In this special issue, guest editors Howard Chiang, Todd Henry, and Helen Hok-Sze Leung present work drawn from the intersections of Asian area studies and trans studies. In doing so, they simultaneously address two complementary problems—the marginalization of “trans” topics within Asian studies, and implicit biases within trans studies that center the West, the global North, and the Anglophone. While “solving” those problems exceeds the scope of a single special issue of a journal, the work collected here calls attention to the cross-currents that make this confluence difficult to navigate, while offering a useful point of departure for further work.
In a recent issue of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Anjali Arondekar and Geeta Patel (2016) interrogate the continued salience of area studies as a conceptual construct, an epistemology, and a field formation. Given the “strident refusal” (152) of so much recent transnational work on queer sexuality to engage with area studies as an ethically suspect undertaking rooted in post–World War II and Cold War intelligence gathering on behalf of the United States and its geopolitical ambitions, they ask what critical gains might be achieved through the field's reinterrogation. They suggest that “the elision of area studies within queer studies” might “constitute a willed refusal to name the epistemological genres that US political initiatives have taken outside its territorial borders, a refusal to concede perhaps that these very commonplaces might hold the residue of post–Cold War settler colonial intimations” (153).
In thinking through these provocations to queer studies for their implications in the often-adjacent field of trans studies, given that the latter field often offers to the former a parallax view of the same phenomena, it's worth pointing out several resonances between Arondekar and Patel's query and recent or forthcoming thematic issues of TSQ.
In their upcoming special issue on “trans*historicities,” for example, guest editors Leah DeVun and Zeb Tortorici (forthcoming) draw explicitly on earlier work by Susan Stryker and Aren Z. Aizura (2013) that similarly poses the question of how the commonplace “epistemological genres” of “man” and “woman” operate across space and time; in doing so, these genres of personhood export naturalized and ontologized configurations of embodied subjectivity that are implicitly coded with both presentist and colonial framings of Eurocentric origin, which are capable of overwriting diverse local and regional forms of selfhood. In her issue on “transpsychoanalytics,” Sheila Cavanagh (2017) assembles a remarkable body of work that explores the “willed refusal” to traverse the aporias of sexual difference that abject and invisibilize potentials for trans subjectivities. A forthcoming issue on American hemispheric perspectives (Garriga-López et al., forthcoming) as well as this current issue attest to a rekindled curiosity about meso-scale (neither local nor global) frameworks for attending to the material, cultural, linguistic, and political-economic specificities of lives that resist undue particularization on the one hand, and overblown generalization on the other.
Taken together, all of these seemingly diverse questions, topics, and methods reach toward a common preoccupation with how best to acknowledge and account for the ways that gender and sexuality form part of larger apparatuses that classify and hierarchize forms of life, assemble them in ways that benefit some forms more than others, and connect them all to movements of bodies and resources from one place to another. Transgender studies has something important to offer this conversation in that it addresses both categories and movements, and attends to emergent forms of personhood as well as traversals of existing categories, across scales that range from the intrapersonal to the transnational.
In selecting and contextualizing the articles chosen for inclusion in this special issue, Chiang, Henry, and Leung critique “diffusionist” and “globalist” notions of transgender that reduce it to merely an oppressive imposition of the West on the rest of the world—a conceptual move that, however true it might ring in one register, risks eliding other ways in which regional “glocalizations” can operate in concert as well as in opposition to regimes of coercive normalization emanating from a geopolitical elsewhere. Instead, they foreground the existence of many “transgenders,” as well as many “Asias.” In doing so, they enable a useful, and largely unprecedented, analysis of the multidirectional flows of meaning and power across the trans/Asian conceptual interface.