Trans Studies: Beyond Hetero/Homo Normativities 

This year’s IRW interdisciplinary seminar on Trans Studies: Beyond Hetero/Homo Normativities will encourage a broad conversation about the most recent redefinitions in Women’s, Queer and Sexuality Studies in dialogue with debates on Trans Studies.  The seminar brings together University faculty, graduate students and IRW Global Scholars for weekly discussions of one another’s work-in-progress. The seminar meets every Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at the IRW Library (second floor, 160 Ryders Lane, Douglass Campus). Visitors are asked to contact the IRW in advance to get access to the weekly readings.

IRW Seminar Fellows

Jesse Bayker, History, New Brunswick
“Transgender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis”
I argue that transgender provides a useful category of analysis for nineteenth-century U.S. history. Engaging the claims of transgender activists and Trans Studies scholars, I deemphasize dysphoria and medical bodily modification and use transgender as a category concerned primarily with the social positioning of individuals. Using local and national newspaper archives and police and criminal court records, I interrogate the strategies historical actors employed to move away from initially assigned gender positions. My methodology and research interrogate and bring to light historical subjects whose lives have been rendered invisible by the heteronormative assumptions within the field of queer history, for example female-assigned men who loved other men. As a transgender activist, I will contribute to the seminar not only historical, but also contemporary insights on a wide range of topics concerning my community.

Leah DeVun, History, New Brunswick
“Enter Sex: Hermaphrodites and the Demands of Difference, 1000-1600”
This project focuses on hermaphroditism during the European Middle Ages, a critical period for the formation of ideas about sex, as well as for the establishment of professionalized fields such as medicine, surgery, and law, which attempted to codify such ideas, and which have had a long-lasting influence on Western understandings of the body. Many approaches to hermaphroditism that have been credited to much later periods appear in some form in the Middle Ages. Moreover, mentions of hermaphrodites fit into larger discussions about difference – difference between Europeans and non-Europeans, Christians and non-Christians, humans and animals – that touch upon fundamental questions about the very nature of humanity. If the shape of the human body and the scope of its sexual functions lay at the heart of what afforded humans their humanity and Christians their Christianity, then the stakes for properly understanding and managing hermaphrodites were very great indeed. Enter Sex examines this crucial period in detail, and it considers how medieval thinkers produced a system of sex difference that continues to influence contemporary understandings of what makes humans male or female.

Alix Genter, History, New Brunswick
“Butch-Femme Lesbianism and the Embodiment of Gender and Desire”
My dissertation explores butch-femme lesbian culture and identity in New York City in the post-World War II period.  Butch-femme is a gendered style of lesbianism that encompasses dress and appearance, behaviors and mannerisms, and styles of courtship and sexuality.  As a style of queerness predicated on eroticized gendered identities, butch-femme is an ideal lens through which to consider questions of desire, gender, embodied experience, and subjectivity in historical context.  My work engages trans studies both theoretically and methodologically, placing particular importance on my subjects’ understandings of their own identities and relationships to their bodies.  Further, as a historian, I chronicle a period of significant overlap among butch and trans experience, and in this way historicize the category of transgender in twentieth century America.  My proposed paper for the IRW will address all of these issues, grounded in butch-femme identity, experience, and history.

Julian Gill-Peterson, American Studies, Newark
On Princess Boys:  Racialization, Sissyness and Queer of Color Assemblages
The relations between gender, sexuality and race follow particularly vexed contours in childhood.  Through the lens of embodied gender noncomformity—or “sissyness”—I will reassess the interfacing of blackness, gender and queerness in the figure of the “Princess Boy” in the U.S. the West Indian diaspora in the UK.  Dissatisfied with the limits of linear time in separating child from adult, of the logic of identity for thinking the queer child, as well as intersectionality as a paradigm for understanding the haecceity of the queer child of color, I turn to Gilles Deleuze for the concepts of “becoming” and “assemblage” in order to open up space to think Princess Boys through trans studies without the pressures of naming a subject as queer or trans.  This dialogue between trans studies and queer of color studies will serve to better illuminate the dynamic intra-actions of sissyness and blackness in the unique space and time of childhood.

Mara C. Hughes, Educational Theory, Policy, and Administration, New Brunswick
“Queering the Campus: Gender-Neutral Housing at Rutgers University”
In the 2010-2011 school year, LGBTQ activists and their allies at Rutgers successfully advocated for the establishment of a new program: a gender-neutral undergraduate residence life option called Rainbow Perspectives. The program, which accepted its first students in the fall of 2011, offers the university’s first residential setting to be established primarily—rather than peripherally—as a safe space for LGBTQ youth. The founding of Rainbow Perspectives provides a critical case study to explore ways in which narratives about trans and queer activism intersect, converge, and inform one another. I want to understand two major things about the establishment of Rainbow Perspectives: the factors that emerged to permit successful policy change in this case, and the ways in stakeholders adopted and generated discourses about gender difference, sexual orientation, and social justice as they pursued policy change.

Jyl Josephson, Political Science, Newark
“Gender Equality and Trans issues in Iceland”
This project will explore the complex interconnections of gender equality, gender identity, and sexuality in the Icelandic context by examining the contemporary state of trans inclusion in Iceland.  The project includes background research on gender equality and state feminism and the relationship of these movements and architectures with movements for queer and trans inclusion.  It also will include original research with the LGBT, feminist, and trans community in Iceland, including interviews with movement leaders from Trans Ísland and Samtökin ’78 as well as the Icelandic parents’ organization, state feminists, and scholars.

Bryce J. Renninger, Media Studies, New Brunswick
“Radical Kinship Online: Resisting Marriage-as-Ideal in the Information Age”
This study is interested in the ways that media is produced, consumed, configured, and harnessed in ways that affect the pursuit and maintenance of radical kinship (i.e. kinship structures that resist hetero- and homonormativities, and often resist marriage). I will outline and explore the ways in which new media technologies affect the ways people enact identities and relationships and thus will paint the interaction between technology, the social, and the personal with fine strokes.  Situating this study at the juncture of the coming-to-hegemony of neoliberal political economics, the rise of neoconservative or “family values” political rhetoric, and the technological era commonly known as the Information Age, I will investigate the ways that these social-political-historical phenomena affect the ways people work against sexual normativities.  Central to my study will be explorations of the quirkyalone and asexuality movements, queer critiques of marriage, “alternative” wedding media, and individual users’ manipulation of dating websites.

Kristin Scherrer, School of Social Work, New Brunswick
“The Role of Gender Identity and Gender Presentation in Grandparent-GLBTQ Grandchild Relations”
Family members’ responses to their gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer (GLBQ) family member have largely ignored the role of gender presentation and gender identity for understanding how families receive this news. In addition, little is known about how gender identity and gender presentation shapes the responses of extended family members, such as grandparents. During this seminar, I propose to address these gaps utilizing previously collected qualitative data with 25 families (32 grandparents and 28 GLBQ grandchildren). The original goal of this research was to examine grandparent-GLBQ grandchild relationships, although gender identity and gender presentation emerged as prominent themes. For instance, transgender or gender queer grandchildren frequently described the distinct challenges of coming out as transgender to their grandparents (and other family members). Similarly, many grandparents described how the gender presentation of their grandchild was often more important to them than their grandchild’s GLBQ sexual identity or relationship status.

Stephen D. Seely, Women’s and Gender Studies, New Brunswick
“Sexual Difference in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”
According to the French feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray, “Sexual difference is one of the major philosophical issues, if not the issue, of our age.”  Irigaray, along with few other feminist theorists, has continued to insist on the ontology of sexual difference in the face of charges of essentialism and biological determinism. For the past two decades, however, the dominant theories of gender have emphasized, almost exclusively, the discursive and performative processes at work in gendered embodiment. Indeed, trans theory has, for the most part, emerged from this “postmodern” strand of gender theory that highlights the constructedness—and therefore the changeability—of cultural gender structures. Yet, a recent ontological or “neo-materialist” turn in cultural studies and continental philosophy has posed serious challenges to both of these paradigms: both sexual difference as an ontological structure of nature and the so-called “post-structuralist” epistemological corrective with its overemphasis on the effects of language and performance. Thus this project seeks to interrogate the overlapping layers of sexual difference from the perspectives of psychoanalysis, trans theory, and the ‘new materialisms.’ If biological sex is in its final throes as a philosophical category, why and how does sexual difference persist in psychic and social experience?  Is this only due to the heteronormative arrangements of gender relations?

Arlene Stein, Sociology, New Brunswick
“Queer Kinship, the Politics of Recognition and the Problem of Intelligibility”
While the growing visibility of homo-intimacies and the rise of alternative family forms has posed a challenge to heteronormativity, many “queer” families are still faced with the problem of intelligibility: making their families understandable to others, particularly to unfamiliar others. In this project I document and analyze some of the ways alternative families—same-sex couples and their children—are misrecognized and misnamed, situating the problem in relation to feminist/queer theory, debates about same-sex marriage, and the politics of recognition. The project will draw upon visual documentation, including photographs, bureaucratic forms, correspondence, and other materials.

Additional Seminar Participants

Aren Aizura (IRW/WGS Mellon Fellow)
Nadia Guessous (IRW/WGS Mellon Fellow)
Gail Mummert (IRW Global Fellow)
Yomaira Figueroa (IRW Undergraduate Learning Community Coordinator)


Yolanda Martínez-San Miguel
Director, Institute for Research on Women

Sarah Tobias
Associate Director, Institute for Research on Women