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.

The prefix trans- engulfs animal, making the singular animal plural: tranimals.1 This portmanteau word articulates the labor and biocapital of cross-species organisms. Animals become tranimals through the prefixial materiality of genetic modification (Hansen 2008; Kelley and Hayward 2013), digital distribution (King 2010), and aural affinity (Prabhakar 2009). Tranimals turn “sex-bending trick[s]” (Helmreich 2011); their procreations are interstitial, decorative, and discursive. Transdisciplinary in their pluralities, these indeterminate, disordered forms secrete traces across disciplines and pollute categories.

Trans- extends beyond animal to microbial, even molecular, forms of life. Trans- implies interchange between both gender expression and genetic expression (tranimals are said to “express” their modifications). Their movement across categories coupled with their vulnerable position as experimental subjects binds tranimals to other forms of trans- life, including humans. Trans- organisms are under the same knife, compelled to navigate diagnostic and pharmacological landscapes. This shared terrain troubles “animacy hierarchies” that would limit opportunities along species lines (Chen 2012: 98).2 Within the imagined correspondence between trans- and animal, nonhuman and human, fragile lives are set adrift on currents of biomedical capital.

Consider the “tranimal[s]-forming agent” (Helmreich 2011) green fluorescent protein (GFP), a reporter gene first harvested and synthesized from the jellyfish Aequorea victoria in the 1960s (Shimomura 1995; Baille Gerritsen 2001). Following GFP, we find jellyfish proteins drifting through the bodies of other species. A GFP bestiary works to carry transgenic bioluminescence: GFP-expressing rhesus monkey ANDi has siblings who glow in stillborn death while ANDi's date of death remains unknown (Trivedi 2001). Eduardo Kac's GFP Bunny, Alba, frames the laboratory rabbit as both conceptual art and domestic companion (Kac 2005). Developed in Taiwan for commercial purposes, multicolored GFP fish are sterile and decorative (Whitehouse 2003; Taikong Group). GFP expression in domestic kittens marks a protein that resists feline immunodeficiency virus: glowing paws point to clinical intervention into human-cat disease (Wongsrikeao et al. 2011). Transgenic pig flesh follows stem cells like breadcrumbs (Hsiao et al. 2011). Countless other organisms labor to express GFP for biomedical science, including bacteria, microbes, and flies.

Tranimals-forming agents like GFP suggest a fluid exchange of tissue and sensation, mediated by the constraints of the laboratory. Technoscience has transformed the jellyfish's localized flash in response to external stimulus into a steady, diffuse glow. Even as Aequorea victoria populations diminish at sea, their synthesized flesh multiplies and flourishes. Yet, the fleeting, responsive bioluminescence of jellyfish becomes uninteresting if not invisible compared to the constant visual excitement of GFP tranimals. As the watery bodies of Aequorea victoria haunt the celebrated lives of ANDi and Alba, we begin to understand and become tranimals by finding their flesh in our own.

1. The term tranimals debuted at the 2009 annual meeting of the Society for Science, Literature, and Art panel “TRANimalS: Theorizing the Trans- in Zoontology” (Kelley and Hayward 2009), and was presented again in the “Somatic Sociality of Tranimals” panel at the 2010 Zoontotechnics (Animality/Technicity) Conference (Kelley and Turner 2010).

2. Borrowing from linguistics, Mel Chen critically engages the term “animacy hierarchy” (“the tenuous hierarchy of human-animal-vegetable-mineral”) to question assumptions about race, sexuality, and liveliness (Chen 2012: 98).

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