[You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to be able to write that title. I fear this post, though, won’t be as fun as I had hoped. Feel free to skip to Anne’s posts; she’s returned in style!]

One of the ideas that I’ve been playing with while doing this orals reading is that postcolonial theory has a lot more to offer trans* studies than queer theory. (In regards to feminism, sex-worker-positive feminism has a whole hell of a lot more to offer trans feminism than lesbian feminism.) I suppose it has a lot to do with why I’ve become obsessed with vulgar Marxism. Queer theory that stops at celebrating difference, or critiquing heterosexism, or claiming subversivity does nothing to address the severe economic costs faced by those who transition which pretty much ensure downward mobility. (These include loss of employment; reduced employability; loss of financial support from families, spouses, and friends; legal name changes; hormones; hair removal; hair replacement; psychotherapy [sometimes just for ‘letters’]; surgical interventions; blood work; voice training; along with often limited or eliminated access to health and social services.) Queer theorists have a tendency to see, or to implicitly promote the view that these costs are a sign of reactionary false consciousness. (As in, “You’re just wasting your money and reinforcing the gender binary!”–because, clearly one doesn’t choose to be gay, but one can choose whether to be trans or not.) From a poco perspective, though, we’re the marginalized others who are treated as objects, not subjects, in order to reinforce some grand narrative. One wouldn’t dream these days of casting a white actor as a brown character [as in Sir Alec Guiness playing Prince Faisal in Lawrence of Arabia] but it’ll be years before we see a Hollywood movie that casts a trans actor as a trans character. Perhaps the most revealing historical analogue would be the early twentieth century cultural representations of black Americans: in blackface, as tragic mulatto/as, as people whose successful passing must be coded as failure.

So why would any of this make Bhabha my Homi? After all, he’s somewhat of a central figure in instantiating culture, and not economics, as the base of hegemony. Still, I was hoping that rereading a dense text would offer up something new, something overlooked by most invocations and applications of said dense text, and I haven’t been disappointed. So while I’m pretty meh about mimicry and hybridity and find phrases like “the immediacy and articulacy of authority” more quaint than frustrating or exciting, I’m really interested in his idea of “time-lag.” He quotes Fanon: “You come too late, much too late, there will always be a world–a white world between you and us” (339 [Routledge 2004]). Bhabha then performs the deconstructive do-si-do:

From the perspective of a postcolonial “belatedness,” Fanon disturbs the punctum of man as the signifying, subjectifying category of Western culture, as a unifying reference of ethical value. Fanon performs the desire of the colonized to identify with the humanistic, enlightenment ideal of Man: “all I wanted was to be a man among other men. I wanted to come lithe and young into a world that was ours and build it together.” Then, in a catachrestic reversal he shows how, despite the pedagogies of human history, the performative discourse of the liberal West, its quotidian conversation and comments, reveal the cultural supremacy and racial typology upon which the universalism of Man is founded: “But of course, come in, sir, there is no colour prejudice among us. . . . Quite, the Negro is a man like ourselves. . . . It is not because he is black that he is less intelligent than we are.” (340)

Okay, so the critique of universalism feels pretty dated (I’m excepting the robust historicism of Susan Buck-Morss in “Hegel and Haiti,” which you must read), but the idea of belatedness is still very pressing. One of the most useful ideas I picked up this time was thinking about modernity not as an event, something which happened, but as a [warning: jargon alert] discursive sign iterated within an enunciative present. Where I twist Bhabha is thinking of belatedness as a performative act and not a historical given.

At a non-Victorian conference I went to recently, I tweeted something to the effect of how it reassured me that I’d made the right decision to choose Victorian studies over queer theory. One of the things that made me say that was a presenter’s offhand comment (I’ve forgotten who, so I couldn’t even name names if I wanted to) about transgender studies being queer theory’s “problem child.” It’s not so much the “problem” part that bugs me, it’s the “child.” By performatively reinforcing the idea that trans studies exists after queer theory in chronology, it legitimates trans politics existing after gay/les political issues in precedence. “Oh, so you’d like to do something so that trans women have access to basic health care and aren’t left to die by paramedics? Too late! We’ve already put all our money and celebrity support into gay marriage. Then, after we get everything we want, things will be much easier for you, trust me, we’ve been at this for a lot longer than you have.” And by what right is trans theory seen as belated? Sandy Stone’s “Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto” dates from 1987, pretty much the same time as Eve Sedgwick’s Between Men. It wasn’t young urban professional gay men who rioted at Stonewall: it was drag queens and other gender non-conformists. The coining of the word “homosexual” itself is contemporaneous with tropes such as sexual inversion and third gendering that continue to misinform cisgendered folk about what transition is about. So, despite claiming that “But of course, there’s no transphobia among us,” queer theory continues acting like a problem sibling if not a problem child whenever it claims that transgender is the New Thing in LGB”T” studies.

* Even though this is an asterisk, it’s only to explain that the star shouldn’t be read as an asterisk. Trans* means transgender/transsexual/transexual. In most circles, trans without the star or transgender is used as an “umbrella” term, but I’m adopting the star since in most cases transgender means anything but transsexual. Um, Female Masculinity, anyone?

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