Musings for the Dissertation

This dissertation argues on two different but interlocking registers: (1) the epistemological and (2) the phenomenological. The first register seeks to address the multiple ways that transgender knowledges, as embodied, lived, and singular, are either un/intentionally hidden from the social pool of gendered knowledge or are taken as incredible perspectives of a subjective, unreal gendered experience. This form of epistemic injustice, as it has come to be known in certain intellectual circles (see Fricker 2007), announces its own importance. Social justice can only thrive insofar that knowledge derived from the particularities of community experiences are taken up credibly, justly, and adequately. What good can anti-discrimination law do when only a certain gendered subjectivity is brought to bear on the interpretation of law? The underlying cisgender bias, one that often obscures “trans” while naturalizes “cis” experiences of gender/sex life, makes the possibility of moving beyond a singular gender/sex spectrum, or even the dichotomy of cis/trans, limited (Enke 2013). To exist, at all, is to live in moments that often defy easy such easy categories, stable narratives, and lucid memories that sustain tradition. And thus, to be trans (in all its varied, multifaceted ways of appearing and being in the world), is to occupy sites of embodied life, develop intimate personal narratives, and constitute cultural memories that inherently destabilize the gendered knowledge “we” haphazardly assume and naturalize as a “common” social history.

Second, there cannot be an examination of the epistemological without a phenomenological account of those who are producing knowledge, and the structures that restrain or liberate knowledge production. Indeed, to suggest any epistemic work on behalf transgender subjectivities is tacitly accepting a social ontology that smuggles in certain accounts of gender/sex. Phenomenology seeks to describe and understand the plurality of phenomena and appearances that populate the world. As such, I cannot justify my work on transgender epistemic injustices if I cannot account for the historical emergence of transgender subjectivities, their phenomenal pluralities of ways of being in the world, and the ways in which such subjectivities have undergone radical transformations through discursive structures or agentic investments that brought about their emergence. Such a trans phenomenology does not assert any essential being; it does not posit a trans-ness. Rather, it accounts for the constellation of interrelated ways of being transgender, arguing that these interrelations and varied ways life must be given the credit of existence for their own sakes—a task that identity politics and liberal discourses on citizenship routinely fail to do while fighting for individual rights.

The stitching of these two fields of inquiry, I think, is made possible by the reformulation of the ideas of “politics” and “the political” insofar that both carry a decisively social meaning. Politics can no longer mean the mere agonism and disagreement between competing groups of interests. Nor can the political, taken as its own sphere of activity, be the ontic realm of institutions that govern citizens, making laws, interpreting disputes of among disparate judicial decrees, and bureaucratizing daily life. Politics must be rethought in its abilities to police within social life, without the attendant agonisms of verbal disagreement. Politics is the reaction to the norms that run over the social body, tattooing the surface in such a way as to substantiate the very bodies that have the capacity to clamor toward a “we” (Ranciere 2010). This new view would hold that politics is an aesthetic conjoined with dissent. Politics becomes a forceful way of addressing those whose bodies rejected the tattoo of the norm that gave other, “normal” bodies their legibility—that is to say, their credibility in a shared social reality. The political, too, undergoes a radical transformation that reveals a sphere reflecting these disruptions. The political is no longer a sphere of mere institutions, but a sphere of open and reflexive epistemic virtues linking together pliable, democratic organization—of recognition in a person’s worth within a contingently shared world of difference.

This dissertation is not traditional political theory. It situates itself within the intersections of feminist philosophies, trans* studies, sociology, and history to open a space in which transgender people have a discursive space derived from and rooted in their own grammars of social reality. I take seriously my own political reading of Heidegger’s (2010) observation that phenomenology owes its root to the Greek “to bring into daylight, to place in brightness” (p. 27). For all of my epistemic concerns about transgender knowledge, the transgender subjects of knowledge themselves, and their utter absence or marginalization from public discourse, I am equally animated to crack open the disciplinary structures that have kept the “transgender phenomenon” as merely spectacular or objectified—but not as legitimate modes of human existence. I believe this to be the strength of a political phenomenology that seeks the destruction of the historical narratives that capture transgender being within a pathological temporality (on the capture of marginal narrative, see Benjamin 1978). I also think, coupled with epistemology, this kind of phenomenology will more adequately bring transgender knowledges to light within a discipline that (unknowingly) normalizes transgender subjects through the study of institutional politics, public opinion, and the mainstream LGBTQ activism that seeks to “represent” transgender issues.

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