“When legislators and judges are in disagreement over whether the quasi-suspect category ‘sex’ includes ‘sexual orientation’ or even ‘gender identity,’ better understanding about how categories are named, regulated, and respected are necessary. These may seem like questions about equity, representation, and civics, but they are also central to educational research. If researchers are interested in engaging issues, they need to be cognizant of the varieties of ways in which people define themselves, how they are impacted by policies, and how their subjectivities, terminologies, and even communities will shift over time.” (Mayo, 2017, p. 536)
“Race is a figuration, a fake, made-up thing with material, crushingly real consequences. As Chinua Achebe taught, everything is a fiction. The question is if it is a beneficent or malignant fiction.” (Patel, 2015, para. 12)
“I find myself increasingly insisting on the importance of history, not because things were better (or worse) in an earlier time but because, as cocreators of collective memory, we’re all doing it one way and another, and it matters how we tell the story.” (Enke, 2018, p. 10)
There are moments when I read things expecting to be rocked a bit, and then there are times that, no matter how much I expect to be moved, the ground seems to open up beneath me and swallow me whole. There are some pieces that are just all consuming, and shake me to my very core, challenging me to rethink a lot of ideas and notions that had begun to solidify in my consciousness. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I find it necessary to pause, take stock, and do the rethinking the piece is calling on me (and, I may argue, us all) to do.
And when it happens that I (re)read three such pieces in the span of a week, well, that’s cause for a blogpost…
Recently, I read Cris Mayo’s Educational Researcher piece, Queer and Trans Youth, Relational Subjectivity, and Uncertain Possibilities: Challenging Research in Complicated Contexts. Mayo’s work has immediately become one of those monumental pieces, an anchor for my continued (re)thinking of my work. In fact, as I read Mayo’s work, I was reminded of a blogpost from Leigh Patel that I consistently return to, as well. Specifically, these pieces—and a recent piece in TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly by Finn Enke that I will fold into the discussion later—have helped me think more carefully about citational practice, as well as why it matters for scholars and practitioners alike.
In setting the stage, it’s important to note just what I mean when I discuss citational practice. In her latest book, Ahmed (2017) discussed her policy against citing white men. She did this as a way to live her feminist ethic, and lift up the voices of womxn, especially womxn of color. Similarly, in my book, I revise earlier work of mine to center the conceptual work of trans people rather than on cisgender people. My point for doing this was about highlighting and circulating the work of those already on the margins rather than continuing to lift up those voices for people who are usually centered (at best) and/or are co-opting marginalized voices and concepts (at worst).
Flash forward to a couple months ago, I began working on an CFP submission for a special issue journal on resisting binary notions of gender. In my imagining of my manuscript, I immediately got the idea of writing a piece in which I only cited trans people. I have often dreamed out loud about being able to do this, and find it to be a provocative idea, as it would reinforce the ways in which we as trans people have generated our own knowledges. In a sense, doing so lines up in some ways with what I have written about a trans epistemology in that it would confront readers with our ongoing existence despite/in response to our ongoing erasure.
And then I read Mayo’s piece…and remembered Patel’s piece…and read Enke’s piece…and began to think differently.
In Mayo’s piece, readers are reminded of the ways in which categorical understandings of gender and sexuality continue to be rollicked by individuals as we come to (re)know ourselves. Mayo also does a masterful job tethering our various and ongoing constructions of self not just to an independent project of navel-gazing, but to exposing the hegemonic ways in which population management, surveillance, and the nation-state operate. Mayo also is careful to remind readers these long-reaching connections have consequences for how researchers and practitioners do our work. For if we do not know what it is we are talking about (e.g., sexuality, gender), then we are perhaps furthering dangerous policies, rhetorics, studies, and discourses.
In Patel’s piece, readers are reminded of how, despite its fictitious base, race continues to have material effects on one’s life chances. In this sense, then, one is racialized—thereby producing effects—rather than “having” a concretized race that is itself a “natural” fact. And while race and gender are not the same, the ways in which these subjectivities are both deeply held personal realities and relational processes underscore the ways that “pinning down” or proposing to “know” some sort of ontological reality about populations on the basis of such fictions is a shifty—and perhaps quite muddy—process, as it suggests we can affix a stable, monolithic set of realities to something that is anything but.
In Enke’s piece, readers are reminded that the history we thought we knew may in fact be “all mixed up.” Through a rereading of moments from 1970s feminist movements, Enke shows how transfeminism was always already present throughout, disavowing the easy slide toward this era equaling a time in which transphobia was an all-consuming discourse. Enke picks up on the work of Sandy Stone, who advocated for sticking with being “all mixed up” as a way of creating space for those of us who have always been positioned as “all mixed up.” And if transphobia both was and wasn’t present, then perhaps we can realize the ways in which norms have (not) constrained us and keep pulling on threads that tear at these mixed up seams.
So now back to this idea of an all trans cited/referenced piece. In short, I have decided not to do this. My reasons for doing this are multiple, and are in direct connection to these three pieces.
From Mayo’s piece, I wonder how my desire is rooted in the false belief that all trans people are invested in liberatory notions of gender. I also wonder how I would be investing in the same strategies of population management and surveillance to “make sure” all those cited/referenced were trans.
From Patel’s piece, I wonder what standards I would use regarding making determinations of who to cite. There are many people who both allude categorization, or their genders shift across time and place or for whom historical and geopolitical understandings of gender just cannot do justice. How could my concretizing something fictitious further the “crushingly real consequences” of that fiction, transforming it from beneficial to malignant?
From Enke’s piece, I wonder how my desire was for a non-“mixed up” past/present/future, and how that non-“mixed up” past/present/future could be erroneously used to suggest that we have “arrived” in problematic ways.
I have written about a number of these same ideas before, and yet…there was—and still is, if I am being honest—a desire to have an “exclusively trans” manuscript…whatever that even means/if that is truly even possible. As Reina Gossett, Eric A. Stanley, and Johanna Burton point out, these desires can be trap doors in that they may lead to peril and/or possibility. So while I have been a bit shocked at my desire, and how it rubs against my deeply held episteme, I do want to follow it through this trap door to see what it could reveal.
As I move through the trap door of the elusive “exclusively trans” manuscript, I find a way to embrace a trickle up citational practice that is an act of epistemological solidarity. Mirroring Dean Spade’s notion of trickle up activism, this would be a citational practice focused on the knowledges constructed by those most on the margins, and would work across populations as a way to proliferate possibilities for what and who we come to know, as well as how we come to know. As we focus on epistemological solidarity, there are spillages into the way we come to know our research as scholars, as well as the way we come to do our work. We focus on various, previously-hidden-from-view ways of being in the world as researchers and practitioners, and frame our work beyond the normal, institutionalized code of standards. We begin to live, work, think, research, and act with and alongside those most on the margins, and in so doing, increase life chances through striving toward our shared liberation.
So this is where I am at right now. I may never write an “exclusively trans” manuscript, but to be honest, these three pieces have helped me understand why doing so may never have really been necessary in the first place, as well as how the desire for me to do so was about something I previously had not had the capacity to imagine. Moreover, I have been able to think, yet again, about how the process by which we come to know—and the trap doors that are exposed/that we head through—have deep implications for all of us invested in hooks’ (1994) notion of education as a practice of freedom.
This blog is a space where I engage with ideas, concepts, and research that seeks to increase life chances for trans* people.