Reflections on our project

Since concluding our presentation last night, I have decided to do a post with some of my reflections on the project.

When we first started, we knew quite quickly that we wanted to do something related to queer theory. Our final outcome “De-Imperialising Gender Identity Terms: A Fragmented Exploration of the ‘Trans’ ‘Experience'”, certainly achieved it. I have really appreciated the opportunity to delve into trans studies literature, particularly the work by Katie Sutton and Susan Stryker. Their research reinforces the interdisciplinary possibilities of trans studies, and, on a personal note, it was exciting to see the importance of German studies to the discipline.

Another area we wanted to include was visual culture, especially film. In the end, we had to leave this out as we decided to spend more time on our case studies in non-English speaking contexts. There certainly could be a version of a presentation, though, in which we studied the representation of trans experiences in American cinema, before contrasting that with other non-Anglo American examples. Where visual culture did come through was the inclusion of Native American performance art, and, frequently, our research into one discipline may have sprung from initially researching art history. Overall, the inclusion and exclusion of visual culture is an interesting demonstration of how interdisciplinary studies can reconfigure assumed links between different areas of knowledge.

We worked well together as a group. Everyone completed their areas of responsibility and brought something new and individual to the presentation. I was particularly impressed to see how members of the group who weren’t so familiar with queer and trans issues learn so much, so quickly.

Basic outline of Germany contribution

As a group, we decided that it would be helpful to post simple bullet points outlining how we think our research should be used in the presentation on the blog, so that we can look at each other’s ideas easily and respond if need be.

At the moment, it seems to make sense that my section would come after Syukie’s philosophical/theoretical introduction. I currently plan to cover:

  • Justify looking at the history of the ‘trans’ term – back to early 20th century Germany*
  • Outline Hirschfeld’s research
  • Transvestite pass: significance of existence, specific close reading of wording and how what it implies about identity is different from rhetoric today.
  • Highlight Hirschfeld’s ambivalent relationship to colonialism to think about how gender identity terms have always had a complex relationship to international issues.

*I think it could also be useful to establish exactly when terminology went from ‘transvestite’*, to just ‘trans’.

Week 4 Research

Heike Bauer, ‘Sexual Rights in a World of Wrongs: Reframing the Emergence of Homosexual Rights Activism in Colonial Contexts’, The Hirschfeld Archives: Violence, Death, and Modern Queer Culture (Temple University Press, 2017)

Bauer’s article looks at Hirschfeld’s relationship to the German Empire, arguing that his focus on sexuality over colonialism, despite his text Racism and being present in explicitly colonial contexts, shows his complicity in colonialism’s expansion. I will elaborate on this further in the meeting. I think this could be a useful text for thinking about the complexities of the histories of gender identities in colonial contexts and resisting over-romanticising the Weimar period.

This image, found at here, shows a so-called ‘transvestite pass’ and could be a useful object to use. The German reads:

“The worker Käthe T., born in Berlin in 1910, resident at 8 Muthesiushf, Britz, is locally known to wear men’s clothing”

Some points to consider:

  • ‘locally known to wear men’s clothing’: thinking about gender-as-performance, needing to be recognised by other people (this could potentially be a way to bring in a philosophical dimension to our project)
  • In the context of the fact that FtM’s history is typically sidelined – is there a way to investigate how many passes were distributed to each gender?
  • As Rosa has said in our meetings, the existence of these passes validating trans identities are something known about and recognised within vernacular knowledge.

Week 3 Meeting Summary

This week 2 members of a group were unfortunately unable to make the meeting, so all decisions about the progress of the project will need to be confirmed next week.

We discussed the different case studies we looked at (‘Boys Don’t Cry’; Weimar Germany; Trans issues in Quebec). From our discussion we decided that we would look at Hirschfeld’s research and American Linguist Imperialism as resistance to the simplified narratives produced by Hollywood cinema, potentially amongst other examples from Africa and China.

Since our last meeting, Emma and I have discussed the possibility of basing each case study around a material object (for example, the German Transvestite Passes), however we would need to make it clear why we were bringing material culture in conversation with film. One justification could be opposing constructed and exported narratives with the lived reality of trans and non-binary individuals.

Research from this week

Livia Gershon, ‘Gender Identity in Weimar Germany’, JStor Daily (Published 18/11/18) https://daily.jstor.org/gender-identity-in-weimar-germany/ [Accessed 2/1/19]

Summary: an accessible article written by Livia Gershon, using discussions around the legal rights of transgender people in the US as a prompt to look back to Katie Sutton’s research about Weimar Berlin, that she positions as “the first political movement around gender identity in the modern West”. This period is therefore a useful historical point to understand how discourses around transgender identities have developed and been shaped, regardless of whether or not we look specifically at this period.  Useful points include:

  • Policing of visual expression of gender identity: respectability politics.
  • Differing experiences of men/women: investigate the erasure of ftm?
  • Assimilation of gay masculinity into the Nazi regime
  • Hirschfield’s Institute of Sexology.

Matthew Wills, Ernst Röhm, The Highest-Ranking Gay Nazi’, JSTOR Daily (Published 27/3/17) https://daily.jstor.org/ernst-rohm-the-highest-ranking-gay-nazi/ [Accessed 4/2/19]

Article briefly introducing Enst Röhm, head of the SA and highest ranking gay Nazi official. Although not immediately applicable to our areas of interest, one particular paragraph struck me in terms of the visual expression and coding of queer identity:

“As Eleanor Hancock explains, Röhm, his face scarred from war wounds, stressed a hyper-masculinity to counteract contemporary views of homosexuality as feminine. A First World War veteran, Röhm ‘attached paramount importance to the values of militarized masculinity.’ This aligned with Nazi views of the homosocial Männerbund. Such all-male organizationsof warrior-comrades were supposed to be united under the banner of discipline and order aginst the threatening ‘wave’ of the bourgeoisie, women, Jews, socialists, Bolsheviks, all of represented weakness, chaos, and disorder – in short, the Weimar republic.”

Channel 4 News, ‘Germaine Greer on women’s liberation, the trans community and her rape’, Ways To Change the World: A New Podcast Season 1 Episode 10 (Published 23/5/18) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aU_csXGfdVM [Accessed 4/2/19]

We decided to look at Germaine Greer as she is frequently pointed to as a feminist figure who holds trans-exclusionary opinions. The video covers a range of topics, but in terms of our project (interest in the visual, the body and postcolonial approaches to transgender studies), these were the most interesting quotes:

“We are not even allowed to refer to the fact that somebody is transgender. We’ve got to call these people women and we’ve got to behave as if we cannot see that they are not as we are even when it’s blindingly obvious.”

“That masquerade is what is being presented to us back as the real deal with the hair extensions, and the false eyelashes, and you think, why do you think that’s real when we all know that it isn’t.”

“intersex is relatively common, especially in certain ethnic groups”

“In China during the Great Leap Forward men and women were indistinguishable, they looked exactly the same. Now that’s made very easy become they’re the same height. Now in our race, our mixture of races, speaking of basically of Aryan, men are bigger than women, characteristically women are shorter so it’s hard for us to pretend to be men and it’s been one of the things that breaks my heart when I see female-to-male transsexuals that they have tiny hands and tiny feet, just as male-to-female transsexuals have enormous hands and enormous feet and I think here you are, you’ve taken male hormones, you’ve grown a little beard, your hair is cut and you’re wearing men’s clothes and here are these tiny hands and feet that are giving the game away.”

Reflections on Initial Meeting, Fragmentation Group A

Our meeting began with a discussion of our majors and the ways in which our essays interpreted the idea of ‘fragmentation’. Our majors cover Comparative Literature, Film, Philosophy and History; and our essays interpreted ‘fragmentation’ from a variety of viewpoints (whether it be a negative tension, a positive opening of possibility, or a neutral description within metaphysics). From this starting discussion, it is clear our group is intellectually diverse. While this means there are not obvious crossovers in everyone’s interest, it also works as an advantage to the extent that our project will naturally become interdisciplinary and benefit from an array of analytical standpoints.

As one of our group members was unfortunately unable to attend the meeting, the possible topics we discussed are by no means fixed. But our initial suggestions seem to be mainly gravitating towards queer theory/identity and visual coding, possibly thinking about hair as a starting point. This lends itself well to mine and Emma’s interest in the film and cultural studies, however will need refinement as to not exclude philosophical analysis.

Following on from that meeting, we have discussed as a group the best way to share our ideas and communicate outside of our meetings and have settled on a facebook group as that will enable us to easily share and keep track of any articles or ideas that we may want to share with each other.

As everyone will be present at our next meeting, it will be a chance to continue to establish common areas of interest that will lend itself well equally to all our disciplinary interests. From here, hopefully we can assign ourselves research tasks in preparation for next week.