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.
My section would come after Emmanuelle’s study on Two-Spirit people in Canada. It deals with transgender/transsexual activism and linguistic imperialism. More precisely, it addresses the influence and impact, an imposed language can have on the recognition and representation of a certain group.
My case study focuses on Canadian transgender activists and their attempts to protect transexual/transgender people before the law. I will examine these political interventions in light of Canada’s linguistic specificity: Canada has two official languages, English and French – especially spoken in Québec-. To do so, I will rely on:
- The testimony of Canadian transexual artist, sex worker, and activist Mirha-Soleil Ross (who grew up in Montreal, Québec), in which she expresses her disillusion after having joined an English-speaking activist group: ‘now I see how circular, how narrow-minded, and how skewed anglo activism can be. I see how dangerously imperialistic it can be in terms of requiring that activism around the world adopt its analysis and political strategies’.
- Viviane Namaste’s Sex Change, Social Change: Reflection on Identity, Institutions and Imperialism (2005, 2011). In her work, the Canadian feminist scholar shows how the adding of “gender identity” to human rights codes, throughout the 21st century, has been made without taking into account Québec’s cultural and linguistic specificity. She then analyses the impact of such linguistic imperialism.
In today’s meeting, we have been doing individual research and putting our ideas together when necessary.
We have initially discussed the order of our presentation, where I will start by discussing the philosophical issues raised from the identity of the transgender. Such issues will involve the dilemma of the justification of the belief in one’s gender after being transitioned. I might also discuss the strength of one’s desire for becoming transitioned overcomes one’s religious belief.
I will use the case study of the Chinese transsexual dancer and host Jin Xing, who has successfully completed her identity transformation to a woman and meanwhile being recognized as a woman by the public, to argue against the dilemma of the transsexual.
Next, Victoria will stretch the argument towards the vagueness of the transgender and issues in the imperialism of the German colony.
Emmanuelle and Augustin will continue to discuss the topic from the film/media perspective.
Still, we think it would be a good idea to make the philosophical approach as a ‘thread’ throughout the presentation: to react with the philosophical puzzle I presented based on their case studies.
1990 Indigenous lesbian and gay international gathering: adoption of the umbrella term Two-Spirit (Driskill 72)
–> Defined as having both a male and female gender
Historically served as mediators between women, men and spirit, and often adopted roles of “healers, people of medicine, […] storytellers, seers and visionaries, artists and artisans” (41).
Main argument: studying Two-Spirit people leads to a wider issue: the absence of object to represent their identities vs the presence of objects from non-Two Spirit people to judge or criticise them.
–>Look at performance studies specifically as a way to seize back control of one’s identity.
1) Kent Monkman’s art.: widely-recognized, interdisciplinary Two-Spirit Swampy Cree contemporary artist, who plays with sexuality and gender to reinsert queer Indigenous narratives into colonial history. June Scudeler argues that “if he sees sexuality in many Indigenous cultures as a fluid concept, Monkman also sees history as a fluid concept” (111). Indeed, Monkman’s alter ego Miss Chief Eagle Testickle is a Two-Spirit time traveler featured heavily in his work, who reverses colonial power relationships by putting “the Indian on top” in “acts of erotic sovereignty” (Scudeler 110). –> OUT OF TIME (Conference notes)
Monkman’s installation draws upon historical and colonial representations of queer Indigenous people and rituals, to metaphorically reclaim their eroticized bodies as well as their historical and territorial presence. The work echoes a painting by George Catlin, American painter and author who sought to document the ‘vanishing Indian’ during his travels. His painting Dance to the Berdashe (figure 5) depicts a “dance common among the Sauk and Fox nations, of warriors dancing around Berdashe” (Monkman), which the painter later described in highly derogatory terms, as an “unaccountable and disgusting custom ”that he wished could “be extinguished” (Catlin 214-215).
2) In A Journey In Gender (Aiyyana Maracle): queerphobia in Indigenous communities has been a result of colonisation and has had influence for many generations now, leading some elders to impose Christian or Eurocentric values in their communities. Presence of the Church “have been the determinants of the moment when the genders beyond male and female went underground” (42).
3) More generally, Disconnect between academic studies about Two-Spirit people and the lived experiences of members of the community; the latter are often unable to meet and connect with each other
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’.
We started with a quick catch up for last week as Emmanuelle and I were absent last week. Victoria suggested that instead of using PowerPoint, we could present our project by making a plan of different individual objects and link them together to illustrate our research meanwhile echoing with our theme of fragmentation. We all think it would be great to do so and I thought it would be even better if we use PowerPoint to demonstrate each individual object when necessary. I have shared my philosophical research last week on a paper ‘The transsexual dilemma: being a transsexual’ written by Nicholas Mason who is a transsexual. It is interesting that the opponent power driven by religion is mentioned in the paper. What’s more, it is worth to think about that as a Christian, Mason’s desire to change his identity overcomes his faith to Jesus, to ‘go against the God-given’. Such a point reminds Victoria of the German colonial issue and also India as a decolonizing state: As written on a CNN article, ‘in 2014, the Supreme Court of India established rights of equality and equal protection for transgender people nationwide’, which eradicates the old British policies.
When moving back to films, we thought it would be a good start point for our presentation to compare the transsexual norms in Hollywood movies/American pop culture with the norms shown in other cultures such as the German and the Chinese and then extend to further discussions in other disciplines.
We spent the last minutes in establishing the research question and have a rough one:
How are the Hollywood norms challenged through the transgender, colonial, spacial and comparative context from the identity aspect?
We tried to put the keywords together such as gender, transgender, power, desire and imperialism. Speaking of power, we all thought of Foucault who has studied power as an individual object. We decided to unfold our presentation by introducing the definition of power given by Foucault which will work as a good bridge leading to all the subtopics.
Mason, Nicolas. ‘The transsexual dilemma: being a transsexual’. Journal of medical ethics 6. 1980. 854-9.
Gupta. Swati. ‘Indian state takes a step forward for transgender rights’. CNN. [Accessed July 16 2018] <https://edition.cnn.com/2018/07/16/health/india-kerala-transgender-laws-bill-intl/index.html>.
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.
In addition to Victoria’s very useful summary, here is a visual brainstorming from our last meeting.
We’ve also dealt with Trish Salah’s review essay, Undoing Trans Studies, in which she compares Judith Butler’s Undoing Gender (2004) and Viviane Namaste’s Sex Change, Social Change; Reflections on Identity, Institutions and Imperialism (2005) to examine trans rights discourses within the academic field. Salah also comes to analyse Bulter’s reading of Boy’s Don’t Cry – the film we want to focus on. Here is the link: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.821.5306&rep=rep1&type=pdf&fbclid=IwAR0dkytv_9j46o5cTuxSFq–FUE6V8D9euSjO4AUg3Jf1sQ3zMt3d4k0P_w
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.