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.
“Tranifesting” (transformative manifesting) calls attention to the epistemologies, sites of struggle, rituals, and modes of consciousness, representation, and embodiment that summon into being flexible collectivities. Flexible collectivities are those that are capable of operating across normativizing and violative configurations of race, gender, class, sex, and sexuality. Our first encounter with tranifest as a term was at a June 2011 gathering for black radical warrior/healers that took place in Durham, North Carolina, called Indigo Days. Tranifest circulated as a part of an experimental lexicon created by Indigo Days participants to think and dialogue about gender and sexuality across generational, class, and gender differences in order to build collective capacity for bodily, emotional, and structural healing. To tranifest is to mobilize across the contradictions, divisions, and containment strategies produced by the state and other such large-scale organizations of power that work to limit our capacity to align ourselves across differences in ways that are necessary for social transformation.
The need for such flexible new collectivities is underscored for us by our observation, working as we do within the contemporary United States, that the hierarchical stratifications of race, gender, and sexuality that work against our survival are in part reproduced by institutionalizing within the academy the very political-intellectual projects that seem most capable, through their intersectional analyses, of articulating the necessary preconditions of deep social transformation (Ferguson 2012: 28). Tranifesting enacts a resistance to the political and epistemic operations that would encapsulate, and capitalize for others, the fruits of our labor. It is a form of radical political and intellectual production that takes place at the crossroads of trauma, injury, and the potential for material transformation and healing.
We draw inspiration from the history of US black women's struggles — which we believe is underengaged by transgender studies — in, for example, the 1969 decision by members of the six-month-old Black Women's Alliance to rename themselves the Third World Women's Alliance in order to acknowledge the shared experiences and goals of black and Puerto Rican women with regard to forced sterilization and reproductive self-determination. This act of renaming and refiguring exemplifies precisely that sense of a flexible epistemology, in which ruptures are mobilized as generative sites for solidarity and transformation, that we seek to address by tranifesting. Similarly, tranifesting, we contend, to borrow language from Sylvia Wynter, is “the ceremony that must be found,” the “re-writing of knowledge such that it is ‘availing to the needs of mankind,’ de-structuring the ratiomorphic apparatus” in ways that clear the ground for dreaming a different future, a future that keeps alive the liberatory potential of black feminism and Third World solidarity and liberation (Wynter 1984: 21).
Tranifesting, as an epistemic operation, is meant to call attention to the ways in which black feminism and transgender studies are similarly yet differentially capable of mediating particular individual experiences and operationalizing identity — not as ends in themselves but as places from which to generate transformative politics. The aim of doing so is to encourage a deeper and more intentional engagement between these two fields of study. Both transgender studies and black feminism enter the white feminist/women's studies terrain by marking its conceptual limits, its inability to account for those who are disappeared, or who are only taken up as marginalized tokens of diversity (Enke 2012; Salamon 2010). Also, black feminism and transgender studies scholarship both challenge the categories of man and woman as ontological givens by naming the logics, relations, forces, and developments that have been productive of multiple gendered and sexual discourses, expressions, and embodiments. As early as 1851, when Sojourner Truth confronted an audience of mostly white women with her famous question, “Ain't I a woman?,” she was pointing out how gender emerges as much from such contingent social formations as plantation capitalism as from the biological body. Subsequent generations of black feminist scholars — Hortense Spillers, Denise Riley, Toni Cade Bambara, and Frances Beal, to name but a few — have furthered this fundamental insight into gender's sociohistorical contingency and its imbrication with constructions of race and class (Bambara 1970; Riley 2003).
Transgender studies has also emerged as a product and project of tranifesting. Scholars and activists like Leslie Feinberg and Marsha P. Johnson politicized gender-nonconforming expression and embodiment through the term transgender in order to call into being a collectivity centered on gender self-determination that reveals and challenges the social production and state-sanctioned containment and regulation of gender and sexual deviancy. Transgender studies scholars have also theorized how racism, gender discrimination, and transphobia are coconstituted, calling on transgender studies and political organizing to deal with unmarked privileges in order to “face our own contradictions” (Juang 2006; Koyama 2006). Our formulation of tranifesting, as a political-intellectual endeavor, proceeds from these types of engagements as well as more recent work situated at the intersections of transgender studies and black feminism (Snorton 2011; Sudbury 2009; Walcott 2009).
The political urgency of this “inter-inter-disciplinary” engagement is underscored by the increasing access to visibility, rights, and citizenship afforded to some transgender subjects alongside the simultaneous expansion of penal democracy in the United States and beyond that ensnares transgender and gender-nonconforming subjects whose vulnerability is produced around other axes of difference, including race, poverty, and legal citizenship status (Aizura 2012; Shelley 2011).
Black feminism and transgender studies share an investment in destabilizing the gender and sexual normativities through which such injustices are perpetrated. Let us use their tools to move beyond mere theorizing, to tranifest the forms of collective life that can enliven and sustain us in a future worth living in. Let us tranifest a new world order!