6:30-8:00pm, Room F44 (First Floor), New Wing, Somerset House, 26/4/17
‘Trans*’ supposes transition, where is that transition from and to? Changing gender does not mean changing body. If you want to change body, you should. You should be allowed to tear out its sides, the sides of the law, the walls of the language, the surface of liquid. If you want to change your gender, you can. I think. There’s more of an ideological shift involved though. What do you actually mean by gender. What is wrong. The liminal is not the attic space, the bit of left out/limbo/between. No. It’s the through space refusing mobility. […] The narratives imposed upon the ‘trans* community’ are as damaging as abject (trans*) phobia because that is exactly what they are. […] We are not in transition. We are in occupation. Internalize any one narration. Make it work. It won’t.
– Verity Spott, from Trans* Manifestos (Shit Valley, 2016)
There is a long history of imagining gender as a fixed binary between masculinity and femininity, as a line that cannot be crossed. Strands of feminist thought, too, have been grounded in biological essentialism. Recently, writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie suggested trans women are not “real women”. Last month the presenter of BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour programme, Dame Jenni Murray, writing in The Sunday Times claimed that hormones and surgery do not make trans women “real women”. She told trans women: ‘Be trans, be proud — but don’t call yourself a “real woman”’. What is a “real woman”? Are all women’s and men’s experiences the same? What are the stakes of trying to hold on to an idea of gender essentialism within certain branches of feminism?
The presence of transphobia within feminist discourse has brought into focus the multi-directionality of patriarchal oppression. As gender non-conforming performance artist Alok Vaid-Menon recently observed:
cis feminism refuses to acknowledge, validate, and center forms of patriarchal violence that run contrary to the gender binary of cis man against cis woman. But what my experiences as a gender non-conforming person have shown me is that cis men can be deeply misogynist and violent to each other, to men who they perceive as feminine, and to trans and gender non-conforming people.
In societies where masculine ideals of domination, competitiveness and self-sufficiency operate to police cis men, how might a trans-inclusive feminism move beyond norms of hegemonic masculinity? And how might a trans-inclusive perspective approach the causes and consequences of cis men’s attempts to straighten out feminine identifications?
Verity Spott’s Trans* Manifestos (Shit Valley, 2016) suggest that the through space, the ‘transition’ supposed by ‘Trans*’, can be permanently occupied. That narratives of transition are constraints that assume a binary, a from and to. How might we radically re-navigate historical notions of what gender is assumed to “be”, in a way that is urgent for feminist and queer politics today?
In our fourth GSV seminar we will be joined by poet and musician Verity Spott. The seminar is open to all, and refreshments will be provided. Please book (free) tickets on eventbrite. The seminar’s reading list is below:
- Verity Spott, ‘Against Trans* Manifestos – As A’, Datableed Zine, Issue 3 (Published 2016, https://www.datableedzine.com/verity-spott-against-trans-manifestos).
- Juliet Jacques, ‘Juliet Jacques on Hélène Cixous: The Medusa gets the last laugh’, New Statesman (Published 13/5/2014, http://www.newstatesman.com/juliet-jacques/2014/05/juliet-jacques-h-l-ne-cixous-medusa-gets-last-laugh).
- Paul B. Preciado, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era (New York: The Feminist Press 2013). https://archive.org/details/PreciadoTestoJunkieSexDrugsAndBiopoliticsInThePharmacopornographicEra, see also http://www.e-flux.com/journal/44/60141/testo-junkie-sex-drugs-and-biopolitics/ (excerpt)
- Jacqueline Rose, ‘Who do you think you are?’, The London Review of Books, Vol. 38, No. 9 (May 2016), pp.3-13. https://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n09/jacqueline-rose/who-do-you-think-you-a
- Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle eds., The Transgender Studies Reader (New York and London: Routledge, 2006). https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=SfqOAQAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=transgender+history&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=transgender%20history&f=false