Transtrender: a meditation on gender as a racial construct

FORGIVE EVERYONE by Manuel Arturo Abreu

It would be better to disclose the confinement rather than make illusions of freedom.
–Robert Smithson

Glissant says the Middle Passage made it possible ‘to consent not to be a single being.’ What does it mean to have been sent to give yourself away? Pretty much everybody I know is driven to dissent from such a movement, where consent is inseparable from a monstrous imposition…
–Fred Moten

The New Digitality

The corporatization of the internet brought about the demise of what Nathan Jurgenson calls digital dualism— the belief in “online” and “offline” as separate spaces. The appified digital strip mall we call the internet today presents itself as simply another aspect of reality, and bears little resemblance to the badly-coded badlands of two or three decades prior, populated by anonymous avatars seeking virtual solace from meatspace.

This digital, fluid terrain proved critical for many nascent trans people, including me. But the “URL/IRL” distinction collapsed in favor of a more temporal metaphor of digitality, as corporations gained control of the data stream, seeking to better track, manipulate, and monetize users. Facebook’s recent name policy exemplifies this shift— whereas anonymous avatars once represented a site for trans people to reclaim, control, and extend their identities, now our digital footprint must align with the state’s identification system in the wake of the Real ID Act of 2005 and the FBI’s Activity-Based Intelligence paradigm, launched in 2010.

The ideology of Big Data requires that our actions be locatable to begin with: anchored to one specific quantified identity. So if the multiplicity and fluidity of the early digital sandbox finds its beginnings in the Middle Passage, as Fred Moten paraphrases Edouard Glissant in my epigraph, then the demise of digital dualism may mirror and aid colonial capitalism’s revocation of this possibility to consent not to be a single being. The tragedy of this formulation is that not being a single being has a double meaning: both more than one, and also not even one. I try to trace out this double meaning particularly in the context of race’s presence in trans.

Along with the internet’s gentrification, trans is trending. This is a symptom of the recent generalization of queerness as any marketable deviation from norm. This reifies legibility and aligns precisely with a militaristic Big Data surveillance paradigm in which “it is the unknown that becomes targeted,” as Grégoire Chamayou puts it. Drawing somewhat morbid inspiration from Joe Biden’s loaded statement that transgender discrimination is “the civil rights issue of our time,” I trace the continuing presence and role of race in this nexus of contexts, in order to discuss the hegemonic histories, implications, and aspirations of queer and trans discourse in light of the new digitality. I ultimately argue that what seem like novel developments need to be considered in light of actually-existing diachronic and synchronic conditions, namely the conditions of race.

Trans is Trending

We live in times where everything has been queered, but we are “not yet queer,” as the late José  Muñoz put it. Queerness is futurity itself, by this line of thought; or, by another, more thanatological line of thought such as that of the neo-Bersanists (Lee Edelman, Jack Halberstam, et al), queerness is the rejection of this futurity. In either formulation, a certain gentrification or generalization of queerness is present, what Jordana Rosenberg calls “queer atonality”: any deviation from norm can be characterized as queer, and any norm can be claimed to have queer undercurrents trembling within it. The implicit problem here is one of legibility. Indeed, in Queer Ecology Timothy Morton writes that since “at the DNA level, it’s impossible to tell a ‘genuine’ code sequence’ from a viral code insertion,” it follows that “there is no contradiction between straightforward biology and queer theory.”

For people who uphold the supremacy of medical evidence in delineating the definitions and goals of the LGBTQIA+ “community,” as well as visible difference more generally, a statement like Morton’s makes sense. For those who are skeptical of reifying science, the statement seems questionable: is biology straightforward? If Morton is repudiating a contradiction between biology and queer theory, what does this contradiction look like? What are the “genuine code sequences” that he argues cannot be distinguished from “viral code insertions”? What are the methods of distinguishing? Parallel to these questions, it also seems that this generalization of queerness as difference-of-whatever affects every subcommunity under the “queer” umbrella, including the trans community. The framework of trans has been generalized to various non-transgender, as well as non-western, groups: consider trans-ableist, trans-species (otherkin), and trans-ethnic communities and identities, as well as the symbolically-”inclusive” use of the asterisk in the term “trans*.”

In short, everything can be read as queer, which means nothing is queer. Trans is trending, which may or may not help, but most likely hurts, actually-existing trans people. A concrete institutional definition of trans is still “under construction,” itself having undergone various “queerings.” But both above and under the carnival of signifiers and the circulation of theoretical concepts, trans people, especially of color, still inordinately suffer and die. Our voices are still unheard and ignored, even as aspects of the condition become generalized and hypervisible. The world cheers on as we agonize. Statistics about trans people of color get subsumed into the general trans struggle to intensify empathy. What, precisely, is this necropolitics of conceptualization whereby trans pain, particularly the pain of black trans people, continues to transmute into metaphors, generalities, theoretical developments, queerings, coping mechanisms for people who think they were “born into the wrong race,” and much more, but basic human rights and even expectancy of life itself still elude many in the global trans community? When did queerness become a post-critical theory clickbait machine?

In considering the cultural currency of our pain and death, it’s instructive, if somewhat chilling, to follow Morton’s argument from a racial perspective: if biology is queer by virtue of the paradox of categorizing norm deviation, then white society positions the racialized Other as its inherently queer counterpart. In its encounter with difference, white socity then colonizes and categorizes, generally erroneously (such as, for example, according to genetic thresholds), in order to uphold violent regimes of visibility. Further, if we agree with Morton that distinguishing Self from Other, Genuine from Fake, or Life from Virus is difficult (even impossible), and we follow his assertion regarding “the difference multiplication that is queer theory’s brilliance,” then some analytic lines of flight begin to emerge: queer theory is like the randomness of mutation in nature, and aids the creation of categories of differentiation, which are not only useful for individual self-realization, but also distinguishing (impossibly, Morton might say) entities within a cultural ecology— that is to say, state data gathering, which has its roots in racial slavery.

Queerness qua entropy gentrifies into the rhizomatic expansion of census categories, the development of predatory tracking and marketing paradigms, and the financialized enclosure of affect: “if your gender isn’t one of the 56 available on Facebook, is it real?” I follow some of these lines of thought throughout this essay in a suitably convoluted way. First, I consider the history of the relation between surveillance and race. Then, I discuss an ideological split regarding the definition of trans. I go on to discuss the transvaluation of trans by means of considering two examples of the gentrification of trans terminology: outside our community, trans-ethnic discourse; and within our community, the symbolic inclusivity politics of the asterisk (as in, “trans*”). The transvaluation of trans makes explicit the hegemonic implications and aspirations of western trans discourse.

[Untitled] by Leigh

Surveillance and Race

In his quip about queer theory and biology, Morton posits that the aleatory nature of the world’s molecular level mirrors deconstruction’s claim that no text is truly authentic. This, then, entails that there is no truly authentic life-form, and ecology has always already escaped governmentality. But this does not really reflect reality, since even if it’s metaphysically true, in practice, societies are very much characterized by positing an authentic form, finding or inventing the Other, and either extracting life (slavery), purging this category (settler colonialism), or both (really-existing capitalist democracy).

The “age of the algorithm,” as Luciana Parisi calls it, is simply the most recent manifestation of technologies for tracking and manipulating people. Digital anonymity, too, is only one recent instance of state agents being unable to tell “genuine code sequences” and “viral insertions” apart. The homogenized, dark-skinned enemy Other is the motivating force of the American empire itself, and arguably the beginning of American surveillance is the slave pass system— these slips of paper, in conjunction with the illegality of slave literacy, allowed whites to let their slaves off the plantations and be identifiable. But slaves, which whites often could not tell apart anyway, secretly learned English and consistently foiled this early surveillance tactic.

Presentation politics were more fluid when slave passes simply had names and short descriptions— slaves could impersonate others, pretend to be plantation locals, and employ other survivalist deceptions. But instances like the 1739 Stono Rebellion, the Haitian Revolution, and other slave revolts motivated property owners to develop more sophisticated tracking systems. For example, in 1783, Charleston adopted metal slave hire badges, some of America’s earliest numbered IDs, meant for “payment of the annual slave tax” and ensuring “political control of black people as a class.” (Christian Parenti, The Soft Cage: Surveillance in America from Slavery to the War on Terror, 2004). Another example: free papers that were impossible to forge without a printing press, and which contained elaborate biometric descriptions.

With the shift from plantation slavery to forced prison labor as the handmaiden to Fordism, as well as the introduction of other ethnic minorities into the American workforce, biometrics became a way of counteracting the white perception of racialized others as indistinguishable. The biometric tendency began in earnest in 1891, when Croatian-born Argentinian anthropologist and police official Juan Vucetich began expanding the ideas of eugenics inventor Francis Galton in order to develop dactyloscopy— fingerprinting. Harris Hawthorne Wilder stated in 1902 that dactyloscopy “would be of great service… in the official identification of Chinese, Negroes, and other races the features of which at least to the Caucasian eye, offer hardly sufficient individuality to be at all times trustworthy.” The uniqueness of genetic code, then, served as a means for white America to better distinguish among a putative illegible, criminal horde.

In the productive of normative bodies, the biometric impulse to distinguish among this horde can be contrasted with, and emerges from, the photochemical impulse against distinguishing. A good example of this is the history of Kodak’s color reference cards— “shirley cards” — which used white models. This meant the film did not reflect the diversity of darker skin tones. Godard refused to use Kodak film in 1977 for an assignment in Mozambique, arguing that the film stock was inherently racist. That same year, Polaroid finally divested financial support from apartheid thanks to a seven-year campaign by the Polaroid Revolutionary Workers Movement. As such, consider Polaroid’s solution to the Kodak conundrum (which went unsolved until Kodak introduced “multiracial” shirley cards in 1995). Polaroid’s vintage ID-2 camera had a Boost button: it caused the flash to emit 42% more light in order to accommodate dark skin, which absorbs 30-40% more light than white skin. But is more exposure the solution to invisibility or indistinguishability?

I borrow “photochemical” from Fanon, who uses the term to describe the west’s process of epidermalization whereby a manichean symbolism is grafted onto dark skin as though with a fixative. In this regime, light signifies knowing, the good, and the beautiful; dark signifies ignorance, the evil, and the ugly. Epidermalization thus both conditions both the biometric and photochemical urges of white supremacy. And yet, if the proposition of white supremacy is that dark skin signifies all this bad stuff, how does one know this, aside from the tautological negricide of a militarized police force on a search-and-destroy mission? What is the phenomenology here? A quote from Charles Johnson is instructive. Describing epidermalization in a 1993 essay, he writes: “All I am, can be to them is as nakedly presented as the genitals of a plant since they cannot see my other profiles. My subjectivity is turned inside out like a shirtcuff.”

Following one potential reading of this quote, the manicheanism of epidermalization is libidinal. Whiteness is disembodied, theoretical; blackness is fleshy, visceral. This is because the unknowable, the criminal, and the bad as sites of encounter all have a sexual valence in America, whose Puritan veil conceals or represses a Wild West setler-colonial hedonism. The unknown is both reviled and explored— the site where knowledge is forged through the exteriorization of black subjectivity. But for the hegemon to do this, it must be able to locate (create) this signifier of the unknown. The reduction of the black to a genital or reproductive role is essential to capitalism’s material, cultural, and conceptual expansion. Consider some examples: white male bonding through black music, as Steven Felds puts it; the role of black labor (whether in slavery or ostensible citizenship) in settler-colonial capitalism’s efforts to disappear the native; and the experimental manipulation of low-income black bodies (the role of Henrietta Lacks in immortal cell line research, or of COINTELPRO as a pilot of the modern surveillance paradigm, et al).

Moreover, this framework, parasitic on the presence of dark skin as such, extends away from visibly-black people, as I consider later. The west’s concept of black— as pain, crime, violence, the unknown —is what allows for the formulation of the regimes of visibility of normative gender presentation and identity, as well as the criminalization of “gender deception.” This is revealed not only in the “tyranny of genitalia” and genitalized dysphoria, as well as in the trans discourse of passing, borrowed from race, but also in an ideological split both internal and external to the trans community regarding the status of medical evidence, dysphoria, performativity of trans, and even what trans is.

i by Leigh

Defining Trans

Capitalism’s manichean racial nucleus and its tension between a biometric and photochemical impulse inform categories of visible gender difference. Such difference is an indelible, nonobjective category in all gendered societies— this visibility serves as the bedrock for defining normative gender. But how does race inform the conditions of possibility for this visibility, and for its legibility or lack thereof? Emerging “on paper” from the racialized medical-industrial complex, trans as category and discourse serves as a crucial fault line and vantage point for considering regimes of visibility and the policing of difference in racial capitalism.

Internal and external to the digital trans community, there exist two general tendencies for defining trans, both of which reify different performances of legibility: a medicalization orientation and an identitarian orientation. Both paradigms agree that the psychological pathologization of trans is harmful to our community. Briefly: the removal of homosexuality from the DSM co-occured with the introduction of gender dysphoria to its pages. By presenting dysphoria as purely psychological, the DSM entry allows for the argument that trans people don’t need any more medical access than therapy. Thus, in spite of the split among the trans community, both paradigms agree on two things: that trans people, however defined, require medical access, and that trans is not a psychological disorder.

What is it, then? For the medicalization group, trans is a neurological condition. This group privileges medical evidence about brain structure above all else. Because there is no medical evidence of nonbinary brains, medicalizationists may often consider nonbinary, genderfluid, and genderqueer trans people, as well as trans people who don’t experience dysphoria, “not really trans.” The identitarians, on the other hand, see trans as an inherently political position with respect to categories of difference within capitalism, and privileges personal accounts about oppression above all else. The argument is that trans as political identity challenges capitalism’s regime of binary gender assignment, its relegation of reproductive labor to the uwaged “feminine” sphere. Instead, as we’ve known since John Money’s controversial work and his creation of the term “gender identity,” there are more than two sexes, potentially infinite actual genders, and a multitude of invasive cross-cultural procedures for making people fit capitalism’s two “genders.”

As a Dominican nonbinary trans person of color not currently interested in transitioning, I don’t see any particular advantage to either position. Medicalizationists have no room for me, since, as Toby Beauchamp puts it, medical “surveillance focuses first on individuals’ legibility as transgender, and then, following medical interventions, on their ability to conceal any trans status or gender deviance.” (Beauchamp 2009: 357). On the other hand, identitarians overdetermine my life circumstances, particularly my gender, as inherently political. Further, the politicization of dysphoria, “coming-out” narratives and queer-nationalist oppression olympics draw their pathological power from the subsumption of trans of color narratives: just as white “Men’s Rights activists” leech off statistics about men of color to give import to their cause, the mainstream, whitewashed image of the suffering trans person gains much of its traction from sociological statistics about trans of color circumstances. However, from the vantage point of my dysphoria, I do find myself more drawn to the identitarian position. Medicalizationists are sometimes called “truscum” for advocating that you need dysphoria to be trans. Conversely, the term “transtrender” often denotes someone who identifies as trans and does not (ever or often) experience dysphoria.

An identitarian understanding of trans is more agnostic and fluid about dysphoria, and I’m drawn to this because I don’t think hatred, disgust, fear, and other negative feelings about one’s genitalia and gender role are trans-specific. Neither do I think that all trans people “should” feel these feelings and others characteristic of dysphoria. It would be bad science to argue that whatever neurological conditions result in trans also deterministically result in dysphoric feelings. However, I also find the identitarian focus on anticapitalist, “binary-smashing” performativity to be a metaphysical limit on what trans can be, as though our value as living people is entirely reducible to the metaphorical value of our circumstances in the struggle against capitalism. As such, both sides of the ideological divide are regimes of legibility originating in race, whether it’s the reification of medical evidence and trans-exclusivity of dysphoria of one faction, or the emphasis on performativity, “identity-exploration,” and “coming-out” stories of the other faction.

I want to ride this ideological divide in trans from the perspective of race. This is possible not only for reasons I’ve already stated, but because both positions, regardless of their differences, are minoritarian: each considers itself the minority in the face of the majority’s erroneous, dangerous opinions about trans. Despite the supremacy of medical evidence in the legal system, such that medical science is the cornerstone of the determination of rights (Beauchamp 2009: 357), it’s likely that some liberal-simplified, defanged version of identitarianism is gaining more traction in the mainstream, given the popularity of the “sex is between your legs, gender is between your ears” soundbyte, among other things. But without “smashing the gender binary,” these kinds of concessions to the identitarian framework are seen as gentrification which upholds medicalization’s hegemony (indeed, a strong case). This again resonates with terms used in race discourse, pointing again to the racialized nature of Western trans discourse..

Of course, the use of a racializing positionality is not new in queerness, whether it’s the minoritarian frameworks mentioned above, the unacknowledged labor of trans women of color in the Stonewall era, gay white men talking like black women, or transfluid white man Jack Halberstam concluding a lecture with a clip from the film Times Square in which three white queer punk women perform a song where they identify themselves with racial and homophobic slurs. Halberstam rues the political correctness of our era, pining for a time when the politics on display in the film were possible. Given his institutional standing, it’s worth asking: when exactly did they go away?

Freud said female sexuality is the dark continent of psychology. Ono and Lennon said woman is the nigger of the world (does this mean black women are “double niggers?”). Joe Biden said transgender issues are “the civil rights issue of our time.” Gloria Anzaldúa’s biggest inspiration for mestizaje was the eugenicist Vasconcelos, who believed race-mixing would eradicate the “inferior Negro” (Sexton 2003) through love (eros), not war. The “human biodiversity” position according to which race (as genetic threshold) determines intelligence is common. People will probably never stop using the rhetorical term “wage slave.” The discourse of “passing” in trans is directly lifted from race. I could literally go on and on: race as metaphor and racializing positionalities proliferate endlessly. They serve as platforms for radicalization, erasing the violence they do to black queers and the exclusivist inefficacy of their frameworks for anything other than branding.

The intimate relation between race and surveillance that I traced in the previous section carries over from what Marx might call the economic “superstructure” into cultural discourse and social relations. The regimes of legibility I discussed in the divide regarding the definition of trans are informed by the surveillance of the black body, both in the racialized medical-industrial complex’s production of “evidence of trans brains” and in the identitarian focus on performing legible narratives whose pathos derives from appropriated, whitewashed statistics of black trans circumstances. Dictating normative gender and variation from that norm in western society is made possible via capitalism’s manichean racial nucleus, which makes blackness multiple in its symbolic capacity but also inhuman— in other words, not a single being.

Composition 8 by eviltornray

The Transvaluation of Trans

Just as queerness has been generalized to encompass all norm deviation in nature, trans has been generalized, leaving the realm of gender to describe other neural, social, and economic circumstances. Examples include trans-abled people, trans-species or otherkin people, and trans-racial or -ethnic people. I consider this latter example at length, given this paper’s focus on the presence of race in both transgender and generalized “post-trans” discourses. Orthogonal to the generalization of trans is a generalization in trans via the asterisk, whereby the term “trans*” comes to be applied to nonwestern, nonwhite gender deviance and nonconformity in an attempt at symbolic inclusivity that instead imposes identitarian regimes of legibility, mirroring and aiding settler-colonial capitalism as well as subsuming their lived circumstances to bolster the pathological power of the currency of “trans” in the oppression olympics. These two examples make clear that gender is a racial construct, not a universal one: imposition, not inherence.

Transracial or transethnic identity politics lifts the discourse of trans to argue that one was born into the wrong race/ethnicity, and is in reality a member of some other race/ethnicity. Before Rachel Dolezal, the most visible deployments of the term can be seen on tumblr, to varying degrees of performative sincerity. I want to sidestep not only potential responses about what “race really is,” since it is very much a legal construct, but I also want to sidestep clearly-perfunctory concerns about whether the trans-racial condition is “real,” an instance of internet trolling, an advanced case of racism, transphobia, and cultural appropriation, a symptom of mental disability, or whatever else— since obviously it is or can be all of these —in order to consider what I term here the transvaluation of trans, borrowing a term from Nietzsche.

In his framework, Christianity inverted nature, imposing repression of desires and the elevation of the weak over the strong. He proposed a transvaluation of the Christian west’s necrophilic, antipathic moral system in order to return to the violence and virility of the natural order. I want to argue that a similar (and similarly violent) transvaluation occurs in the generalization of trans, both internal and external to the trans community, and that this transvaluation is latent in the manichean racial nucleus of capitalism. This inadvertently aligns “true trans” with a Christian-like position of martyrdom or empire, which I do for the sake of teasing out the hegemonic implications and aspirations of western trans discourse.

Harry Elam argues that blackness is capable of “traveling on its own, separate and distinct from black people… it remains exceedingly attractive in this post-black, postsoul age of black cultural traffic to love black cool and not love black people.” (Elam 2005: 386). Orthogonal to this analysis, Hortense Spillers posits that black culture is critical culture as such. If capitalism is fundamentally the attempt to naturalize its generative manichean racial nexus, then the lived experience of blackness is a position of criticality toward this naturalization. Put more simply, if capitalism says “black is this,” blackness says “no… yes, even (as drag, as signifying), but also no, never…” But under the regime of epidermalization, where capitalism does say “black is this” and “this is black,” with devastating effects, the fluid cool of the idea of the critical position travels past— and gains momentum from —those who actually live and die its consequences. When Biden calls transgender discrimination the “civil rights issue of our time,” he is engaging in this long history of muting the critical position to tropeify its power.

The irony of “transracial” discourse is, of course, that race was always already transracial. The 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which institutionalized Jim Crow segregation, came about as a solution to the problem of white-passing blackness: blackness that could not be seen in the way capitalism’s manichean racial nucleus needs it to be. Redolent of Morton’s claims about the problem of determining ‘genuine’ code sequences from viral insertion, the “separate but equal” doctrine was meant to prevent the limit case of invisible blackness— a white-passing creole man like Homer Plessy who identified as an “octoroon,” that is, seven-eighths white and one-eighth black— from infecting white civil society. In the face of the possibility of this illegible blackness, the solution was quarantining all blacks, setting the stage for modern redlining and data collection policies.

The trope of invisible blackness, from the long history of passing politics to contemporary online “post-trans” discourses such as the transracial, is a condition of possibility for the paradigm of invisible transness. We can see the effects of this paradigm in the racialized imposition of the asterisk in “trans*” when applied to gender-nonconforming people who don’t trans-identify, such as people outside the west. The asterisk is a software metaphor, a nod to the wildcard search operator. Here’s Google’s definition:

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 10.52.35 AM

Essentially, the wildcard operator is a placeholder for which Google’s algorithm tries to find the best matches. The idea that the asterisk is “inclusive” is a misunderstanding— all it does is set up a situation where Google “fills in the blanks.” So the wildcard in “trans*” can only ever symbolically include whatever is “Googleable,” metaphysically speaking— that is to say, legible in the context’s given regimes of visibility. Whatever isn’t already in the digital corpus will never show up, no matter how many wildcards one uses. This metaphor becomes doubly-ironic given how counterintuitive it would be to explain to the 60% of the world that doesn’t have internet access, or the large population of gender-nonconforming people to whom trans has no relevance.

Examples like transracial discourse and the politics of the asterisk make clear that gender is a racial construct. The “space” of gender and sexuality, consisting of performativities, identities, orientations, and so forth, is made possible by the racialized logic of visible difference, which has its roots in slavery and its afterlife. Gender deception itself became racialized after 9/11, such as in 2003 when the Department of Homeland Security released an official Advisory warning that “Terrorists will employ novel methods to artfully  conceal  suicide  devices.  Male bombers  may  dress  as  females  in  order  to  discourage  scrutiny.” The criminalization of “failing” to pass as a woman rests of the assumption that the racialized presentation is a costume, a concealment of some weapon or other nexus of violence– to repeat Chamayou’s claim, it is the unknown itself which becomes targeted.

But visible difference, be it dark skin or a racialized regime of gender normativity, is only visible as such because of these kinds of hegemonic assumptions.  Transracial identity politics generalizes the spatial metaphor of gender noncomformity to simultaneously posit for the self-evidence of racial identity and the impossibility of locating it. But this paraadox is only a restatement of racism’s fundamental premise, because regardless of the use of transracial discourse today, race already was transracial. The politics of the asterisk are a mirror image of transracial discourse, a form of colonialism via arguing that gender is a universal category applicable to all based on racially-informed observations of noncomformity. These two examples make explicit the hegemonic assumptions and implications of western trans discourse itself. But they also serve as the “rock and hard place” between which black and brown gender-nonconforming peope find themselves: expected to bite our tongues and be grateful for inclusion in pinkwashed, nationalist trans discourses, but also forced to navigate white regimes of legibility to survive.

At its white heart trans is a regime of gender legibility, be it medical evidence or performing identity politics. But, just as with all histories of categorizing and surveilling visible and invisible difference, under the sigil of the signifier we, the damned, accumulate: the transtrenders and post-queers and afronihilists and all the other incalculables of visible difference for whom “trans” is a “best fit,” a placeholder for a thing we don’t even have the right to name yet. The discarded multiplicity of the Middle Passage traveling epigenetically across generations, the traumatized incalculable flesh that haunts the imago of epidermalization, a fugitive dysaesthesia rejecting all dialectical synthesis of the abject, instead reveling in the carnival. A medical label becomes a coping mechanism becomes a community becomes a politics becomes a metaphysics. The institutions scramble to keep up. It is exactly this indeterminate, inborn generalizability, the way that, as Wittgenstein put it, meaning is use, that allows “trans” to always already transvalue itself. While this open semantic field can lead down paths that, to me, seem questionable or limited in their use— such as transracial identity politics or the symbolic inclusivity politics of the asterisk —we can’t but celebrate the most radical political acts of all: black and brown people continuing to survive in “this world,” and refusing to say “this world” as if it makes sense.



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