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Sara Perryman
Stillness as Horizon: Rethinking Transnational Trans-subjectivity and the Master Trope of Mobility

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2007
Transmodernities/Translocalities: Panel Discussion

12:30 p.m. – 3 p.m. Polycentric sessions, San Francisco Art Institute, Lecture hall and classrooms
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Recent academic scholarship in transgender theory (as evidenced by the publication of The Transgender Studies Reader in 2006) has been groundbreaking in its efforts to map the difficult terrain any trans-identified person must negotiate in order to secure legal, linguistic, cultural, biomedical, and political recognition and justice. However, attempts to apprehend locally-situated sites of non-western trans-subjectivity frequently tend to seek out moments of individual agency, to interpret gender transgression (especially female-to-male cross-dressing) as a symbolic passage from the world of powerlessness into the world of power (and, in so doing, to claim these sites as somehow indicative of a singular "global trans-community"). Further, the language of transgender, cross-dressing, and passing is complicated by a kind of eurocentric queer desire for meaning and fellowship that fails to consider the multiple ways that disparate cultures read and interpret differently gendered subjects. Thus, if we read trans-experience through the limited lens of enlightenment discourse—a discourse that posits the liberated subject as a coherent subject—we risk collapsing the historically situated trans-body into a universal. Ironically, much of contemporary trans-discourse (itself produced in the west) seems to recuperate this notion of a unified, self-governing subject. Postmodern articulations aside (i.e. notions of the shifting-self as multiple, unmoored, ambiguous), trans-discourse tends to narrate the trans-journey as a move from gender fluidity to trans-identity (whether butch, camp, transgender, transsexual, MTF, FTM, cross-dresser, lady boy, berdache, or katoey); in other words, trans as noun, rather than verb. This grammatical and, thus, linguistic modification implies a certain amount of coherence (structured by autonomous intent) that frequently obscures the multiple and, often, conflicting reasons people migrate across borders (national, cultural, gender, or otherwise). In essence, gender as sign (whether "Man," "Woman," or "Trans") acquires a kind of static, rather than kinetic, energy; it stops moving, adheres, and announces itself as a all-embracing category.

My aim in this research endeavor is to critically rethink the liminal space (always already temporally unstable) where transnational transgender bodies reside and trace how normative categories of analysis (sex, race, gender, class, ethnicity, nationality, etc.) vary depending upon the historical trajectories of site-specific locales. I imagine this project as a comparative study that incorporates two to three case studies (using Iran as my point of departure), and which will foreground filmic representations of the trans-body/journey as primary source material for analysis. I will draw heavily from transnational feminism, queer/transgender theory, postcolonial theory, critical cultural geography, border theory, queer phenomenology, performance studies, and globalization studies.

Questions include: How do we read and understand queer bodies/practices in transnational contexts? In what ways does normative racial bias shape queer theory, such that LGBT subjects living outside the parameters of continental jurisprudence and realist configurations of the nation-state (both geographically and discursively) are repeatedly theorized by a neocolonial politics of sexuality? How has the discourse of LGBT rights been co-opted by neo-conservatives in the drive to solidify U.S hegemony throughout the world and in what ways have LGBT subjects been unwittingly mobilized to this end? How might we deploy non-ocular based methodologies/epistemologies ( i.e. archives of sense/feeling that privilege sound, taste, touch, movement) throughout our work in ways that disrupt center/periphery models of research and encourage us to reconnect with the body/text in a non-reductive way?

Participant's Bio:

Sara Perryman is an undergraduate in the Department of Gender & Women’s Studies and the Department of Peace & Conflict Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research interests (to be pursued further in graduate school beginning in Fall 2008) include transnational feminism, queer/transgender theory, postcolonial theory, critical cultural geography, border theory, queer phenomenology/affect, performance studies, and globalization studies. Currently, she lives in Berkeley and spends her quickly diminishing free time making homemade pies and playing the banjo.