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 notion of “wrong body” consists of a dichotomous explanation of the transgender experience as a state of “being in the wrong body.” Wrongness is here understood in relation to how the body is gendered, connoting that the body is wrongly gendered in relation to a self-identified gender identity.

The wrong-body conception is criticized from feminist, queer, and trans political/theoretical points of view. The critique regards the gatekeeping consequences this conception has within a medical discourse of true transsexualism. The diagnosis is defined within the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Health Problems, tenth ed. (ICD-10) as: “A desire to live and be accepted as a member of the opposite sex, usually accompanied by a sense of discomfort with, or inappropriateness of, one's anatomic sex, and a wish to have surgery and hormonal treatment to make one's body as congruent as possible with one's preferred sex” (World Health Organization 2010: F64.0 Transsexualism). And within the Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth ed., text revision (DSM-IV-TR) as: “A strong and persistent identification with the opposite gender. There is a sense of discomfort in their own gender and may feel they were ‘born the wrong sex.’ ” (American Psychiatric Association 2000: Gender identity disorder). Diagnostic criteria regulate access to treatment and legal recognition of self-identified gender identity. Although the recently published DSM-5 drops “gender identity disorder” in favor of “gender dysphoria,” it still uses ideas of “wrong body,” expressed, though, in a way that does not necessarily put the wrongness with the body but that does put it somewhere along the line between expectations from others and an inner experience and its expression: “For a person to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, there must be a marked difference between the individual's expressed/experienced gender and the gender others would assign him or her” (American Psychiatric Association 2013: gender dysphoria).

The theoretical critique regards the assumption of essentialism that underlies the wrong-body conception. The body is assumed wrong in relation to an inner, real, and authentic gender identity, thus giving the impression of an essence that the body constrains, producing a reified image of both body and self as static and separate entities and thereby correlating an essentialism of genital materiality that disputes the realness of transgender experience. The idea of authenticity underlies essentialism and produces norms of naturalness and realness. Essentialism therefore reinforces the norms of a gender binary, resulting in misrecognition of gender-varied bodies and expressions, risking stigmatization, discrimination, and exclusion. Hence the critique mainly concerns: the master narrative of the wrong body that overshadows gender-variant body experiences as valid; the reference to gender and/or genital essentialism; the reification of body and self as static and separable entities; and the reproduction of gender binary norms.

The wrong body is envisioned as a state in which gender body and gender identity do not match; hence a disparity between body (materiality) and self (subjectivity) is embodied in the narrative, entertaining dichotomous disjunctions such as the body and its expression, the body and its perception, the body and surrounding gender norms, and sex and gender, which implicitly places sex with (material) genitalia and gender with its (social) expression. The underlying assumption lies with the gender binary imaginary, which is upheld by the elasticity of gender categories — that is, the tendency to understand gender expression as male or female by exclusionary interpretation, equalizing nonmale with female and vice versa (Halberstam 1998: 20, 27) — and by the pretense-reality dichotomy, interpreting transgender expression as pretense and genital status as reality, hence denying first-person authority to transgender identity experience (Bettcher 2009). Conceptualizing wrong body in this way involves making a distinction between materiality (the body) and subjectivity (the self ), implying that these are separable things rather than being inherently inseparable. This in turn leads to other ways of speaking and thinking that reproduce this disjunctive dichotomy, such as “the body and its expressions and perceptions,” or “the body and its surrounding gender norms.” This dichotomy structures the very distinction we typically make between sex and gender, which implicitly places sex (genitalia) on the side of material reality and gender (identity or expression) on the side of immateriality and, potentially, unreality — or worse, pretense, deception, or error. This framework ultimately denies first-person authority to the experience of transgender identity. (Bettcher 2009).

Phenomenology offers another explanation of trans body experience that builds from overlapping understandings of self, body, sex, and gender. One phenomenological way of reading the wrong-body narrative is through the concept of “the lived body”: “a unified idea of a physical body acting and experiencing in a specific sociocultural context; it is body-in-situation” (Young 2005: 16). The emphasis on body-in-situation underlines the situatedness of a wrong-body experience, hence opposing a permanently fixed understanding, relating the wrongness to situations of misreadings. Gayle Salamon's concept, “a felt sense of a body” (2010: 2), emphasizes the impact that cultural interpretations have for the meaning of a specific bodily sensation. Materiality and discursivity, hence, are reciprocally dependent on each other's interpretative forces to make meaning. Neither exists outside the others' meaning (ibid.: 40). Embodiment is understood through an intertwining of subjectivity, materiality, and discursivity.

Wrong body as lived body expresses the situatedness of trans body experience as wrong, hence relativizing it. Wrong body as trans embodiment expresses subjectively felt bodily meaning interacting with cultural interpretations of bodies, where the subjective and the cultural are not always congruent. This way the gender binary is replaced with gender variance as a frame for understanding gender, offering a more fluid understanding of the trans body.

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