In another few weeks, the fall term will be over for me, seeing me through half of my third year on the tenure track. The fall has been a bit busier than I think I understood it would be. I’ve had the good fortune to travel quite a bit, sharing the work the Trans* In College participants and I did, as well as to talk about the historic legacies of trans* women of color resistance, and what that means for our current moment. I have also been invited to talk about some of my (very new) reflections on the current sociopolitical moment in the United States, and what this may mean for trans* people in the near future. My travel has taught me an awful lot about myself, my limits, and my abilities. My travel has also reminded me that I am fortunate to hold an academic position that allows me the flexibility to be mobile in my work, as well as that I have students and colleagues with whom I learn and work who show me grace and patience.
However, as I have traveled here and there, one question has begun to prick my conscious with increasing regularity: what the heck am I trying to do?
Now, don’t get me wrong – I know what the thrust of my work is in the particular. I know what the purpose, findings, and implications of my book are, as well as the studies in which I have been engaged since Trans* In College. And yet, when a colleague invited me to think about how I frame my work as a whole, I was caught a bit off guard. Simply put, I haven’t come to a good understanding of the overall project in which I am invested when it comes to my research and scholarship. Moreover, I know my work traverses multiple fields of study, but I have not yet come to a concrete understanding of what new knowledge my body of work contributes to my fields in particular, nor have I decided what my overall contributions to knowledge production are.
After turning around this question quite a bit in my head, and workshopping a couple ideas with folks, the remainder of this blogpost will be me trying to put words to these ideas. All feedback is welcome, especially as I see my thoughts as a work in progress. Furthermore, I will frame my ideas by using several prompts from the Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship application, with which some folks will invariably be familiar.
Most scholars in the field now believe…
Most scholars in the field of higher education now believe transgender students are a real population to whom we must pay attention. Most scholars in the field of higher education also believe transgender students are not doing well in relation to their cisgender peers, and some—but not all—are beginning to recognize how gender as a binary discourse influences life chances for trans students. Most scholars in the field of higher education also believe there are some “best practices” that educators can implement to make college campuses more inclusive and affirming environments. Finally, most scholars understand trans students through the lens of research at four-year institutions.
Most scholars in the field of transgender studies have a deep and abiding commitment to the complexities of gender and sexuality. Most scholars in the field of transgender studies are well aware of the ways in which gender is intimately connected to race, sexuality, and disability, and have called for far more nuanced understandings of “best practices,” such as attempts to determine how many trans people there are in the United States. Most scholars in transgender studies have a systems-based approach to understanding how biopolitics and necropolitics shape life chances for trans people, and are invested in interrogating the colonial nature of the burgeoning field itself. Most scholars in the field of transgender studies have strong theoretical and conceptual analyses, but few are connecting their theoretical and conceptual work to college-going trans youth.
As a result of my body of work…
As a result of my body of work, I endeavor to do three things: (1) provide a new language for understanding how gender mediates college campus spaces and student lives; (2) articulate the importance of trans world-making as an ongoing project of liberation; and (3) emphasize a trans epistemology that serves as a foundation for our resistance, resilience, and kinship-building as trans peoples.
As a critical ethnographer, I seek to exemplify how gender as a discourse permeates all collegiate spaces, and mediates the lives of all students, faculty, and staff, with asymmetrical effects on trans people. Simply put, gender leaks into every aspect of the (co-)curriculum. As a result, gender has the potential to be both a robust influencer of social (re)production, as well as a way of disrupting such (re)production in the name of gender-expansive liberatory practice. In this sense, then, gender may be both reinforced via binary understandings of lives and livelihoods, as well as a way to unearthing such restrictive binary (il)logics. As a result of my body of work, I seek to provide a new language through which people involved in the practice of education (i.e., educators, administrators, parents/family members/guardians, policy makers) can recognize the multiple influences of gender as a discourse on educational futures. Furthermore, I strive to show how gender as a discourse influences the extent to which all involved can promote education as a practice of freedom (hooks, 1994).
Much of my work is invested in discussing the importance of trans world-making. Similar to notions of queer world-making (e.g., Blockett, 2017), there are two important aspects of trans world-making with which I have become quite taken. The first is virtual spaces as a space for world-making (Nicolazzo, 2016, 2017), and the next is how world-making as a practice of resilience traverses various projected educational/social boundaries and borders (Nicolazzo, 2016, 2017). That is to say, trans world-making doesn’t just happen on or off-college campuses, but bleeds across borders. In so doing, trans world-making as an ongoing practice sutures educational and social spheres together in ways that defy the assumed singularity of these environments. Moreover, our ongoing work of world-making—regardless of scale, duration, or space—is first and foremost a projection of liberation. For example, when CeCe McDonald, Kai M. Green, and Treva C. Ellison came together to create the #TransMultitudes platform via The Feminist Wire, their week-long project in virtual trans world-making forwarded new visions of liberation for trans people. It is in this tradition that I aim to direct my work, always with the ongoing liberation of trans peoples and communities at the forefront of my/our work.
Finally, I seek to explore a trans epistemology that roots our ongoing resistance, resilience, and kinship-building. In essence, I assert there is a particular way in which we as trans people come to know ourselves and our worlds. Moreover, there is a particular way in which we as trans people come to know ourselves through our worlds. This is a philosophical claim, not a biological one. In other words, I assert there are ethical, epistemic, existential, and ontological ways we as trans people come to know, and that these ways in which we come to know must be held central to any and all understandings of us as trans peoples/communities. Put another way, the way we as trans people come to knowledge is unique, particular, and full of gender-expansive potential that extends beyond our bodies, lives, and self-understandings. While I have begun exploring a trans epistemology, I recognize the ongoing and unfolding nature of this work. I also understand that a trans epistemology is not only concerned with knowledge after it is created, but also knowledge as it is being created. Thus, I have become deeply invested not only in doing trans methodological conceptualizing, but also to curating work across educational contexts that traverses methodological, conceptual, and practical claims as a method to further our expanding epistemological groundings. I have also worked to curate these works in public formats as an attempt to reflect my commitment to transdisciplinary work.
So there it is. This is what the heck I am doing when I teach, think, write, curate, mentor, and fly/drive all over the country to speak. At least this is where my thinking is currently. More to come on this front, so as Rachel Maddow says, watch this space. But for now, this seems to fit.
This blog is a space where I engage with ideas, concepts, and research that seeks to increase life chances for trans* people.