Trans Studies: Beyond Hetero/Homo Normativities

Thursday, September 27, 2012
To Transcender Transgender: Haitian American Choreographies of Gender Fluidity in the Performances of Mildred Gerestant"
Omise'eke Natasha Tinsley, University of Texas

In the 1990s, Haitian American performance artist Mildred Gerestant shot to fame in the drag king scene, dressing, dancing, and dragging as a smooth mackdaddy who played with and subverted stereotypes of African American masculinity. Her recent performance work, however, moves her musical citations from hip hop to Haitian Vodou: her current “DanceHaitianGender” and “Transcender” draw on Afro-Caribbean ritual, and particularly on Haitian lwas (divinities) Danbala, Baron Samedi, and Ezili, in order to meditate on culturally specific imaginations of gender fluidity. Her performances integrate masculine and feminine variations of these lwas in order to creatively embody the limits to global Northern vocabularies of “transgender,” suggesting an alternative in transcender--that is, in engagement with the submerged Caribbean epistemology of syncretic religions. This talk offers a close reading of “Transcender,” exploring how and why Gerestant turns to Vodou not merely as a religious practice, but as an epistemology: as the only way of knowing gender and sexuality sufficiently complex enough to choreograph the racialized and classed genders that Haitians negotiate at home and in diaspora.


Thursday, October 18, 2012
"Incalculating Transgender Justice (Against the Nation-State)"
Aren Aizura, Rutgers

This paper intervenes on emerging imaginaries of transgender rights as they intersect with the global border regulation regimes with a question: what would happen if we thought about trans and gender variant freedom outside and against the framework of the nation-state? As illustrated in countless films and documentaries, trans and gender non-conforming people constitute a large population of immigrants globally. As immigrants, trans people are vulnerable to increased policing under War on Terror securitization measures, violence and discrimination in immigration detention, and increased criminalization because of involvement in transnational informal economies such as sex work. As this paper shows, the prevailing wisdom that informs emerging trans immigrant advocacy requires trans people to present a coherent and stable gender identity to the state in order to gain access to (some) rights, and a requirement for the gender nonconforming subject to “come out” as transgender or transsexual. Additionally, a logic of Western “rescue” comes to bear: targeting trans people both as the most newly visible victims of sexual “trafficking” and as victims of “barbaric” and transphobic third world countries. Politics in this framework is displaced from targeting structural injustice to “rescuing” individuals; meanwhile, trans people become a new population to be managed biopolitically by both non-governmental organizations and state institutions. However, even an intersectional analysis turning on the solidarity of “excluded” populations—such as queer and trans people, immigrants and people of color—means claiming an identity and a visibility some bodies may not be able to sustain. This analysis may neglect how relentless inclusion through calculability, rather than exclusion, is the name of the game in contemporary transnational neoliberalism. Thus, rather than valorizing imperceptibility or clandestinity as a means to combat the production of neoliberal transgender subjects of rights, I draw on Christian Marazzi and Derrida to argue for a politics of the incommensurable and incalculable. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012
"Trans Necropolitics: Conversions in the Currency of Violence and Death"
Jin Haritaworn, York University

My paper draws on research on anti-violence activism in West Europe, where the subject of transgender has recently gained visibility and viability. It traces the travels and effects of a globalizing hate crime discourse within a transnational context where subjectivities and political methodologies travel unevenly, along asymmetries created by contradictory formations of Empire, geopolitical integration (of nation, Europe and West), liberal multiculturalism, neoliberal restructuring, gentrification, global prison expansion and global war on terror. In Europe, the hate crime paradigm arrives in highly racialized and spatialized ways: ‘the violent subject’ and ‘the violent area’ are instantly recognizable as Muslim. There, the current juncture between a welfare and a neoliberal regime, and the ambivalent desires for diversity and disposal that it produces, invite novel performances of transness as innocent, colourfully diverse, and entitled to survival and protection. Nevertheless, these biopolitical and necropolitical conversions do not equally accrue value to all trans people. While those whose multiple vulnerabilities lend the moral panic its spectacularly violated bodies are continually reinscribed as degenerate and killable, the same process serves to secure a newly professionalizing class of experts in the realm of life. This results in a trans vitality which, while symbiotically enhancing the death-making capacities of the market and the state, is cannibalistic upon the lives and deaths of other sexually and gender non-conforming people. What would a trans politics and theory look like that refuses such ascendancy through ‘murderous inclusion’ (see Haritaworn, Kuntsman and Posocco forthcoming)? While radical formulations of violence and anti-violence have tended to focus on colonial feminist and homonormative subjects, dominant trans subjects are rarely held accountable and remain awkwardly frozen in positions of analogy and equivalency with queer of colour and other ‘diversely diverse’ locations. Against this, my paper argues that it is time to push our accounts of violence and anti-violence beyond limited formulas of ‘race, gender and class’, in both their intersectional and post-identitarian formulations.

Thursday, February 21, 2013
"Cures and Closures: Surgery and Sexual Difference in the Middle Ages"
Leah DeVun, Rutgers 

This paper focuses on medieval understandings of “hermaphrodites” (as those with atypical sex anatomies were called during the period). The Middle Ages coincided with the formation of fundamental ideas about sex, as well as the establishment of professionalized fields such as law, medicine, and surgery, which attempted to codify such ideas, and which have had a long-lasting influence on Western understandings of the body. In this paper, I examine contested ideas about hermaphrodites as they were debated by canon lawyers, physicians, surgeons, natural philosophers, and others in the Middle Ages. Such approaches help us to chart the rise of the legal, religious, and medical institutions of the period, which established their legitimacy through the categorization and regulation of members of society. In particular, I explore how the growing profession of surgery advocated surgical corrections of hermaphrodites in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In the twenty-first century, the ethics of treating atypical sex (now called, controversially, "intersex" or “Disorders of Sex Development”) is the source of fierce debate in the United States and Europe. This paper offers a context for the controversy by examining how categories of anatomical sex have been naturalized and legitimized in the past. It argues that we cannot fully appreciate modern conceptions of sexual difference without understanding the genesis and history of such conceptions. While it offers no simple equations between medieval and modern debates, a study of the medieval period and its legacy is central to this discussion.

Thursday, March 14, 2013
"Sticky Assignments: Trans-temporality and the (Historio) Graphic Securitization of Sex"
A. Finn Enke, University of Wisconsin 

It has long been noted that the concept of transgender inheres crossing and change across time and space: the prefix trans-, when attached to gender, invokes transition, transformation, trans-substantiation, and even transcend. But if transgender suggests its own peculiar temporality or trans time, we might also use trans- as a heuristic device that compels us to interrogate the spatial and temporal dimensions of all gender/sex assignment. This poses challenges to historians and other scholars who hope to perceive and articulate gendering process as they happened from moment to moment within and across bodies and borders.

Having granted that sex/gender/body is situational and signified by myriad technologies, we must ask: which significations are slippery and even dispensable, and which parts are so sticky that we believe them to be real? Which parts, that is, are taken to be the concrete ground on which practiced embodiments become sexed/gendered, named, and even presumed transhistorical, or outside of time and space? And how do these processes continue to contribute to the naturalization of some bodies and the abjection of others?

In this talk, I consider examples drawn from feminist social movement and popular culture contexts in the 1970s to illuminate the repetitive, historio-graphic certification and securitization of sexed subjects in history. I bring together transfeminist and dis/ability perspectives in order to keep categorical instabilities in view, and to invite creative translation toward a more coalitional historio-graphic vision of bodies in time and space.

Thursday, April 11, 2013
"Sex Matters on a Sociable Planet"
Myra J. Hird, Queens University 

The modern synthesis – and its popularized renderings including sociobiology and evolutionary psychology – offers a refracted account of Darwin’s evolutionary theory that largely reiterates modern hegemonic readings of sexual difference, sexuality, and adaptation.  Feminist theory, trans, and queer studies continue to critique these accounts, emphasizing their reductive propositions that underwrite relations of sexual difference, oppression, and limits of social change.  In tandem with the burgeoning re-interest in human/animal relations, some trans and queer analyses are revisiting evolutionary theory, and identifying nonhuman sexual behaviors whose frequencies and diversities eschew neoDarwinian assertions of adaptation in the service of heterosexual behavior, or entirely failed.  This presentation engages yet another refraction that extends these explorations into earth’s deep time.  Attending to a bacterial microcosmos affords, I argue, a more important refraction of the origins of sociable life.  The ancestors of all life on earth, and more biochemically and metabolically diverse than animals and plants, bacteria cross species barriers, perform hypersex, pass on genes through meiosis, shuffle genes, and through cloning, resist death.  I will argue that we need not so much expand our repertoire to include bacteria, as to completely reorient ourselves to the different economy of relations that the microcosmos practices.

All talks are free and open to the public and will be held at the Ruth Dill Johnson Crockett Building, 162 Ryders Lane, Douglass Campus, Rutgers-New Brunswick at 4:30 p.m., preceded by a 4 p.m. reception.



Download the 2012-13 IRW poster featuring artwork by Magdalena Campos-Pons.