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.

“Transability” denotes the persistent desire to acquire a physical disability and/or to seek the actual elective transition of the body from abled to disabled. It can be understood as the cultural translation of the diagnostic category BIID (body integrity identity disorder), which, albeit not currently listed in the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases or in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, frames the desire for disability as a mental disease. Relevant biomedical literature on the condition was inaugurated by John Money (Money, Jobaris, and Furth 1977), who reported two case studies of individuals desiring amputation.

Transability is an umbrella term developed within the community of individuals who identify as transabled. It mirrors the term transsexuality. In particular, the term is meant to echo the “wrong body” metaphor and what is perceived to be a trajectory of successful recognition, one that transsexual individuals gained after obtaining regulated access to medical technologies of sex reassignment. Transability thus constructs a narrative of transsexuality, one that understands the goal of transition as passing, accepts a prediscursive origin of trans desire, and defers to a regulated process that proceeds from medical diagnosis to legal name change. Although it is currently deprecated in favor of a more counternormative model of transgender embodiment, transsexual narrative as constructed by transability is naturalized as the figural model of transition from deviancy to normality, from suffering to reconciliation, and as an exemplary history of social acceptance and cultural recognition.

An analysis of transabled narratives (Arfini 2010) demonstrates how regimes of justification (Boltanski and Thévenot 1999) and autobiographics (Gilmore 1994) are carefully orchestrated in order to achieve a similar naturalization of transabled desires. The struggle for recognition of transabled politics rests its modern and liberal claims on the right for self-determination (Stryker and Sullivan 2009). The goal of this politics thus relies on constructing an autonomous and compos mentis subject rather than on the construction of a certain body.

Transabled agendas can be evaluated in terms of antagonism and/or conformity to normative discourse. However, a deconstructive reading can also expose how transability reveals crucial processes regulating the binary opposition between ability and disability. If, despite its assimilationist goals, transability remains a desire for malfunction, aberration, deformity, this is due not to the nature of transabled desire but to the social construction of body standards. Normative body standards, in fact, construct sovereign subjects by conflating difference with lack and integrity with autonomy. Legitimate membership in the class of able bodied is thus revealed as a highly policed social determination.

References

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