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.
The idea of adolescence is a relatively recent social category, emerging in the late nineteenth century alongside medicolegal notions of homosexuality and the concept of inversion, which conflates gay or lesbian desire with trans phenomena. While the word adolescence dates back to the fifteenth century in English and can be found to designate a stage of human life through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, adolescence begins to function later in medical discourse and early psychology as a type of person, one who can be shaped and directed away from perceived social ills, such as homosexuality and prostitution, and toward social aims such as marriage and reproduction. By the turn of the century, G. Stanley Hall's Adolescence (1904) claimed that adolescence was the key to the advancement of civilization, the developmental moment of state intervention that would propel humankind into the next stage of evolutionary history.
We might understand the idea of adolescence as a mechanism of Foucault's biopower, a technology of self put into the service of the nation-state. One of the ways in which biopower regulates and disciplines trans phenomena is by locating them in the presumably pliable stage of adolescence, where state intervention appears to be developmentally natural and necessary. In the mid-nineteenth century, both childhood and adolescence became intense sites of disciplinary anxiety and control (Foucault 1978). Parents, doctors, and teachers were instructed to watch for the warning signs of degeneracy, disease, mental illness, and criminal tendencies. Emerging institutions of medicine, psychology, and education deployed childhood and adolescence to construct institutional knowledge and to establish authority and expertise. For example, it is adolescence that allows Freud to claim “complete certainty” about the cause of homosexuality in a young woman (1955: 147), and Krafft-Ebing similarly uses childhood and adolescent behavior to explain various kinds of trans phenomena in Psychopathia Sexualis (1894). In these contexts, adolescence serves a narrative function. It becomes the moment of subjective fluctuation before the presumed stability of adulthood (Kristeva 1995); and as such, it constructs the narrative inevitability of a normative adulthood.
Adolescence constructs and reifies adulthood as the stage of life when selfhood is final, established, known. And so the idea of adolescence contains transition, movement, and change in which the perceived turbulence of puberty is loaded with meanings about the discovery of self. Adolescence is constructed as the moment that gendered becoming occurs. And yet this developmental narrative is one we impose on experience, locating moments of transition, change, and rebellion in adolescence and locating moments of arrival, stability, and conformity in adulthood. Transgender phenomena suggest a much more varied and complex range of possibilities for bodily experience and gendered subjectivity, drawing our attention to the contingency of any subjective arrival whether it be normative or trans-identified.
Transgender and queer perspectives put pressure on the developmental narrative of adolescence, speaking instead of the queer child who might grow sideways (Stockton 2009), or of the reordering or rejection of developmental sequence itself (Halberstam 2005), or of the liberatory potential for naming the self at any point in the prescribed sequence (Bornstein 1995, 2006). Trans embodiment disrupts and denaturalizes the developmental narrative of adolescence, revealing it for what it is — sometimes a story we have been told and sometimes a story of our own making. And yet adolescence persists as the ideological container for the trans phenomena that permeate all human experience. Adolescence functions simultaneously as a site of discovery and disavowal, sustaining assumptions about what childhood was and what adulthood should be, manufacturing narrative coherence for moments of arrival, and creating distance for moments of contradiction, contingency, or change. The work of transgender theory unravels adolescence along with fixed notions of gender identity, sexuality, and selfhood. But trans embodiment suggests also the possibility of reconstruction, revision, and remaking outside the developmental imperative.