Rax E. Dillon (rax) wrote,
Rax E. Dillon

Trans Slurs, Rax Liking Post-Structuralism A Lot, And Some Articles From Twitter

Okay, so. This isn't super honed but I have to pack to be on a plane at 6 AM so I'm posting it as is.

A bunch of folks on twitter are talking about Jack Halberstam's article "You Are Triggering Me! The Neo-Liberal Rhetoric of Harm, Danger, and Trauma." I saw it, I thought it was some belunkus, I moved on. There was another article going around (This one, by Justin Vivian Bond) where the author made similar allegations that people against the use of "tranny" were conservative, young, neoliberal, &c. and I read that recently and rolled my eyes too. (I think, but am not sure, that Halberstam mispronouned Mx. Bond in his article.) I just read a response to Halberstam's piece by Katherine Cross, and the two of them combined I feel like are ultimately presenting some duality where I don't see a duality. Y'all know I hate those. So I'm going to connect these two pieces and try to fill in the gaps I'm seeing. In particular, I think that both authors are invested in criticizing what they see as a tendency to hyper/focus on the individual as opposed to fighting "new, rapacious economic systems" (Halberstam) --- Cross shares his opposition to neoliberal [0] trends in activist/academic circles but feels his methods and core philosophy are part of the problem: "to whatever limited extent Halberstam’s article is in any way correct, the problems it identifies are the result of postmodernism and queer theory, not something that happened in spite of them." This is grade A academic smack talk, and I love me some academic smack talk, but um. Reductive?

Let's talk about this.

I sort of want to quote Cross's argument in its entirety, and encourage you to read it if you want the full context to what I'm saying here, since it's deep and summarizing it won't do it justice. That said, an unjusticey paraphrase: Postmodernism (& poststructuralism & some postcolonialism) are hyperfocused on the individual as the site of resistance in a way that leads to infighting, dismissing of useful forms of organizing, and ultimately some crap like Halberstam spouted. And, read a particular way? Sure. She's right to say that Foucault offers a maze rather than a path out of the maze. She's right to say early Judith Butler is too focused on the individual in some ways. [1] She's identifying a real thing, but she's not identifying the entirety of the thing. The question that I feel Foucault, Butler, and especially Deleuze and Guattari posed to me, one that I'm trying to figure out how to answer in the way I live my life, is this: Given that oppressive structures are built around us, shifting to contain us, and taking advantage of our actions to sustain themselves even when the goals of those actions are to dismantle them, what can we do? If this is how The System is operating to contain us, and organized resistance as we previously knew it is being re-appropriated by the system, how can we shift our resistance to be effective? What does effective even mean?

For me, it is poststructuralism and its various post-bros that offer me answers to those questions. I'm sure there are folks out there calling for an entirely individual-focused activism that is only about the microscopic details of each person's practice, but to me that's only the beginning. One of the most important things I learned from D&G was the idea of assemblage: that each of us is not a singular unit. Instead, we move sometimes together sometimes apart along lines of flight/potential plans/whatever language you want to use. I don't think post* analysis of individual behavior is always or even often "ruthlessly pointillist" as Cross suggests. My body is a site of resistance, whether I want it to be or not, but my body is also the body of my community, the body of the people dear to me, a piece of a larger puzzle that cannot be distinguished from other parts of itself. Later Butler I read as all about framing (collecting different data points, different people, different experiences in an assemblage that casts light on the operations of both individual pieces and larger systems) and relationality (I forget if it's in Undoing Gender or not, Krinn has my copy, but she goes to actual pyschoanalytic therapeutic practice to look at the way people are fuzzy at the boundaries). Cyborg theory (Haraway and others) leads into questioning what exactly is human, where we begin and end, how the individual is also technology is also knowledge and so on. Chela Sandoval's differential consciousness (Methodology of the Oppressed is an amazing book) suggests that there are multiple approaches to take and we need to take all of them when they're appropriate, and one of those approaches it itself figuring out which approach to take. It's way more complex and useful than I'm making it sound --- or maybe it's as obvious in retrospect as it sounds and that's why it's so brilliant. I don't know.

So what does that giant pile of words have to do with the debate over "tranny?" I'm gonna restate some basic arguments here: Halberstam (and Bond kinda) are saying that objecting to the word is conservative, hyperfocused on individual injury and "hierarchies of woundedness," and assimilationist. Bond in particular suggests that maybe folks who don't like the word want to assimilate, leaving behind their transness, rather than inhabit a non-binary space. I'm not sure where that leaves me, since I don't like the word, am not terribly interested in reclaiming it, and respect other folks' right to try to reclaim it if they want to. The thing that bothers me --- it's hilarious since Halberstam thinks objecting is neoliberal, and here I agree with Cross --- is the systemic problems with using the term in a publicly reclaimed way, especially by people who are neither the initial group of people using the term or the folks the term's been applied to as a slur since. Like, sure, I'm upset when people use the word casually, when it's something that people have shouted out their car window as they threw things at me. And that is about me, and my body and my experience, in particular, and I don't think it makes me a conservative or a censor for saying so? I can see a me, or a person not far from me, who would be in favor using the word, since I have basically no problems with "queer," and there are some similarities between the histories of the words. Maybe when trans women are the butt of fewer jokes and objectified in porn in creepy and gross ways that I feel the term props up and reinforces. Right now, no thank you.
(There's also a huge argument that Cross and I could have about whether or not objective and subjective truth exist, the nature of knowledge, &c. &c. &c., but I don't think that's germane to the point I'm trying to make here. I'm already stepping into an argument where I don't know what's going on to begin with.)

[0] I'm not going to try to define neoliberal here. My favorite definition is "Introduction: STS and Neoliberal Science" by Lave, Mirowski, and Randalls, which I have a PDF of I'm pretty sure it's illegal to share here. Snarkily I could say "the thing gender studies PhD students call each other where using a slur would be policed by department administration," but there is a real and (to my mind) dangerous strain of thought here that deserves critique. I'm just not taking that on right now. :P

[1] In fact, that helped me to understand some of my itchiness with it. Thanks.
This entry was originally posted at http://rax.dreamwidth.org/129994.html.
Tags: butler, d&g, sandoval, theory, trans
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