What would it mean to “decolonize the transgender imaginary?”
Popular narratives about transgender communities, identities, and practices outside North America and Europe often imagine non-Western locales as either idyllic havens of traditional acceptance towards gender diversity, or else as backward places in which trans people, like gays and lesbians (both Euro-American constructs) are universally shunned and hated. In both schemes, the non-West forms a premodern backdrop for the civilizing, tolerant liberalism of a homonationalist or trans-normative modernity. All the while, trans people and nonbinary gender systems find ways to survive, live and thrive. In these existences, we find important challenges and negotiations to localized discourses of modernity. A transnational transgender rights movement, at times sited in the global south, has taken shape over the last decade, enabled by new media technologies that are as symbolic of late capitalist industrial modernity as are the body technologies of changing sex. Together, these contradictory flows form a transnational transgender imaginary. Who are the players in this transnational transgender imaginary? What is at stake in such representational struggles? How does imagining globally networked communities of trans people interact with already-existing global flows: post- and neo-colonialism; global capital; immigration; diaspora; refuge and asylum seeking; global labor flows such as sex work or care work, and leisure travel?
Trans and queer of color scholarship has already begun to critique the homonationalism within emergent forms of “trans-normative” citizenship in many locations. And yet the very terms “trans of color” and “queer of color” signify, for some, a concern with the racial economies of the U.S. How do these optics and critiques work in a transnational context? How might such critique inform international NGO funding or human rights activism? How do “trans of color” and “queer of color” signify differently in different continents, regions, and locales? How are issues of linguistic diversity and translation to be addressed from a decolonizing perspective?
Multiple perspectives within and without queer studies about the “queer globe” have addressed similar questions for some time. Transnational queer scholarship comments on, and often participates in, a transnational LGBT justice movement. Much of the existing scholarship on transnational gender-variant social practices has appeared in the context of queer anthropology. While this cross-cultural work has made critical contributions to theories of how sexual and gender non-normativities emerge in relation to local, regional, and global flows, it also often assumes “homosexuality” as the default category of analysis within which gender-variance is subsumed. This raises important questions about the epistemological investments that contemporary Anglophone queer and transgender studies have in the categorical (dis)articulations of gender, identity, and sexuality.
We seek to call attention to the assumptions operating in much of this cross-cultural work that both biological sex and the categories “man” and “woman” are stable and self-evident across time, space, and culture, resulting in homosexuality being privileged as the essential framework in which to categorize sex and gender. These conceptual operations impose an Anglophone, modern, and western interpretive schema on historically colonized parts of the world. How might a transgender focus alter, sharpen, critique or inform such scholarship? Conversely, when scholars, activists, and funding bodies use the term “transgender” as an umbrella for local or regional categories indexing sex and gender diversity, we risk making a similar imperialist move. How might emphasizing a transgender studies perspective do more than simply offer “trans” as a better alternative to “homo,” and instead find new ways to encounter the global diversity of embodied subjectivities? How might transgender studies contribute to the decolonization of the sex and gendered imaginaries through which we grasp a world of difference?
Framed within the context of a transgender studies journal based in North America, this special issue itself is implicated in the colonialism of the North American academy. How do we decolonize our own ways of thinking transgender? How do we decolonize transgender studies itself?
We invite proposals for scholarly essays that address these and similar issues. Potential topics might include transgender studies in relation to:
- multiple, geographically disparate modernities
- trans as a site of racial, class, anticolonial struggle
- indigenous studies and settler colonialism
- decolonizing transgender studies
- trans of color critique
- critiques of cross-cultural analysis
- transgender necropolitics
- the “third gender” debate
- transnational violence, transphobia, and responses to “hate crimes”
- ethnographic methods
- global trans movements
- the uses of “transgender” in NGO’s and the academy
- trans studies from the global south
- south-south dialogues
- global trafficking and sex work
- citizenship and national belonging
- global migration
- trans inclusion within queer anthropology
- the innocence of difference and trans studies globally
- challenges in circulation/use of transposing theories and methodologies
- local categories and vocabularies of trans survival and existence
To be considered for publication, please submit an article by February 1, 2013 to tsqjournal AT Gmail DOT com. Include a brief bio, your name, postal address, email, and any institutional affiliation. Final revisions will be due by May 2013.