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.

In the Qur'an, the rules of permissible social conduct are organized according to a dimorphic gender paradigm. The only verse that references nonnormative gender is in a passage regulating Muslim women's social encounters with men (Qur'an 24:31). The verse states that women need not follow the usual rules of modesty when in the presence of male attendants who are free of sexual desires and who employ bodily and linguistic codes generally associated with women (Haneef 2011: 101). Female-to-male transgenderism is mentioned only in the hadith (sayings and acts ascribed to the prophet Mohammad), which contains several examples of transphobia, such as: “Narrated by Abu Hurairah: The Apostle of Allah cursed the man who dressed like a woman and the woman who dressed like a man” (Imam Abu Dawud, bk. 027, no. 4087).

Feminist and queer interpretations of Islam counter such transphobic, homophobic, and patriarchal elements in the hadith by contesting its reliability as a source of Islamic knowledge and jurisprudence. Some scholars attempt to resolve the conflict between what has been interpreted as the acceptance of transgender people in the Qur'an versus the explicit transphobia of the hadith by attributing different motivations to transgender expression: on one hand, it may be possible simply to acknowledge an innate (God-given) gender identity, while on the other hand it may be necessary to condemn a deliberate deviation from gender norms for the purpose of transgressing Islamic rules of conduct — particularly for engaging in forbidden sexual behavior (Haneef 2011: 101). Accordingly, while a desexualized transgender subject may enjoy a certain level of social acceptance, those who express a purportedly deviant sexual desire are highly stigmatized, particularly if they engage in what is perceived as same-sex intercourse. It is worth noting that male and female same-sex desires and practices have different historical genealogies in Islam (Najmabadi 2011: 536–37), and in most sociohistorical contexts male same-sex practices have been stigmatized and criminalized more severely. As Afsaneh Najmabadi argues for the case of contemporary Iran, this stigma also affects many transwomen's lives (ibid.: 536).

Unlike sex assignment operations for congenital intersex conditions, which are generally considered to be legitimate, sex reassignment operations for transgender people are more controversial in Islam. In Islamic bioethics, persons have only limited autonomy over their own bodies, which are understood to have been given to them in trust by their creator, Allah. Within this paradigm, sex reassignment operations are forbidden to the extent that they are framed as self-inflicted physical injuries or unnecessary cosmetic procedures that have long-term negative effects on the patient's physical and psychological well-being. The main opponents of reassignment procedures are Sunni jurists who argue that such operations amount to a repudiation of Allah's will and that they constitute a form of deceit (Haneef 2011: 102–3). The proponents of the procedure, primarily Shi'ah imams and a minority of Sunni jurists, emphasize the Islamic principle that “necessity overrides prohibition” (ibid.). These proponents typically employ a pathologizing discourse to argue that sex reassignment operations are not cosmetic procedures but, rather, necessary treatments to cure a legitimate medical condition. This framework has been particularly influential in Shi'ah-dominated Iran, where medical sex reassignment is subsidized by the state and bears a complex relationship to the heteronormalization of people with same-sex desires and practices (Najmabadi 2011: 534–35).

Transsexuality's complicated status in Iran is frequently represented in the West by the reductive caricature of a Muslim fundamentalism that forces gays to change sex; it thereby offers a prime example of the orientalism and Islamophobia, so prevalent among Western LGBT communities, against which many Muslim trans and queer people have to contend. Nationalist discourses that frame Islam and Islamicate societies as uniquely transphobic, homophobic, ignorant, and backward serve the myth of Western exceptionalism and legitimize various forms of violence and oppression — from military intervention in the Middle East to racial profiling of Arabs and Muslims in Europe and the United States.

Similar Islamophobic discourses also exist in the Middle East and its diaspora, particularly among secularist and/or non-Muslim communities. The most debated example of the phenomenon is the practice of “pink-washing” in Israel. Israel maintains relatively LGBT-friendly social policies, which it advertises internationally to project an image of itself as a liberal haven in a Middle East dominated by phobic and reactionary Islamic forces. This tolerant, democratic, and progressive image is then used to counter criticism of Israel's repressive actions toward Palestine (Puar 2011). As a result, the problems experienced by LGBT people living in Islamicate contexts become instrumentalized to serve their oppression.

Leftist activist, academic, and public debates on LGBT normativity, nationalism, and conservatism tend to focus on Israeli pink-washing, post-9/11 border securitization and surveillance in the United States, and antimigrant sentiment in Europe, in order to rhetorically mobilize Muslim LGBT people as the victims of these practices and policies. Nevertheless, conservative discourses also exist in various forms among Muslim LGBT communities, ranging from anti-Semitism and sectarianism to militarism and ultranationalism. As demonstrated by the case of Bulent Ersoy, the popular Turkish trans diva whose public acceptability has been predicated on her embrace of conservative notions of Muslim Turkish womanhood, Muslim trans identities and subjectivities emerge within complex sociopolitical dynamics. As is the case elsewhere, they may operate on one level as a strategy for surviving a phobic context, while on another level they perpetuate forms of oppression at the expense of other individuals and communities (Altınay 2008).

Gender and sexuality play central regulatory roles in everyday life in Islam, including the embodied codes of worship. Hence, having a trans subjectivity necessarily shapes the experience of Islam for trans people. To gain insights into this dynamic experience, it is important to acknowledge the intersectional diversity inherent in the category of the Muslim transgender subject. Understanding Islam and Islamophobia in the context of transgender studies requires us to analyze how new subject positions emerge and how they become available to trans bodies under specific sociohistorical and political circumstances. It is necessary not simply to understand Islam but to understand Islam within broader matrices of power, in entanglement with other disciplinary mechanisms and meaning-making paradigms.

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