- Disintegration, Bisexuality, and Transgender Women of ColorLuce Irigaray and Frantz Fanon on Gender Transition
In the opening chapter, “Sexual Difference,” of her book An Ethics of Sexual Difference, Luce Irigaray mentions that, both in theory and in practice, the discovery of new idea is continuously resisted. She sets out to elucidate the ways in which the masculine-feminine gender binary, which she defines as sexual difference, is created in order to build an economic system that privileges cisgender heterosexual men. She argues that this intricate masculine system refuses the discovery of an alternative subjectivity and therefore needs to be “disintegrated” in order to conceptualize an “other” subjectivity that can stop the perpetuation of the oppression that is assigned to the feminine subject. I argue that issues of race are also intrinsic to this masculine system—built on the notion of white supremacy—that maintains the economy. In this sense, the racial binary—whites, and people of color as the Other—functions as an additional binary to the one Irigaray is elucidating.
In order to proceed—that is, to disintegrate the hegemonic structure that relies on the binary structure—Irigaray urges the reader to return to the framework of “first philosophy.” She cites a passage from Descartes, who argues that to “wonder” is first of all connected to “passion” and that it does not produce an “opposite.”1 She mentions that to achieve this goal, one must “disintegrate the current system without proposing any other goals that might assure new foundations and new works.”2 How can we proceed with this deconstructive move? Can transgender and [End Page 93] gender-nonconforming identities offer the possibility of creating an alternative subjectivity that ultimately deconstructs the binary structure of gender difference and racial difference? Is it accurate to equate the notions disintegration and deconstruction?
One wonders if it is even possible to see the existence of an alternative gender that does not rely on the binary system. My thought is that it is not only possible already exists. However, understanding the efficacy of such gender expression becomes an impossible task, because the its articulation relies on a structure of discourse that is already a part of the binary structure. For Derrida, the structure that is used to name and articulate is already at the center of Western metaphysics. The question, then, is how to articulate alternate gender expressions without reintroducing a binary structure.
Transgender identity is an attempt to deconstruct the binary gender structure, yet it does not fully accomplish its aim of articulating the efficacy of alternate gender expressions. Alternate gender expressions exist simultaneously with the binary structure; they speak and define their functions and efficacies while simultaneously refusing the process through which the articulation of their meanings becomes recognizable. Such alternate gender expression is connected to the expression of bisexuality, the Thing. In other words, underneath gender expressions is the play of bisexuality—the raw state of human sexuality—which triggers the fear of disintegration. Ultimately gender expressions seek to conceal the fear around bisexuality.
In this essay I will think though Irigaray’s notion of disintegration, which is based on the work of wonderment, and apply it to the reality of transgender and gender-nonconforming women of color. Currently, for transgender women of color, transitioning is accompanied by increasing encounters with hatred, violence, and murder. This reality has not received critical attention due to neoliberal, whitewashing rhetoric around transitioning, which continues to disguise the specific danger surrounding the act of transitioning for people of color.3 The murder of transgender women of color becomes a reminder of what happens when one [End Page 94] transgresses a social order built on racism, homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny.
In addition, using Freudian psychoanalytic theory, I will think through why transgender and gender-nonconforming people of color face a pandemic rate of murder, which, I argue, is connected to the fear of bisexuality, the Thing. I facilitate this inquiry by first engaging with Frantz Fanon, who argues that black men’s sexuality had to be constructed as dangerous in order to control and preserve white women’s sexuality and that the castration of black men during lynching is a stark...