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.

“Temporality” refers to the social patterning of experiences and understandings of time. Attending to the ways in which transgender experiences are constituted by yet exceed normative temporalities promises to do justice to the complex ways in which people inhabit gender variance. A critical focus on the temporal underpinnings of transgender as a historical category, on the other hand, may open the way toward a more transformative politics of justice.

Transsexual autobiography, which narrates the transsexual subject's self-actualization through surgical and hormonal transformation, has been an important genre for the dissemination of transsexuals' understandings of their own life narratives; it is also a fraught practice, since the narration of a transsexual life in conformity to the diagnostic “narratemes” of gender identity disorder (GID) has been the medical criterion of transsexuality and thus the determining factor in accessing hormonal and surgical treatments (Prosser 1998: 104). Jay Prosser has argued that the value of autobiography to transsexuals must be understood according to its capacity, as a genre, to construct transsexual experience in and through time. Autobiography is a diachronic narrative form that retrospectively bestows an illusion of teleological progression upon the aleatory chaos of life experience. If some transsexuals return to the genre of autobiographical narrative post–medical transition, Prosser proposes that it is precisely because the genre's constitutive tension between retrospection and progression — between the self at the time of writing and the self of the past — contains the potential to heal the sexed and temporal splits in transsexual experience by producing “continuity in the face of change” (1998: 120). Prosser does not consider the fact that if the retrospective construction of a coherent transsexual plot narrative proves healing to some, it is at the expense of episodes, or even fleeting moments, that would fracture or exceed it. To transsexual or transgender people for whom such episodes are critical and thus impossible to excise or reinterpret without doing violence to experience, the generic and temporal conventions of autobiography may prove singularly confining and distorting, and the genre itself may replicate, rather than heal, the coercions of the medical demand for “proper” transsexual narrativization.

We might understand the construction of transsexual subjectivity according to an organized, progressivist temporality that joins both continuity and change as a form of what queer theorist Elizabeth Freeman has termed “chrononormativity,” a social patterning of experiences of time in conformity with normative frameworks. Freeman proposes that chrononormativity is established via “a mode of implantation, a technique by which institutional forces come to seem like somatic facts” (2010: 3). The medical criteria for diagnosing transsexuality, the therapeutic confessional discourses of talk shows and the press, and the generic conventions of written autobiography might all be thought of as authorizing transsexual subjects by implanting normative narratives of sexed development, continuity, and coherence. To say that transsexual autobiography is chrononormative is not necessarily to say that it is bad but rather to illuminate the ways in which it produces an experience of healing and empowerment for certain trans subjectivities and one of fragmentation and invalidation for others. Attending to the vagaries of transgender and transsexual experience, on the other hand, may necessitate a recognition of what some theorists have described as a “queer” — that is, nonchronological and nonnormative — form of temporality. The emergent literature on queer temporalities explores the patterning of time according to social modes of power and the potential alliance between asynchronic temporalities and queer sexual and social practices (Freeman 2007). J. Halberstam (2005) in particular associates ambiguously gendered bodies and noncontinuously gendered life narratives with the experience of being out of sync, a sense of rupture between past, present, and future, and split subjectivities. His work suggests that transgender lives may require mixed strategies — not only healing and an achieved coherence but also the ability to represent and to inhabit temporal, gendered, and conceptual discontinuities.

Any inquiry into the social patterning of temporality must, however, broaden the lens beyond individual transgender experiences of time to scrutinize the temporal underpinnings of transgender as a historically produced category. David Valentine (2007) has argued that through US activism that led to the simultaneous removal of homosexuality and inclusion of gender identity disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, third edition (DSM-III) in 1980 — followed by the promotion by the mainstream US gay and lesbian movement of an account of homosexuals as essentially the same as heterosexuals but for an essentially “private” difference of sexual practice — homosexuality has been normalized, stabilized, and privatized by being purged of gender transitivity, which has been displaced onto the separate category of transgender. Although, according to Valentine, this particular historical relation between homosexuality and transgender produced gender and sexuality as separate categories of analysis, this history is increasingly erased as the separation of gender and sexuality — and of homosexuality and transgender — is institutionalized as a matter of ontology, not historical process. Since this ontological conceptual separation is seen as a mark of modernist progress, the self-understandings of those gender-variant subjects who do not experience their gender as separate from their sexuality are increasingly dismissed as atavistic modes of false consciousness.

Given that each deployment of the term transgender risks reifying the notions of the at once ontological and progressive distinction between gender and sexuality, a critical transgender studies must work actively against transgender's historical baggage and temporal underpinnings. Strategies for doing this might include foregrounding modes of gender variance inseparable from homosexuality; returning to a feminist understanding of gender not simply as a neutral category of social difference but as a site invested with relations of power; and capitalizing on transgender's associations with public sex, economic marginality, racialized inequality, and policing to promote a politics of structural transformation rather than identity. Since a modernist progress narrative is being institutionalized along with the category of transgender, an attentiveness to nonchronological, nonprogressivist temporalities of gender variance across the registers of experience, history, and geography could prove critical to contesting a normative organization of temporality and identity that blocks transformative justice politics and distorts the experiences of many gender-variant people.

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