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.

Becoming is a highly productive concept in transgender studies and in theoretical perspectives on the body in general because of its capacity to provide a way of reconsidering the nature of the body and body modification. In particular, it has the potential to undermine the accusation that trans bodies are unnatural or constructed.

With its origins in the Greek philosophy of Heraclitus and Aristotle, in which it is an ontological concept that describes change and movement in opposition to the stasis of being, the notion of becoming is fundamental to poststructuralist, feminist theories of the body, such as the work of Rosi Braidotti (2000, 2002), Judith Butler (1993, 1999), Elizabeth Grosz (1994, 2011), and Margrit Shildrick (2002), where it is used as a way of undermining the dichotomies of nature/culture, body/technology, and self/other.

Much of their usage draws on Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's ([1972] 1983, [1980] 1987) notion of becoming, which provides a destabilization of being and the structures of power associated with it. Here, becoming is both an ontological and an ethical position that involves movement from stable, “molar” entity to indeterminable, “molecular” nonidentity, extending beyond the limits of dominant corporeal and conceptual logics.

“Neither a sacralised inner sanctum, nor a pure socially shaped entity, the enfleshed Deleuzian subject is rather an ‘in-between’: it is a folding-in of external influences and a simultaneous unfolding outwards of affects,” as Braidotti describes in her articulation of “neo-materialism” (2000: 159). In other words, the affective body of becoming “is as much outside itself as in itself — webbed in its relations — until ultimately such firm distinctions cease to matter” (Seigworth and Gregg 2010: 3).

In Donna Haraway's (2003, 2008) critique of Deleuze and Guattari's notion of “becoming-animal” — which, despite its potential for moving beyond bounded entities, remains to some extent grounded in them — “becoming-with” provides a reconsideration of the nature of multispecies development. In this understanding, species do not merely encounter and react to each other but engage in a process of becoming-with.

It is Australian scholar Nikki Sullivan who takes up the concept of becoming most effectively in relation to transgender bodily practices. In Sullivan's formulation, becoming is a process applied to all forms of embodiment, not to flatten out differences but to highlight the fact that “all bodies mark and are marked” (2006: 561). She asks us “to rethink the ways in which bodies are entwined in (un)becoming rather than presuming that they are simply mired in being unless they undergo explicit, visible and transformational procedures” (ibid).

Consider transgender body modification, one of those “explicit, visible and transformational procedures” to which Sullivan refers. The trans body is that which is marked, that which is becoming (strange or other), always situated in opposition to the original body, which is uncritically associated with being (natural). In contrast, for Sullivan, being is becoming; the nature of the body is always already constructed.

An engagement with the notion of becoming brings into focus the borders between and within bodies, both individual and political, because it is these demarcations that shape bodies and their (trans)formations. Fundamentally an interrogation into the operations of power (and resistance), this perspective makes visible the technologies, within both discourse and practice, through which bodies and borders become possible.

This approach repudiates an individualized conception of the body and the self; there is no “us versus them,” always “us and them (and them … ),” to the extent that none of these terms is intelligible without the others. It undermines the concepts of bodily integrity and wholeness as it necessitates a consideration of the “intra-active” character of materiality — the idea that “things” do not precede their interactions but emerge through them (Barad 2007). As such, it opens up the possibility of a posthumanist ontology.

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