“Making our gender real is what we trans-people do, and we bring our worlds with us,” Dr. Susan Stryker began with during her speech in Seegers on Oct. 18.
The speech featured passages from Stryker’s book, “What Transpires Now: Transgender History and the Future We Need,” which she began writing in the Fall of 2016. After last year’s presidential election, however, her general attitude toward the piece began to shift.
“We [trans-people] need to have a united front,” said Stryker in her talk. “I wanted to write the overture to the book that really kind of hit the themes, the tone, that I wanted to convey a sense of the urgency about why I feel the need to tell stories about the transgender past,” especially as it relates to the shift in conversation around trans rights after the election of Donald Trump.
Stryker, a Transgender Studies scholar, is helping to lead that front through more avenues than just in her University of Arizona classrooms.
“Dr. Stryker’s works fundamentally trouble many of the taken for granted truths that we have grown up with,” said Assistant Professor of Media and Communications Dr. Beth Corzo-Duchardt in her introduction of Stryker. “By its nature, Transgender Studies troubles the so-called truth of the immutability of the gender binary.”
The speech, co-sponsored by women’s and gender studies, corresponded with the Center for Ethics’ theme of “Troubling Truth” by reevaluating preconceived notions of truth and reality within the concept of a gender binary and its intersection with other issues in social, racial and political spheres.
At one point, Stryker described the idea of gender as a “vast, impersonal social apparatus that like some magical, Hogwarts sorting hat whispers the secret of our identity into our ears and places us with our kind.”
Stryker tied together ideas of this personal journey of identity to the idea of truth in reality-based and historically-based senses.
“To write history is not to string one brute fact after another to fill up the emptiness of time,” said Stryker. “To write history, for those of us who need another world, is to catch sight elsewhere of radical possibilities made visible by the light of a current calamity.”
“Reality is a fiction we tell of things we bump against in darkness,” added Stryker.
Near the middle of her speech, Stryker addressed the issue of administrative hypocrisy and discrimination against minorities over a techno soundtrack, creating an atmosphere of lighthearted intensity with the audience. In it, she tied together ideas ranging from Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance and the implications of healthcare reform on racial and sexual minorities to sarcastic conspiracies on Barack and Michelle Obama’s plan as “intergalactic, shape-shifting, reptilian humanoids,” to “colonize earth and enslave its human population,” by sterilizing the humans “under the guise of same-sex marriage, the Affordable Care Act, government funded sex-change surgery and hormones.”
A lot to digest, yes, but these truths are nonetheless constructed out of the apparent reality of irrational fear-mongerers: this is “What Transpires Now,” she would reiterate.
Although the soundtrack covered a significant portion of Stryker’s delivery, she went on to enhance her message in another intersection-focused monologue that grew out of the language in her book.
“Unsurprisingly, the rates of all such negative consequences of being trans are significantly higher among black and indigenous peoples, and somewhat higher among other racially minoritized trans-people who live at the intersection of multiple systemic oppression,” Stryker added.
The phrase “I can’t breathe,” uttered by Eric Garner is 2014, touches on this intersectionality – it introduces a rupture into the framework of ethical dilemmas we face at these intersections. This intersectionality, however, is punctuated by a division in the organization of different forms of life, she would later add.
While animals respire, the transpiration of plants “suggests a lowly baseline existence. It means simply to happen without volition, simply to persist in being,” Stryker explained.
“Species, races, ethnicities, genders are all distinctions we make between categories of life so that various bodies with various capacities can be ordered according to the greater or lesser worth we accord them.”
Following the talk, ideas about this organization came to light when in comparison to the civil rights movement and bathroom access for trans individuals.
“What it [transgender bathroom issue] actually involves is the public accommodation of different bodies,” replied Stryker. “It is not dissimilar to the fact of women moving into the workforce… it is not dissimilar to racially segregated toilets… it is not dissimilar to the ADA… it is not dissimilar to what was going on with the AIDS crisis.”
One student raised the systematic issue of breaking through predominantly white spaces for black LGBTQ individuals, a historically unacknowledged group on campus. “How do you, as someone who has a platform, speak to and bring those 30+ transpeople who have died at the hands of police brutality… into this space and encourage the white people who run our Queer Student Association or LGTBQ+ inclusive spaces on this campus to bring black (trans) people into their spaces and welcome them with open arms,” the student asked.
“How is it that I’m with something without speaking as something?” Stryker replied, referencing to her own attendance at a Black Lives Matter protest. “How do I find that place where I’m speaking alongside?”
“I feel like it’s really hard for white people, myself included, to acknowledge complicity and structural violence that you cannot change by your individual actions,” Stryker continued with. “There is a sense in which simply because of how my body is, white privilege circulates through it and gets reproduced through it and what do I do about that? Not in some kind of liberal, white-guilt kind of way but how do I hold the inescapability of that? I think a partial answer to that is to not disavow when power circulates through you.”
In essence, the advantage of white privilege can be used to provide a platform for an inclusive discussion with regard to any topic. With a predominantly white campus, Muhlenberg students, staff and faculty can take a look at “What Transpires Now,” to continue the conversation on trans-issues and their intersectionality with race, ethnicity and class.