- Trans* and Legacies of SocialismReading Queer Postsocialism in Tangerine
Transgender/queer theory and postsocialist theory have not been often theorized together, but here I want to think about their alliance to suggest their potential for future anticapitalist politics.1 By reading in dialogue a 1950s North American sci-fi, It Came from Outer Space, and a 2015 indie production focused on the experiences of trans* black people in Los Angeles, Tangerine, I show the deep ideological currents that connect a contemporary film about trans and blackness with a widespread anticommunist project in the United States.2 My aim is to show that the imagination of a global queer politics has to enter in conversation with a legacy of antisocialist Cold War politics. The construction of US white capitalism works to incessantly extract value from racialized, subaltern, and poor bodies, but a focus on Cold War politics offers a deep historical lens on the current transformations of neoliberal politics. In reading historically and contextually the aforementioned film productions, my aim is to show that trans* politics and a legacy of socialism emerge together as a common danger to racialized US capitalism.
I deploy the concept of "queer postsocialism" to underscore the connections between trans*/queer politics and histories of antisocialism. What does this concept do for a reader interested in queer studies, psychoanalysis, and postsocialist studies? First, it rejects the narrative that socialism is relevant "only" to those parts of the world that have lived behind the so-called Iron Curtain. [End Page 27] Because the anticommunist tradition of the United States is deeply shaped by right-wing rhetoric with roots in the Cold War, part of that rhetoric is a refusal of both labor resistance and gender anti-normativity. Trans* politics, as a politics of expanding the strict binary between men and women, and socialism, as a politics of imagining and creating an equal society, are allies in trying to disrupt racial capitalism in the United States. To challenge the assumption that socialism died as a political ideology in the wake of political transformations after the 1990s in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, I identify a common thread about the threat of labor in cinematic representations in the 1950s and late 2010s. Queer postsocialism makes visible the Cold War dynamics that led to the separation between labor politics and trans politics. As Susan Stryker (2013, 545) argued, the birth of transsexuality was linked to the scientific awe and anxiety generated by the atomic bomb. In her example, Christine Jorgensen, made famous by her sexual reassignment surgery, functioned as an "emblem of a new era," a subject that resignified "the relationship between gendered subject and sexed flesh within post-World War II biomedical and technocultural environments" (545). In following her analysis, I show that in the Cold War production It Came from Outer Space the task of scientists is to enroll trans-like figures against the perceived danger of communism and disconnect such entities from any working-class resistance. Trans figures function not only to make visible new dangers about changing meanings of gender but also to control and manage them as biopolitical weapons during the Cold War.
Second, queer postsocialism seeks to follow a call to expand "an imaginary beyond state socialism and the Communist International" (Atanasoski and Vora 2018, 142). In doing so, I look at postsocialism as "queer temporality" because it connects labor strikes in spaces and times associated with both the United States and the postsocialist world. The politics of dividing those who fall both under the category of monsters and socialist subjects did not end with the fall of the Iron Curtain. To underscore temporal continuities that challenge the ideological linearity of [End Page 28] the victory of liberal politics, I juxtapose a 1950s Cold War film with the contemporary politics of dividing black and trans* sex workers, as represented in Tangerine (2015). Such a juxtaposition is "haunting" because it responds to strikes that function, in Jacques Derrida's (2006, 46) terms, as "a spectre to come." The strike has to do not only with its internationalism, since communism's specificity was that "no organized political movement in the history of...