Abstract

This article takes the twenty-five-year anniversary of C. Jacob Hale's “Suggested Rules for Non-transsexuals Writing about Transsexuals, Transsexuality, Transsexualism, and Trans___” (1997) to reflect on the nature of accountability to and within trans communities. Against the backdrop of interviews with Hale and his thought partners for the piece (e.g., Talia Bettcher, Jack Halberstam, and Naomi Scheman), Zurn draws out the historical context of the “Rules,” but also the affective, theoretical, and political frictions (and intimacies) that underlie them. Generated in the late 1990s scene of trans theory and activism, Hale's “Rules” were more than a corrective to cis-centric “positions” on trans people circulating at the time (esp. by Bernice Hausman); they were also a testament to friendship, as well as to the philosophical insights of María Lugones, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Sandy Stone. Although written for non-trans writers, it was Hale's intention that the “Rules” also apply in trans-trans contexts. Indeed, in a world today where trans people are in fact leading trans studies, Hale's injunctions to humility in our approach to trans* peoples and to faith in the existing wisdom of trans life is prescient. So is his invitation to theorize on the rough ground of living and struggling together.

It was fall 2021 and I was teaching my first graduate seminar in trans theory. My co-instructor, Juliana Martínez, and I had decided to center the course on trans theory and politics across the Americas, focusing on the United States and Latin America. Opening the seminar, we wanted students to think about their relationship to the course—cis students, trans students, US citizens, and non-US citizens, folks from the Global North and from the Global South. Jacob Hale's (1997b) “Suggested Rules for Non-transsexuals Writing about Transsexuals, Transsexuality, Transsexualism, and Trans___” jumped to mind. Although written twenty-five years ago to expressly invoke humility and care among non-trans people writing about trans people, many of the rules also apply “to trans folk writing across trans-trans difference,” Hale remarks in a prefatory note. As a class, then, we grappled with injunctions like these: “Approach your topic with a sense of humility,” “Interrogate your own subject position,” “Don't totalize us, don't represent us or our discourses as monolithic or univocal,” and “Don't imagine that there is only one trans trope, only one trans figure, or only one trans discourse” (rules 1, 2, 6, and 13). Hale's rules gave trans and non-trans folks in the class an opportunity to think about their positionality in relation to the vastness of trans experience and to think power not only across a cis/trans divide but also across trans communities. After Martínez and I taught that first seminar, I found myself wanting to know more about the rules themselves, their origin and inspiration. What more might we all learn about accountable theorizing from their historical, political, and affective context?

Hale's “Rules” are a cornerstone of trans studies, validating trans knowledges and underscoring the limitations of cis-centric logics. The piece, composed of fifteen rules and just shy of eight hundred words in length, packs a succinct punch. It has been cited in central trans studies' collections (e.g., TSQ and Trans Bodies Trans Selves), by important scholars in the field (e.g., Cassius Adair, Cameron Awkward-Rich, Talia Bettcher, Jack Halberstam, Cressida Heyes, Veronica Ivy, Cael Keegan, Amy Marvin, Blas Radi, Tobias Raun, Naomi Scheman, Nicole Seymour, Eliza Steinbeck, David Valentine), and in a variety of other fields (e.g., environmental ethics, literature, media studies, queer studies, pedagogy, political philosophy, psychology, and rhetoric). At a time when—or perhaps in a time again when—non-trans people took great license in describing, assessing, and evaluating trans life without accountability to or being in community with trans people, Hale's rules obviously struck a chord. Their usefulness, moreover, has been extended through specific modifications for different groups. The Transgender Service Providers' Network (2008), for example, developed a version for service providers working with trans populations, and Emi Koyama (2008) developed one for non-intersex people writing about intersex people. The rules themselves, then, have traveled far. But where did they begin?

I set out to talk to Hale himself; his acknowledged thought partners in the piece, Dexter D. Fogt, Talia Mae Bettcher, Jack Halberstam, and Naomi Scheman; and Sandy Stone, who, in lieu of publication, had hosted the rules on her website all these years. What unfurled in these conversations was fecund: the scene of 1990s trans life, especially in Los Angeles; academic precarity and activist bravado; romance and broken friendships; breaches of trust and deep coalition; intimacies and frustrations with the scaffolding of medical transition; and a theoretical amalgam of philosophy, feminist and queer theory, and nascent trans studies. And beneath it all, a story of generosity. The piece was a portal. I found myself turning reflexive and wondering about the desires and frustrations that prompt my own writing—and what social intimacies and political contexts necessarily inform it. I thought, too, about how we choose our theoretical touchstones (and occlude others) when thinking community accountability and standpoint epistemology. I thought about trans thinkers and non-trans thinkers and the (in)justices we each do or are privy to. And I thought about seeing eye to eye and calling to account. Ultimately, in the course of discussion, an image surfaced that I still cannot shake: the path of friction, of grounded thinking with other human bodies in struggle, rather than the ease-full gaze from this tower or that holloway.

* * *

Hale responded quickly when I reached out. The “Rules,” which he thinks of as “epistemic guidelines” rather than puritanical standards of conduct, started, as many important scholarly and creative works do, in anger. “I got mad!” he said (pers. comm., July 30, 2022). Over and over again, academic publications would cross his desk touting cis-centric “positions” on trans people and transgender or transsexual life, while trans communities themselves were not cited, consulted, or considered. Bernice Hausman's Changing Sex (1995) was merely the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Published the same year Hale started social, medical, and legal transition, Hausman's book characterizes transsexuals as dupes of the medical establishment and transgender people as gender radicals of “all style and no substance” (196–97). Had Hausman honestly considered trans life—rather than first rooting her project in exoticizing fascination and then proceeding via gross misrepresentation, as Hale argues she does in rules 2 and 4—she might have witnessed the immense gender creativity present in our communities, across time, and the consistently complex relationships we sustain with various social institutions, including medicine. More broadly, academics needed a wake-up call. Armchair speculation and hot takes about a consistently marginalized—and demonized—community is neither good scholarship nor ethical theorizing. Hale quickly wrote and posted the rules to a listserv, where Sandy Stone saw them and asked to post to her website, and they got traction.

The rules are of a piece with the scholarship Hale himself was doing in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Working as a professor of philosophy at California State University, Northridge, Hale was trained in philosophy of science and mathematics but quickly pivoted to feminist philosophy and trans theory. His work insistently underscores the instability, multiplicity, and complexity of gender, a topic he refracts through the lens of lesbian, leatherdyke boy or daddy, butch, and FTM experience (Hale 1996a, 1997a, 1998a). Each person, he argues, may have “multiple gender statuses” and meet a variety of gender conditions to varying (and variable) degrees (Hale 1996a, 1997a). He lends this complexifying attention, moreover, to oversimplified trans icons such as Christine Jorgenson and Brandon (Teena) (Hale 1998a, 2008a).1 In insisting on the variance of gender, especially in autonomous and inherently gender-competent trans communities (Hale 1998c, 2007), Hale (1997a: 223) repeatedly makes the point that “theory lags far behind community discourses,” which “reflect rich and subtly nuanced embodiments of gender that resist and exceed any simple categorization.” This means, on the one hand, that “engagement with community thinkers” is “absolutely crucial” for any theorist of gender worth their salt (Zurn and Pitts 2020). On the other, it means that participation in radical worlds outside academia may be, and increasingly is for Hale, more generative—personally and intellectually—than in those within.2

Dexter D. Fogt is a case in point. Fogt was, as Hale recalls, “my closest litter mate.”3 They began transitioning together and bonded fast and hard. They enjoyed spending time in each other's company hashing out the essence of gender, gay desire, and trans politics. And they often went to gay bars, drag clubs, queer core clubs, marches, protests, and so forth together. Fogt was “super smart,” and Hale remembers working through a lot together. Unfortunately, Fogt struggled with mental illness and substance use. The two of them eventually lost track of each other. For Fogt, there were years of drifting and decades of being unhoused. In more stable moments, he would reconnect with Hale through Facebook, and they would pick up where they left off. In less stable times, there were long stretches of uneasy silence. Fogt passed away just a few years ago in his mid-fifties. “I miss that guy!” Hale writes. Fogt did not need academic credentials to be an important interlocutor. He knew, as much as Hale if not more, the violence of being spoken of and about rather than to and with. More importantly, Fogt was a friend. And friendship can hold some of the most vulnerable and honest theorizing on earth.

Talia Bettcher and Hale were also close and remain so to this day. They met in the early 1990s, both pretransition, while Bettcher was in graduate school in philosophy at University of California, Los Angeles (Bettcher 2022). She recalls sitting with Hale, Fogt, and Fogt's partner at a bistro in the French quarter of West Hollywood talking about the rules and brainstorming their work with Transgender Menace SoCal.4 The latter group was loosely affiliated with Transsexual Menace (est. 1993), an international network that agitated against transphobia, especially in the queer community. Kickstarted by protests against the misreporting of Brandon (Teena) as a lesbian, the group is best known for its insistence on trans inclusion/incursion in pride marches.5 That year, as Bettcher recalls, the Los Angeles chapter made T-shirts, did a few actions, and then crashed Christopher Street West. One of the actions was a “walkabout,” in which the group donned identical Transgender Menace T-shirts and walked the Venice Beach boardwalk to the Santa Monica promenade. I was struck by the bidirectionality of this moment. This ragtag team—alongside how many other ragtag teams across the United States—was generating tactics to simultaneously correct queer people's rejection and cis people's overreach. The rules were part of a larger project of making room. When I asked if she had suggested any edits, Bettcher chuckled and said, “I always gave him feedback.” Regardless, the rules clearly came at an important moment. “They got cited and cited and cited because they were necessary,” she said. Never officially published, they were circulated in unofficial channels and by word of mouth, such that fifteen years later I was told by a fellow grad student, apropos of almost nothing, “You should read Jake's rules.”

It was through the rules that Bettcher learned of María Lugones's work. “Jake shared ‘“World”-Travelling’ with me at the time,” Bettcher said; “I had never read a philosophy piece that so captured what was going on, in terms of the [trans] subcultural stuff.”6 In her now well-known essay, “Playfulness, ‘World’-Travelling, and Loving Perception,” Argentinian feminist philosopher Lugones (1987) advocates for a relationality predicated on multiplicitous selves and multiplicitous worlds. There is a certain “arrogance,” she argues, in assuming knowledge of and using other people; by contrast, “loving perception” requires mutual “identification,” “interdependence,” and bearing “witness,” all of which necessitate “‘world’-traveling”—a crossing between worlds of sense and belonging (4–8). For Lugones, this holds across Anglo and women of color worlds, as well as within women of color worlds. Although Hale does not explicitly cite Lugones in the rules, her imprint is unmistakable. Consider, for example, rules 12 and 5: “Ask yourself if you can travel in our trans worlds” and “Be aware that our words are very often part of conversations we're having within our communities, and that we may be participating in overlapping conversations within multiple communities.” The insistence on trans people's multiple worlds of sense and the correlative insistence that non-trans people travel in trans worlds if they are to have anything meaningful to say about trans life both underscore a Lugonian influence here at the heart of early theorizations of trans epistemic authority and plurivocality.

When I phoned, I caught Jack Halberstam out on a walk; there were, by turns, birds chirping, babies crying, and sirens screaming in the background.7 As Jack recalls, the rules were written at a “shady” time. It was a time when one could go to a whole conference on trans identity and not have a single trans person presenting, as if we were that rare and niche. But it was also a time when Jean Baudrillard quipped “we are all transsexuals”; that's how free the signifier had gotten (Baudrillard [1993] 2002; cf. Felski 1996 and Prosser 1998: 171–205). In mainstream discourse, the validity of trans voices and the specificity of trans experiences were thus in question. Within the queer community, the butch/FTM border wars were in full force, and people on both side of the fence were speaking about rather than with.8 Halberstam (1994) himself was accused of as much when his essay “F2M” made a splash in the FTM Newsletter.9 A year after the rules, Halberstam and Hale wrote companion pieces in GLQ, where they address these border wars and the positional intimacies the wars deny (Halberstam and Hale 1998; Halberstam 1998; Hale 1998a). The two also did talks together on the newly prescient Brandon (Teena) archive. Halberstam (1998: 288) characterizes the rules as “necessary and important” then and as a “historically meaningful intervention” today but adds, “I don't necessarily agree with [them].” They risk, in their strict rhetorical formulations, a too-clean division between trans and non-trans writers, one especially difficult to demarcate in today's nonbinary world (Halberstam 2018).

Halberstam underscored the necessity of situating the rules in relationship to Stone's ([1987] 2006) “The Empire Strikes Back.”10 In it, Stone calls for a trans renaissance of polyvocality, multiplicity, and gender as genre (231).11 It's not the transsexual, the trans narrative, the trans body. “The word is some,” she writes, wielding this slim sentence like a light saber (232). Some transsexuals, some trans narratives, some trans bodies. This “forgotten word,” she states, “will perhaps wake memories of other debates”—for example, the woman question. Hale implicitly refers to Stone's invocation of some in rule 6: “Don't totalize us, don't represent us or our discourses as monolithic or univocal; look carefully at each use of ‘the,’ and at plurals.” But Hale's debt to Stone is even more significant. He cites her explicitly in rule 3: “Beware of replicating the following discursive movement (which Sandy Stone articulates in “The Empire Strikes Back” and reminds us is familiar from other colonial discourses): Initial fascination with the exotic; denial of subjectivity, lack of access to dominant discourse; followed by a species of rehabilitation.” In “Empire Strikes Back,” Stone critiques the “colonial” gaze of mainstream media and medicine and correlatively recommends the anticolonial discourses of the monster, the cyborg, the trickster, and the mestiza. Hale (1998b: 119), likewise, published an essay the following year arguing that the “colonization of non-normatively gendered people” results in a plethora of border dwellers. Where Stone ([1987] 2006: 235n50) turns to Gloria Anzaldúa and the Indigenous figure of Coyote (as theorized by Donna Haraway), Hale (1998b: 111, 115, 116) turns to Lugones and Frantz Fanon, characterizing these border dwellers as ghosts, capable of tactical shifting, slipping, and “flitting,” in resistance to colonial overdetermination and extermination.12

Naomi Scheman logged on to a Zoom call with her characteristic brightness.13 She immediately began reminiscing about the process of writing “Queering the Center” (1997). In it, she argues that transsexuals and secular Jews belong to the category “woman” (or “man”) or “Jew,” respectively, not because of anything essential about them but because of the social practices that shape those categories. In both cases, however, they struggle for intelligibility, in uneasy relationship to those practices and to the more normative categories that surround them (i.e., cis women and men and religious Jews). Reckoning with her positionality as a cisgender, secular Jew mattered for the project. She sought out Hale, who provided extensive feedback on early drafts. Hale's contributions were so insistent and so pointed that she had the sense he was “beta testing” the rules, which came out that same year. And while he was often clearly angry, Scheman says, “I took it as a gift” and responded accordingly.14 In “Queering the Center,” Scheman (1997) acknowledges Hale no fewer than eight times—an academic anomaly. She also repeatedly cites Kate Bornstein, Leslie Feinberg, Davina Anne Gabriel, Sandy Stone, and Susan Stryker; consults TransSisters and Transsexual News Telegraph; and reports that she started the paper when she was invited to speak, in 1995, at the “Sissies and Tomboys” CUNY Graduate Center conference and when she attended events sponsored by the University of Minnesota's GLBT Program. Her depth of engagement with trans thinkers and trans life is exceptional for its time, so much so that TSQ invited her to write a twenty-five-year retrospective on the piece (Scheman 2016). While Scheman recalls there being significant pushback against the rules, especially from Canadian quarters, as restrictions on how one could think and write, she felt differently. Hale “taught me to do something well that it mattered to me to do well,” she said.15

Scheman situates the rules within the theoretical crosscurrents of Marilyn Frye (1983), Lugones (2003), bell hooks (1992), Stanley Cavell (2015), and, most significantly, Ludwig Wittgenstein (1958). Wittgenstein understands “language-games” to be social; meaning is not a private affair but buried deep within and constructed through forms of (social) life (53; cf. Scheman 2006). As such, words do not have definitive definitions, nor do concepts have essences; rather, each enjoys a “complicated network” of overlapping and crisscrossing similarities and entanglements (36–37). Hale (1996a, 1998a) elsewhere uses Wittgenstein's theory of family resemblance to illuminate (and productively confuse) the terms woman and transsexual. In the rules, however, Wittgenstein's influence is more subterranean.16 Hale's insistence on not only (trans) community sense making but also the complex border crossings within that same community suggests a Wittgensteinian bent. Moreover, his exhortation to stay with trans sense, even or especially when, from a cisnormative perspective, it is nonsense (e.g., unclear, unstable, ambiguous, illegible, and confused), echoes Wittgenstein's invitation to return to the rough ground of everyday life and theorize from there (Scheman 1997: 146, 148; 2006).17 While Scheman is quick to emphasize Wittgenstein's influence on Hale, she refrains from underscoring her own. Besides Hausman and Stone, Scheman is the only other person Hale cites. The relevant rule, which admittedly carries a Wittgensteinian ring, reads, “Start with the following as, minimally, a working hypothesis that you would be loath to abandon: ‘Transsexual lives are lived, hence livable’ (as Naomi Scheman put it in ‘Queering the Center by Centering the Queer’)” (rule 8) (Scheman 1997: 132).

The last stop on my journey was Sandy Stone. She rang me in Washington, DC, when the midday summer sun itself turns to stillness.18 The rules were “angry,” she recalls. Non-trans writers were “arrogating to themselves knowledge there was no way they could have had.” Hale's rules were “a set of instructions” meant to resolve the problem. She asked if she could post them to her website and Hale immediately said yes. The important thing to know about this moment, Stone muses, is the “early trans sharing economy.” People contributed and shared work in trans theory and trans activism with little to no concern for ownership or credit. It simply mattered to get the word out. When she contacted Hale, she also contacted Nancy Nangeroni and asked to reuse her newly constructed trans logo.19 Nangeroni, too, said, “Yes, of course,” and then insisted, “No copyright, no commercial use. Just give it away.” Give it away. Hale's rules were meant in a similar spirit. So Stone did. She wrote the html code herself and posted to her then makeshift website. People immediately started emailing her their thanks and posting a link to the rules on listservs and blogs, and in chat rooms. In our very brief conversation, Stone kept regretting that this page and so many others from the early trans theory years had “rotted out”—with now “dated” content and “dead” links. But I kept thinking about the generativity of this gift. And the spirit of generosity that still lives there. In a who's-who world of trans theory, and a who-said-what economy, there is something to be regained here.

So much comes alive in these conversations. Long, deep friendships, theoretical and interpersonal tensions, calls to accountability and flashes of coalition, and a practice of sharing that puts the needs of the community before individual recognition. The human fabric that made the rules possible is variable indeed. There are queer folks with a variety of genders (FTM, MTF, butch, and cis), positioned in and outside the academy, some perched on its edge. And there are queer, feminist, and trans communities coming to a head. The constellation, moreover, of Lugones, Stone, and Wittgenstein—that is, of women of color feminism, analytic philosophy, and early trans studies—as theoretical touchstones for the rules, is especially intriguing. All this together produced a clarion call to honor the sense making that happens in trans communities and a correlative insistence that academia and medicine learn and not teach, listen and not immediately speak. That listening, moreover, ultimately leads to greater complexity—and even confusion—rather than resolves it. It is in this sense that Hale calls his readers to travel not only between worlds but also along the path of friction, along the rough ground of thinking through things together and showing up to one another.20

* * *

I wish as a class we had returned to Hale's rules at the end of that trans theory graduate seminar. What would the conversation have looked like? After tackling, from a transnational perspective, trans epistemology, trans phenomenology, and trans care; administrative violence, carceral logic, and necropolitics; trans/crip intimacies and travesti theory, what resonances might we now hear in the rules, and what hungers might we have to hear something else? Twenty-five years is quite a stretch and much has changed, even if much has also stayed the same. People continue to write and speak, pass laws and policies, craft stories and orchestrate fears about trans people without being in relation with trans people or trans communities. While important trans-affirmative inroads have been made in medicine, perhaps the most significant change has occurred in academia itself. We are in a place in trans studies and trans theory where trans people are, for the most part, leading scholarship about trans life. In this place, do we need similar injunctions or dissimilar invitations? Are the epistemic injustices the same shape, do they collect in the same lines, from the same pens and penchants?

Hale's prefatory note that the rules apply in trans-trans contexts is prescient. Indeed, there are at least two ways in which the spirit of the rules remains deeply necessary and generative today. First, none of us is an expert on all trans, genderqueer, nonbinary, Two Spirit, travesti people and other gender disruptors in the past, present, and future. As such, all of us need to practice radical listening and cultivate accountability. All of us need to interrogate our subject positions and be aware there are worlds of sense to which we are not privy and/or to which we might need to travel. When writing, each of us needs to grapple with how we might be contributing to the hegemonies of visibility, legibility, and value that haunt our communities and invest in decentering those systems of dominance. For trans scholars in the United States, it is especially important to reckon with the limits of US-centric trans language and histories, while also granting the Asian, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, queer, crip, and poor sense-making practices, for example, that already trouble that language and those histories from within. If anything, the rules resituated in a trans-trans context are an injunction to humility. They continually invite us to honor the multiplicity of trans worlds.

Second, with more opportunity for trans creation and scholarship comes more responsibility. We are poised today, as never before, to mourn the massive, irreparable loss of trans folks and trans histories, and therefore of trans theorizing, but also to celebrate the trace, leaning into it to make it thicker and wider because we are here. Doing that work, in the spirit of Hale's rules, necessitates that we attune/attend to elements of trans experience and history to which we have not been trained to attune or attend. That we linger long enough to hear other tones, whether or not they fit with anything recognizable in existing trans art, scholarship, theory, and activism. And that we trust that there are methods and concepts there; we do not have to simply apply non-trans theory, or even existing trans theory, to trans archives. There is more to learn here. And, as we listen, we are in the stunningly delightful position to engage with, build on, extend and press beyond each other's work. With the vast and growing body of trans writing, thinking, and creation, it becomes imperative to ask: how might our engagement be honest, critical, and generous? Writing as trans today means writing with trans. Crossing is a feature of trans attention.

While doubtless the spirit of the rules applies today in trans-trans contexts, the letter of the rules may need to change. That first day of the trans theory graduate seminar, I invited us to explore what a revision explicitly for trans people writing about trans people might look like. Trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming students were quick to say the rules could no longer be “rules.” Because they would be rewritten from and for the same world or adjacent worlds, students reasoned, they would need to be reframed as ways of “negotiating” a shared landscape or “navigating” a disjointed but tangentially contiguous terrain. I suggested, perhaps, the language of “orientations,” directionalities within and across that complex landscape (cf. Ahmed 2006). What might that do to the genre? Might the imperative necessarily fall away? And what might arise in its place? Prose poems? Theoretical arcs? Who would write them, and what might their affective grammar be? Hale's rules started in anger at non-trans writers. What would a set of orientations from and for trans writers look like that started from a different affective place and for a different community (or set of communities)? For that matter, what might a set of orientations look like that could generatively sustain anger within and between trans communities (an anger especially relevant, for example, among travesti theorists faced with the coloniality of white US trans studies scholars)?

It is also possible that the rules' “we” would need to become still more complicated. Coming from a Lugonian and Wittgensteinian place, Hale's “we” was never simple. For him, there would never be a definitive, essential way to distinguish and identify “trans”; it is inherently a complex and dynamic term. In “Tracing a Ghostly Memory in My Throat,” Hale (1998b: 122) enjoins readers not to redraw the line between butch and FTM but to expand the circle of identifications and alliances “based on shared feminist, lesbigay, queer, intersex, transgender, transsexual, and genderqueer moral and political values.”21 The result would be an unexpected amalgam of people—motley, perhaps, but politically powerful. Cameron Awkward-Rich (2022), in The Terrible We, makes a similar, though distinct, injunction. Addressing the Ur-split between trans people on the one hand and disabled, sick, and mad people on the other, he asks how trans studies—and, indeed, a growing group of trans writers—accountable to “the world- and knowledge-making force of the maladjusted, the bad, the mad, the painful,” even within our own stories, might “otherwise unfold?” (59). Rather than purify the “we”—and more clearly and cleanly demarcate it—Awkward-Rich and Hale suggest leaning into its unstable and discordant features. Again, how might that change the craft and the affect of the rules themselves?

In the end, the question of the rules in trans-trans contexts is a question of t4t methods and, more fundamentally, of t4t poetics. It is a question of how we make things and make one another, what we give to and for one another, not only at the edge of the world but also at the edge of our own worlds. As such, it carries an insistence, at its heart, of returning to the streets and the rough grounds on which we work and walk alongside each other, treading insistently with/out rather than comfortably ensconced within the university, coloniality, and “sanity.”

Acknowledgments

This piece is dedicated to Dexter D. Fogt. My thanks to Jacob Hale, Talia Bettcher, Jack Halberstam, Naomi Scheman, and Sandy Stone for talking with me and providing generous feedback on the manuscript. Thanks also to Cameron Awkward-Rich, Amy Marvin, and Andrea Pitts for rich discussions about the application and revision of Hale's rules in trans-trans contexts. And thanks to my co-instructor, Juliana Martínez, and all the students for what turned out to be a fantastic seminar.

Notes

1.

Throughout, I refer to Brandon (Teena) to honor Hale's point that there is little evidence Brandon regularly used “Teena” as a last name.

2.

Especially sustaining for Hale have been the trans, FTM, BDSM, and leather communities.

3.

This nomenclature was commonly used in the mid-1990s, at least within FTM communities, to refer to guys with whom one started transition. Sometimes litter mates were geographically separated (connected via AOL and listservs), but, typically, litter mates were geographically proximal.

4.

Talia Mae Bettcher, interview by Perry Zurn, May 18, 2022.

5.

Transsexual Menace also agitated for the removal of “gender dysphoria” from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. See Prosser 1998: 174.

6.

Years later, Bettcher, Hale, and others did a reading group on Lugones's Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes. For more on Lugones's impact on Bettcher's thought, see Bettcher 2014 and Bettcher forthcoming.

7.

Jack Halberstam, interview by Perry Zurn, May 23, 2022.

8.

An association between genders and nation-states was at play in this notion of “border wars.” Halberstam, for example, gave a paper at the American Studies Association conference in 1996 entitled “Right Bodies, Wrong Bodies, Border Bodies: Transsexualism and the Rhetoric of Migration.” Hale (1998b) cites this talk shortly after invoking Stone's critique of the colonial gaze and before turning to Lugones and Frantz Fanon to elucidate “borderzone denizens.” That same year, Hale (1998a: 319) further relies on that resonance when writing of butch/ftm border wars: “Indiscriminate erasure of a living border dweller's multiple complexities, ambiguities, inconsistencies, ambivalences, and border zone status hinders that subject's ability to build a self through which to live.”

9.

In the January 1995 issue of FTM Newsletter, two reviews were published. In the first, Isabella (1995: 13–14) (Loren Cameron's partner at the time) argues that Halberstam “bypasses any need to deal with actual FTMs before expounding a theory concerning them”; indeed, “nowhere in the entire essay is the successfully integrated post-op FTM, living his ordinary day-to-day life, ever examined, quoted, or even mentioned” (13). In the second, Jordy Jones (1995: 14–15) defends Halberstam, arguing that there may be more to Halberstam's conception of trans life as fiction than first meets the eye; furthermore, “to maintain that because she does not identify as transgendered, she should not speak about or write on transgendered issues, is ludicrous” (15).

10.

Hale's (1996b: 23) indebtedness to Stone is evident as early as 1996, when, in a book review, he cites “Empire Strikes Back” as calling for the resolute embrace of “discursive as well as material dissonances created by mixing gender/genres.”

11.

It is this call to genre, and to the fiction of gender, that Halberstam (1994) takes up in “F2M.” The call is traceable through Stone back to Jacques Derrida's (1980) “The Law of Genre.”

12.

Not incidentally, Hale does not cite the original publication of Lugones's essay in Hypatia but rather a reprint of the essay in Anzaldúa's (1990) Making Face Making Soul/Haciendo Caras. In the early 1990s, Hale read widely in women of color feminisms, including decolonial and postcolonial feminism. In his early review of Lesbians Talk Transgender, for example, Hale (1996b: 24) appeals to postcolonial feminists' critique of the term Third World women as instructive for a critique of the term third gender. Hale (2002: 15) later returns to think about the limits of the “European or European American sex/gender/sexuality system” in his review of Louise Erdrich's Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. Hale makes a point of saying that to read the Two Spirit main character through the concepts of FTM and transsexual “would be to misunderstand” the novel, and that the “trickery” attributed in each case falls into “different categories” (15).

13.

Naomi Scheman, interview by Perry Zurn, May 16, 2022.

14.

Scheman is right to take Hale's challenges as a gift, insofar as Hale indicates such engagement on the part of trans people with non-trans writers is “a *gift*” (rule 15).

15.

In later correspondence, Scheman adds, “In particular, I learned to take my disorientation when trying to understand descriptions of trans experiences as a way to decenter myself from the position of ‘intelligibility central,’ a move that shaped my reading of Wittgenstein as gesturing toward the work of those who struggle to, literally, make sense” (pers. comm., July 17, 2022).

16.

For example, Hale's rule 11, which states, “Focus on: What does looking at transsexuals, transsexuality, transsexualism, or transsexual ____ tell you about *yourself*, *not* what does it tell you about trans,” may repeat a Wittgensteinian as well as feminist injunction to take oneself as a puzzle. See Wittgenstein 1958: 96–97; cf. Scheman 1997: 123.

17.

Another important source of Hale's attachment to “fuzzy” distinctions is Willard Van Orman Quine. Quine was Michael D. Resnik's dissertation director, who was in turn Hale's dissertation director.

18.

Sandy Stone, interview by Perry Zurn, July 30, 2022.

19.

The logo, an inverted pink triangle with integrated sex symbols, appeared on what Stone calls her 1990s “trans landing page,” where, in addition to promising to add information on “trans theory as fast as I can,” she recommends folks begin with Hale's rules, which, as she wrote on the page, “impressed me greatly.” The page is still viewable at https://sandystone.com/trans.html.

20.

Cf. Wittgenstein's (1958: 51) observation, “We want to walk so we need friction. Back to the rough ground!” See also Medina's (2012) work on epistemic friction.

21.

The necessity of such transversal theorizing and activism is one of the grounds on which Hale (2008b) critiques Vivian Namaste in his review of her book Sex Change, Social Change.

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