Trans of Color Critique
Four-Week Advanced Undergraduate Course
(Background in Queer Theory recommended)
Proposed by Carolina M.
This four-module mini-course will act as a targeted entry into the still burgeoning field of Queer of Color Critique. We will consider different approaches and debates surrounding the concomitant and simultaneous study of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Not limited to points at which these categories meet, we will investigate: How is gender racialized? How can we queer ethnic studies? How should we articulate coalition building? Specifically, transgender, transsexual, and transvestite people of color will be the main subjects in this module since their disassociation with embodiment and their complication of gender expectations and desires shapes contemporary debate and controversy around Queer of Color Critique.
- Two (2) reading responses that offer a thoughtful reflection on the relationship between the theoretical and the fictional texts assigned for the week. (Due online the night before class meets).
- One (1) final essay proposal that traces a larger topic of your interest within the trans of color debate. The objective of this proposal is to provide you with a well-researched and planned outline that you could later on draft as a full essay. You should include a detailed argument, rationale, a list of sources with a short summary and description of relevance to the topic, and a bibliography.
I. Introduction: Black Queens and the Disciplinary Tensions in the Trans of Color Debate
This module will serve as a quick immersion into trans theory and its historical place within Queer Theory as a whole. More specifically, both our primary and theoretical texts will examine the racial marginalization and invisibility—implicit and explicit—present within the queer and trans communities. As we read these texts, we will problematize the representation of trans people of color; that is, we will actively interrogate the gaze of the author in relation to its influence upon our gaze as spectators. Moreover, we will consider the political implications of the transparency of the intellectual. Some relevant questions might be: How does the concept of “the house” in Paris is Burning build a homeliness that is particularly queer and black? How does embodiment contribute (or not) to this sense of belonging? What are the politics of “voguing” and “passing”? Or we might attempt to answer Roen’s own question: How can transgender theorizing be critical of its own racialised politics?
Paris Is Burning. Dir. Jennie Livingston. Perf. Dorian Corey, Pepper Labeija, Venus Xtravaganza, Octavia St. Laurent, Willi Ninja. Miramax Films, 1990. DVD.
Roen, K. “Transgender Theory and Embodiment: The Risk of Racial Marginalisation.” Journal of Gender Studies, 10(3), 2002. 253-63. Print.
Stryker, Susan. Transgender History. Berkeley, CA: Seal, 2008. (Chapter 1)
hooks, bell. “Is Paris Burning?” Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston, MA: South End, 1992. 145-56. Print.
II. Transnational Transnarratives
This module will engage with more expansive modes of connections between trans subjects. We will encounter stories of migration and exile—of people moving through different spaces and of spaces being shifted from under people’s feet. As global modes of connections multiply, speed up, and permeate spaces at new and unexpected rates, we feel the need to theorize how we want to connect with others. How do we cross borders while undoing them? And aren’t new borders always on the rise? How do we build coalition vis-à-vis essentialisms? What is at stake when we globalize? What could we gain?
Paper Dolls/Bubot Niyar. Dir. Tomer Heymann. 2006. 80 min. Film.
Puar, Jasbir K. Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007. Print.
Available here: http://eipcp.net/transversal/0811/puar/en
Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands, La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San
Francisco: Aunt Lute Books; 1987. 77-98. Print.
Manalansan, Martin F. “Introduction: Points of Departure.” Global Divas:Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003. 1-20, 194-196. Print.
III. Queer Diasporas
This module continues our debate on trans migration and exile—with a particular focus on the search and construction of spaces in which the trans of color subject can speak—that is, communicate and make community. Spivak’s text, though focused on a different subject position, may help us understand the politics of speaking from a space estranged from hegemony, and with no paths leading to it. José Muñoz proposes a narrative project that disperses queerness from the periphery into the center. How does this theory respond to Cortez’s project? How can we conceptualize shifting the site of trans enunciation within diaspora?
a. Graphic Novel:
Cortez, Jaime, and Patrick Hebert. Sexile = Sexilio. Los Angeles, CA: Institute for Gay Men’s Health, 2004. Print.
Hames-Garcia, Michael and Martínez, Ernesto Javier. “Shifting the Site of Queer Enunciation.” Gay Latino Studies: A Critical Reader. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2011. Print.
Spivak, Gayatri. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Ed. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1988. 271-313. Print.
Richardson, Diane, and Seidman, Steven. “Queer Diaspora.” Handbook of Lesbian and Gay Studies. London: SAGE, 2002. Print.
IV. Two Spirits: Indigenizing Queer Theory, Queering Native Studies
Native Studies and Queer Theory have yet to reach a point of satisfactory productive collaboration. Andrea Smith proposes moving beyond the study of ethnic queer cultures and into a native queer study that is more transdisciplinary while it interrogates the normalizing logic of settler colonialism. After reading theory focusing on disciplinary reform through inclusion and the redistribution of agency, we will discuss Muñoz’s strategies for the survival of minoritarian subjects within the mainstream. How, then, can we reconcile the disciplinary inclusion and the individual disidentification of the native queer subject? We will consider the relationship between the film and theoretical texts along this vein.
Two Spirits. Dir. Lydia Nibley. Say Yes Quickly Productions, 2009. Film.
Smith, Andrea. “Queer Theory and Native Studies: The Heteronormativity of Settler Colonialism.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. 16.1. 2010. 42-68. Print.
Muñoz, José Esteban. “Performing Disidentifications.” Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1999. Print.
Brincando el charco. Dir. Frances Negrón-Muntaner. 1994. 55 min.
Haraway, Donna Jeanne. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The
Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991. Print.
Namaste, Ki. “’Tragic Misreadings’: Queer Theory’s Erasure of Transgender.” Queer Studies: A Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Anthology. Ed. Brett Beemyn and Mickey Eliason. New York: NYU Press, 1996. 183-203. Print.
Koyama, Emi. Whose Feminism Is It Anyway? Portland, OR: Emi Koyama, 2000. Print.
Lorde, Audre: “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference“, in: Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, Berkeley, 1984. 114–123. Print.
Puar, Jasbir K. Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007. Print.
Quiroga, José. Tropics of Desire: Interventions from Queer Latino America. New York: NYU Press, 2000. Print.
Rodríguez, Juana María. “Activism and Identity in the Ruins of Representation.” Queer Latinidad: Identity Practices, Discursive Spaces. New York: NYU Press, 2003. 37-83. Print.
Salamon, Gayle. Assuming a Body: Transgender and Rhetorics of Materiality. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010. Print.
Santos-Febres, Mayra, and Stephen A. Lytle. Sirena Selena. New York: Picador USA, 2000. Print.
Schueller, Malini Johar: “Analogy and (White) Feminist Theory: Thinking Race and the Color of the Cyborg Body.“ Signs: Journal of Women and Society, 2005, No. 1, pp. 63–92.
Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria. Dir. Victor Silverman and Susan Stryker. 2005. 57 min.
Stryker, Susan, and Stephen Whittle. “The “Empire” Strikes Back: A Posttransexual Manifesto.” The Transgender Studies Reader. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.
Yarbro-Bejarano,Yvonne. Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La frontera: Cultural Studies, “Difference,” and the Non-Unitary Subject. Cultural Critique , No. 28 (Autumn, 1994), pp. 5-28
Youtube Fun and Inspiration:
“Decoupage” a talk show starring Vaginal Creme Davis and Summer Caprice
Adelina Anthony performs and talks about her performance “Angry Xicana”
Laverne Cox has many youtube interviews and clips as a spokesperson and activist. In this clip, Laverne talks about her childhood as a transgender person of color.
Wu Tsang talks about the film “Wildness” and its portrayal of an immigrant LA queer bar and its surrounding community.
StormMiguel Florez performs “White Man’s Burden.”
Titica sings and dances “kuduro” song “Ablua.”
“TransGeneration” is a docuseries following transgender adolescents in college.
Trans theory of color is not an uncommon topic to encounter once you have explored a few texts in queer of color critique. Unfortunately, I believe mainstream media has not caught up with this theoretical surge, and the gap between what we theorize and the representations we find is quite evident. We understand the literature and film in this mini-course as representations of particular subject positions; the theory and fiction here will question, supplement, and problematize each other.
My target audience would be university students, preferably with some knowledge of Queer Studies, though not necessarily (it would certainly help due to the relative specificity and complexity of the topic) and especially others outside the university with a background and interest in the topic.
I selected texts that responded in some way to the themes chosen for each module. It was important to me to achieve some balance between a transnational breadth (within a global register of postnational connections) and a more rigorous study of cultural and historical specificity.
The two assignments are designed to be a light load to allow students to focus on reading the texts closely. The first assignment is made up of two reading responses. These are meant to deepen the connection between the theory and fiction as well as to allow students to shape their learning through their own themes and perspectives. The assignments should be read by all class members before coming to class. They should be a maximum of one page. The second and final assignment is a paper proposal. Since it is a mini-course, a full paper would probably be an overwhelming task. Instead, students will make a proposal that should include all the elements they would need to later draft their proposed paper. It will offer a chance for students to bring in new material (they will do some bibliographical research) and think about the connections between texts across modules.
The first module hopes to offer a background in transgender history via Stryker while pointing out the erasure of ethnic studies within the discipline and the marginalization of people of color in queer literature and theory. Paris is Burning is an interesting text to explore here because of its near-canonical status and widespread reception, which clashes with its often less than enthusiastic reception from queer theorists. This discrepancy offers a chance to investigate the role of the intellectual in the representation of trans people of color and a moment to ask: What is at stake when the presenter’s gaze attempts transparency?
The second module recognizes the ubiquity of migration and the predominance of more globalized communities. To feel a sense of belonging and homeliness among exile and migration, and among people that are often denied access to societal rights and benefits, a strategy for coalition must be drafted. Since intersectionality was assumed as the strategy for coalition in queer of color critique for a while, I wanted to include a piece that confronts this assumption. Anzaldúa is listed here to remind us of the relationship between race, gender, and colonialism and imperialism.
The third module has more to do with speaking possibilities and the politics of communication—of effectively engaging with the other and building a space of commonality and understanding. I chose Sexile/Sexilio as the fictional text because of its strong use of (political, social, racial, and gendered) censorship as a narrative trope.
Finally, the fourth module presents the possibility of further transdisciplinary work and mutual collaboration between queer and ethnic studies. I chose Muñoz’s piece as a reminder of individual struggles that run counter to some more optimistic theoretical elucidations but that are grounded on specific material and historical realities.
The handouts are designed to supplement class discussion, while the youtube links are meant to offer a tiny sample of trans of color people in popular culture. I decided to include handouts to encourage discussion of and provide background information on the more dense texts. Sandy Stone, for example, is writing a very targeted reaction against theorists that preceded her, so a lot can be gained from reading such theorists. Although we are not reading Haraway during the course, the Stanford essay on cyborgs and mestizas helps establish a more visible link between cyborg politics, transgender theory, and queer of color critique. It will also be helpful in understanding Puar’s article. The Stryker quote in the Paper Dolls handout is meant specifically to open up a conversation regarding the relationship between the private and the political. Since Manansalan writes directly on Paper Dolls and will not be read in class, it will probably be helpful to discuss excerpts of the article in class. Finally, the handouts for Spivak and Anzaldúa are there to provide focus in otherwise very hard to approach texts. I also wanted to make sure that Spivak was not left alone in the zone of dense theory and was used to rethink other authors. This is in part the reason I paired the two feminist theorists in my reading questions. Hopefully, the recommended texts will be used to fill some of the gaps that will inevitably rise in such a short and packed course.
I. Background for understanding Sandy Stone’s manifesto
1. Janice Raymond’s The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male (1979):
All transsexuals rape women’s bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves. However, the transsexually constructed lesbian-feminist violates women’s sexuality and spirit, as well. Rape, although it is usually done by force, can also be accomplished by deception. (104)
2. “Does a Black person who wants to be white suffer from the ‘disease’ of being a ‘transracial?’” and then observes that “there is no demand for transracial medical intervention precisely because most Blacks recognize that it is their society, not their skin, that needs changing” [Raymond 1994, xvi].
3. The Transsexual Phenomenon:
(We will consider the chart on page 19)
II. On cyborgs and mestizas
Stone’s manifesto relies on an account of oppression/resistance that breaks sharply from the utopian vision found in Raymond’s work. Instead, it draws largely on the ideas of Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto” (1983, 1991) and Gloria Anzaldúa’s theory of the mestiza (1987). It will be worth discussing these views briefly to draw out the nature of Stone’s theoretical departure from Raymond.
Haraway’s postmodern image of the cyborg (explained below) is intended to raise worries, derived largely from writings of women of color, about single, monolithic (identity-based) accounts of oppression/liberation. Haraway worries about political accounts which postulate an original state of innocence and subsequent fall from grace and which then envision a utopian future which promises a return to innocence.
According to Haraway, the difficulty with such theories is that they are partial in their account of the world (while assuming universality) and so end up ignoring (and even promoting) certain forms of oppression (1991, 156). For example, a feminist vision which posits a shared experience of oppression among women and recommends lesbian-separatism as its solution, as formulated, leaves out the experience of racial oppression among women of color (Combahee River Collective 1981). Why should women of color be expected to forego solidarity with progressive men of color?
The cyborg, then, is a collection of disparate, incongruent parts: Each individual contains multiple elements of oppressor and oppressed. As a metaphor, it is intended to refuse postulations of original innocence and utopian future (1991, 151). Instead, resistance for Haraway is possible due only to the possibility of the cyborg’s turning against the intentions of its maker in a dystopian environment (151). This idea is notably taken up by Susan Stryker (1994), who uses the metaphor of Frankenstein’s monster, in her reply to Mary Daly’s (1978) representation of transsexuals as monstrous boundary violators.
This notion of mixture is also central in the work of Anzaldúa, who speaks against an emphasis on purity and in favor of the notion of mixed race (una raza mestiza) (1987, 99). She recognizes herself as a border dweller, torn between the demands of conflicting cultures (for example, anglo and Mexican) (1987, 100). The experience of being caught in the confluence of multiple cultures leads to a kind of multiplicity or fragmentation of self. For example, one might be represented in a racist manner in dominant white forms of feminism and in a sexist manner in dominant forms of racial resistance. This tension between conflicting cultural perspectives yields the possibility of “double” or “Mestiza” consciousness which involves the capacity to see oneself in accordance with the dominant ways in which one is oppressively represented and constrained in different, and often conflicting ways (101–2).
It is precisely the capacity to be conscious of this plurality of the self, in Anzaldúa’s view, that allows for resistance, since there is an awareness which outstrips the multiple forms of oppression by viewing them together, as well as in conflict (1987, 102). Such a consciousness also allows for the possibility of “linguistic terrorism”—the creative blending of disparate languages and cultures in ways that work against the monolithic character of each (1987, 75–86). For example, Chicano Texas Spanish and Tex-Mex involve such a linguistic blending. Anzaldúa writes, “Until I am free to write bilingually and to switch codes without having always to translate … my tongue will be illegitimate” (81). And: “We are your linguistic nightmare, your linguistic aberration, your linguistic mestizaje …” (80).
While neither Haraway nor Anzaldúa explicitly discuss Raymond, it is clear that the position articulated in the The Transsexual Empire is vulnerable to their concerns. Raymond’s vision provides both an origin account as well as the promise of salvation: The original imposition of sex roles and the final achievement of integrity through freedom from them (1979, 164). And Raymond’s dismissal of integration (the mish-mash of incongruent parts) is precisely celebrated by Haraway and Anzaldúa, who have no patience for the alleged “innocence” and “purity” of integrity. Significantly, Anzaldúa identifies a state between man and woman as a site for creative resistance:
There is something compelling about being both male and female, about having an entry into both worlds. Contrary to some psychiatric tenets, half and halfs are not suffering from a confusion of sexual identity, or even from a confusion of gender. What we are suffering from is an absolute despot duality that says we are able to be only one or the other (1987, 41).
Although Stone does not explicitly use the expression “double consciousness”, it is evidently at work in her suggestion that transsexuals have learned to adopt the discourse of medicalization while doing so within a subaltern transsexual culture which fails to accurately correspond to the official account. Certainly her suggestion that transsexuals speak beyond the gender binary is anticipated in Anzaldúa’s work, as is her call to mix-and-match genres.
The differences between a vision of the self as a site for potential gender colonization /decolonization (as presupposed by Raymond) and a vision which emphasizes “mestiza consciousness” are significant. María Lugones (1990), for example, argues that the former type of vision, as articulated by philosophers such as Frye (1983), simply cannot succeed as a theory of resistance. The difficulty, in part, is that the former seems to postulate a self underlying the cultural work of oppression or at least the possibility of a self that has been or could be freed entirely from culture (or at least gender). Yet, if such a possibility is not realistic, as it seems not to be, it is hard to see how any form of resistance to oppression can get a foot-hold. How can the colonized mind be open to transformation and resistance given that it is already colonized? It is precisely this possibility of “double consciousness”, argues Lugones (1990), which makes resistance possible at all.
III. Quotes to supplement Paper Dolls
“Transgender people, whether academically trained or not, have of their own embodied experience, and of their relationships to the discourses and institutions that act upon and through them. Such knowledge may be articulated from direct experience, or it may be witnessed and represented by others in an ethical fashion.” Either way, it is “absolutely essential to contemporary critical inquiry” (p.13) Stryker
Susan Stryker, “(De)Subjugated Knowledges: An Introduction to Transgender Studies.”
The Transgender Studies Reader. Ed. Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle. New York: Routledge, 2006. 1-17.
“Within this framework queer globalization is primarily a privileged form of ‘optic’—or a vantage point that allows a certain kind of ownership of global gayness […] and thus enables the right to claim queer spaces everywhere as ‘home’” (p.6). Manansalan
IV. Reading Questions: “Can the Subaltern Speak?”
- What are the differences between the oppressed and the subaltern? How can we apply either category to our trans of color debate?
- How do we relate postcolonial theory with trans of color critique?
- How does Muñoz’s “shifting the site” relate to subaltern speech, communication, and incorporation into hegemony as Spivak sees it? What are the politics of representation (darstellen and vertreten) in Muñoz?
Rosalind Morris’s introduction to “Can the Subaltern Speak?”
V. On Borderlands/La Frontera
- How does the form in Borderlands/La Frontera inform our discussion on the shape of the discipline? What does it contribute to debates on representation, subject formation, and intersectionality?
- On the unity of the subject: Spivak dismisses Foucault and Deleuze’s claims on a unitary subject that is non-contradictory and known by the intellectual through which s/he speaks. Anzaldúa’s subject is self-constituted, possibly contradictory, and historically broken. Should we embrace brokenness as Anzaldúa does given the ties we can trace between the subaltern and the broken inhabitant of Aztlán?