publisher colophon
Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity. By C. Riley Snorton. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017. 272 pages. $100.00 (cloth). $24.95 (paper).
Disturbing Attachments: Genet, Modern Pederasty, and Queer History. By Kadji Amin. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017. 272 pages. $94.95 (cloth). $25.95 (paper).
Ezili's Mirrors: Imagining Black Queer Genders. By Omise'eke Natasha Tinsley. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018. 264 pages. $99.95 (cloth). $25.95 (paper).
Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility. Edited by Reina Gossett, Eric A. Stanley, and Johanna Burton. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017. 448 pages. $49.94 (hardcover).

To put it mildly, the 2010s have been a disorienting decade of and for trans-gender in the United States. Anyone will tell you so. The usual story goes like this: whereas, once, trans people and our concerns were nearly invisible, now the country has found itself on the other side of a "transgender tipping point," as announced by a 2014 Time cover story,1 which has led to an influx of trans representation in popular media; preoccupation with trans students' bathroom habits; recurrent squabbles in the philosophical blogosphere; better account keeping on the US transgender dead; on and on. In short, the last five years or so have been marked by a profound increase in trans visibility.

Importantly, this is not the first time national conversation has fixated on people and practices we might call trans; as Treva Ellison implores us to remember, "Public interest in and discourse around gender and sexuality [is] iterative and connected to conflicts or crises in economic, social, and political capital."2 Still, given our mass-mediated world, this particular iteration of trans visibility has brought about an unprecedented number of television programs, feature-length films, chattered-about legal proceedings, and magazine covers [End Page 903] featuring, if not always exactly trans people, trans as a set of ideas about sex/gender/autonomy with which the country must, again, reckon. However, as should be clear from my lists of what visibility has wrought, this proliferation of discourse has not been all for the better. While our public reckoning has, in some places, sped along positive changes in the lives of some trans people, the 2010s have also been marked by an erosion of the conditions of livability for many others, a state of affairs that has only sharpened since the 2016 election. Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility—a timely and visually stunning anthology edited by Tourmaline, Eric A. Stanley, and Johanna Burton—addresses itself to precisely this paradox. Assembling an array of scholars, artists, and activists, Trap Door offers a varied set of essays and conversations on the promise, limit, and potentiality of visual culture for trans living and politics.

Because the anthology as a whole and its individual components strive to "allow the paradox of trans representation in the current moment to find form in conversations that don't attempt to smooth the contradictions" (xxiii), the book resolves little and, instead, opens up avenues for thought. There are many excellent pieces in Trap Door, including Morgan M. Page's reflection on her work as a public historian and the "eerie parallels" between past and present moments of trans visibility (142); Abram J. Lewis's dossier of documents from 1970s trans activism, which employed tactics both familiar (building community support services, critiquing the carceral state) and extraterrestrial (turning to the paranormal and otherworldly as resources for "expand[ing] human potential otherwise limited by social constraint) (64–65); and Sara Ahmed's essay—reprinted from the "Trans/Feminisms" issue of Transgender Studies Quarterly—on the rhetoric of anti-trans feminisms that have resurged in the shadow of the tipping point. However, there is one avenue to which the anthology, as a collective voice, returns again and again, one that seems to be a source of particularly productive "trouble" (183): the terrain where blackness and transness meet.

In the usual story, the paradox of trans visibility is narrated as a generalized structuring condition of contemporary trans life—and, I think, it is. However, it is also true that, both in Trap Door and in mainstream representation, the figure of the black trans woman has been made to embody this paradox, to bear its full weight. In fact, in the first two paragraphs of the introduction, the editors of Trap Door remind us, twice, of this particularity. "The promise of 'positive representation' ultimately gives little support or protection," we are told, "particularly to those who are low-income and/or of-color" (xv, my emphasis); also, we must reckon with the fact that "the tipping point," announced [End Page 904] with an image of black trans actress Laverne Cox on the cover of Time, has occurred "at precisely the same moment when women of color, and trans women of color in particular, are experiencing markedly increased instances of physical violence" (xvi, my emphasis). Likewise, included in Trap Door is an extraordinary conversation between Miss Major Griffin-Gracy and CeCe McDonald. While the conversation itself touches on the present difficulty of living as black trans women, the preface to the interview also frames both women as embodiments of the general paradox, as their lives are said to "capture the dehumanization of trans women of color that materializes as intense physical and psychological violence" while also helping "us to imagine ways to endure and thrive" (23). The black trans woman is used, in many contexts and to many ends, both as a potent sign of the coming future perfect and also of a particularly unlivable life.

Further, while we are reminded, upfront, about the particularity of the black trans woman, the anthology seems unsure about how we ought to think about the relationship between that particular and the general, how to understand trans as modified by black and vice versa. Or, rather, we are offered many, perhaps conflicting, suggestions. Miss Major evocatively proposes that we think of the treatment of black trans women as an outcome of antiblackness, coupled with the perception that an assertion of transgender identity is an act of "nerve" that black people, as "the dirt that everything else is built on," are required not to exert (27). Che Gossett, drawing on Hortense Spillers and other black thinkers, argues that blackness in the afterlife of slavery fundamentally "troubles trans/gender" and is itself "trans/gender trouble" (183). Fred Moten, in conversation with the filmmaker Wsu Tsang, suggests that trans, along with brown and, presumably, black, are words that are "not replaceable … not substitutable," but that all denote "some pretty intense and irreducible relationship between being [x] and being communicable" (344). Finally, in perhaps the anthology's most instructive essay on these matters, Ellison argues that the police surveillance and harassment of Sir Lady Java in 1960s Los Angeles—a sequence of events usually narrated as a moment of trans discrimination and resistance—ought to be understood, instead, as an instance of racialized containment and protest against it. In Ellison's analysis, the modification trans, a word that Java resisted applying to herself, often does not clarify the particularity of the black trans woman; rather, it acts to obscure the racialized dimensions of her subjugation.

To be clear, in listing these manifold approaches to black [trans] gender, I am not voicing a complaint or levying a critique. Rather, I am marking an unresolved problem for thought. Indeed, it has been repeatedly pointed [End Page 905] out that race and the mechanics of racialization are a source of trouble for transgender studies, as well as for work addressing gender nonconformity in US contexts more generally.3 This trouble has many sources, which each of the remaining books under review—Kadji Amin's Disturbing Attachments, C. Riley Snorton's Black on Both Sides, and Omise'eke Natasha Tinsley's Ezili's Mirrors—address, both directly and inadvertently. In the process, they offer up a set of "vocabula[ries] for black and trans life" (Snorton xiv).

While Amin's Disturbing Attachments makes no claim to be a work of trans studies and/or black studies, it makes clear that accounting for racialized gender and sexual forms requires scholarly methods other than those dominant in trans studies. That is, I would wager that one reason for trans studies' trouble with race is that much of what is named, circulated, and taught under the rubric of transgender studies is actually a variant of what I have elsewhere called queer trans theory; namely, a strain of trans studies that understands the field as having emerged from, or as being a component of, queer theory. In this version of the story, trans arrives to rectify gaps in queer's vision, but does so by taking on all of queer studies' favored archives and theorists, commitments to antinormativity and nonidentarian thought, as well as its noted "race unconsciousness."4 Precisely by taking stock of queer studies' field habitus—its primary attachments and driving affects—Amin models how queer/trans thought might be done otherwise.

At its most forceful, Amin's diagnosis is that "what Queer Studies has institutionalized, above an object of study or method, is a set of historical emotions generated within US queer culture and politics around the early 1990s" (187). As a result, Amin argues, much queer scholarship takes on a redemptive, idealizing mode, "which neatly inverts the historical denigration of queer bonds … for the project of stressing the viability, the political potency, and the world-building potential of queer life-worlds" (6). However, this idealizing mode "places a great burden on queer social forms" to live up to our theoretical/political desires (6). Moreover, as queer studies increasingly expands its archives to account for racialized and colonized life, the mood of celebrating the alternative social forms that arise out of conditions of coloniality, precarity, and/or debility seems less than ethically sound (8).

As a counter, Disturbing Attachments argues for a queer studies driven by "deidealization," a mode of thought that is "a form of the reparative that acknowledges messiness and damages, refuses the repudiating operations of idealization, and acknowledges the ways in which complicity is sometimes necessary for survival" (11). In addition to arguing for a de-idealizing queer studies, Amin also models it by performing what he terms attachment genealogies [End Page 906] in order to historicize a set of queer studies' most cherished, and most disavowed, attachments. Amin accomplishes this through chapters that use the life and writing of Jean Genet as a route into examining nonnormative social and sexual forms that nonetheless clash "with queer's current affective and political connotations," in order to "excavate the attachments that inform queer's aversion to this particular object" (14). While each chapter has its own payoff, Amin's third chapter, "Racial Fetishism, Gay Liberation, and the Temporalities of the Erotic," is exemplary for the purposes of this review.

Genet, by his own admission, was drawn into the political struggles of the Black Panthers and the Palestinian Liberation Organization in part by the "erotic charge that the whole Arab world [and] Black American world" carried for him.5 In fact, the sense that cross-racial sexual encounters between white Frenchmen and Arab men—scripted by colonial fantasies of "the Arab" as at once sexually free and pathologically phallocratic—might lead to meaningful political coalition was shared by many members of the Front homosexual d'action revolutionnaire (FHAR). This fact, in Amin's terms, ought to disturb contemporary queer attachment to the gay liberation era, as it sutures something queer studies scholars admire—commitment to radical coalitions—to a "naive" theory of desire as what, if unrepressed, will usher in a new social order. What's more, the content of this suture seems often to be a form of racial fetishism, which Amin argues "shadows coalition as a utopian ideal of relationality within Queer Studies" (80).

Taking this conjunction of historical facts and contemporary affects as a starting point, Amin attends to the relationship between the erotic and the political in gay liberation and contemporary queer discourse, ultimately arguing that "gay liberation, rather than being either a naïve theory of desire that queer scholarship has blithely superseded or a radical charge from the past that we might reanimate, lives, with all its incoherencies and unresolved problems, within Queer Studies today" (79). Through this attachment genealogy, Amin develops a theory of the fetish that usefully admits history into our account of how people/things—the whole Arab and Black American world—become invested with erotic charge. Positioning himself in relation to the work of Tim Dean, Amin agrees with Dean that we might understand fetishism as "the erotic investment of something not inherently erotic" and, therefore, "the condition of all erotic desire" (91). However, counter to Dean, Amin insists that the investment of desire does not work by fragmenting persons into eroticized part-objects; rather, Amin reads Dean's own work as suggesting that what creates an erotic charge is actually the "condensation of a series of partial narratives, historical in origin" into a single figure (93). In the case [End Page 907] of FHAR and Genet's racialized desire, for example, the object is clearly not simply the Black and/or Arab cock (a part) but a set of historically produced, incoherent narrative fragments about Arabness/Blackness that does not add up to anything like a coherent stereotype—"the Arab," remember, is both sexually free and rigidly committed to sexist scripts—but nonetheless condenses into a single erotic object.

Following Frantz Fanon and Sharon Holland, Amin pays special attention to the role of temporality in the operation of racial fetishism. Reading FHAR's Three Billion Perverts and Genet's Thief's Journal and Our Lady of the Flowers, Amin demonstrates that, in all three, the scene of racialized desire is scripted as an encounter between a subject, figured as a self-possessed white man, and a dark "beast." Put another way, in each, cross-race sexuality is figured as an "encounter of civilized white time with the prehistoric time of the racialized other," an encounter fantasized as having the ability to relieve "the burden of thinking subjectivity" (97–99). "Here," Amin continues, "the specificities of the history of Arab [and/or Black] racialization are lost in the fantasy of the prehistoric—itself a historical product of colonial racial 'science'" (98). Noting the way these scenes rhyme with those versions of psychoanalytic queer theory that view sexual self-shattering as inherently corrosive to the social order, Amin cautions that sexual self-shattering just as often "relies on incoherent theories of race, which it continually reanimates and reinvests with erotic force" (100–101). Erotic life, then, not only has a history but also is composed of it. And, as Amin's method insists, the same can be said of academic thought.

In the opening pages of the chapter, Amin narrates it as an intervention into the ongoing unease between queer theory and critical race theory, animated by the fields' "divergent approaches to the erotic" (79). While Amin homes in on the difficulty of thinking racialized sexuality using the dominant tools of queer theory, both his argument and his method are also instructive for thinking racialized gender. On the one hand, his account of how incoherent historical fragments invest people/things with erotic charge, and vice versa, might hold equally well as an account of how people/things come to be invested with gender. After all, gender, like sexuality, can be understood as the enactment of scripted fantasies that invest parts with meaning; among the narrative fragments that charge black gender with meaning are the castrated black man, the black stud, the smothering Mammy, the hypersexual jezebel, and so on, the confluence of which produces blackness as incoherently gendered. On the other hand, Amin's method—allowing the traces of disavowed habits of thought to surface, which has a clarifying effect on present conundrums—instructs us to [End Page 908] think that, perhaps, the "trouble" of black [trans] gender is also a trouble of trans studies' own disturbing attachments.

This is a long way of getting to a fairly simple point: one of the difficulties of thinking black [trans] gender within queer trans theory is that transness, like other nonnormative forms, is often only "permitted to become theoretical," that is, "taken up as something of interest to … queer theory," when it can be idealized, made to seem "pregnant with the shape of the utopian future to come" (24). But whatever potent utopianism trans might represent seems to miss the point from a black studies perspective, given that the denial of gender and imputations of "improper" gender—that is, the construction of blackness as, in a sense, trans—has been persistently used to the end of dehumanizing black folk. The remaining two books under review take this as their point of departure, considering how the ungendering of blackness provides another context for thinking transgender and, also, "how the ongoing, unending development and archiving of creative (black) genders … enacts resistance to slavery and its aftermath" (Tinsley 24).

Whereas Disturbing Attachments inadvertently illuminates the conundrums for thinking black gender introduced by trans theory's attachment to queer, Snorton's Black on Both Sides sidesteps this attachment altogether and proceeds from black feminist thought, in particular Spillers's argument in "Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: An American Grammar Book," about the ungendering of blackness in the outcome of slavery. Traversing an archive of nineteenth-century medical texts, canonical slave narratives and black modernist novels, and World War II–era news clippings, among other materials, Black on Both Sides does not, exactly, give an account of black trans history; rather, or more nearly, it crafts a black genealogy of trans.

In many foundational accounts, scholars link the "understanding [of] sex and gender as mutable and subject to rearrangement" that transness represents to larger transformations in the meaning of the sexed/gendered body wrought by the disciplines of endocrinology and plastic surgery (12). In this familiar version of the story, the trans body—and the capacity to imagine that hardened divisions in the social might be traversed by means of medical science—is the unanticipated offspring of war-inspired innovations. The first chapter of Black on Both Sides, however, turns to a different history of medicine: James Marion Sims and his years of experimentation on named and unnamed enslaved women in the name of curing vesicovaginal fistula, a set of experiments that, in turn, secured his legacy as the father of modern gynecology. In what follows, I rehearse a small section of Snorton's first chapter at some length, as it [End Page 909] aptly illustrates the payoff of his proposal to think blackness and transness as transitive and in transitive relation to each other, with transitive denoting both a quality of changeability and a grammatical term referring "to the expression of an action that requires a direct object to complete its sense of meaning" (6).

In a particularly clarifying move, Snorton explicates the racially differentiated approach that nineteenth-century men of medicine took to the female body. At the same time that physicians attending to white female patients were represented as "working in the dark"—preserving their patients' dignity/femininity by not looking at their genitals—Sims's experiments on Anarcha, Lucy, Betsey, and other enslaved women involved developing tools whose precise purpose was to get a better look.6 In this situation, then, "white femininity is conferred in relation to an unwillingness to view white female genitalia, that is, to look upon white women as flesh [in contrast to] the unrelenting scopic availability that defined blackness within the visual economy of racial slavery" (33). Or, more to the point, the ungendering of blackness via the injunction to look "becomes the necessary context for producing a field of sex/gender knowledge" (33). Thus not only does the record of Sims's experiments confirm that the use of black flesh required the black body's ungendering, but it also suggests that "captive flesh produced a critical context for understanding sex and gender as mutable and subject to rearrangement," a suggestion that I take to mean two interrelated things (12). First, rather than being a particularly postmodern proposition, the modern episteme has always been one in which sex, as a fleshy matter, can be unlinked from gender using the tools and techniques of racialization. And second, more literally, gynecology required this ungendered black flesh to perfect an early form of genital surgery, a precursor to contemporary forms of genital reconstruction. Importantly, however, in a companion chapter Snorton also attends to how the ungendering of blackness not only was a resource for the making of official knowledges but also was put to counterpurposes, enabling captives' "fugitive movements" (53). Through readings of the canonical narratives of Harriet Jacobs and William and Ellen Craft, Snorton demonstrates that ungendered black flesh was also a "capacitating structure" for the enslaved, a condition of possibility that enabled cross-dressed flights for freedom (53).

While the whole book is an exercise in black trans thought, Snorton's fourth chapter has perhaps the most direct bearing on the question at hand—namely, developing "a grammar for black and trans life" and, in the process, revising dominant modes of trans narration (xiv). Here, Snorton offers portraits of black trans lives as they circulated in the media in 1940s–1960s America, reading these portraits as "shadows" of the more familiar narrative of Christine Jorgensen, [End Page 910] who became briefly famous following her transition from GI to "blond bombshell" in the 1950s (143). Jorgensen's rise and fall from the spotlight introduced into the media a narrative of transsexuality that was not only about rearrangements of sex/gender but also about the ability of medical science to fulfill the promises of life and liberty, insofar as "Jorgensen's spectacularized trans embodiment carried with it an illusory promise of freedom" (141). We might understand the persistent linkage of trans embodiment to the promise of personal freedom as animating everything from battles over "free speech" that cast trans as its antagonist; to the suspicion of some that trans identity represents a naive attempt to transcend the body; to the desire of others to understand transness as an effect of neoliberal discourses of choice; and on and on. Foregrounding, instead, an archive of black lives forged in relation to various forms of racialized unfreedom, Snorton offers a set of "narratives that disrupt the teleology of medicalized transsexual as corporeal freedom" (143). While some might find Snorton's sketches in this fourth chapter, as well as the book as a whole, less than satisfying as a work of history, it is utterly indispensable when thought of as "a series of arguments about the potential of shadows to refigure trans historiography" (144).

For example, counter to the conflation of trans trajectories with personal liberty, Snorton offers up the narrative of Lucy Hicks Anderson, who played a prominent role in the life of Oxnard, California, from the 1920s to 1940s. In 1945 Hicks Anderson was put on trial for perjury and later for fraud; in both cases prosecutors insisted that Hicks Anderson was male and thus committed a crime when signing her application for a marriage license and when receiving allotment checks from her husband's military service. Snorton reads the logic of Hicks Anderson's prosecution, as well as her steadfast refusal to be known by this logic, as a story in which sovereignty takes precedence over liberty: the sovereignty of the state takes precedence over Hicks Anderson's liberty, and Hicks Anderson, in turn, asserts her self-sovereignty in refusing to comply, thus relinquishing her liberty. Another, less well-known figure in Snorton's archive is James McHarris / Annie Lee Grant, whose gender came under question after an unrelated encounter with the police, prompting a series of stories in Ebony in 1954. From McHarris/Grant's story, one of fluctuating gendered performances for the purpose of finding work and moving freely, Snorton derives the concept of gender restivity, which sits in a shadow relation to the more familiar idea of passing—from man to woman, from trapped to free—in both black and trans contexts. Instead, restivity, a quality of being both "obstinately motionless and willfully unable to be still" contextualizes "McHarris/Grant's impermanent gender identifications, providing a [End Page 911] more precise alternative to passing's narration to suppose how a figure may inhabit various gender positions with a sense of sincerity and intransigence until otherwise moved" (169, 172). Snorton links McHarris/Grant's restive gender back to, specifically, "the transitive and transversal relations between fungibility and fugitivity expressed in fugitive slave narratives" (172). However, gender restivity is also an incredibly useful concept for narrating all manner of black and nonblack gender-nonconforming people in the archive—the passing women, female husbands, "cross-dressed" dime museum performers, and so on, over whom identarian territory battles have been waged—because it more adequately describes the kinds of performances that many of these folks undertook, in which gender was not necessarily a locus of identity but "a terrain to make space for living" (175).

The quality that most brings together Black on Both Sides and Disturbing Attachments—their insistence that comprehending racialized gender/sexuality requires styles of interpretation not dominant to contemporary queer and trans theory—is also the argument performed by Omise'eke Natasha Tinsley's Ezili's Mirrors. But, whereas the epistemological inventiveness of Black on Both Sides and Disturbing Attachments produces fairly familiar kinds of academic monographs, Tinsley takes incredibly seriously the proposition that knowing differently requires different modes of transmission. Most simply, Ezili's Mirrors uses a Vodou/Voodoo epistemology to make sense of black Atlantic—and, specifically, Caribbean—queer/femme genders. Following through on M. Jacqui Alexander's call to "get inside the meaning of the spiritual as epistemological" (22), as well as Barbara Christians's argument that black theorizing happens, has always happened, in black acts of creativity, Tinsley argues that black queer/femme artists in the present are "turning to" the Ezili palimpsest "as the figure of a submerged black feminist epistemology" (17). Tinsley, in turn, turns Ezili into an interpretive framework for comprehending these "vision[s] of creative genders and sexualities" on their own terms (4). The result is a work that not only archives and reads performances of black queer/femme genders but itself is such a performance, one that "testifies to the important antiracist, antiheteropatriarchal work that imagination can do, when it creates mirrors in which the impossible becomes possible" (17–18).

Each chapter in Ezili's Mirrors is organized around a single manifestation of Ezili and layers three textually differentiated voices: one that performs close readings of contemporary black feminist acts of creativity, including novels, documentaries, and performance art; one that explores "the life and lessons of … ancestors who reflect into Ezili's mirrors" (23), from whom the reader can derive a feel for the continuity, as well as the inventiveness, of black gender; and [End Page 912] one that speaks most directly to the gender/sexual forms—as well as concepts like labor, beauty/creativity, and vengeance—that each Ezili embodies. For example, the third chapter layers prodomme Domina Ezrulie's contemporary embodiment of Ezili Je Wouj, known for causing and feeding off the pain of those she possesses, especially those "unprepared to witness … powerful, passionate black womanhood" (102); a close reading of Nalo Hopkinson's The Salt Roads, which also invokes Je Wouj as a guide for thinking through the freedoms and unfreedoms found in black women's kinky eroticism; and the mediated narrative of Mary Ellen Pleasant, a nineteenth-century black woman who used her financial, spiritual, and sexual power to wield unprecedented control over the white patriarchs of Northern California, garnering her the nickname "'whipmaster' of California" (122). Together, these three layers add up to a meditation on black femme dommehood as an enactment of racialized vengeance, a way of imagining and temporarily inhabiting alternate temporalities in which "black women's pain, pleasure, and strength matter" (117), and a method of "eroticizing the what if" of this alternate social order (127). That is, black femme dommehood, here, is understood as particular sexual form—one that works to counter logic of racial fetishism outlined by Amin—that might be best described as possession by Ezili Je Wouj.

Each chapter, then, performs this argument: historically, geographically, and generically distinct black queer/femme performances of gender are linked by their shared possession by / invocation of Ezili. In addition, the text is rife with concepts that occasionally flash to the surface but are not, to my mind, quite fleshed out. Among these is the incredibly compelling insight that the phenomena of possession is, itself, evidence of a fundamental "divine capacity for gender and sexual creativity" embedded in Vodou metaphysics, an insight central to the project of the book (20). But, ultimately, that it leaves this unhabituated reader wanting more is perhaps evidence of the sheer difficulty of Tinsley's writerly experiment: to have belabored the point would have meant making Vodou/Vodoo epistemology an object of study, rather than a method. And it is precisely Tinsley's commitment to this method that makes Ezili's Mirrors a valuable model for thinking black [trans] gender, because it insists that everyday black diasporic ways of knowing—"not queer theory, not gender politics" (4)—make black gender creativity possible and, as a result, are how black gender should be known.

In 2018 the theme of the eleventh annual DC Queer Studies Symposium was "Trans(forming) Queer," a title that placed trans and queer in a formative relation. While the call for papers indicated that "we might also consider … if there might be alternative genealogies of transgender studies that do not [End Page 913] arise from queer theory," this doubled hesitation—we might consider if there might be—nonetheless performs the taken-for-grantedness of the enmeshment of queer and trans. Each text under review, then, productively contests the inevitability of this enmeshment by offering counterhistories, archives, affects, epistemologies, and mythologies with which trans studies might work. They leave crucial questions to pursue, certainly: How ought we understand the present relationship between black gender and transsexuality, two modes of living that put one in obviously related, though different, double-binds with respect to the institutions of medicine and law? Even though, as Che Gossett argues, we might understand "black feminism as always already encompassing trans radical feeling," mightn't this understanding idealize the legacy of black feminism in unhelpful ways?7 How might the different temporalities attributed to blackness and transness—stuckness/pastness in the first case and futurity/horizontality in the other—explain the persistent difficulty of thinking the two at once? Still, collectively, these texts are indispensable for those of us working in gender/sexuality studies, black studies, and critical race studies, as well as all of us who have a stake in what the institutionalization of trans studies has meant and will mean.

Cameron Awkward-Rich

Cameron Awkward-Rich is assistant professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. His work can be found in Signs, Science Fiction Studies, and elsewhere. Also a poet, he is the author of two collections: Sympathetic Little Monster (Ricochet Editions, 2016) and Dispatch (Persea Books, 2019).


1. Katy Steinmetz, "The Transgender Tipping Point: America's Next Civil Rights Frontier," Time, May 29, 2014,

2. Treva Ellison, "The Labor of Werqing It: The Performance and Protest Strategies of Sir Lady Java," in Trap Door, 8.

3. See, e.g., Treva Ellison, Kai M. Green, Matt Richardson, and C. Riley Snorton, eds., "The Blackness Issue," special issue, Transgender Studies Quarterly 4.2 (2017).

4. Hiram Pérez, A Taste for Brown Bodies: Gay Modernity and Cosmopolitan Desire (New York: New York University Press, 2015), 1.

5. Jean Genet, The Declared Enemy, ed. Albert Dichy, trans. Jeff Fort (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004), 133, quoted in Amin, Disturbing Attachments, 81.

6. Seale Harris, Woman's Surgeon: The Life Story of J. Marion Sims (New York: Macmillan, 1950), xviii, quoted in Snorton, Black on Both Sides, 31.

7. Gossett, "Blackness and the Trouble of Trans Visibility," in Trap Door, 186.

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