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 basic meaning of archive––a repository that houses historical artifacts––has been continually expanded by metaphoric uses of the term invoking “any corpus of selective collections and the longings that the acquisitive quests for the primary, originary, and untouched entail” (Stoler 2009: 45). The intersections of transgender phenomena and the archive thus involve both a material dimension (the collecting, maintaining, and accessing of transgender historical materials in a physical repository) and a theoretical dimension (the power dynamics, political motives, epistemological function, and affective currents of any archival project).
Physical archives have always contained traces of transgender phenomena, albeit with varying degrees of intentionality. Prior to the development of “transgender” as a discrete identity, a variety of state-sponsored materials––dress code laws, police documents, immigration reports, homicide records––provide a glimpse of the troubled meetings between gender-nonconforming people and the social and legal mechanisms that have attempted to define, control, and dictate gender norms. Other historical artifacts collected in various archives––personal letters, photographs, keepsakes, ephemera––offer fragmented glimpses into the day-to-day lives of people who transgressed gender boundaries before such practices were coalesced around transgender identity and community. Such traces of early transgender history are closely intertwined with the history of sexuality; indeed, as early lesbian and gay archives emerged in the United States in the 1970s, their collections included trans-related materials.
While LGBT-specific archives have continued to collect transgender materials, and more general archives have also developed transgender collections, transgender-specific archives have also emerged as an independent effort. The first exclusively transgender archival collections began in the 1980s with the National Transgender Library and Archive (NTLA) in Georgia and the Trans-Gender Archive at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland (both collections have since been donated to other archives). Since 2007, two additional transgender-specific archival collections have emerged: the Houston Transgender Archive and the Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria. The proliferation of digital technologies has also enabled new archival practices in cyberspace, where a range of new genres (blogs, vlogs, podcasts, social media, forums, wikis) have materialized, decentralizing established archives as the single and authoritative epicenter of transgender history (Rawson 2013).
This ongoing development of the material practice of transgender archiving is inextricable from its theoretical dimension, which accounts for the purpose, political function, and effects of such collections. Transgender-specific archives function as “a technology of identity” (Rohy 2010: 354): as the central collection parameter, “transgender” becomes legitimated as an identity through the rich historical lineage that the archive evidences. Far from a neutral or objective record of the past, a transgender archive is thus a rhetorical institution that is intentionally adapted to an audience for a particular persuasive purpose.
Yet transgender phenomena prove quite challenging to the archive. The very site of transgender experience––the body––cannot be captured by the historical fragments collected in an archive because of the irreducible distance between historical objects and the lives they come to represent (Arondekar 2009). As a result of archival memory's separation of “the source of ‘knowledge’ from the knower,” the archive fails to capture much embodied and ephemeral memory (Taylor 2003: 19). In its radical recontextualization of historical materials, the archive emerges as a discrete object of selection and representation that always involves silences and exclusions. This cycle of inclusion and exclusion, of representation and misrepresentation, is the permanent shadow of any trans archival project, even digital ones; while transgender archives fight historical neglect, silences, and misrepresentations, the selection and discrimination involved in archiving creates a residual silencing of others. And what of the history that is hoped to be forgotten? Transgender people who transition their gender presentation may feel betrayed by the archive's stubborn and insistent refusal to forget. Thus, while archiving transgender materials is important for community and personal identity formation, political advocacy, and historical memory, it should be treated as a powerful mechanism of memory and identity with far-reaching impacts.