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.
In many societies, the child is constituted as a body that is always in the process of becoming, moving from birth to maturation, from infancy to adulthood. Childhood becomes the time-space in which the human begins as an unfinished entity that undergoes a specifically developmental and so also normatively progressive trajectory of bodily and social transformation whose endpoint is completion as an adult. Gender plays a central role in this process: while the child's gender is fixed at (or before) birth and read off from the body's genitals (as well as chromosomes and hormones), the child must also become fully gendered as an (adult) man or woman through development. The developmental process works through a system of normalization, furthermore, such that the child's development may proceed along either normal or pathological lines. Since normal development is not guaranteed, the child becomes the site of tremendous cultural investment with regard to all developmental processes, including that of gender.
Transgender childhood bears the mark of the simultaneously fixed and molten status of the child and child-body with regard to gender development and of the child's normalization as well. For a child to claim a transgender status (or for an adult to claim transgender status for a child) is difficult because the child is always already seen as incomplete, as not yet fully formed; its gender is not fully mature, and the child is also seen as not fully capable of knowing its own gender. At the same time, precisely because of this not-yet-complete status, the child is especially subject to scrutiny with regard to its gender: does it have a normal gender, is it showing all the necessary signs that match expectations derived from ways of seeing and knowing the body? Transgender childhood becomes a threat to normative gender development and so to (normal) gender itself; if gender can shift away from the expected normal binary of male and female associated with particular bodily signs, then how can we know the gender of any child-body? And yet at the same time, because of its presumed malleability, the child-body also becomes one that can be put back on course when it deviates from the norm. It becomes a recuperable transgender body in a way that the adult transgender body cannot, because the latter is already fully formed.
Nowhere is this more evident — if somewhat counterintuitively so — than in the medicalization of transgender children. At present, there are two main (often sequential) medical treatments for transgender children: hormone suppression therapy and cross-sex hormone therapy, administered at the onset of puberty (Spack et al. 2012). From within medical discourse, the primary and explicitly identified benefit of these treatments designed specifically for persons in the state of childhood is their reversibility. Hormone suppression therapy puts the pubertal process “on hold” while cross-sex hormones begin a partial process of transition that can be halted up to a point without permanent cross-sex effects. In other words, the phenomenon of transgender childhood has been subjected to medicalization in which the not-yet status of the child remains central: in one case, the child cannot possibly know its gender for sure and must be put “on hold” until it reaches a more fully adult state of reason; while in the other, the young person is allowed to transition bodily, but only to the degree that the process may be reversed should a different state of reason take shape with maturity. In contrast, surgical options are not available to children before a certain age precisely because they are not reversible. The approved treatments reconstitute the child in gendered terms as a not-yet entity, in which the potential for “normal” gendering must be maintained through reversibility.
Conversely, both of these forms of early intervention and treatment for transgender children ensure that the marks of the first gendering (as male or female) become as invisible as possible: whereas adult bodily transitions cannot alter gender-coded characteristics that mark the transgender body, such as height in male-to-female transsexuals (tall coded as male, shorter coded as female), early hormonal treatment may avoid such markers altogether (the male-to-female child will never grow as tall as otherwise would have occurred, for example). Such interventions in childhood can also avoid surgeries that those who transition as adults might otherwise undertake (such as shaving the Adam's apple or breast removal). Thus transgender childhood constitutes a pathological instance of childhood and gender simultaneously — there is “something wrong” with the child through its gender, but early medical interventions can make that gender normal without a trace of its past pathology. Because of the child's broader social subordination (ageism), the medical treatment of transgender children more likely constitutes a new site of bodily subjection to normalizing gender regimes than a site of greater freedom. Still, it is always possible for transgender childhood to become a site of possibility for new, nonnormative, or resistant transgender subjectivities.