceptance of the codes of normalcy, denial of one's own needs, and the secret search for sexual pleasure, but we also find hard work, sacrifice, and defiance.

In a comparative research project on three categories of abjected women in India and Indonesia (widows/divorced women, sex workers, and lesbians; some individuals were included who identified as transgender and were in a same-sex relationship), we found that far from being passive victims of heteronormative (symbolic) violence, they demonstrated multiple forms of resistance ranging from outright defiance to more subtle accommodations (Wieringa 2012). Just as cultural and religious norms determine the particular construct of heteronormativity in a given society, they also shape the salience of particular types of resistance and make certain forms of subversion intelligible.

Subversions may be divided into manifest rebellions and symbolic forms of subversion; the latter range from self-defeating yet defiant actions of (self ) destruction to ostensible adaptations to the current heteronormative model. Open, physical, and visible struggles include outright rejection of the model and the claims of sexual agency and citizenship. In situations where transgender people are stigmatized, lonely, and legally, economically, and psychologically vulnerable, searches for economic stability, social respect, friendship, and/or sexual partners constitute forms of symbolic subversion of the dominant gender order. Even if they ostensibly or publicly accept its hegemony, their very actions and search for accommodation within the system reveal subversion, or what James C. Scott (1990: 137) referred to as the “hidden transcripts, the disguised ideological resistance” to the dominant order.

Symbolic subversion can be seen as a continuum, its form ranging from outright resistance to (partial) compliance and even to defiant defeat. In the case of a double suicide of a lesbian couple, when they publicly go to their death together, usually because they are denied the possibility of staying together, the ultimate unmasking of heteronormativity is acted out. The myth of the “harmonious patriarchal family” is uncovered for what it means to those who are unable to live by its norms: a cruel power ploy that may end in death for those who experience this form of “happiness” as a travesty of the bliss they had found for themselves.

Some transgender people may perform their masculinity or femininity so convincingly that they are seen to be “normal” men or women, which is often also how they prefer to see themselves. Others are more likely to be perceived as rupturing the sex-gender nexus and subverting heteronormative norms, even though they may embrace certain aspects of them.

The subversion of heteronormativity covers a wide range from open forms of defiance and rebellion to more covert methods, rooted in daily practices and more or less subconscious strategies for survival. There is often a thin line between defiance and defeat. The risks of defeat are multiple. A certain amount of defiance is needed to survive — socially, economically, emotionally, and even physically. But too much defiance carries enormous risks such as social isolation, economic hardship, or physical and psychological violence. Subversion should be seen as a continuum of practices and motivations — from visible, physical forms of resistance to more invisible, symbolic forms.

References

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