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.

Transgender histories and TV intertwine. RuPaul's All Stars Drag Race (2012) resurrects Thelma Harper (Vicki Lawrence) of The Carol Burnett Show, a series that, in its original run, included a skit set at a trans person's class reunion. In Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation (2010: 10–11), Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman point to Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation as shared cultural touchstones. References to TV in scholars' accounts of their self-recognition as trans signal further connections between television and trans history. Milton Berle's drag performances, Leslie Feinberg recalls, “hit too close to home. I longed to wear the boys' clothing I saw in the Sears catalog” (1996: 4). Jamison Green's viewing of NBC's 1955 broadcast of Peter Pan starring Mary Martin as the title character instigated “one of those lucid moments” of early male identification. “I clearly remember thinking,” he writes, “ ‘if she can be a boy, then so can I’ ” (2004: 11–12).

An abundance of trans TV content makes the medium an important component of trans studies. Personal histories of gender regulation, gender nonconformity, and gender transition may develop in relation to the national and transnational star trajectories of televisual icons like Turkey's Bülent Ersoy and Kuwait's Shjoon Alhajri or through the circulation and aesthetics of series like The Jack Benny Show; Soap; Bosom Buddies; Quantum Leap; Ask Harriet; Ugly Betty; All My Children; Degrassi: The Next Generation; Dirty, Sexy, Money; America's Next Top Model; The Glee Project; Work It; and Drop Dead Diva. José B. Capino's study of Philippine TV's movie talk shows, a genre prominent from the mid-1980s through the present, illuminates another trans dimension of TV programming, that of production, showing how the medium has allowed drag queens, faux drag queens, and a variety of gender “outcasts” to “openly … party on television” in unexpected ways (2002: 273). Mary L. Gray (2009: 158) has argued that rural youth use “the portability and the ‘realness'” of scientific TV specials to understand and articulate their gender identities and trans experiences.

In commercial TV systems, advertisers drive content, making decisions based on demographics and ciscentric market research strategies. Yet as Alexander Doty (1993) has shown, even within capitalism, television not only reinforces norms but also provides tools for nonconformity that people use to queer and feminist ends. The technologies of television and medical transition debuted publicly contemporaneously in the mid-twentieth century. Since then, the everyday flow of TV, like trans history, has remained highly ephemeral and egregiously undocumented. Consider a sitcom proposal I came across in the Bob Cummings Papers at Brigham Young University while deep into specialized research around genderqueer sitcom camp. As part of the backstory presented in this document — one I have yet to place chronologically but that Cummings, the star of two eponymous post–World War II series and the sitcoms My Hero and My Living Doll, appears to have penned — Christine Jorgensen shows up alongside Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner, and other “divinely endowed international female luminaries,” revealing a television history complex with respect to trans culture.

While the fields of TV studies and trans studies have not as yet intersected much, they actually have a lot in common. Television studies examines the ways in which TV takes on a wide range of competing and conflicting meanings through its characteristic discourse of multiplicity. Mark Williams, in arguing for “the significance of television” in cultural history, has encouraged scholars to emphasize the “fissures, occlusions, [and] discontinuities” of media by analyzing “borders that exist at the levels of technology/industry/mode of address, borders that appear to have inspired or enabled an attention to spatial/social/historical borders” (2009: 47). The commonality in trans studies' and TV's attention to borders and border crossings is evident in Julia Serano's Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity (2007). While television appears as an object of pro forma critique in the book's discussion of the print comic Hothead Paisan, with sitcom writing offered as the barometer for instrumentalist uses of gender and sexual minorities in genre fiction, TV also assists with critique, as when Serano describes how the narrational strategies of medical makeover reality shows on non-trans-specific topics helped her understand the workings of transphobic tropes in other mediums (203, 55).

New research trajectories in TV studies offer exciting opportunities for scholars in trans studies. Exploring synesthesia and sense memory through advertising content during the 1950s, Marsha F. Cassidy (2009: 43) argues for a “telesthetic” history, bringing “the full sensorium back to critical consciousness.” TV studies' recovery of embodiment would benefit immensely from a broader awareness of trans people as a part of history, particularly as cultural workers. With postwar public intellectuals like Marshall McLuhan theorizing television as a prosthetic extension and technology of the self, the medium surely played a more crucial role in the early psychic and somatic dimensions of trans experience than we realize. Television offers things quite helpful for many trans people: gender performance, dysphoria relief, artistic expression, and queer family.

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