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 United States Library of Congress (LC) plays a pivotal role in naming and categorizing the information that informs and describes human life both within the country and internationally. Because of the power imbued in this responsibility, the language used must accurately reflect the people whose identities are at stake. In recent years, librarians have begun to analyze the subject headings assigned to transgender studies works (Roberto 2011; Johnson 2010; Adler 2009), an initiative aimed at ensuring that linguistic representation reproduces lived experiences. Critical engagement with the way in which information is organized and named is important not just to librarians but to everyone, because how people are described is how they will be perceived.

A brief description of standard cataloging protocol will lay the groundwork for a discussion of transgender studies topics within information organization. In order for people to quickly and efficiently locate the most pertinent resources on a particular topic, library catalogs and databases generally include a controlled vocabulary. This consists of a list of terms used to categorize the materials in the catalog. These terms are called subject headings, and they enhance a user's experience by allowing the user to locate the most relevant items on a topic within a single, powerful search. Each item in the catalog is generally assigned between one and six subject headings (Library of Congress 2009).

Beginning in 1898 (Stone 2000), LC incorporated subject terms into its cataloging practice, titling this controlled vocabulary Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). LCSH is both the oldest and biggest subject heading system in the world (Anderson and Hofmann 2006), its reach extending far beyond US borders. A project undertaken in the late 1990s revealed that twenty-four out of eighty-eight national libraries on six continents use LCSH within their national bibliographies (Heiner-Freiling 2000). An additional twelve countries, including Estonia and the Czech Republic, use either translated or modified versions of LCSH. These statistics demonstrate the staggering influence that LC exercises over classification of the world's information, as cataloging decisions made by US librarians affect information seekers across the globe.

Regardless of its popularity, LCSH is nonetheless just one of many controlled vocabularies. Another large country with a similarly robust cataloging system is China. In 1980 Chinese librarians developed the celebrated Chinese Thesaurus, which includes well over 100,000 terms (Zhang 2004). It is essential to note the existence of a multitude of smaller, often discipline-specific controlled vocabularies. LC (2013) maintains a list of about 300 specialized controlled vocabularies used around the world to organize information. Three of the vocabularies on this list pertain directly to the classification of queer topics, indubitably created as a viable alternative to traditional vocabularies such as LCSH.

Despite the practicality and effectiveness of a ubiquitous system of subject headings, LCSH is not without its share of historical criticism regarding the language used to describe items in its collection (Fischer 2005; Olson 2000; Berman 1971). For decades information professionals concerned with problematic and/or biased subject headings have been working to either edit existing headings or create new terms that do not fall prey to what Hope A. Olson defines as “cultural supremacy of the mainstream patriarchal, Euro-settler culture” (2000: 69).

Unfortunately, LCSH's terminology for transgender studies works tends to fall squarely into Olson's concept of cultural supremacy. The heading “Transsexuals” was created in 1985 and “Transvestites” in 1989. As Johnson notes, “Female-to-male transsexuals” was created in 2002, but “Male-to-female transsexuals” was only established in 2006, following “the intervention of contributing Subject Authority Cooperative Program (SACO) librarians” (2010: 668), who were not employed by LC.

The situation turns especially problematic when discovering subject headings for transgender concepts that fall outside transsexual boundaries. After “the continued contestation of its meaning … Transgender people” was finally established as a subject heading in May 2007 (ibid.: 666, 667), but the specificities of transgender people's possible identities are neither especially salient nor easily construed. Melissa Adler and K. R. Roberto both note the conspicuous lack of any subject terms for genderqueer persons, with the former specifically mentioning that “Genderqueers” was proposed as an addition to LCSH in 2006 and was seemingly ignored (Adler 2009: 310); the concepts of agender and multigender suffer from similar invisibility.

The established subject terminology for drag performers is criticized by numerous authors for its lack of accurate and sensitive language (Johnson 2010: 672–73; Adler 2009: 321; Roberto 2011: 57–58). Instead of assigning “Drag kings” or “Drag queens,” LCSH requires the use of “Male impersonators” and “Female impersonators,” respectively; the explanatory note for “Female impersonators” states that the heading is to be used for “works on men who impersonate women, generally for purposes of comic effect. … Works on persons, especially males, who assume the dress and manner of the opposite sex for psychological gratification, are entered under Transvestites” (Library of Congress 2012). In Roberto's words, “Calling drag performers ‘impersonators' emphasizes artifice over intent; it creates a hierarchical structure where drag performance is less important than the gender being ‘imitated’ (2011: 58). One possible explanation for these discrepancies is that, unlike gay, lesbian, and bisexual topics in LCSH, transgender topics have not benefited from decades of advocacy work by information professionals to create finely detailed terminology (Greenblatt 2011).

Presently there are several avenues available to anyone wishing to alter or create terms within LCSH. LC's Subject Authority Cooperative Program (SACO), situated within their Program for Cooperative Cataloging, encourages participating libraries to propose subject headings. Nonmembers can also suggest subject headings using LC's Subject Authority Proposal Form (Library of Congress 2011). While there is no guarantee that LC will make the suggested changes, these options are presently the most realistic means of improving subject heading nomenclature.

Other people choose to work outside mainstream cataloging practices, developing new controlled vocabularies in an attempt to classify and document their own identities and experiences. For example, in 1997 a Netherlands-based queer history archive created the Queer Thesaurus, a bilingual Dutch/English and English/Dutch vocabulary devoted to LGBTQ and queer topics (van der Wel 2011). Queer Thesaurus boasts more than three thousand terms and could easily be translated to other academic and community archives seeking an appropriate controlled vocabulary. Awareness of such knowledge and tool kits results in a united front of stakeholders committed to optimal linguistic representation and empowerment.

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