I feel like I'm the only one with this problem—a gay man in a woman's body—and so alone, so left out. I gather Jack Garland's remnants with delight + think of his life compared to mine + it does make me feel better. But not much.—Lou Sullivan, We Both Laughed in Pleasure
“What are you going to say to Ed?”
“I don't know. I want to know if she's OK. I just think we all shouldn't be fighting each other. We need to stick together.”—Jess, in Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues
[Josh] got this look on his face with his eyes all big and blue and sad and understanding and loving all at once. He held out his arms and drew me in. “It's okay, baby,” he said, “it's okay. I'll take care of it. Don't worry about a thing. And he didn't sound mad, not even a little bit.
And that's when I knew it was time to run away again.—The narrator in Kai Cheng Thom's Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars
T4T is an ideal, I guess, and we fall short of it most of the time. But that's better than before. All it took was the end of the world to make that happen.—Zoey, in Torrey Peter's Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones
Anecdotally, many of us are (and have been) t4t. But if you derive your sense of trans worlds from academic writing and/or popular culture, this would be easy enough to not know, fixated as these genres tend to be on the dramas of trans people negotiating cis worlds of sense. When we proposed this special issue in late October of 2019, it was clear to us that t4t as a concept and practice organizes some of the most salient features of trans life and cultural/knowledge production but that, at the same, it is largely underthought and untheorized within the interdisciplinary spaces of trans studies. Indeed, as Cassius Adair and Aren Aizura point out in their contribution to this special issue, the academic literature on trans sexualities has tended to assume the inevitability of trans-cis partnerings, even as anyone with a basic familiarity with past and present trans scenes knows that this assumption cannot hold. Many of the insights of this issue, then, might be obvious to anyone who lives a trans life. However, given the frequency with which submissions to this issue relied on one paragraph of one of our essays, an essay that is only marginally about t4t, one of the most important things this issue might do is offer a more varied set of citations for writing about what “some kind of we” already knows (Banias 2016: 3–4).
And yet, precisely because of the apparent transparency of t4t to anyone “in the know,” we approached this editorial task deliberately holding the content of “t4t” as an open question and, perhaps more to the point, as a problem. As a bit of trans vernacular, t4t circulates within various contemporary trans intimate publics as if it were a neutral description of, for example, sexual practice or subcultural ethos. T4t circulates, that is, as if it merely described and did not also construct the (trans) world. To approach t4t as, instead, a question and a problem means asking what it is and does and might do. Has the circulation of something called t4t further reified cis/trans binaries and/or certain visions of “trans community,” and to what effect? Is it useful to think about t4t as structuring practices of academic knowledge making and field habitus, something that might be implicit in the structure of TSQ and explicit in Cáel Keegan's (2020: 387–88) claim that “trans* studies can only thrive . . . in a situation that gives it space to break from the epistemic structure of women's studies and queer studies”? What is the relationship between t4t as an interpersonal form and t4t as an exploitable and marketable ethos that might be used to capitalize on trans isolation through the promise of community, euphoria, and bliss? How is the insider knowledge gleaned through t4t relationality being commodified in current iterations of trans-tech (Geffen and Howard 2021)? How has the deployment (and, often, the idealization) of t4t distracted from or covered over the significant axes of difference, race chief among them, that characterize and trouble trans affinities and solidarities?
T4t means, most basically, trans-for-trans. The term arose in the context of early 2000s Craigslist personals, working to both sequester trans folks from the categories of “m” and “w” and enable some kind of us to find one another for hookups. However, while the term is linked to Craigslist, the overlapping things that it presently names—trans separatist social forms, trans × trans erotics, trans practices of mutual aid and emotional support—have been most robustly theorized within trans literature and other forms of cultural production that both predate and outlast the Craigslist personal, from the mimeographed trans newsletters and zines of the latter half of the twentieth century to the work of contemporary trans authors like Casey Plett, Kai Cheng Thom, and Torrey Peters. And what is obvious from such writing—as well as the term's origin—is that t4t resists idealization. T4t sex, desire, erotics, and social practices are nothing if not fraught, animated by tension and contradiction, riven by complex forms of triggering and retraumatization. Practices of t4t love, desire, connection, and support are simultaneously imperative and deeply difficult to cultivate and maintain.
For this reason, each of our framing epigraphs is drawn from a literary scene of what might be considered failed t4t, insofar as these are scenes in which trans sociality cannot ameliorate the affective and/or material deprivation that saturates trans life under racial capitalism and trans antagonism. In the first, Lou Sullivan (writing in the late 1980s) expresses a common impulse animating work in trans history: an attempt to ameliorate the sense of aloneness and onliness that attends many trans lives in the absence of ready-to-hand history and community. But while it remains a commonplace of trans history to narrate itself as a project of caring for the trans present, Sullivan is, like Heather Love, unsure about the possibility of “emotional rescue” (Love 2007: 31). Researching Jack Garland and telling a story about Garland as a proto-gay-trans-man makes Sullivan (2019: 332) “feel better”—that is, less alone in the world—“but not much.” This “but not much” should alert us to the fact that t4t as a self-making and self-sustaining research practice both undergirds the foundations of what is now trans studies and fails to ameliorate the real affective needs that drive so many of us to such projects in the first place. Such reparatively driven projects of historical recovery offer lukewarm comfort, at best; you can't cuddle, fuck, or trauma-bond with specters. Nevertheless, t4t socialities seem to always be composed, in part, out of intangible and virtual resources. On t4t as a form of virtual sociality and kinship, Amira Lundy-Harris's contribution to this issue explores how encounters with trans textual artifacts (specifically, trans memoirs) help produce and actualize trans selves. Lundy-Harris articulates how trans folks are so often assisted in self-making by texts authored by people, both still and no longer living, that “we may never meet but who still help move us toward the trans self we know ourselves to be.” He points us to the importance of a practice of reading across trans differences in search of resonance, and he positions this practice as integral to trans becoming. We might even call it a t4t reading practice.
But Lundy-Harris also points us to the racial logic of many deployments of t4t. Namely, when taken as an uncritical utopian horizon or an a priori ethical form, t4t can cover over—and so reinforce—white racial dominance. In our second epigraph from Stone Butch Blues, for example, Leslie Feinberg's protagonist Jess is responding to the news of a barfight that was sparked by Grant's (a white butch) racist commentary on the Vietnam War and Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and Edwin's—the lone Black butch in the novel—refusal to put up with it. The incident, in turn, resulted in the temporary barring of Black people from the bar, from the novel's primary scene of social life. On hearing about the fight, Jess immediately deploys the ideal of t4t as a way of smoothing over differences between butches in order to preserve their we; she wants to remind Edwin, not Grant, that “we need to stick together” (Feinberg 2003: 126). Although, in this scene, Jess's longing for an uncomplicated we is portrayed as naive, it's also true that Jess's narrative trajectory comes at Edwin's expense, insofar as Edwin functions throughout as a learning opportunity, a doomed device of Jess's characterization, even as the novel glimpses the trans of Black trans studies that Lundy-Harris describes. In short, Jess and Edwin's t4t friendship prefigures the generative and vexed dynamic highlighted in the introduction to “The Issue of Blackness” of TSQ, wherein “the field of transgender studies, like other fields, seems to use this Black subject as a springboard to move toward other things, presumably white things” (Ellison et al. 2017: 162).
Our third epigraph captures a similar dynamic within t4t, narrated from the trans woman of color's perspective. In this scene, the unnamed narrator of Kai Cheng Thom's Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars recounts the moment that sparks her final flight within and from the novel's frame. This time, rather than fleeing from her parents' house to transition and live among other trans women, the narrator is fleeing from her short-lived romance with Josh, a monied, white, kind, university-bred trans man. Importantly, the narrator's relationship with Josh was a nourishing one; it provided a holding space in which she could test out a vision of her future and experience sexual pleasure relatively unguarded by her defenses against past and potential trauma, violation, and dysphoria. At the same time, it's clear from the quoted scene, in which the narrator has just broken Josh's television, that Josh does not exactly relate to the narrator as a person but, rather, as an ideal, something that can do no wrong. Josh's uncritical, accepting response to her actions seems predicated on an objectifying, depersonalized lionization of trans women of color that serves as a caricature that confirms his white saviorship. His lack of anger is grounded in an interpretation of her as fundamentally traumatized and perennially prone to lashing out; the situational specificity of her affective response, and his role in it, are sidelined by his overdetermined scripting of their relationship, one in which they are an interracial “trans power couple” and he is the white providential figure who saves her from herself and secures, with his intergenerational wealth, educational privilege, and benevolent support, both her financial and emotional security. No wonder she recoils. It is, again, precisely the apparent absence of conflict that marks this scene of t4t as both a site of seductive ease and of profound trouble.
Rather than think of all of the above as depictions of failed t4t or failures to be “properly” t4t, we might instead follow the wisdom of Peters's (2016: 67, 55) Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones which insists that t4t “for real”—in an ideal or even “better” iteration—would require the end of the world but might, as a concept for the meanwhile, provide (for some of us, sometimes) places of rest, generative conflict, a bit of pleasure, scenes to run away from with a better sense of why we are running. This nonideal, nonutopic sense of t4t is honed in and through the multivalent crises of the present. The more intensively a tenuous trans we is structurally disenfranchised, maligned, and abandoned, the more necessary t4t praxis becomes; the more structurally disenfranchised, maligned, and abandoned this we is, the more angst, trauma, mistrust, and fear of abandonment we bring to t4t relationalities. But this coincides with reprieve, mutual (if always partial) knownness, and pleasure. Even the internecine friction and baggage deepens, at least potentially, collective knowledge of the risks and limits of and barriers to intimate connection, solidarity, and coalition.
Ultimately, many of the essays in this special issue regard t4t this way, as a provisional, tense, sometimes violent, and always fraught form in the meanwhile. Nicholas Tyler Reich's loving study of Tiffany Saint-Bunny's photo project Truck Sluts, for example, turns on t4t (and t4t*) as “trouble” and techniques for staying with it. Reich reads Saint-Bunny's aesthetic practice as multiply t4t—simultaneously “a desirous exchange . . . between trans media makers and trans audiences,” between trans people and trucks, and “between trans bodies, oil, and petro-machinery.” By situating Truck Sluts within a larger conversation about the interrelations of gender, fossil fuel, and climate crisis, they offer it as an archive that, through disidentifying with the “white-nationalist petro-masculinit[ies]” that undergird the dystopias of the present, makes thinkable queer/trans “trashy environmentalisms” that take sometimes toxic enmeshment and apparently compromising pleasures seriously. The toxic and dystopian aspects of t4t itself are, in turn, explicated in Amy Marvin's contribution, which focuses on the rise and fall of Topside Press as a scene of trans cultural production explicitly organized by the ethos of t4t. Marvin hones in on the way that such idealized and institutionalized deployments of t4t often actively enable and cover over abuse, exclusion, and exploitation while claiming to contest these very things. Given this, she wisely insists that t4t “require[s] some hesitation and caution against overreach” because it cannot be understood as “fully separable from the many ways that care can become short-circuited between trans and cis people.” Chris Barcelos likewise regards trans crowdfunding, a common form of potentially t4t support, as compromised or “complicit care.” Expanding on their earlier work on trans GoFundMe campaigns, Barcelos reminds us that these campaigns distribute material and emotional support unevenly, in ways that both mirror and reproduce existing inequality and structures of domination. For this reason, “t4t crowdfunding is more successful as an affective care practice than a wealth redistribution effort”; like Marvin, Barcelos invites cautious and careful thinking “about what it can and cannot do for our collective liberation.”
In light of all of the above, here are our t4t failures: this issue is composed exclusively of writers working in the United States, is notably trans masc-heavy in authorship and trans femme in object, and contains several contributors who are our collaborators and friends. Some of this is about decisions we made, decisions to prioritize more standard academic writing in the print issue and curate a supplemental open genre folio on TSQ*Now, to see what came in rather than solicit. Some of it is about our particular networks and disciplinary positioning. Some of it is about the structure of TSQ and the academy writ large. Much of it is about the sheer absurdity of attempting to conduct business as usual during the COVID-19 pandemic, uprisings in the summer of 2020, attempted coup of January 2021, legislative attacks on trans youth and reproductive rights, and other ongoing, everyday crises of late capitalism. That is, it is reflective of the inherent failures of t4t in the interregnum, before the end of the world, in the midst of a resolutely nonideal present (Malatino 2019). We might say, then, that this issue theorizes, exemplifies, and reproduces the problem of t4t as it manages to signal something like a critical trans politics while often actually failing to create and/or sustain relationally across other vectors of difference, exacerbating forms of segregation and extraction, and being shot through with intramural hostilities and abuse. But t4t is also necessary for the elaboration of trans subjectivities and lifeworlds.
The integral role t4t sex plays in these processes is astutely (and sometimes hilariously) theorized by Adair and Aizura, who read transmasc4transmasc porn to theorize trans sex as a crucial site of trans becoming. Critically countering contemporary transphobic accounts of rapid onset gender dysphoria as a form of trans contagion, they ask, in effect, what's so bad about trans contagion? They write that in the current climate of trans panic (especially around trans youth), “it may feel difficult to admit that in fact, yes, many of us discovered we were trans through being seduced by a trans person. . . . Or, at the very least, by finding a trans person unbearably hot.” But t4t sex between trans mascs (and trans femmes) has nevertheless long held the status of something like an open secret among us: underdiscussed or elided in public-facing conversations about trans sexuality but (surreptitiously or unabashedly) practiced by many. Adair and Aizura insist on the centrality of sex in any understanding of t4t, building an archive of late twentieth- and twenty-first-century ftm4ftm erotica and porn and investigating how the Daddy/boy and group sex dynamics depicted within this archive operate “as gender labor, affective and intersubjective work that produces gender and that in t4t erotics works within a framework of differentiated reciprocity.”
Similarly highlighting the imperative work of t4t in shaping and supporting trans arts of living, V. Jo Hsu reads TransGriot, the online archive of the late Monica Roberts, as a “blueprint for t4t love-politics,” which Hsu theorizes as “transformational care based in openness toward and responsibility for one another.” Stressing Roberts's commitment to an ethos of witnessing and mutual vulnerability, Hsu reads her archive as a vivid example of t4t care that refuses to shy away from difficult conversations across the journalistic, Black, and trans communities in which Roberts situated herself. She consistently stressed mutual accountability and the importance of calling folks in, from cis gay and lesbian journalists who misgender and deadname, to Black social justice organizations that fail to prioritize the needs of Black trans subjects, to white trans folks perpetuating racism within trans communal and movement spaces. Hsu describes this ethos as one that “prioritizes trans kinship and lives while also honoring trans people's embeddedness in other social and political communities,” one that mobilizes “t4t care toward a more just world while embracing the fact that care itself is a fraught, imperfect, and ongoing process.”
Fraught, imperfect, and ongoing: this is perhaps the best characterization of t4t praxis in this long meanwhile that a “tarnished, / problematic, and certainly uneven” trans we inhabit, living as we do sometime after some supposed tipping point but a long way off from anything resembling justice (Banias 2016: 4). T4t can offer so much: some measure of respite, a break from cis-centric optics and assumptions, a relation through which we might learn more about what we want to become, what we desire, how we want to live in these so often fraught bodyminds, mutually actualizing touch, a little room to breathe just a bit easier, perhaps. But, as so many of the essays here remind us, it is also a crucible through which we come to learn just how opaque we remain to one another, just how intensively we've internalized the lessons taught by trans antagonism, just how difficult it is to see, love, want, fuck, support, and simply be with one another. Whether these tough recognitions are failures or lessons, though, depends on what we (fraught, imperfect, ongoing) do next.