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 events of September 11, 2001, offered a rationale for expanding and legitimizing surveillance practices already in use or under development in the United States. Biometrics — technologies that measure the body, often with the intent of identifying individuals1 — featured significantly in that expansion. While full-body scanners at airport security checkpoints have been the most prominent face of this expansion for many US residents, other biometric technologies, such as fingerprint scans, iris and retinal scans, facial and hand geometry analyzers, and gait signature analysis, among others, also feature in security discussions and practices. Proponents of these technologies often argue that objective computer analyses provide better security than human agents while avoiding the liability of racial profiling. However, cultural critics of biometrics have argued that these machines are “infrastructurally encoded” with assumptions about race, gender, and ability and thereby continue to enforce bodily norms consistent with profiling practices (Pugliese 2007, 2010).

The analog antecedents of contemporary digitized biometrics highlight the legacy of biometrics as techniques of subjugation.2 For example, British colonists used fingerprinting to distinguish Indian subjects, whom British officers could not otherwise tell apart (Pugliese 2007: 120). Furthermore, practices of measuring the body arose from the racist science of anthropometry, a branch of physical anthropology that sought to determine intelligence, for example, through a system of cranial measurements. These cranial measurements were used to support arguments that white men were more intelligent and civilized than women and the “other races” (Pugliese 2007; Amoore and Hall 2009; Magnet 2011). Though anthropometry is widely discredited, biometrics researchers continue to cite anthropometric methods (Magnet 2011: 39). Sir Francis Galton's use of the term biometry additionally highlights the connection between anthropometry and contemporary biometrics. In 1910, Galton used this term to describe the process of collecting measurements in service of anthropometric hypotheses.3

Though practices of measuring the body have a long history, the contemporary meaning of biometrics appeared in the early 1980s. The Oxford English Dictionary's first noted use of the term appeared in American Banker in 1981, in which authors hoped that biometrics would prove useful for unspecified “banking operations.”4 This is consistent with Kelly Gates's (2011) claim that biometric surveillance systems proliferated in tandem with neoliberal reforms before their exponential expansion under the rubric of “homeland security.”

In the midst of the continuing proliferation of biometric technologies, transgender theory and trans bodies provide a unique vantage point from which to critique such developments. In particular, when trans bodies confound body scanners and individuals with dark skin tones reveal the racialized calibrations of facial geometry analysis, we are reminded that gender and race remain central to contemporary identity projects in spite of claims to the contrary by the biometrics industry.5 Gates argues that biometric systems respond to the need to bind identities to bodies while our identity information supposedly circulates untethered through computer networks. Because our vocabularies of gender and race have such limited ability to provide useful information about an individual, one might think that attempts to secure identities to bodies would be minimally invested in gender or race. Nevertheless, manufacturers persistently encode normative assumptions about gender and race into biometric systems even as they claim to produce objective technologies.

Beyond the utility of trans bodies for highlighting the gendered and raced assumptions of biometrics, it is also crucial for the lives of transpeople that we continue to investigate and theorize these developments. As Dean Spade emphasizes in Normal Life (2011), the most vulnerable transpeople are the ones most exposed to mechanisms of surveillance. Biometrics are not only deployed to protect expensive, privatized resources (such as banking assets); these techniques are frequently imposed upon the most vulnerable populations in the most coercive relationships. This includes mandated fingerprint scanning for welfare recipients, retinal and fingerprint scanning for prisoners, and fingerprint scanning for migrants to the United States through the Department of Homeland Security's US-VISIT program (Magnet 2011; Department of Homeland Security 2013). For trans theory, then, biometrics are a focal point for examining the biopolitical nexus of gendered, raced, and sexualized concerns. Exploring the connections between our experiences of biometrics and those of other, similarly targeted groups reveals the bodily norms encoded into and enforced by these technologies.

1. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines “biometrics”: “The use of unique physical characteristics (fingerprints, iris pattern, etc.) to identify individuals, typically for the purposes of security,” as well as “the physical characteristics that can be so used” (Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. “biometrics,” accessed December 3, 2012, www.oed.com).

2. Shoshana Amielle Magnet (2011: 52–53) draws a distinction between analog biometrics (such as bertillonage and ink fingerprinting) and contemporary digital biometrics.

3. The OED quotes Galton's 1901 use of “biometry” as follows: “The primary object of Biometry is to afford material that shall be exact enough for the discovery of incipient changes in evolution which are too small to be otherwise apparent.” Following the Galton quote, the OED offers an example from the journal Animal Biology in 1927: “When we take the averages of large numbers … we find a strong average resemblance, due to heredity, between parent and offspring, or between brothers and sisters. The science of biometry deals with studies of this sort” (Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. “biometry,” accessed December 3, 2012).

4. Ibid.

5. Joseph Pugliese (2007) has noted that the cameras photographing faces to be analyzed for facial geometry patterns are calibrated to the optimal exposure for the reflectivity of white skin. This means that for those with very dark skin, the computer sometimes cannot detect a face in the photograph. Additionally, the makers of fingerprint scanners have argued that the fingers of some Asian women cannot be read by these devices due to their supposedly insufficient fingerprint ridges.

References

References
Amoore
Louise
, and
Hall
Alexandra
.
2009
. “
Taking People Apart: Digitised Dissection and the Body at the Border
.”
Environment and Planning D: Society and Space
27
:
444
64
.
Department of Homeland Security
. “
Learn about Biometric Identification (US-VISIT)
.” www.dhs.gov/how-do-i/learn-about-biometric-identification-us-visit (accessed August 28, 2013).
Gates
Kelly A.
2011
.
Our Biometric Future: Facial Recognition Technology and the Culture of Surveillance
.
New York
:
New York University Press
.
Magnet
Shoshana Amielle
.
2011
.
When Biometrics Fail: Gender, Race, and the Technology of Identity
.
Durham, NC
:
Duke University Press
.
Pugliese
Joseph
.
2007
. “
Biometrics, Infrastructural Whiteness, and the Racialized Zero Degree of Nonrepresentation
.”
Boundary 2
34
, no.
2
:
105
33
.
Pugliese
Joseph
.
2010
.
Biometrics: Bodies, Technologies, Biopolitics
.
New York
:
Routledge
.
Spade
Dean
.
2011
.
Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law
.
Cambridge, MA
:
South End
.