Transfeminist Kill/Joys, L Rage

Tags: Transgender Studies, trans women, transfeminist, University Press, Duke University Press, joy, Gender Studies, Susan Stryker, feminist, Stryker, Anne Enke, Aoki, Sara Ahmed, Sierra, Audre Lorde, Viviane Namaste, Chela Sandoval, feminist killjoy, Millie Wong, physical spaces, Lisa Jean Moore, Paisley Currah, Ryka Aoki, women-women, Millie, Transgender Studies Reader, feminist movements, trans, Janet Mock, A. Finn Enke, Kate Bornstein, Canada, Mary Daly, Moraga, Julia Serano, feminist theory, Kate Eichhorn
Content: TSQ14_04Cowan_1pp.3d 09/12/14 11:36am Page 501
1
2
3
4 5
Transfeminist Kill/Joys
6
Rage, Love, and Reparative Performance
7
8
9
10
T. L. COWAN
11
12
13
Abstract This paper considers recent transfeminist critical creative work through an affective trope
14
contingently named here as that belonging to the "transfeminist kill/joy," after Sara Ahmed's framing
15
of the "feminist killjoy." The trope of the transfeminist kill/joy can been read as a set of proliferating
16
dialectics expressed as the rage that comes into being through living the violent effects of transphobia and trans-misogyny and through the practice of transformational love as a struggle for
17
existence. The texts under consideration here work both to spoil feelings of political and social well-
18
being or pleasure that are contingent upon the tacit absence or explicit exclusion of trans- women in
19
feminist conceptual and physical spaces and to re-structure, claim, and repair feminist happiness as a
20
reparative impulse that holds these political affects in tension as creative potential.
Keywords transfeminism, feminist killjoy, political affects, reparative reading, transgender cultural
21
and performance studies, dialectical criticism, cabaret studies
22
23
24
How do we create a culture where we love trans- women?
25
--Laverne Cox, "Remixing the Trans and Hip Hop Conversation"
26
27
Love as a social movement is enacted by revolutionary, mobile, and global con-
28
ditions of citizen-activists who are allied through the apparatus of emancipation.
29
--Chela Sandoval, Methodology of the Oppressed
30
31
I love your big hands and your busted teeth.
32
--The Fully Functional Cabaret, "I Want It All"
33
34
35 36
T his essay considers an affective trope that I have come to recognize as "the transfeminist kill/joy": a set of proliferating dialectics expressed as the rage1
37
that comes into being through living the violent effects of transphobia and trans-
38
misogyny and the practice of transformational love as a struggle for existence.2
39
While the transfeminist kill/joy might certainly be understood as a politicized
40
TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly * Volume 1, Number 4 * November 2014
501
DOI 10.1215/23289252-2815201 Є 2014 Duke University Press
TSQ14_04Cowan_1pp.3d 09/12/14 11:36am Page 502
502 TSQ * Transgender Studies Quarterly
1
aesthetic and form of social action that extends well beyond (cis)gender feminist
2
politics and social life,3 here I read for the poetics of killing trans-absent or trans-
3
excluding feminist joy. In this discussion of recent transfeminist critical creative
4
work, I trace how the transfeminist kill/joy works both to spoil feelings of political
5
and social well-being or pleasure that are contingent upon the tacit absence or
6
explicit exclusion of trans- women in feminist conceptual and physical spaces and
7
to restructure, claim, and repair feminist happiness through what Chela Sandoval
8
(2000: 180) has called "a hermeneutics of love."
9
In my framing of the "transfeminist kill/joy," I hope to signal, as does
10
Sara Ahmed (2010) in her original framing of the feminist killjoy, that the mere
11
presence or arrival of perceived difference can be understood as "threaten[ing]
12
the social bond" (68) within privileged feminist scenarios.4 While Ahmed frames
13
the killing of feminist joy (67) mostly in terms of women of color in white feminist
14
spaces, and certainly racism and transphobia and trans-misogyny are not inter-
15
changeable,5 I suggest that trans-absent or trans-excluding feminist political and
16
social scenarios can be understood to experience a similar threat to the "organic
17
enjoyment and solidarity" (67) of the (perceived homogeneity of the) group when
18
forced to deal with the presence or proximity of trans- women, since this arrival
19
"exposes not only the unreliableness of the body as a source of their identities
20
and politics, but also the fallacy of women's universal experiences and oppres-
21
sions" (Koyama 2006: 704). Put in the terms of Ahmed's earlier work (2006), the
22
transfeminist kill/joy is an assemblage of affects which re-orients feminist hap-
23
piness towards rather than against trans- women,6 and uses anger and love to
24
resist a feminism designed exclusively for non-trans women, not necessarily
25
feminism by all non-trans women.7
26
Central to my exploration of the transfeminist kill/joy are the following
27
questions: How do I (or can I) inhabit a transfeminist criticality without falling
28
into the patriarchal trap of "recycling the most threadbare of clicheґs: the angry,
29
man-hating lesbian" (Salamon 2008: 125)?8 Is it possible to inscribe the trope of
30
the transfeminist kill/joy without reinscribing the trope of the straw feminist as
31
demonic other? Rather than holding steady in a paranoid position, assured that
32
"no time could be too early for having-already-known, for its having already-
33
been-inevitable, that something bad would happen" (Sedgwick 2003: 132), can this
34
essay, along with the work of the kill/joys I study here, imagine a different inevi-
35
tability, a reparative temporality constituted by the hopeful inevitability of love?
36
The texts and performances that I think about here--Ryka Aoki's short
37
story "To the New World"; Mirha-Soleil Ross's one-woman show, Yapping Out
38
Loud: Contagious Thought from an Unrepentant Whore; and the collaborative Fully
39
Functional Cabaret with Star Amerasu, Ryka Aoki, Annie Danger, Red Durkin,
40
Bryn Kelly, and Shawna Virago--foreground potentiality in the forms of rage and
TSQ14_04Cowan_1pp.3d 09/12/14 11:36am Page 503
COWAN * Rage, Love, and Reparative Performance 503
1
love, recalcitrance and hope, and resist what Eve Sedgwick called "paranoid
2
reading," in favor of what I am calling "reparative performances" that "succeed in
3
extracting sustenance from the object of a culture--even of a culture whose
4
avowed desire has often been not to sustain them" (Sedgwick 2003: 149). They live
5
in the mobile tension between kill and joy: between the rhetorical, economic, and
6
physical violences and killing logics of coercive gender norms in mainstream US
7
and Canadian cultures and the exclusions and attacks practiced by some feminist
8
communities against trans- people, and against trans- women especially and the
9
willfully resistant joy, thrill, love, and hope offered by transfeminist aesthetics,
10
politics, and knowledge production, which make new cultures and sustain living
11
through experiments in polemical sociality.9
12
13
Scenario 1: The Farmers Market
14
15
Dammit--I thought Asian hair was supposed to be easy!
16
17
Millie Wong was on the verge of tears. Tangled and frizzy . . . shouldn't it be long and
18
straight? She yanked at her brush. Maybe it was some hidden genetic female thing:
19
her sister had perfect hair, and her mother, too. You're so stupid! You don't even
20
pass to your own hair! You clumsy tranny freak . . .
21
--Ryka Aoki, "To the New World"
22
23
In her short story "To the New World," Ryka Aoki introduces readers to our
24
heroine, Millie Wong, whose day begins with her "on the verge of tears," unable to
25
get her "tangled and frizzy" hair to cooperate and become "perfect hair," which
26
she figures as "long and straight" like her sister's and mother's hair. Millie
27
wonders if the problem with her hair is "some hidden genetic female thing." Millie
28
chastises herself as a "clumsy tranny freak," who can't even pass to her own hair.
29
This introduction sets up the scenario in which Millie gradually forgives her hair,
30
remembering that she "slept with wet hair, that's all," and she sets out into the
31
world--after a session with the straightening iron--with "hair like shimmering
32
ribbons," to the farmers market to find some food to celebrate her dearly departed
33
grandmother's birthday (Aoki 2012: 53).
34
On this first half-page of the story, Aoki (2012) creates a scenario in which
35
Millie's hair stands in at once for her ethnicity ("Asian hair was supposed to
36
be easy!"), for her failed "female thing" and for the successful intervention of
37
self-administered technology (the straightening iron) to set things right. And
38
although the LA winter drizzle quickly "spoils all the work she had put into her
39
hair" (54), the attentions of a tow truck driver make Millie smile. This transaction,
40
like her hair battle, inspires a reflection on her "transness," but this time on its
TSQ14_04Cowan_1pp.3d 09/12/14 11:36am Page 504
504 TSQ * Transgender Studies Quarterly
1
success. Victor Wong was invisible, but Millie Wong gets attention, even objec-
2
tification. And even though the attention she receives might be conditioned by a
3
sexist, racist conception of "Suzie Wong and Memoirs of a Geisha" (55), Millie
4
appreciates the attention. This interaction with the tow truck driver prompts her
5
to ask, "After a life of being ignored, was it wrong to like people being nice to
6
you?" (55)
7
The narration of the story continues with a paragraph about how Millie
8
observes other women, how they move and talk, followed by a paragraph on a
9
"poofy loaf of bread" like the kind her grandmother had loved. The story builds a
10
scenario that conjures the multiple and conflicting discourses at play in Millie's
11
world, all within the framework of a simple, quotidian experience of going to the
12
market, which is, for the most part fairly pleasurable, now that the hair problem
13
has been resolved for the moment. But turn the page and boom! Enter Sierra, an
14
Asian-stereotype-wielding lesbian transphobe. Millie tells the story of meeting the
15
very loud, very buff Sierra, who had cooled to Millie when she "decided to confess
16
that she was trans" (Aoki 2012: 56). Aoki positions Sierra as the arbiter of fema-
17
leness, who "pronounced Millie was okay, because she didn't feel that male
18
energy come off her" (56), but also, importantly, Aoki positions Sierra as Millie's
19
"friend." Sierra coaches Millie in "what it meant to be a socially and politically
20
responsible woman" (57), which leads Millie to feel "sad that she had been born
21
with male privilege and, maybe by becoming vegan, in some way she could be
22
closer to the woman she wanted to be. A caring woman. A strong woman. A vegan
23
woman" (57). Aoki has Millie confess her transness, and then she gets "caught with
24
non-vegan bread" (57; emphasis added) when she runs into Sierra at the market,
25
thereby positioning Millie as existing in a perpetual state of turpitude. The forces
26
conspire to make Millie feel bad: her transness; her Asian parents, who had
27
already taught her to "avoid large groups of drunken white men" (57) thus ren-
28
dering redundant Sierra's coaching in appropriate woman-ness; and then the
29
non-vegan bread, about which Sierra pontificates, connecting the slaughter of
30
dairy cows with the oppression of Tibetan women, all teach Millie how wrong she
31
is. The story continues with Millie unable to interrupt or correct Sierra for fear
32
of being accused of acting with male privilege as Sierra rants randomly about
33
Asian men, a girlfriend "who went and transitioned on me," and a Zen garden
34
that is "very feng shui" but is a women-only space, for "women-women" (58), and
35
referring to her "trans man ex, as a trans woman" (58). Ultimately, the interac-
36
tion with Sierra lasts less than three pages, and yet the brute force of her willful
37
ignorance is overwhelming. This is a spoof, of course, a caricature of the lesbian,
38
feminist, gender-assigned essentialist, who refuses to learn about transness but
39
understands herself as doing a pretty bang-up job at being politically munifi-
40
cent.10 The story ends with Millie digging some pork buns from her freezer and
TSQ14_04Cowan_1pp.3d 09/12/14 11:36am Page 505
COWAN * Rage, Love, and Reparative Performance 505
1
celebrating the memory of her grandmother, a woman who also emerged into a
2
new world, "full of people who would call you brave, people who would call you
3
crazy, and people who would never call you again" (62). As she eats the pork bun,
4
Millie considers calling up Sierra and imagines that she "could tell her the dif-
5
ference between trans women and trans men" (62), leaving the story on a note
6
that some readers might experience as hopeful.
7
Aoki's narration provides access to only Millie's interiority, centering her
8
experience of Sierra's ignorance, leading the reader to experience the story from
9
Millie's perspective. This perspective is one that I identify as structured by a
10
transfeminist kill/joy impulse: Aoki's narration of an experience that is supposed
11
to be pleasant--a morning at the farmers market--is complicated by the pres-
12
ence of the oafish lesbian feminist, who is oblivious to and unaccountable for her
13
own bad politics, and the rage of the text coded within this encounter. This
14
representation of the lesbian feminist who enjoys trans-excluding spaces for
15
"women-women," while pretending to herself that she's a pretty good friend to
16
Millie, a trans- woman, might hit a little close to home for some readers. Might
17
ruin their Sierra-like oblivious pleasures.11 Additionally, Aoki writes Sierra as a
18
racist know-it-all, which is a bold narrative move and serves to link transphobia
19
and racism as mutually informing paradigms. While Millie's narrative ends with
20
some happy thoughts toward transformation--explaining to Sierra the difference
21
between trans women and trans men--the force of Aoki's narrative structure
22
creates a lasting impression that ruins the pleasure of any reader who might see in
23
Sierra a bit of herself. This pressure between hope and ruined pleasure--the hope
24
offered by ruined pleasure--is a transformative pressure that transfeminist nar-
25
ration of the quotidian details of transphobia and racism can offer. Indeed, Stryker
26
([1994] 2006) identifies transgender rage as produced through the impossible
27
impositions of the "highly gendered regulatory schemata that determine the via-
28
bility of bodies," which "furnishes a means for disidentification with compulsorily
29
assigned subject positions." Like Aoki shows us here, "through the operation of
30
rage, the stigma itself becomes the source of transformative power" (253).
31
Susan Stryker, Paisley Currah, and Lisa Jean Moore have called for
32
expanding the concept "trans-" to include "Trans: -gender, -national, -racial,
33
-generational, -genic, -species" (Stryker, Currah, and Moore 2008: 11). I want to
34
add transformational to this list.12 The crossing implied by transformational is
35
the crossing between structures, between systems, between selves. Rather than
36
showcasing trans- women's bodies and experiences as a set of illuminating con-
37
cepts, or as figural models in pursuit of a radical theory of gender,13 the trans-
38
feminist kill/joy offers a critical orientation that promises to accommodate the
39
proliferating dialectics of contemporary revolutionary struggles and centers trans-
40
as a reparative impulse. Transfeminist reparative knowledge production takes on
TSQ14_04Cowan_1pp.3d 09/12/14 11:36am Page 506
506 TSQ * Transgender Studies Quarterly
1
received feminist politics and values as part of a culture that is, as Sedgwick (2003:
2
149) puts it, "inadequate or inimical to its nurture." As a mode that is "additive
3
and accretive," a reparative transfeminist impulse "wants to assemble and confer
4
plentitude on an object [feminism] that will then have resources to offer to an
5
inchoate self" (149). While some readers might interpret Millie's hopeful tem-
6
porality as a bit delusional, I want to suggest that she makes a transformational
7
political choice in the interest of reparative potentiality.
8
9
Scenario 2: "Circle of Victimization"
10
In her 2002 one-woman show, Yapping Out Loud: Confessions of an Unrepentant
11
Whore, sex worker and transsexual cultural activist Mirha-Soleil Ross stages a
12
cabaret-style performance in seven monologues that transverse genres from talk-
13
show host to academic lecture to confessional and more. What I want to pay
14
particular attention to here are the ways that Ross performs perhaps the ultimate
15
transfeminist kill, by equating within the structure of her piece the violence done
16
by antiprostitute (and antitrans) feminists--"feminist-identified feminist" (Ross
17
2002b: 8), Bridge It Taylor!, and "Women's Sciences" (17) graduate student Judy
18
Cuty Q--with the violence done by the Whore Hunter, a serial killer who targets
19
prostitutes. Within the seven-part structure of the performance, these are the only
20
times when Ross is not playing herself, "Mirha-Soleil Ross" (Salah 2007: 65).
21
These three figures, then, are performed as threats to prostitutes, and especially to
22
transsexual prostitutes, and by framing the performance in this way, Ross draws
23
attention to the killing logics of antitrans and antiprostitute feminisms, which
24
contribute to the carceral culture in which, to use Cox's terms, "trans women are
25
being stigmatized and then ultimately criminalized and murdered" (Hill et al.
26
2013). In similar ways to Aoki's playing of Sierra as all wrong and violently repres-
27
sive because of her transmisogyny and racism, Ross's staged "feminists" devalue
28
the lives of prostitutes, especially transsexual women working as prostitutes. For
29
example, Bridge It Taylor! presents a talk called the "Sleazy Business of Getting
30
Whores Out of Business," animated by three blow-up dolls as her "victims of
31
prostitution." As she narrates the story of the third blow-up doll--a transsexual
32
woman named Xtazeee, who appears in a cage--Bridge It Taylor! revels in heavy-
33
handed rhetoric:
34
35
Xtazeee was his or "her" name when he got arrested on several pending prosti-
36
tution-related charges and forced into our program by a Human Rights' court
37
order that declared that a transsexed man's access to women only services was
38
more important than maintaining the safety and dignity of women who have been
39
sexually abused by men. . . . We had to fight tooth and nail in order to obtain an
40
injunction that would allow us to put him in a cage to protect both our staff and
TSQ14_04Cowan_1pp.3d 09/12/14 11:36am Page 507
COWAN * Rage, Love, and Reparative Performance 507
1
our participants. . . . He has, from a very early age, internalized the notion that
2
sexual abuse, violence, and platform heels are essential and defining experiential
3
aspects of femininity and of a woman's identity.
4
The daily intake of dangerous dosages of hormones, the regular shooting
5
up of [an] industrial quantity of industrial quality silicone, the multiple mutilating
6
surgeries performed on his face, his chest, his penis are just some of what he
7
actually enjoyed subjecting himself to in order to satisfy his clients' desire for a
8
grotesque deformation of a male body that they could use without having to call
9
into question their masculinity and male sexuality. (Ross 2002b: 11­12)
10
11
Here, Ross ventriloquizes and embodies the canonical texts of antitrans feminism
12
in which transsexual people are always already figured as both predatory (killers)
13
and the victims of (medicalized gender normative) violence (killed) as a way to
14
maintain assigned-essentialist logics, adding new density to a transfeminist kill/
15
joy practice.14 As Bridge It Taylor!, she does the work that Stryker, Currah, and
16
Moore called for in the then-emerging field of transgender studies: to produce
17
"new epistemological frameworks, and new representational practices within
18
which variations in the sex/gender relationship can be understood as morally
19
neutral and representationally true, and through which anti-transgender violence
20
can be linked to other systemic forms of violence such as poverty and racism"
21
(Stryker, Currah, and Moore 2008: 10).
22
Making fun of but not making light of these feminist violences, Ross
23
concludes Bridge It Taylor!'s speech with "The Three F's: Forget where you come
24
from. Forget who you love. Forget who you are" and dictates the following
25
"empowering radical feminist concepts":
26
27
We teach them that there is no such thing as agency, informed consent, the ability
28
to control one's own body. . . . We force them to get in touch with their own
29
experiences of rape, molestation, sexual degradation, and battery. And when they
30
cannot see how these factors have made them vulnerable to recruitment for
31
prostitution, we make a drawing for them and give it a glamorous title: the circle of
32
victimization [she shows a picture of a frowny face]. (Ross 2002)15
33
34
Yapping Out Loud highlights the ways that abolitionist/savior feminist and reli-
35
gious-based organizations get precedence in the fight for the decriminalization of
36
sex work.16 It also unsettles the (moral) certainty of abolitionist feminism through
37
the spoofing of feminist zealots and by foregrounding trans- and sex-worker love
38
as a sustaining reality--an inconceivable (or inconvenient) reality in the righteous
39
savior imaginary. In a monologue by "Mirha-Soleil Ross" mid-way through the
40
performance, Ross speaks with tenderness and compassion about her clients and
TSQ14_04Cowan_1pp.3d 09/12/14 11:36am Page 508
508 TSQ * Transgender Studies Quarterly
1
turns the tables on abolitionist feminists, whose lack of tenderness and com-
2
passion are the subtext of Yapping: "For the most part, it is their courage to see me,
3
a transsexual woman, again and again, because yes, in this culture, it takes courage
4
for a man to get so close, so intimate with an individual whom a large portion of
5
the population considers a freak" (Ross 2002b: 15). This transfeminist kill/joy
6
affect might be understood as a trans-(re)structuring or disorienting affect, as it
7
holds anti-trans and anti-sex-work feminists accountable for the violences and
8
lack of love of their politics, while offering a repaired love as a model of trans-
9
formative resistance and demanding that audiences feel implicated in this ten-
10
sion and feel the potential of rage and love not as irreducible affects, but as a full
11
politics. Koyama (2006: 702) notes, "It is not the lack of knowledge or infor-
12
mation that keeps oppression going; it is the lack of feminist compassion, con-
13
science and principle." And in her exploration of transformational feminism, bell
14
hooks (1989: 26; emphasis added) writes, "In reconceptualizing and reformulating
15
strategies for future feminist movements, we need to concentrate on the politici-
16
zation of love, not just in the context of talking about victimization in intimate
17
relationships, but in a critical discussion where love can be understood as a powerful
18
force that challenges and resists domination. As we work to be loving, to create a
19
culture that celebrates life, that makes love possible, we move against dehu-
20
manization, against domination." The kill/joy affect of Yapping Out Loud offers
21
an opportunity to politicize love and joy, to politicize jouissance, as a critical
22
framework and methodology. As Chela Sandoval (2000: 140) argues, taking up
23
Roland Barthes, "The act of falling in love can thus function as a `punctum,' that
24
which breaks through social narratives to permit a bleeding, meanings unan-
25
chored and moving away from their traditional moorings." We can "understand
26
`love' as a hermeneutic, as a set of practices and procedures that can transit all
27
citizen-subjects, regardless of social class, toward a differential mode of con-
28
sciousness and its accompanying technologies of method and social movement"
29
(139); love is a methodology through which we become that "drifting being . . . where
30
political weapons of consciousness are available in a constant tumult of possi-
31
bility" (140). As an expression of love and pleasure, Sandoval reinscribes jouis-
32
sance as a political position: "It is coming to a utopian nonsite, a no-place where
33
everything is possible--but only in exchange for the pain of crossing" (140).
34
Ross's Yapping Out Loud performs this pain of crossing, reveals the political
35
damages of denied love and unanchors the possibility for love and pleasure as a
36
social-justice methodology.
37
Stryker has emphasized the importance of understanding transgender
38
studies as knowledge production, and I want to make a connection here between
39
Stryker's vision and Audre Lorde's (1984: 53) understanding of love, joy, and the
40
erotic as knowledge production, as a "source of power and information within
TSQ14_04Cowan_1pp.3d 09/12/14 11:36am Page 509
COWAN * Rage, Love, and Reparative Performance 509
1
our lives" and anger, which she figured similarly as "loaded with information and
2
energy" (127).17 Stryker (2006: 8­9) writes, "Epistemological concerns lie at the
3
heart of transgender critique, and motivate a great deal of the transgender
4
struggle for Social Justice. Transgender phenomena, in short, point the way to a
5
different understanding of how bodies mean, how representation works, and
6
what counts as legitimate knowledge. These philosophical issues have material
7
consequences for the quality of transgender lives." The dialectical structure
8
of transfeminist kill/joy scenarios that call out the ways in which we "partici-
9
pate, knowingly or otherwise, in [our] sister's oppression" (Lorde 1984: 128) and
10
acknowledge anger, love, joy, and the erotic as transformative sources/sites of
11
power and knowledge, creates the possibility for change and reminds us that we
12
are not stuck in current conditions.18 Significantly, these transfeminist moments
13
of joy are not examples of what Ahmed (2010: 84) would call the obscuring act of
14
taking cover "by looking on the bright side . . . to avoid what might threaten the
15
world as it is" but, rather, this is love as resistance tactic, performing the powerful
16
material consequences of loving trans- women.
17
18
Scenario 3: Love Letters
19
The performance at which the penny dropped for me about the transformative
20
complexities of transfeminist kill/joy expressive culture was The Fully Functional
21
Cabaret, which I saw at Barnard College in April 2013. The opening scenes of the
22
cabaret are led by the show's Ring Mistress/Emcee (Annie Danger), who asks the
23
audience,
24
25
Are you ready for some SECRETS? Are you ready for some THRILLS?! Did some
26
of you just come to find out what the fuck's going ON down there?! Yes you did! And
27
we here at The Fully Functional Cabaret refuse to disappoint! . . . We know what
28
you want. Any trans show worth its salt has a fantastic reveal scene. And I want you
29
to know we're serious about these secrets so we're going dessert first, bladies and
30
shentlemen! (Amerasu et al. 2012b: 2)
31
32
The Ring Mistress then sets the stage for a small-town­beauty-pageant-meets-
33
Vaudeville burlesque and introduces The Fully Functional cast by their showgirl
34
names, Vanessa DeCamp (Star Amerasu), Selina (Ryka Aoki), Cookie (Shawna
35
Virago), and Teddie (Bryn Kelly), telling us that these ladies are about to show off
36
what they have to reveal. This opening scene is a kill/joy moment: it promises the
37
big reveal, both naming and rendering ridiculous the cultural power of this
38
expectation, making an absurdly extended joke about what each cast member is
39
hiding. This scene plays up a hybrid magic trick/striptease, riffing on the pervasive
40
motif that trans- women are hiding something.19 Each performer in turn reveals
TSQ14_04Cowan_1pp.3d 09/12/14 11:36am Page 510
510 TSQ * Transgender Studies Quarterly
1
her pubic puppet --her "fish stick," her "stick pussy," her "lady finger," her
2
"Neovagina . . . [with all] its bells and whistles" (Amerasu et al. 2012b: 4)--while
3
the Ring Mistress calls for cheers and applause, forcing the spectators to demand
4
what they know they are not supposed to want. Indeed, the show is a manifes-
5
tation of all the "Don'ts" in a Trans 101 seminar, and many audience members
6
know it. In the first moments of the show, the Ring Mistress explains to the
7
spectators that "this ride requires a special T-ticket for full permission to come see
8
the funny trannies," but then she corrects herself: "Oop! Hilarious trans wome-
9
n"(Amerasu 2012b: 1). Like Ross's Yapping Out Loud, The Fully Functional Cabaret
10
performs the pedagogical function of the political cabaret form--a proliferating
11
dialectic produced through repetition, this scene teaches (indeed, most of the
12
scenes teach) by bad example. And like Aoki's caricature of Sierra, this perfor-
13
mance cultivates a renewed, if discomfited, self-awareness among spectators.
14
Following the pageant scene, the show continues with a series of collabo-
15
ratively written scenarios, including a clever skit full of Double entendres featuring
16
Dr. Harry Benjamin (Red Durkin), infamous for his research with "live trans-
17
sexuals," and another in which Corporeal Hegemony (Shawna Virago), a figure
18
reminiscent of a debutante coach, works to create/discipline a (non)passing trans-
19
woman's (Bryn Kelly) body. The cabaret moves through increasingly bleak terrain,
20
staging enactments of dating violence and medical violence, all of which challenge
21
the received notions and expectations that circulate about trans- women's bodies,
22
desires, and surgical status and, again, seem pedagogical in intention. Early in the
23
show, the Ring Mistress foreshadows this turn to "the real" by telling her audience,
24
25
You can laugh now, you may not be [laughing] later. For the trans- women in the
26
audience and maybe for other people as well we have written this show to get very
27
real. And if it should get so real that you need to take care of yourself--get a drink
28
of water, take a walk in the lobby, take a deep breath, find a friend, find a hug--we
29
very strongly encourage you to do so. And regardless of your experience this evening,
30
in that sense, we hope that you have an amazing time. (Amerasu et al. 2012a)
31
32
As the violence on stage becomes more and more "real," the audience becomes
33
increasingly uncomfortable. Rather than a joke about what may or may not be
34
between their legs, The Fully Functional Cabaret's "big reveal" exposes the violence
35
in trans- women's lives. The joke is played and then taken away, like a dirty,
36
broken toy. The show "refuses to convene" (Ahmed 2010: 65) over laughs.
37
In the last scene of The Fully Functional Cabaret, by far longer than any of
38
the other segments of the show, the kill/joy manifestation of love, "breaks through
39
social narrative" (Sandoval 2000: 140). "Love Letters" is a spoken-word piece
40
performed by the ensemble cast, as they gather around each other, hugging,
TSQ14_04Cowan_1pp.3d 09/12/14 11:36am Page 511
COWAN * Rage, Love, and Reparative Performance 511
1
holding each other --a dramatized version of mutual care and solidarity --each
2
cast member wearing a variation of the same fabulous gold lameґ fabric, each
3
cataloging the things they love about trans women. The letter begins "Dear You,"
4
(Amerasu et al. 2012) and continues:
5
6
annie: I see you around walking around the street. . . .
7
Oh, how I adore the fact that you are living. . . .
8
9
ryka: Dear transwomen yet to come . . .
10
red: I love you because sometimes you're weird looking the way that I am weird
11
looking and you understand that weird looking and bad looking are not the same
12
thing. . . .
13
14
ryka: You see, belief is something we transwomen can do like no one else. With
15
everything, everyone out there doubting us, we are given a belief that can create
worlds, make what is impossible real. Remember, in everything you do, to believe
16
17
in yourself. Your belief is your greatest gift and power, and magic. Like nobody else
18
when you, my future, believe--you love. And I believe in you. . . .
19
red: I love you because you're beautiful, not in a "we are all the special and perfect
20
creations of a Loving God," kind of way. You're beautiful in a "crawled out of the
21
muck and evolved," kind of way. I love you because you're loud and shy and
22
glamorous and plain. I love you because you've got swagger, because you're clumsy,
23
because you're delicate, angry, imposing and gracious. (Amerasu et al. 2012a)
24
25
The scene ends as Star Amerasu straps on an acoustic guitar and the cast reas-
26
sembles and re-embraces for their closing song, "I Want It All," a transfeminist
27
anthem if ever there was one, a demonstration of the restructured affective pol-
28
itics of the kill/joy:
29
30
I la la la love you. · 3
31
Every part of you.
32
Every single part of you.
33
Your worst and your best.
34
I want it all · 4
35
...
36
I love you when you're graceful and when you're mean.
37
I love your big hands and your busted teeth. (Amerasu et al. 2012b: 35)
38
39
"Love Letters" and "I Want it All" are meditations on love as what Sandoval
40
(2000: 139) calls a "system of signification capable of evoking and puncturing
TSQ14_04Cowan_1pp.3d 09/12/14 11:36am Page 512
512 TSQ * Transgender Studies Quarterly
1
through to another site, to that of differential consciousness"; these scenes bring
2
the cast and audience together in a shared moment/feeling of creating change.
3
4
Conclusion
5
In the preceding pages I have tried to identify, through the affective orienta-
6
tions of the transfeminist kill/joy, how holding rage and love simultaneously
7
as a structural and narrative tension is characteristic of what might be called
8
reparative-pedagogical transfeminist expressive culture. The transfeminist kill/joy
9
works as political methodology, as epistemology, and as aesthetic; it is, I believe,
10
indicative of an impulse to not give up on a feminist transformational politic. The
11
transfeminist kill/joy slips anger through and into hope, joy, and love and holds
12
them in tension as creative potential.
13
14
15
T. L. Cowan is the FemTechNet Chair of Experimental Pedagogies in the School of Media Studies
16
and a lecturer in Culture and Media at Eugene Lang College at the New School. She is the co-
17
author of "Trading Credit for Debt: Queer History-Making in Debt Culture" (Women's Studies
18
Quarterly, Spring/Summer 2014) and is currently completing her book manuscript titled,
19
"Sliding Scale: The Cultural Economies of Trans- Feminist and Queer Cabaret."
20
21
22
Acknowledgments
23
I offer my thanks to the many people who helped bring this paper into being: to two anonymous
24
reviewers for their generous and thoughtful readings; to Jasmine Rault for ongoing feedback and
25
discussion; to R.M. Kennedy for his attentive feedback late in the process; to Mirha-Soleil Ross for
a memorable afternoon and for continually sharing her impressive archive with me; to Annie
26
Danger for her multiple email responses and for providing me with Fully Functional photographs
27
and script materials; and to Trish Salah, Julian Carter and David Getsy for their patience. And
28
thanks to all the artists for their work.
29
30
Notes
31
1. Following Ahmed (2010), my analysis of rage as a political tool and form of knowledge
32
production and transfer is indebted to the work of Audre Lorde (1984: 127), who reminds
33
us that "every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those
34
oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. Focused with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change."
35
2. Transgender activist Janet Mock explains that shifting the discourse to loving trans-
36
women is to insist on the existence of trans- women: "We're not supposed to be here.
37
Men are not supposed to love us because we're not supposed to exist" (Hill et al. 2013).
38
While trans- dyke existence is not accounted for in this discussion, I think we can extend
39
Mock's analysis to include lesbian desire.
40
3. A. Finn Enke (2012a: 74) notes, "Cis's peculiar ontology erases location and effects through time and space: To preserve the status of cis as non-trans, trans must never have
TSQ14_04Cowan_1pp.3d 09/12/14 11:36am Page 513
COWAN * Rage, Love, and Reparative Performance 513
1
been or become cis but instead be consistently trans across all time and in all spaces." I use
2
"(cis)" throughout this paper to signal the ways that feminists without transgender or
3
transsexual experience have centered their own experiences of gender/sex at the expense
of feminists who have trans- experience, to de-center (cis), and to be conscious of the
4
ways that "cis" functions "as a disciplinary tool [that] erases gender variance among all
5
people" (11) and "shrinks awareness of transgender presence" (Enke 2012b: 6).
6
4. Diana Taylor (2003: 28) elaborates the concept of "scenario" to address "meaning-
7
making paradigms that structure social environments[,] . . . narrative and plot, but
8
demands that we also pay attention to milieu and corporeal behaviors such as gestures,
9
attitudes, and tones not reducible to language."
5. Julia Serano (2007: 15) introduced the term trans-misogyny to account for the ridicule,
10
exclusion, physical violence, sexual assault and other "specific form[s] of discrimination"
11
targeted at, and experienced by, trans- women.
12
6. Viviane Namaste (2000: 68) importantly points to the ways that "the programmatic call for
13
including MTF transsexuals within lesbian and feminist communities . . . presupposes that the
14
only communities that count as lesbian or feminist are those that designate themselves as
15
such." The broad range of performances and other scenarios that I consider here are meant to
reflect Namaste's call for "a broader range of cultural and institutional texts" (69), although
16
the spaces I focus on here are predominantly lesbian, queer, and/or feminist designated spaces.
17
7. I am borrowing here from BattyMamzelle's 2014 analysis of "White Feminism" as "a set of
18
beliefs that allows for the exclusion of issues that specifically affect women of col-
19
our . . . [as] a method of practicing feminism, not an indictment of every individual white
20
feminist everywhere." I am also extending TheWhistlingFish's comment to Batty-
21
Mamzelle's blog post: "What people don't seem to get is that `White Feminism' is fem-
22
inism for white people, and never exclusively feminism by white people. It's more about who benefits exclusively than who is perpetuating it exclusively." By "privileged feminist
23
scenarios," I mean social and political spaces, artist and activist scenes, and other
24
affective and material resource-distribution infrastructures that are tacitly or explicitly
25
organized for women who do not have transgender or transsexual experience, as well as
26
for people whose privilege profile is additionally optimized by other factors including
27
Whiteness; able-bodiedness; education; steady employment; secure housing; and/or
28
settler, legal citizenship, or immigration status, thus excluding issues that specifically affect women outside of this/these privilege profile(s).
29
8. As Emi Koyama (2003: 245) puts it in her "Transfeminist Manifesto," transfeminism
30
"stands up for trans and non-trans women alike, and asks non-trans women to stand up
31
for trans women in return" and understand transfeminist liberation to be tied to all
32
struggles against oppression; transfeminism is not limited to or for trans-women.
33
9. I borrow here from Jasmine Rault's (2011: 239­40) conceptualization of the "political and
34
ethical work of positive affect . . . as important media of communication for feminist queer efforts to resist, disrupt or simply survive the mundane and transnational violences
35
of failed democracies, state-sanctioned homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, racialized
36
poverty, financial terrorism and neoliberal homonationalisms."
37
10. My understanding of assigned-essentialist feminist logics is informed by Bobby Noble's
38
theory of feminist fundamentalism. I have shifted the terminology away from "funda-
39
mentalism" in response to R. M. Kennedy's important intervention into this paper;
Kennedy notes that the language of fundamentalism and an anticipated readership's
40
implied distaste for and resistance to it cannot be disentangled from homonationalist
TSQ14_04Cowan_1pp.3d 09/12/14 11:36am Page 514
514 TSQ * Transgender Studies Quarterly
1
anti-Islam rhetorics. However, Noble's (2012: 54) formulation of this form of feminism as
2
having "moral panics about transgender bodies," driven by a fervent belief in sex-
3
assigned-at-birth as the holy truth of a person's life-long gender is what I mean by "assigned-
essentialist" feminisms. Trish Salah's (2011) "Backlash to the Future: Screening Transsexuality
4
as Fundamentalism," takes up the link between feminist and Islamic Fundamentalism.
5
11. On the topic of a transfeminist kill/joy response to "women-women's" spaces, see Red
6
Durkin's (2013) "Indigo Girls and Other MichFest 2013 Performers: Boycott MWMF until
7
the Organizers Fully Include Trans Women." Durkin performs the kill/joy impulse by
8
signaling the damage done by Michigan Womyn's Music Festival's trans-exclusive
9
"intention" and communicating a hope and plan for a future in which trans- women are
"welcome" at the MWMF as "festies" and musicians.
10
12. Bobby Noble (2012: 53) also makes this call, following Robyn Wiegman.
11
13. Viviane Namaste (2009) has observed that while transness figures heavily in Anglo-
12
American feminist theory of the past two decades, more often than not, feminist theory
13
instrumentalizes transsexual and transgender bodies to "ask [their] own epistemological
14
questions" (12).
15
14. Stryker ([1994] 2006) has noted how Mary Daly "characterized transsexuals as agents of a
`necrophilic invasion' of female space" (Daly qtd. in Stryker [1994] 2006: 248); more
16
recently, in her essay "Keeping Queer Queer," Cherrґie Moraga (2011: 186, 189) refers twice
17
to trans men as "surgically scarred" and worries that butch lesbians are becoming a
18
"dying breed, headed for extinction." Moraga is by far not alone in these sentiments and,
19
as I indicate in my review of her book (Cowan 2013: 429), in this chapter she makes some
20
gestures toward a change of heart. Julia Serano (2013: 302) provides "an overview of
21
feminist anti-trans sentiment" in a footnote.
22
15. Arguably the most visible trans-excluding space in Canada is Vancouver Rape Relief (VRR) and Women's Shelter. In 2013, in honor of December 6, Canada's Day of Action
23
and Remembrance on violence against women, VRR hosted Transsexual Empire author
24
and infamously antitrans and anti-sex-work feminist, Janice Raymond. As if reviving
25
Ross's Bridge It Taylor!, Raymond gave a talk entitled "Prostitution: Not a job, not a
26
choice," which detailed "her efforts to abolish sex work, which included advising the
27
[Canadian] federal government's legal team defending antiprostitution laws during the recent
28
Supreme Court Bedford v. Canada hearings" (Allen 2013). See also Namaste's "Inclusive Pedagogy in the Women's Studies Classroom: Teaching the Kimberly Nixon Case" (2013).
29
16. After decades of sex-worker advocacy and activism by people like Ross, the Supreme
30
Court of Canada struck down the three remaining laws that criminalized activities
31
necessary for sex work in their December 2013 Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford ruling.
32
(Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford, [2013] 3 S.C.R. 1101, 2013 S.C.C. 72 (CanLII)).
33
17. Likewise, Stryker's ([1994] 2006: 254) transsexual "monster" wishes, "May your rage
34
inform your actions and your actions transform you as you struggle to transform your world"; and Kate Bornstein (1994: 81) has noted that "our anger is a message to ourselves
35
that we have to get active and change something in order to survive."
36
18. Not all feminist love serves transformational antiracist politics. See, for example, Ortega
37
(2006), in which she identifies a "loving, knowing ignorance--an ignorance of the
38
thought and experience of women of color that is accompanied by both alleged love for
39
and alleged knowledge about them" (57). 19. In her introduction to The Transgender Studies Reader, Stryker (2006: 11) writes, "Those
40
who commit violence against transgender people routinely seek to excuse their own
TSQ14_04Cowan_1pp.3d 09/12/14 11:36am Page 515
COWAN * Rage, Love, and Reparative Performance 515
1
behavior by claiming they have been unjustly deceived by a mismatch between the other's
2
gender and genitals." We see cultural representations of this phenomenon in, for
3
example, Neil Jordan's The Crying Game (1992), Duncan Tucker's TransAmerica (2005);
even Paul Abbott's recent Hit or Miss (2012) reproduces this trope, which has been
4
sustained and sensationalized by the TV talk show "shocker" genre. In addition to The
5
Fully Functional Cabaret, see Sherilyn Connelly's "The Big Reveal" in Bergman and
6
Bornstein's Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation (2010) for a welcome subversion.
7
8
References
9
Ahmed, Sara. 2006. Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others. Durham, NC: Duke
10
University Press.
11
------. 2010. The Promise of Happiness. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
12
Allen, Mercedes. 2013. "Memorial Draws Controversy over Invitation of Speaker Janice Raymond." Rabble. staging.rabble.ca/news/2013/11/memorial-draws-controversy-over
13
-invitation-speaker-janice-raymond.
14
Amerasu, Star, et al. 2012a. The Fully Functional Cabaret. DVD.
15
------. 2012b. The Fully Functional Cabaret. Unpublished script.
16
Aoki, Ryka. 2012. "To the New World." In The Collection, edited by Tom Leґger and Riley MacLeod,
17
53­62. New York: Topside Press.
18
BattyMamzelle. 2014. "This Is What I Mean When I Say `White Feminism.'" BattyMamzelle. January 10. battymamzelle.blogspot.com/2014/01/This-Is-What-I-Mean-When-I-Say
19
-White-Feminism.html.
20
Bornstein, Kate. 1994. Gender Outlaws: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us. New York: Routledge.
21
Cowan, T. L. 2013. Review of A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness: Writings, 2000­2012, by
22
Cherriґe Moraga. Women and Performance 23, no. 3: 427­29.
23
Durkin, Red. 2013. "Indigo Girls and Other MichFest 2013 Performers: Boycott MWMF until
the Organizers Fully Include Trans Women." Change.org. www.change.org/petitions/
24
indigo-girls-and-other-michfest-2013-­performers-boycott-mwmf-until-the-organizers
25
-fully-include-trans-women.
26
Enke, A. Finn. 2012a. "The Education of Little Cis: Cisgender and the Discipline of Opposing
27
Bodies." In Transfeminist Perspectives in and beyond Transgender and Gender Studies,
28
edited by Anne Enke, 60­80. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
29
------. 2012b. "Introduction: Transfeminist Perspectives." In Transfeminist Perspectives in and
beyond Transgender and Gender Studies, edited by Anne Enke, 1­15. Philadelphia: Temple
30
University Press.
31
Hill, Marc Lamont, et al. 2013. "Remixing the Trans and Hip Hop Conversation." HuffPost Live.
32
live.huffingtonpost.com/r/segment/what-dj-mister-cees-scandal-means-for-hip-hop
33
/5230e99778c90a121000039d.
34
hooks, bell. 1989. "Feminism: A Transformational Politic." In Talking Back: Thinking Feminist,
35
Thinking Black, 19­27. Cambridge, MA: South End.
Koyama, Emi. 2003. "The Transfeminist Manifesto." In Catching a Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for
36
the Twenty-First Century, edited by Rory Dicker and Alison Piepmeier, 244­59. Boston:
37
Northeastern University Press.
38
------. 2006. "Whose Feminism Is It Anyway? The Unspoken Racism of the Trans Inclusion
39
Debate." In the Transgender Studies Reader, edited by Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle,
40
698­705. New York: Routledge.
TSQ14_04Cowan_1pp.3d 09/12/14 11:36am Page 516
516 TSQ * Transgender Studies Quarterly
1
Lorde, Audre. 1984. Sister Outsider. Freedom, CA: Crossing.
2
Moraga, Cherrґie. 2011. A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness: Writings, 2000­2012. Durham,
3
NC: Duke University Press.
4
Namaste, Viviane K. 2000. Invisible Lives: The Erasure of Transsexual and Transgender People. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
5
------. 2013. "Inclusive Pedagogy in the Women's Studies Classroom: Teaching the Kimberly
6
Nixon Case." In The Transgender Studies Reader 2, edited by Susan Stryker and Aren Z.
7
Aizura, 213­25.
8
------. 2009. "Undoing Theory: The `Transgender Question' and the Epistemic Violence of
9
Anglo-American Feminist Theory." Hypatia 23, no. 3: 11­32.
10
Noble, Bobby. 2012. "Trans. Panic: Some Thoughts toward a Theory of Feminist Fundamentalism." In Transfeminist Perspectives in and beyond Transgender and Gender Studies, edited
11
by Anne Enke, 45­59. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
12
Ortega, Mariana. 2006. "Being Lovingly, Knowingly Ignorant: White Feminism and Women of
13
Color." Hypatia 21, no. 3: 56­74.
14
Rault, Jasmine. 2011. "Positive Affect in the Queer Americas." Topia, no. 25 (Spring 2011): 247­49.
15
Ross, Mirha-Soleil. 2002a. Yapping Out Loud: Contagious Thoughts from an Unrepentant Whore,
16
directed by Nicola Stamp. Videocassette (V-Tape). ------. 2002b. Yapping Out Loud: Contagious Thoughts from an Unrepentant Whore. Version 22.
17
Unpublished Script.
18
Salah, Trish. 2007. "What's All the Yap? Reading Mirha-Soleil Ross's Performance of Activist
19
Pedagogy." In "Spoken Word Performance," edited by T. L. Cowan and Ric Knowles,
20
special issue, Canadian Theatre Review, no. 130: 64­71.
21
------. 2011. "Backlash to the Future: Screening Transsexuality as Fundamentalism." In "Feminist
22
Mediations," edited by T. L. Cowan, Kate Eichhorn, and Jasmine Rault, Special Section, Topia 25: 212­22.
23
Salamon, Gayle. 2008. "Transfeminism and the Future of Gender." In Women's Studies on the
24
Edge, edited by Joan Wallach Scott, 115­36. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
25
Sandoval, Chela. 2000. Methodology of the Oppressed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
26
Sedgwick, Eve Kosof ky. 2003. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity. Durham, NC:
27
Duke University Press.
28
Serano, Julia. 2007. Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity. Berkeley, CA: Seal.
29
------. 2012. "Reclaiming Femininity." In Transfeminist Perspectives in and beyond Transgender
30
and Gender Studies, edited by Anne Enke, 170­83. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
31
------. 2013. Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive. Berkeley, CA: Seal.
32
Stryker, Susan. (1994) 2006. "My Words to Victor Frankenstein above the Village of Chamounix:
33
Performing Transgender Rage." GLQ 1, no. 3. Reprinted in The Transgender Studies
34
Reader, edited by Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle, 244­56. New York: Routledge. ------. 2006. "(De)Subjugated Knowledges: An Introduction to Transgender Studies." In The
35
Transgender Studies Reader, edited by Susan Stryker and Stephen Whittle, 1­18. New
36
York: Routledge.
37
Stryker, Susan, Paisley Currah, and Lisa Jean Moore. 2008. "Introduction: Trans-, Trans, or
38
Transgender?" In "Trans-," special issue, Women's Studies Quarterly 36, nos. 3­4: 11­22.
39
Taylor, Diana. 2003. The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing cultural memory in the Americas.
40
Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

L Rage

File: transfeminist-killjoys.pdf
Title: TSQ14_04Cowan_1pp 501..516
Author: L Rage
Published: Fri Sep 12 11:34:52 2014
Pages: 16
File size: 0.24 Mb


Discovering Columbus, 6 pages, 1.01 Mb

Time Beings, 3 pages, 0.08 Mb
Copyright © 2018 doc.uments.com