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 vast possibilities for gender variance manifested by the category of transgender have been precluded by a dominant narrative of crossing from one clear gender to another (Meyerowitz, 2002). As the categories “transman” and “transwoman” become increasingly stable, other transgressive gender identities are obscured and separated from the category of transgender (Feinberg 1996; Stryker and Whittle 2006). “Transbutch” signifies a gendered embodiment that is both butch and trans, not tied to any singular definition of butch or trans but rather falling somewhere in between. Transbutch marks a liminal space that embraces both the historical legacies of the category of butch and the more expansive possibilities created by the transgender rights movement for recognition, community, and empowerment.

The category of transbutch is a response to the hostility and misunderstanding displayed by some butches and lesbians toward transmen (Halberstam 1998). As many lesbians mourned the alleged loss of the butch and felt they needed to defend the boundaries of their “woman identified woman” communities, butches became increasingly reappropriated with an emphasis on their sex (female) rather than their gender (masculine). Some have promoted the use of the phrase “butch women” to emphasize that butches are not transgender and love being women (Bergman 2010). Transbutches embody a third space (with others) between the uncritical celebration of “womanhood” and its rejection entirely. Transbutches embrace aspects of masculinity without denouncing their social affiliation with an oppressed group of people who were predominantly raised and socialized as girls.

The category of transbutch has emerged from trans* discourses, activism, and communities that challenge people to claim conscious gender identities. This is a departure from the historic butch code of silence that required masculine women to avoid, downplay, or deny their gender deviance. Requests for preferred pronouns and the emergence of the category of cisgender have compelled butches to figure out where they fit in this new gendered order. While butches or even transbutches might not identify as transgendered, they are not cisgendered either.

Transbutches relate to transmen and embrace their status as gender outlaws. Both share many of the following: identifying as more masculine than androgynous, taking pleasure from passing as male, assuming a male sexual identity, and rejecting the notion that biology is destiny. Like most butches and transmen, transbutches do not embrace a chief marker of female embodiment — the breast — and seek to minimize its presence through baggy clothes, binding, or top surgery (Rubin [1992] 2011). Top surgery (or the desire for it) has historically distinguished transsexuals from butches, but this is changing. As more transmen embrace top surgery and share powerful stories of pleasure and relief, butches are following their lead. This further blurs the line between transmen and butches.

In a group of transmen, the transbutch may or may not be accepted as a peer. In society, transmen and transbutches are treated to similar forms of judgment and misunderstanding that also vary depending on region, race, ethnicity, class, ability, and body type. Despite these variations, however, the nuances of these complicated gender identifications are largely meaningless to the masses. Transbutches might retain some social privilege by not fully claiming a male identity (as many transmen do) in a world where so many people still believe that one needs to be born with a penis to really be a man.

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