Assorted Poems

Two Poetic Clusters

I. Some Thoughts on “Being-in” a Relationship


There were moments when
Reading between the lines meant
I was merely “going there” out of spite.
It was in one sense a perpetual hysteria.
And oh how you relished and delighted
In calling me out. To gaslight, they say.

I was a bridge, and Gloria would say it’s my back.
I’m no Mestiza
But I know when fuckery is afoot.
I just fail to act.
I don’t like how it makes me look
To be under someone’s strange spell,
Dazed and dizzy–to be is dizzying, like:
Stepping off a moving platform, or
The sudden drop from a theme park ride, or
The thematic rise of an orchestra of feeling, of
Falling, stomach knotted, dismissed.

Then, of course, there’s this residue of sentimentality–
The long road back to confidence
The building up of self-esteem racked with doubt
That it could ever resurrect–again!
For this wasn’t the first and only time, friend (can I call you that?)
You have made a profit from me
And I have been the happily exploited,
The Marxist laborer
Bad faith, bad air!
Let me breathe and then see how my lungs
Can incapacitate, how words can fling from this tongue
Whose use you consigned,
And let my language, let my speech,
Rip, tear, and make aware I am not to be fucked with.

There is no “roar” or feverish scream,
Only the ongoing roll of thunder
that follows the flash of what you have done–
Since silence no longer has lease.
And I have finally revived enough, uncovered the veil enough,
And seen something most hideous–
That is, I was right all along.
They were right all along.
And rather than be burdened, I rejoice.

Cat and Anima

Tell me how it is possible
That this cat,
This tiny wonder of a beast,
Would end up being smarter, kinder, caring,
Than you, my “undying love and lover”?
At least a cat’s solipsism is honest.


Regret is the profound forgetting
That, as a moment of action has passed,
A constellation and eternal flow of time have not.
Oh, how this nothing touches
And undoes every past “now is the time”
But there will always be this other “now”
This other “time.”
And I’m no pollyanna.
I’m no “wait not for death cometh.”
I’d rather embrace the possibility of both nothing and everything
Than return to that apologia to absolution
I have called forgetting.

Queer Fuck App

A queer asks the readers of his profile:
Whatever happened to dates?
I want to start and ask–
Who is this author and why was a date ever a happening?
What is the essence of a date, my queer?
Is it that we please ourselves in conversation?
Slake our thirst with spirits or beer?
Be with others? Some ingrained instinct?
To court, and learn to court, betray ourselves and secrets?
Is the essence then to unconceal that which we hold most precious–
Like a Pauline revelation?
Like a small fugitivity to the soul?
When do we essentially date?
Out of what cavern, what dark corner does
The essence is to unconceal reveal itself?

It is no small thing to meet.
I believe in the power of small wonders
Like the intra-action of forms of life
Like the spark of a mood and the flames of passion.

But now is the time for banality.
The -ing of our selves: Text-ing, Sext-ing, Dat-ing.
The program-ing of our love-ing.
But never be-ing. God never that.

It seems more extraordinary to remain alert
To be present in the midst of all this,
The mist that hangs over trees,
The smell of grass, rock, and soil–fuck, even the murk of our
Garbage bins, the ones that scatter a city’s streets,
Should inspire a kind of of of “hey look! There! Here!”
“Here was life!” We would scream.
But banality is the silence we forgive.
The lost extraordinary of living ordinary. Here.

II. How Modern, our Anxiety


Bracing oneself has become second nature.
I was reading somewhere that we have all, as humans,
(What do philosophers call us? “The subject?”)
That we have all learned to be hyper-vigilant.
It’s a “sign of the times.”
It’s the effect, symptom and subject of “neoliberalism.”

But is that the sign to be read?
Is that the memory-to-be, a future anterior, as they say,
That I should look back
And remember the constant;
The invariable and independent;
The crushing weight
Of that bracing and spate of vigilance.

Stimmung mit Unheimlichkeit

I read somewhere that love is a state of mind
And not exterior to ourselves.
It’s not “really” there–we posit it.
But moods are like things themselves.
They capture us, ensnare the senses,
Make important those things that matter.
Oh, if we could see that the mattering of matter
Is the effect of mood,
Then a state of mind
Has no distinction from quartz, to the rose,
The body, our pleasure–
And what is more exterior than fucking?

Trans Politics, Philosophy, and Being

There seems to be little need for philosophy these days, especially in the arena of trans politics. That division–between philosophy (as thought) and politics (as doing)–is a distinction over two thousand years old, and is out in force today. There is nothing philosophical about a bathroom ban or the negation of human rights, or the very dislocation of one’s being human from trans people. These are real and violent. I can’t help but wonder why this division persists when it is clear that our very ability to think about ourselves in terms of bodies, genders, sexes, races, and other imported traits, is defined in some fundamental sense by a thinking and a doing that happens simultaneously. For example, I cannot think but for my embodied-ness. It is impossible to go to some outside of what I have experienced. For to do so would be to speculate in a new language, a new grammar, that seeks to bring meaning to those illegible items in my mind that, but the virtue of my new itinerary, cannot be made legible–I cannot escape my body. So if this division between philosophy and politics may be broken entirely, and the elements that were siloed into each laid bare in their togetherness, what could we say about ourselves, our bodies, and our engagements everyday applications?

These are not new questions or considerations. They relate to an ongoing set of considerations that have their modern roots in Heidegger and his follows–Foucault and Derrida. It would follow that our engagements with real world political systems of power, how we think of them, would have to circle back to these philosophers and activists (both in their own right). I find it impossible not to think in Heideggerian terms lately–not simply because I have taken a more active interest to understand his work. I have found couched in his theories of Being a language and perspective more capacious and far more fulfilling than other thinkers. He brings to the table the possibility of a rupture out of a way of thinking and talking and speaking plagued with an old metaphysics. This metaphysics, for instance, treats gender in either fluid or fixed ways–but never both; a metaphysics that considers sexed consciousness in terms of a “match” between the consciousness and the born body. This rupture must occur if we are to allow any unfolding in our social relations that provides a ground of openness, dignity, and self-constitution. Because time, or temporality, and belongingness in the world are central to understanding what we have termed human being, Heidegger provides a phenomenology that capaciously critiques any and all discourses that seek to confine the essence of Dasein–that is, the unfolding emergence of Being in (the) (hu)man.

First, let’s consider gender and sex–if these two items can be distinguished nicely at all–as extensions of a scientific understanding of certain bodily characteristics. If we think of gender in terms of its linguistic history, emerging from medical discourses in the 20th century, and we think of sex as emerging from the growing discipline of medicine and anatomy as far back as the 5th century, then our commitments to inquiry are already limited as a matter of course. We have a starting point, somewhere in time, that is conditioned by the social, political, and medical alliances of that time, and form what gender studies has as its subterranean point of departure. That phrase, point of departure, is misleading on its face. It is supposed to suggest a conceptual place from which investigation can diverge. But it also suggests a baggage, a continuation of investigating and thought that must, by necessity, have some structural relation to that originating point. On the voyage away, we can certainly dispel with some, but not all, of that baggage. So if the medical model of gender/sex has embedded itself in the very ways we conceive of our embodied being, then in what way can we speak about ourselves that doesn’t privilege this kind of technical knowledge, the organismic knowledge, of chromosomes, hormones, cells, textbooks, and other biological imperatives? How do we not already smuggle in a certain kind of desire (of the sexual and mostly heterosexual kind) that interlink the fundamental understanding of a gender/sex system?

We might begin to see where this is neither purely a philosophical set of questions or observations, nor something that is purely political–but is situated in between. Derrida had suggested that moving beyond a discourse, “one risks ceaselessly confirming, consolidating, relifting, at an always more certain depth, that which that which one allegedly deconstructs” (135). There, no destruction is really happening–but merely a reaffirmation, sometimes if only a silent one, of the internal structure that’s being attacked. Attempting to speak of gender in purely social terms engages in this explicitly. If we have as our itinerary the plan to call into question gender’s importance and existence altogether then we risk prioritizing norms over ordinary life, and the body itself. This could be taken as a demoralizing discourse that isn’t very revolutionary–but speaks of beings as merely effects of a kind of power and saps the agency of trans people to identify at all. It hardly gets at the plural iterations that beings take within such norms, let alone their complex relations with norms. On the other hand, we could “violently break” from the old terrain–but this venture is doomed to repeat in some fashion the old excesses of a previous language. Breaking the medical model doesn’t revolutionize discourse by its very act and thus releases us from its narrowing grammars of sexed being. That move, rather, attempts to radicalize social relations, as social, and soon finds itself trapped in the metaphysical circle of re-defining humans and humanity. It must constantly refer back to that old language in order to justify its new-ness. These are all politically charged courses of action. They all have deeper meanings for life in its everyday experiences. It is neither purely theory nor purely political and praxis.

Now, B, how does this relate to trans politics in its American form? I think this question belongs to three kinds of considerations. First, trans politics must decide how to manage political institutions that, from the outset, privileges stable identity over fluidity. Liberalism is a doctrine of individual rights. Individuals are self-present and have a continuous consciousness that streams birth and death. One can change, but not their essence as individually self-possessed persons. Thus, our political institutions are more likely to privilege medical models of human existence over socially situated and living expressions of being in the world. This seems to be the case where bathroom bills fix identities in either/or categories of sex, and freeze identities in government issued documentation. If, as many argue, there is not single trans community, trans narrative, or trans “normative” way of life (as I do), then the consequence might be to compromise and lose the vibrancy of diverse narratives–and risk invisibilizing. Second, medical models are often the basis for accessing health care, transition related or otherwise, that are instrumental for the unfolding of gendered embodiments. This commitment to a medical grammar affects social and popular discourse on trans life (where people think being trans is pathological, is “realized” somewhere during an otherwise “normal” course of conscious existence–when did you realize you were trans?) but also forces a certain kind of narrative structure on some, but not all, trans modes of existence. Third, in order to think of social movements and their interconnections, a commonality (of oppression and resistance) is often the necessary connective tissue. But if there is a move to destroy the old models of trans existence, that would risk resistance from those who have adopted such models. If there is a move to merely alter language, there is a resistance, again, from communities that seeks to liberate trans knowledge out of a the complex of medical hegemony. These have obvious political import on organizers and activists, and those whose lives are, under the new trump administration, violently thrown back into the margins from which they had just, until recently, escaped.

So the question: What is to be done? That, I wish, is something that philosophy or politics could tell us straight away. But that isn’t, and perhaps shouldn’t, be the end of either. Both forms of thinking about and interacting with the world are always situated within it. They are both already fixed within the body, the living moment, the temporal and historical moment. So, if anything, it gives us a way to think ourselves out of that metaphysical circle that keeps a privileged position for the clear, the fixed, and the always present. Heidegger and Derrida both considered the moment of philosophical destruction as a means of seeing, and hopefully actualizing, an exit from that circle. But at what cost? It could mean the reconnection of a new circle, a new seeming totality that re-figures life in structural ways. But it would be subject to the same critical engagement that allowed its break from the former circle. Thus, to be, and to be human, is subject to an ongoing set of possibilities bound but also undone by a constellation of meaning we have forged for ourselves for the last two millennia. It means, as Derrida suggests, speaking in multiple languages, in multiple times, and persisting that human life is not so easily definable. It means considering that deviations from the norms of our culture are not themselves the act of violence–rather, the very installation of those norms constitutes the original violent act. If that can be taken as something worthy of the name truth and of political significance, then our political institutions are in a constant reenactment of an original violence one might tentatively call “defining man.” If when “defining man” took place in political forms, its rights, privileges, and immunities as citizen were also violently attached. If so, then recuperating the liberal rights model seems self-defeating to a movement that must prize, above all else, self-creation, style, and survival itself. One cannot continue to survive in a model that merely tolerates human diversity for the sake of a mythos of individualism.

Is there a way to  overcome such political violence where we must all look  and act like everyone else (white and protestant)? Where equality has come to stand in for the radical sociality that constitutes our shared ethical existence and world? And where such political commitments have managed to mask the historical collusion of racism, sexism, and classism from their critical and obvious relationship with mass incarceration, extra-judicial police killing, transphobic body politics, and the election of a fascist? Certainly things to think about.


Cite: Derrida, Jacque. 1968. “The Ends of Man.” In Margins of Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Trans-ing Time: Reflections on Derrida

I’ve been avoiding writing for quite a bit of time now. The irony is that I’m going to write about time, and its effects, its importance in gendered identities, to subjectivities. In phenomenology this experience of time could be referred to as temporality. That’s what I want to elaborate for a bit, a concept of temporality that isn’t decidedly “queer” but perhaps trans, since it is overcoming a common sense of time that has recently caught my interest. I will say from the outset that we are obviously caught, grammatically, in a conception of time. Our writing is, therefore, limited in all meanings of that word to such a conception.

In a preliminary way, let me address what I would understand as the experience of gender, as a movement from one point to another “in time”. From the normative point of view, that is to say a cisgender point of view, gender is “synced” with the body. There is a match, a coherence, between the moment that sex is declared at birth and the identity of which one is conscious of at some time after–usually adolescence but not always. Sex is then not only fixed in terms of a biological anchor, the body as a part of its appearance “in space.” It has a temporal root of building a consciousness as well. Thus, gender–if taken as the social roles and feelings we maintain about bodies as male or female (to remain with the confines of cis-)–refers back to that defining moment of in order to justify itself. For example, I argue that I am non-binary. Declaring “I am” requires my thinking backward, through the succession of events to that moment where, outside my own control, the medical and social worlds declared my sex, and ensured by engendering (by engendering I mean the process by which I “become” this or that gender). I make a stance as to my present identity to the one that occurred “in the past” and make a statement that suggests an incoherence. This is a personal account. If I take the autobiographies of trans people who proclaim in a similar way that their gender identity does not cohere with their sex assigned at birth, then it seems there is a similar relationship between their “I am” and that fixed moment in the constellation of their sexed life. Consider that “transition” itself contains in its radicality a reflection of both space and time–moving from this point to another point.

So, to have any “normal” feelings of gender one must identify within a normal conception of time. This seems to be doubly insidious. On the one hand is the need to justify one’s own gender identity through recourse to an established biological truth of the body. On the other is the need to justify one’s identity through recourse to an established truth of temporal coherence. I can’t exist as this or that gender unless I can make the claim to a previously situated point in my narrative that fixes, as it were, a moment where my claim to difference can be made legible. The now of a person’s identity is a kind of illusory bond between the fixed moment of the past and the otherwise fluid moment of the present. But it is precisely that bond that keeps our identities locked into an ongoing privileging of the present, of the now and its continuous successions, such that escaping this “past” is impossible.

This is more than a metaphysical problem since, as we craft our own narratives and keep up with our relations to others, we must always refer to time. “OK, see you tomorrow”; “Last class we discussed…”; “I love you”–these are all located in a configuration of time as ongoing, stream-like, and always present. We refer to the future as a future-now. We refer to the past as past-nows. And thus we refer to consciousness, as such, as now. But insofar that we accept this as our starting point, we narrow the limits of experience by suggesting anything that goes outside this field is nonsensical. We cannot, in practical language, exist as both a sex we once were and a sex we are now not at the same time. This defies common sense and thus would obscure the truth of our situation as humans. To that end, it would obscure our political ties and connections, our ethical obligations, because we would have to bend the rules of this time in order to accommodate identities that compose themselves as contradictory moments outside the normative experience of time.

Indulge me here. If a transgender person must be “corrected” in the sense that their body is “out of sync” and needs medical intervention–does this not ask that we reframe that person’s conscious experience of their own bodies? Does this not only privilege the discourse surrounding a moment in their life (birth) over their entire narrative of life? If it does privilege something, does it drain the agency of that person to have some kind of capability to be conscious of their bodies in ways that we–as outsiders, as those whose conception of time we impose–arrogated that person’s voice in particular and the trans voice in general? These are obviously loaded questions. They imply that the medical communities, the legal practices, and the social relations that have “represented” trans people have done so in such a way as to condition the limits of consciousness itself. Representation is temporal.

So when a court hears a plea as to the the discrimination of a transwoman in employment, does it hear the voice of a trans person as conscious construction through multiple points in time? Or does it hear the fragmentary moments of pre- and post- operative “transition” that gives that person’s gendered and sexed appearance “meaning”? It would seem the latter, as I’ve written about elsewhere–but I have not written in a way that closely examined the temporal elements of constructing a transgender legal subject. This applies to the politics of the day. Bathroom bills are themselves a despicable way of connecting a transphobic conception of biological functions to social relations. They also privilege the temporal element of transitions, operations, appearances, and Being. Only at a given point in time does any trans person become an authentic person, as such. Until then they exist outside of this temporal normativity and are further reduced in their sense of humanity: they are not the gender they proclaim; they are not equal to those who, by accident, were born with those organs they most readily identify as their (cis)gender; and they stand outside a framework of time in such a way that it freezes them as frauds in the present. This concept of time closes all beings, not just trans people, in a circular consciousness doomed to reproduce the conditions for its own internal violence. It traps the way we conceive time in our social worlds as a bending backward of the so-called now to justify itself with a past now, a moment, creating a circular movement that thrusts itself forward under the delusion that it can think of the future–when in truth it is only reconstituting its own justifications.

I think trans–to the benefit of any and all human–politics calls for a certain kind of temporality: a reconception of how we view our conscious understanding of time as merely a succession of events. Perhaps we can re-think our-selves by thinking time not as a series of movements–movements that require fixed positions in order to make sense of anything at all. We could conceive of time as a plurality of moments without pure linearity. We could conceive, out of that, a politics that does not justify itself on a past series of events–but as ruptures with and challenges to that very chain of successions. Then we would not merely exist as beings who must always refer to a past for meaning, but as narratives and stories whose times vary and require no justification for their own identity. Then, perhaps, we could think of our differences in terms of the widest possible array of relationships that bring meaning to bear on the world. Maybe, in that way, we can stop the forgetting of history (Cornell West’s historical amnesia) simply because it’s “all in the past” or “water under bridge” but rather as moments always being dealt with, somehow otherwise than “now.”

My ramblings are indebted to varying insights from Jacques Derrida’s “Note on a Note from Being and Time.”


i/we want to be unrepentantly trans in my arguments. must i be clear? i/we am not writing for cis audiences to simply ‘get it’. i/we am not writing so that trans communities all of a sudden become legible or heard. they are legible. they speak. there is voice there. there is already sound and fury. i/we don’t want to ‘be in conversation’ with some scholars whom some cis woman suggested ‘established this line of inquiry’. bullshit. that is academic politics. bad epistemic practice. i/we want to be fiercely and intellectually situated within these communities who have more willingly accepted me/us than any other ‘queer’ communities, than my/our families.
i/we want to be unrepentantly cross in my tone, in my/our speech, in my/our underlying pluralism–because no one else will sit down long enough to unmoor themselves from experiences that define them ever so neatly, ever so powerfully, to their limitations.
i/we need a voice that is no longer stitched together by others’ theories of what i/we am feeling. what i/we am feeling, what life is giving, what life is growing, what life as process is doing, is what i/we am being and becoming. do not tell me to dumb down that which is the very grammar of my/our existence. i/we will not. i/we will stare you in the eye and ask you, with the same level of (dis)respect you offered me/us, to learn without hand-holding.
i/we need a voice forged of fire and ice. one that burns both from the underside of the pit and overside of the tallest pyramid. i/we need a voice that links these experiences with those whose voices are stamped out. i/we need a voice that will penetrate, cut, dismantle, and destroy the fabric of this social stuff that suffocates me/us and others. where i/we cannot find myself/ourselves, there will be light that pours in, air that rushes in to fill the vacuum.
i/we need voice no one can turn off or mute. a voice that will link all others together but still so very much their own. a voice more sonic, more powerful, more than the accumulated bullshit of racism, of sexism, of misogyny, of transphobia, of homophobia, of all that makes mere static, mere noise, from the worlds i/we inhabit. mere noise. noise. no.

Newest Publication: Check it Out

Paris is burning

(Photo Credit: Awesome Fucking QTPOC History will Not Forget)

Not that I have many followers, but check out my recent publication concerning trans workplace discrimination and epistemic injustice, “Epistemic Injustice and the Construction of Transgender Legal Subjects,” published in this month’s special issue of Wagadu: A Journal of Transnational Women’s and Gender Studies. Also, my super awesome team (yours truly included) at The Always Already Podcast just uploaded our recent piece on Queer (In)Humanisms. It’s delight!

This has been a blessed summer,


Transition: Toward a New Evaluation of Historical Consciousness and the Transgender Subject of History

[Note: Totally needing revisions, but hell–why not post it somewhere? This is my work, and any attempt to reproduce it without my permission is strictly prohibited. If you like it, ask me about it. If you hate it, let’s still talk. :-)] 

Let’s “Make” History Together

In this transition/interlude I hope to provide some notes toward rethinking the role of history in the construction of transgender subjectivity. If a transition/interlude is a pause in the normal production of things, a movement toward another related act, then I would like to (re)consider and to “play” with the historical and phenomenological assumptions in the preceding chapters and find irruptions within them. It uses Marx’s observation on the constructed-ness of history and his historical and social ontology as points of departure. Animating this departure is the peculiar question of gender. What is peculiar about the question of gender? It is announced in the forgetfulness we experience when the question is posed. We seem vaguely aware of gender’s transparency. We “know” what gender is now. There “are” transgender people in the world. This “is” what it means “to be” transgender. Have we forgotten how to interrogate those assertions? Can we reopen the field of interrogation to penetrate the veil of our inherited, albeit more “progressive”, views of gender? Have we been so overcome with our admiration for historical analyses and social construction of the human body—in particular of the theories ranging from performativity to subjectivity of the 90s and 2000s? Perhaps these questions about the phenomenality of trans became superfluous, or obvious, or (more than likely) simply too theoretically out of place to ask.

            But history, like any set of human affairs, is not a sphere of isolable influence and autonomy. It is also not a collection of facts that researchers simply access through a consolidated record. It remains an important aspect of human life, of course, as conceptualizations of the past tend to (re)shape our present. But so many conceptions of history stun our attempts to apprehend it. History is a march toward progress (but what is progress?). History is one made by class struggle (why are classes so ontologically prioritized?). History is a ruse of reason (does this mean that no history is, in itself, possible and real?). In a remarkable passage, Marx (1978) asserts that “Men [sic] make their own history, but they do not make it just as the please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living” (595). History is “made” but is always bound up with the vestiges of a past that constitutes its “making” even after the some of that past has fallen out of memory. But this influential observation prompts more questions, conceals more than it intended to unveil—not least of which concerns the givenness of the past’s tyranny, its nightmare-like hold over the presumptively sleeping masses (which, a fortiori, reduces history to tradition), and the how of a people’s forgetfulness for its own historical sake.

Marx’s theory posits the engine of history as class struggle(s) ones that act on the present in ways that have “knowable” consequences. Grasping the power of this engine is an important step toward articulating present and future events that will bring about human emancipation from traditional forms of control. For Marx, this emancipation is from capitalism and its socially atomizing effects. It kills social and political power of the dispossessed. His philosophical forebear, Hegel (DATE), had already posited that history and the historical subject (hu/man) were both geared toward the realization of Absolute Knowledge, or Spirit. This epistemic achievement would emancipate the hu/man and become the end of history. Heidegger, Benjamin, and Foucault all shared a similar attitude toward either of these commonplaces in the philosophy of history and history’s role on the construction of the subject. Their contributions, though not reducible to the term, can be seen as genealogies and archaeologies that challenge history’s “unity”. Rather, these last three thinkers saw power where others saw the machinations of manifest reason or the outcomes of class struggle. Nietzsche (1968) perhaps sums these alternative (and perhaps more radical) views of history as cause and effect, of a series of events recorded in time: “the unalterable sequence of certain phenomena demonstrates no ‘law’ but a power relationship between two or more forces…[i]t is a question, not of succession, but of interpenetration. […] We need unities in order to be able to reckon: that does not mean we must suppose that such unities exist (Nietzsche 1968, pp. 336, 338)” These insights had been consolidated between Nietzsche and Foucault in Hans-Georg Gadamer’s (2003) rethinking of history within the human sciences in Truth and Method (pp. 218-231).

In Chapter 1, I argue that the feminist epistemological method requires a coherent ontology of gender (see Alcoff [1996] for a considerable analysis of coherence theory). But this ontology needs to be radically reassessed. The being of transgender has been reduced, as it were, as the other of cisgender. But this “othering” has the consequence of shaping the theory of transgender knowledge through a constant return to cisgender consciousness, definition, categories, and modes of presentation. Indeed, it leaves no room the equiprimordiality of cis and trans as disclosures of, and thus co-constituted within, the phenomena of gender(s). In that chapter, the historical record had been partially interrogated through the archive, and will be further interrogated theoretically in Chapter 4. Yet, those who write within historical methods are caught within a “turn” toward language that overemphasizes its constitutive power, falsely denying its power to disclose phenomena (for examples of this “turn”, see Valentine 2007; some might be found in the considerable historical researches in Meyerowitz 2006). I also suggest there is confusion in epistemology as to the role of the historical a priori—or the discursive practices that mold a thing’s (il)legibility as phenomenon. It is particularly striking concerning the way transgender consciousness is formed, persists, and is/was consolidated as identities through time.

Although the two thinkers I have in mind may be taken to be at odds in terms of their theoretical commitments, both Benjamin and Heidegger share the belief that history is not isolated in a dead “past”, nor is it a sovereign driving force of the present and future. As much as Marx would like to have history “weigh” on the living as a nightmare, Benjamin (1999) argues that history is itself a series of “nows” that offer legibility to things. If history is indeed a dream, then the waking is the now. Radically, there is no singular truth to an existence, in history or otherwise. It is a thing’s “movement in [its] interior” (ibid., p. 462) that privileges history’s profusion of “nows”. This thing’s “interior” refers to the concealed, plural truths within phenomena (for Benjamin: images, events, and subjects) inhabiting the world. Indeed, we work to forge the constellation of nows, such that “each ‘now’ is the now of a particular recognizability. In [the now], truth is charged to the bursting point with time” (p. 463). The now is the flash of the past and present together. Departing from Marx, Benjamin argues that the past doesn’t “cast light on the present”. His demanding postulate is that past and present fuse together in an instant to form the constellation of meaning, bridging the known, to-be-known, and knower. In this way, “timeless” truths do not exist. Truth is not predicated on the knowing subject’s apprehension of a thing as it has been, nor its being-ness. Rather, truth is bound within a nucleus that conjoins the knowing and known. It is ephemeral.

What does this mean to the historical subject, or to the human who is both the maker, and made, of history? The knowing subject is cast within a non-linear time. S/he is not constructed by the past, but is brought about within conditions of h/er own legibility. This, however, does not suggest that phenomena are bound, in terms of their existence, to humans. Further, phenomena that the knowing subject seeks to comprehend are not bound by circumstances. They are always already present in some form or other, but are brought into view by power and forces that shape the phenomena’s disclosure. For this reason, that phenomena take on plural forms that are subject to power, or the interpenetration of Niezschean forces, phenomena must be “rescued”. Benjamin (1999) calls the bind of phenomena the “enshrinement in heritage” (p. 473). Benjamin does not consign past interpretations of phenomena as “historical” only. Rather, phenomena are perennial engagements with subjectivity. These engagements, the attempt to understand and interpret phenomena, reveal that within each phenomenon are fissures—irruptions of meaning that are not reducible merely to the time in which they appear. Seeing history through what he calls Messianic Time—that is from the viewpoint of both local contingency and the possibility transcendent disclosure—Benjamin restages phenomena in terms of their “now”, but also in terms of how the present may engage in the “brutal grasp” of rescuing them from constraining traditions of thought, culture, and discipline (ibid., p. 473).[1]

On these preceding points, Heidegger (2010), as I read him, does not dramatically deviate. Benjamin’s (1999) sparse notations of Heidegger—written before Heidegger’s political disfavor—generally illustrate his phenomenology in dull tones. He admits that Heideggers had secularized history, a move that doesn’t fit within the theological cosmology that guided Benjamin’s thinking (p. 472).[2] I do think that reading these thinkers’ views on phenomena’s historical grounding would be productive. Heidegger (1999) assesses the conjecture that what is “now” is the only version of “reality” that can be said to exist. We cannot know the past as a living thing in the present as much as we can say that future exists as a living state. Only the living moment matters. But this does not arrogate the importance history plays in the formulation of Being. He argues that history itself, or “being in history” does not ultimately transform phenomena. In this sense, history shouldn’t be the starting point for the interrogation of what the meaning of phenomena is. To do so would be to sever Being from the process of its disclosure. Phenomena do not come into existence historically. They are disclosed as a result of multiple elements that make them legible (language, time, place, culture, etc.). These axes are all important as they all occur “in time”. But Heidegger (1999) adds that “history does not so much mean the kind of being, the occurrence, as [much as] the region of beings that one distinguishes…” (p. 379, emphasis my own). Phenomena and their being are thus placed within a “region” of intelligibility and disclosure, partitioned for some significance—but not wholly constituted by it.

Heidegger’s emphasis of being’s “historicity” is important. History and time are not the same. “Beings do not become ‘more historical’ as we go on to a past ever farther away, so that what is most ancient would be the most authentically historical” (ibid., p. 364). What is past is no longer, or what has been. He poses the question of how the “past” is to be found in the “present”. When one says that the past is present, or that the hu/man is a product of the history, how is this justified? There is nothing historical in an phenomenon’s objective presence (that is really existing in the “now”)? If a “world” can be said to no longer exist, for instance that of the ancient Greek or Persian civilizations, then how can one assert that is this world of antiquity juts itself into the present? For Heidegger, these probing questions open up the possibility to think of Being as always already existing, coming into view and understood and interpreted as phenomena through the course of history. That is to say, humans within a region of history not only define phenomena in this way or that. Phenomena also “act” on humans in such a way that disclosure runs both ways—phenomena appears, is concealed and hidden, or “thrown” into the world. Being “thrown” into the world, phenomena do not as such shape history. “[h]istory is neither the connectedness of movements in the alteration of objects, nor the free-floating succession of experiences of ‘subjects’” (ibid., p 369). History occurs, so to speak, as a product of being-in-the-world. It is neither an autonomous sphere that operates linearly toward an inevitable end (Hegel), nor is a purely constitutive factor in the modes of human existence (Marx). History is linked with modes of Being. Historical sciences take their task to uncover the “truths” of these modes of being, of those that “have been” within a world that is “gone”. In this way, the existence of these being’s truths must already be presupposed as history’s objects.[3] Beings are “thrown” into the world, the truths to which are not to be found only in their “age” or “epoch”. For Heidegger, however, such beings’ historical facticity is based on uncovering their rootedness in life as lived, in its everydayness, but not in the move toward generalizing about an age, its constitutive hold over phenomena, and the eternal “truth” that is grasped by the statement “that is how it was”.

When I argue that David Valentine’s (2007) ethnographic work, animated by an historiographical motive, limits “transgender” within regions of time (and for that matter space), I implicate his inattention to transgender being outside method. His consideration of trans/gender sees the history of transgender as only possible because of the disclosures of gender in the 20th century, which itself contains the potted history of sexual difference, sexuality, and burgeoning social justice movements for race and class. His paradoxical appropriation of Foucault’s historical methods (which itself borrows from Heidegger) puts transgender as a mere byproduct of historical consciousness. It thus enshrines “transgender” because, as a term, it only has modern meaning. But the phenomenal aspects of transgender are concealed in this modernizing view. That transgender is “thrown” into modern view does not limit historical investigation. Valentine summons into historical relief that category “transgender”, full stop, without interrogating the cisgenderist assumptions that conceal transgender life in its plurality.

Foucault’s own methods concerning history borrow not just from Heidegger’s phenomenology and critiques of historicism. They offer an insight into just how one goes about rescuing phenomena. His term, “subjugated knowledges” stems from the observation that certain kinds of enunciations and discursive practices do not reach the “level” of knowledge because it is disqualified. It doesn’t meet certain parameters that are set forth within the boundedness of a historical region’s “episteme”, or subjects making statements about the world, their bodies, their lives, may be deemed unfit to make such enunciations. His theorizing of psychiatric knowledge in The History of Madness (DATE), attests to this idea. Particularly striking is an observation Foucault made in a response to Derrida’s (DATE) philosophical critique of the work. Hearkening to Descartes’s passage on madness and dreams, Foucault notes that for Descartes’s historical moment the law would often disqualify certain men and many women from speaking in civil hearings, criminal proceedings, and the like. They didn’t possess the necessary “mind” to make reasonable statements about the world. They were not “insane” but rather inadequate to the task. Where do these holders of knowledge, those would-be speakers who “know” but cannot express their knowledge, go within the course of history? Foucault (2003) suggests that attention to discursive practices (local embodiments of and resistances to discourse) retain traces of these knowledges and its bearers (see p. 7).

My pointing toward Foucault’s work in The History of Madness is deliberate. Trans from its beginnings was considered a psychiatric illness. Trapped in the wrong body, those who felt deep discomfort with their gender/sex alignment had to seek out surgical, hormonal, or other non-medical means of attaining an embodiment that “matched”. They were considered in a certain sense mad on the part of the medical establishment—and in everyday life, often interpenetrated by medical discourses and coherent beliefs about the biological givenness of sex (anything other than what would be “cis” was freakish, monstrous [see Styrker DATE]). Medical commentators spoke of the “subjective” idealities of transsexual embodiments (Drake 1974). It is no wonder that many cis scholars who wrote on the issue during the latter half of the 20th century, often seeking to emancipate the transgender person and transsexual from the iron cage of illness, nevertheless spoke in explicitly “physiological” terms. Ann Bolin (Undated, “Transcending and Transgendering), in a chapter draft spoke of sex and gender in biological and social terms, respectively. She made clear the distinction between the “physiological” woman and the transsexual woman (ibid., p. 5). Her concepts of gender identity and social identity further wedge the private experience from those within public view. Her work develops the concept that social construction and medical discourse has disclosed transgender subjectivity to the world, making possible the “scripts” by which transsexual people could then utilize to obtain necessary medical recourse for their embodied identification. It even rejects the essentialism built into the medical discourse that govern the sayability of trans identifications. But, “[t]he transsexual identity from its inception was a medicalized one…” (Bolin, Undated, p. 17).

True enough. Gleaning the historical record, one would attest to the disclosure of transsexuality through medical discourses only in the 20th century. But this cannot end an investigation that conceives of the study of trans history and being as one beginning with any preoccupation with gender. Indeed, this history is a parsing out of interpenetrating forces that deny independence of trans from its narrative in science and cis. If medicalization created the terrain in which the world could “speak” of trans, this grammar did not constitute the its entire disclosure. “First, let met state that ‘gender dysphoria’ has never meant confusion of who I was or am” (Undated, The Quest). Perhaps I could tweak Marx’s critique of the “now”. Our modern understanding of gender is indeed haunted by dead generations like a nightmare. It treats trans/gender as if the subjects slept, waiting until an autonomous science in history cast light on it. But this history only does so by weighing trans/gender being with both biological determinism and social construction. These two discourses root themselves in inquiries that privilege must necessarily understand gender as cis. This history is a refusal—namely that trans being could not, by fact of words and biology, have existed as such before the 20th century’s disclosure of such a human condition. If my project at least hints at desubjugating trans knowledges from their capture in histories told in cis terms, it must be animated by the “insurrectionary power of knowledge” (Foucault, 2003, p. 9). Rather than hinge on a science of history, the dual projects of genealogy and archaeology upend established continuities and historical developments that seem naturally connected. My project would seek to challenge assumptions “or power-effects characteristic of any discourse that is regarded as scientific” (ibid.). It would have a political aim at liberating trans from an account of gender that has as its historical a priori the ontology of cis/gender.

Thus, trans as an equiprimordial mode of existence, as always already “there”, one coequal to cis and thus co-constitutive of the phenomenon of gender in the west, needs considerable ontological refiguring. It means that trans folx, though not disclosed as being such in historical terms, shaped the historical record that is lost or hidden beneath the sediments of other narrative powers that define not only identity but various phenomenal states of human being. A “transsexual first” would not be the surgical and medical, but the lived, local, and conscious (cf. “A Transsexual First”, Undated). This project is aimed at combating the “confessional” isolation of subjectivity that Foucault traced from monastic cell to psychiatric office (DATE; cf. Berg, 1957) It would mean the recognition of the considerable advances in archaeology that have discovered trans-oriented identities as phenomena in other cultures centuries old, as spanning histories and geographies that escape the reclamation of psychiatry (Trans Studies Reader 2, CITE).

It is unfortunate, however, that Foucault’s (2003) immediate optimism that students of history should continue to “accumulate” without fear that “we will be colonized” would be quickly circumvented (p. 11). Colonization of trans studies has been underway for some time. Transgender is treated categorically as self-present identity–the “I know who I am”. Identity categories tend toward not only porosity, taking in various other terms of existence, lived realities, but also the uninterrogated assumptions of those positioning themselves within it. Categories also tend to be self-disciplining. This dialectic constitutes its own forms of refusal. Further, treated as a category, as a text or script, trans is no longer lived in terms of actual life, but lived in terms of expected enactment. Seen through the lens of this performance (not performative), trans loses it autonomy to speak for itself. In terms of that enactment, only certain kinds of enactments are legible within the “text” of the trans category. Trans becomes susceptible to white-washing in a culture that extols whiteness. It is subject to cis-passing in a culture that praises public appearance in terms of “respectability”, “dignity”, and “recognizably” in binaristic ways. In short, even scholars who write about trans in broad and self-described emancipatory ways that trans no longer speaks (Spivak 1989). It succumbs to the powerful forgetfulness of those who, now believing trans can exist on co-equal terms with cis (but always on and within cis terms), can leave gender’s coeval ontological status alone. Could it be the case of that the question of gender, the particulars that have been “wrested from [the] phenomena [of gender] by the highest exertion of thought…has…been trivialized” (Heidegger, 2010, p. 1)? We must seek not just to ask the “right” questions, but clear the ground of assumptions that trans/cis is merely dichotomous. They are both built in elements of gender’s being, equiprimordial. Gender has come to mean only cis-, only naturalized bodies, only transitions from this to that if one is to “be” “authentically” trans. Gender’s grounding must be cleared.

[1] In the “convolute” regarding his theories of knowledge and progress in The Arcades Project, Benjamin makes frequent references to Marxism—but generally avoids extolling orthodox historical materialism. He rejects that all history and consciousness can be reduced to class struggle. He situates the hu/man within the machinery of capitalism, and critiques modern liberal theories of knowledge as symptoms, but departs from Marxism’s interpretation of capitalism’s foothold in modern everydayness.

[2] “My thinking is related to theology as blotting pad is related to ink. It is saturated with it” (Benjamin, 1999, p. 471).

[3] If there were no presupposition of unknown truths, there would be no need of interrogation for any science!