Trans: Bodies, Borders, Politics​

Members: Raquel Pacheco (Anthropology), Debanuj Dasgupta (Feminist Studies), Miguel Fuentes (Global Studies), and Jovana Gómez (Spanish and Portuguese)

In a recent contribution that complicates the notion of “global knowledge” to the journal Theory, Culture & Society, Constantina Papoulias noted that the “shifting fortunes of the term transgender since the early 1990s testify to the faultlines and methodological impasses in the theorization of gender across numerous disciplines. At the same time, transgender marks the forging and transformation of alliances and collectivities in political activism. Transgender is one of the latest in a series of terms which, in the social sciences, have sought to name counter-normative materializations of gender on individual bodies, through practices of gender-crossing either in matters of dress and presentation, and/or in terms of body modification.”

Simultaneously, “queer,” has been conceptualized as “an anomalous condition in relation to what we perceive as normative (for example, imminent disruptions versus stability),” (Moussawi, 2020:3). Queer situations have come to represent how certain bodies are increasingly marked for regulation and death, and cordoned outside of nation-states (Chen, 2020; Dasgupta & Dasgupta, 2018). Such nuanced readings of queer and transgender open up questions of how geopolitics is felt at the scale of the body, how state-craft, border regulation, and zones of conflict mark certain bodies as worthy of living and yet others as dangerous pushing them toward death. The Global Genders and Sexualities working group addresses questions of diverse gender identities and sexualities through a trans-regional, trans/disciplinary, cross-border and decolonizing frameworks in order to highlight the precarity of queer and transgender lives across space and time.

Historically, of course, the concepts “queer” or “transgender” do not seem particularly novel. Indeed, early twentieth-century progressives around the world observed as much—some even sought social acceptance and normalization therein. To this day, the ways different generations in different parts of the world think about and practice sexuality has remained in flux, including both forward-leaps and reactionary backlashes. Within just the last few years we have observed remarkable changes regarding sexual rights in some parts of the world. For instance, anti-sodomy laws have been struck down in India; Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh have varying levels of legal recognition for transgender persons, Botswana, Mozambique, Gabon, and Lesotho have recently decriminalized sodomy, Germany and Canada have introduced a third sex for legal documents; and more countries than ever have legalized same-sex marriage. These developments suggest that an ever-larger percentage of the world population—beyond the assumed hold of Global North liberalism—has become more optimistic about the possibilities of overcoming established boundaries of sexual practices and identities. But these progressions have been countered by some significant conservative strongholds and backlashes. Even though the law is only rarely enforced, same-sex activities remain illegal and no anti-discrimination protection exists in Singapore. The Chinese government’s attitude towards same-sex sexuality is ambivalent, providing no support, raising no objection, and avoiding anything that could be construed as promotion. Though South Africa’s 1996 Bill of Rights was the first in the world to ban discrimination on the grounds of “sexual orientation,” aligning those intentions with social, legal, and political practices appears far more contentious. 

As we write this, the United States’ Republican-controlled Senate is still pondering the Equality Act—passed by the House of Representatives in May 2019—that is designed to amend the Civil Rights Act to “prohibit discrimination on the basis of the sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition of an individual, as well as because of sex-based stereotypes.” At the same time, a number of US states have aggressively turned back the clock on reproductive rights. And though historically Japan has not criminalized same-sex sexuality (except for a very brief period in the late nineteenth century), the Japanese government’s current focus on increasing its dwindling birth rate leaves neglected the expansion of sexual rights to LGTB+ individuals. Simultaneously, we have seen a rise in the re-nationalization of borders. The COIVD19 pandemic has ushered a newer form of geopolitics and border shutdowns related to fear of contagion and death from the virus.

Ongoing projects

US/Mexico Borderlands and the Politics of Transgender Asylum

Our current project documents experiences of transgender asylum seekers from Central and South America living in shelters and in detention across the US/Mexico borders. We utilize an inter-disciplinary cross-regional framework in order to understand how diverse gender expressions are folded into a medicalized definition of “transgender” through asylum and detention procedures. Our researchers are working with civil society agencies, transgender asylum seekers, artists and activists in order to document the claims toward livable lives being launched by cross border transgender migrants in the US/Mexico Borderlands

FuTure projects

Trans/Regional Politics and Transgender Communities in Contemporary Asia

This project conceives of Asia (both historically and in the contemporary moment) through trans-regional linkages and connections. We will begin to identify border regions, conflict areas, supra-state regional bodies, and investigate how gender identity and sexuality is shaped through geopolitics and felt at the scale of the body in these interstitial spaces.