- Entangled Spheres
“It is not enough to just be urgent and in opposition to state violence but uncritically practice it through exclusion, alienation, sexism, ableism, transphobia, and homophobia and a racist politic of policing authenticity. Prefigurative politics really resonated with me, meaning I wanted the work I did to prefigure the world or communities I wanted to live in.”-Reina Gossett from Captive Genders (329)
Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex contributes to the emergent surge of U.S. based transgender cultural critique over the first decades of the 21st century. In conversation with monographs by Susan Stryker, Kate Bornstein, J. Jack Halberstam, Judith Butler, David Valentine, Gayle Salaman, Dean Spade, Micha Cárdenas, Kale Bantigue Fajardo, and Mel Y. Chen, edited anthologies such as the Transgender Studies Reader (with a second volume upcoming), Transgender Migrations: The Bodies, Borders, and Politics of Transition, Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation, Trans/Love: Radical Sex, Love & Relationships Beyond the Gender Binary, and Trans Bodies, Trans Selves (forthcoming), and an expanding trans-media network including work by Yozmit, Ignacio Rivera, Kit Yan, Wu Tsang, Felix Endara, Shawna Virago, Sean Dorsey, and the Electronic Disturbance Theater, the collection of texts that is Captive Genders produces critical interventions assembled around embodied transgender, gender deviant, and queer experiences. These interlinked works share a marked shift towards transgender and gender non-conformant bodies as material interfaces with social regimes of gender and sexual control. But to interpret these pieces together as “emergent” is to already discipline their divergent workings and our interaction with them. These transgender and gender deviant interventions are increasing self-aware of the specificities of their mediums and their networked capabilities, whether they are print book, embodied performance, digital video, cell phone video, online installation, or electronic disturbance. And they depart from late 20th century literary, cultural, and social theory that has tended to emphasize the representational economy of the public sphere—mediated by the linguistic sign—as the chosen field of inquiry and subversion. Therefore, they do not call for a politics of critical interpretation that would “read” an emergent subjectivity along a single plane of social history as much as they work through entanglements with, and transmissions of, the multiple times, spaces, and bodies subjected to the experience of so-called shared society and historical progress. Taking my cue from these transgender and gender devious works, this review of Captive Genders assembles, connects, transmits, and intensifies, rather than performing a critical interpretation.
Social movements for decolonization and racial, gender, sexual, and economic justice in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s, in connection with social uprisings in Third World colonies and internationally, transformed the American public sphere to include communities segregated and subordinated by the apartheid U.S. state. People of color, civil rights, feminist, Third World, gay liberation, women of color/Third World feminist, leftist, and anti-war movements developed oppositional cultural practices as critical components of mobilizing against institutional white supremacy, colonialism, patriarchy, classism, homophobia, and heterosexism. These social mobilizations, therefore, did not only inject previously barred communities into the dominant public sphere, but also dismantled institutional public culture through the infusion of divergent, subordinated cultural imaginations. The flexibility and contingency attributed to the system of the sign by Euro-American post-Marxist intellectual and cultural movements after World War II, including postmodernism and poststructuralism, are indebted to the de-structuring of the representational economy of the public sphere by U.S. and Third World anti-colonial and social justice movements, as much as anti-fascist, anti-capitalist critical lineages in Europe and “new” postindustrial and neoliberal conditions. By the 1980s, the political and cultural transformations activated by 1960s/70s liberation movements began to be translated into niche political blocs, niche markets, and niche cultures. As highlighted by several pieces in Captive Genders, this moment of incorporation and backlash coincides with the moment when the penal system under the apartheid U.S. state expands into a booming prison industrial complex, at the edges of the “post”-apartheid American public sphere...