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.

I get to write this, and you get to read it, because this journal exists. It's an altogether astonishing moment. Beginnings are delicate times when the foundation stones of the edifice you're building are still visible; maybe if we take a look around now, we can save ourselves some trouble later.

The “Posttranssexual Manifesto” asserts that the essence of posttranssexuality is subversion. We operate by undermining essentialist feminist discourses that reify binarism under other names, and the author asks the trans community to take up arms in that effort by asserting the primacy of self-declaration—by “reading oneself aloud.” This could be, and frequently is, misread as simply “coming out.” But reading oneself aloud is never as simple as making-visible; it also implies writing oneself into the selfsame discourses by which one is written—burrowing in and virally disrupting the smoothness and closure on which power depends.

The meta of that description could well be an operational definition of post-posttranssexuality: asserting the vision that guides our acts and drives us forward, while simultaneously refusing closure on any single discourse of our own manifold discourses that, in their enticing collisions and rebounds and fungible resonances, constitute, somewhere near their center of mass, the presumptive subject of this journal. It's holding those concepts in productive tension—the quixotic effort of articulating structure while refusing closure and insisting on situation—that, I think, defines our discipline and our fragile moment.

And we're very early in that moment. Keep in mind that no one working in transgender studies has a degree in transgender studies. That's how close to the origin of our discipline we are. This is the way zeroth-generation disciplines work. The value in that particular fact for us is that trans studies is still coalescing. We don't yet have a canon or a bunch of old folks telling us what the field is or what counts as its discourse and who gets to say stuff about and within it. But soon enough we will, as surely as the night follows the day, and you can count on that.

The trajectory for discipline building is well understood. In Phase One, individuals, geographically scattered and usually unaware of each other, generate the rough ideas of what will become the discipline.

In Phase Two, others become aware of this work and may become aware of each other. They may form working groups at conferences devoted to other topics, or they may just hang out in each other's hotel rooms and jam about possible white papers.

In Phase Three, a few people with the necessary energy and drive come together, geographically or, as is more usual, virtually, and organize the first publications, meetings, and, later, conferences. This is the point when the larger, nascent protocommunity first begins to become self-aware and when the loose constellation of ideas that gravitate around this not-quite-existent collection of individuals begins to take shape.

In Phase Four, the general description and usually the name of the discourse achieve a level of acceptance among “TradAcs” (traditional academics). This varies from place to place, as TradAcs are exquisitely conscious of how legitimacy works and are quick to separate legitimized disciplines from the rest; it has always appeared to this author that what drives this fervent defense of disciplinary boundaries is a combination of a certain schadenfreude coupled with a nagging sense of the fragility of the identity of one's own discipline, particularly in the social sciences.

Phase Four is where we are now. To some extent it's a fragile moment, but it is also heady and bursting with possibilities. And, though it's not yet fully formed and its goals not yet fully articulated, it's also the discipline's peak moment. Believe it or not, it's all downhill from here. Which is why I'm asking you to pay attention, because what happens next is that some grad students somewhere read this journal or look at a conference program, and instead of saying to themselves, “Wow, this wonderful stuff can help me change the world,” they say, “Hey, maybe this stuff can help me get a job.” Thus begins the transition from revolutionary action to commodification. Next thing you know, you've got disciplinary jargon—not because it helps clarify the discourse but because it makes your work less approachable by people in neighboring disciplines and thereby makes your discipline more special.

So let's think about the two words at the heart of this disciplinary moment: transgender and studies.

Aside from its indexicality in simultaneously defining and calling into being a sociopolitical class, transgender—a word that has existed for less than twenty years—still, and with great immediacy, evokes fungibility and transgression; the irruption of the trans episteme into the smooth fabric of sociality and theory, still fresh as it is, possesses enormous power for positive change. With that in mind, let's look beyond trans as a sociopolitical positionality and developing demographic, and let's think about how to use the power that we, by fighting and surmounting the forces that oppose our claiming our own selves, come to literally embody.

How will—can, should—trans engage studies? Studies is an institutional concept, meant in part to maintain a certain distance between observer and observed, to preserve objectivity—or, at minimum, to afford plausible deniability. Studies is the institution's way of saying that the work proceeds in a detached and impartial manner. Yet we have barely begun, really, to explore how powerful trans—born in the joy and pain of living bodies and fully engaged in the world—can be.

Understand, then, the peril that freights this moment. Dulce et decorum est: “sweet and fitting it is,”1 this moment when our feisty, nasty selves, saturated with change and flushed with success, meet the institutional rewards and requirements of transitioning from a movement to a discipline. What is gained, what lost?

My stakes in our nascent community, and in writing this, are, long after transgender studies has become an academic commodity, to encourage us to keep thinking like revolutionaries. From its oldest foundations, the present-day academy is designed to be terminally conservative, and it carries out that mission by creating future academics in its image. By virtue of this very narrow slice of time in which we now exist and work, we have so far avoided being digested by some academic institution and turned into its own flesh. It's not easy to avoid that singularly unpleasant fate, not least because it's so seductive; and, to be honest, not everyone wants to avoid it. In fact, my real audience for this little essay is almost vanishingly small. But it's certainly not zero.

How do we go about nurturing Beginner's Mind? (And here to some extent I'm plagiarizing myself, because lately I've been pondering this and have written about it once or twice [Stone 2013].)

First: Find your own voice. This is not merely Job Number One; it's really your only job. If you do nothing else, ever, than survive the struggle to find your own voice, you have still fulfilled a primal life goal, and everything else that happens flows from that pluripotent act. In the beginning is your word. Finding your voice is the deeper meaning underlying the hoary mythoids that saturate Western storytelling. Speaking yourself disrupts both society's and culture's stupendous drive to speak you. Eventually there are balances and inflection points to be found between speaking and being spoken, because in living fully in the world one does both; but at the inception, stick with speaking. You have a lifetime to figure out the balance.

Second: Announce your stakes. If you speak from your heart about what really matters to you, then the work and your love for it will follow. It is extremely important—crucial—that from the very beginning your work flows from your own stakes in the discourse. If you hold back, the chances are much greater that you'll settle for less than your best efforts, and it's only through your best efforts that you raise the power it takes to change the world.2

This is by no means a popular view. In the Advanced Communication Technologies Laboratory (ACTLab) at the University of Texas at Austin, in which we practiced these ideas as our normal way of doing business, I was frequently accosted by graduate students from other universities who said, “That's not how we do things. I intend to do whatever they tell me to until I get tenure. Then maybe I can do something worthwhile.” And that's the last you ever hear of them. Forget “how we do things.” Think how you do things.

Finally: Be wary of discussing postmodernity from within the modernist paradigm. Because it subverts binarism, refuses closure, and foregrounds multiplicity, trans is a postmodern discourse; yet, perforce, studies assumes writing in a language saturated with binarism, closure, and the idea of wholeness that Brian Massumi (1992: 3) translates as molarity;3 Audre Lorde ([1984] 2007) pointed out that the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. How to deploy Trans discourse to disrupt modernist critique? We can do better.

Regarding transgender, my worst-case scenario was waking up at about age sixty and realizing I hadn't done it—never taken the risk, nor surmounted the fear, nor become who I knew I really was. Which was worse, then: being safe or being me?

Extend that to academia.

Be an academic guerrilla. It won't be easy. In fact, it's virtually guaranteed to be painful, exhausting, and humiliating, but what you gain from sticking with it is your work … and your life, by which I mean your ability to fully inhabit your own narrative. Hey, all it takes is all you've got. And isn't that what life is all about?

1. The complete line from Horace's Odes (III.2.13) is “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” (How sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country). The author of this essay hopes the reader sees the irony in this context.

2. OK, as Steve Jobs put it, maybe we settle for just making a dent in the universe. But speaking for myself, “change the world” is not just bloviation; I do really believe that if we do not think in those terms, we are not doing our job.

3. I cannot unpack that in the space I have here; my point is that a critique of multiplicity from a molar perspective is meaningless because the discourses do not intersect.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.

References

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