Translating Transgender

ddtsq_3_3_4The most recent issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, “Translating Transgender,” edited by David Gramling and Aniruddha Dutta, calls for a multilingual and translational critique of discourses of transgender studies. Few primary and secondary texts about transgender lives and ideas have been translated from language to language in any formal way over the centuries. Meanwhile, transgender, gender variant, and gender non-confirming people have often been exiles, translators, language mediators, and multilinguals in greater numbers and intensities historically than their cisgender counterparts have. This kind of positionality among languages has become a generative, yet often precarious aspect of trans* embodiment. Nonetheless, the discourses of transgender studies continue to be more Anglophone, more monolingual, and less translated than they historically ought to be, given how the subjects that produced those discourses have often been prototypes of transnational and translingual border-crossing.

Susan Stryker and Paisley Currah, editors of TSQ, state in their General Editor’s Introduction: “It feels vital at this early phase of its institutionalization to facilitate transgender studies’ becoming as multilingual, multidirectional, linguistically centrifugal, and untranslatable as methodologically possible… We see this issue of TSQ as a many-voiced wager on what promises to be a rich, ongoing conversation in years to come, and we look forward in anticipation to whatever future contributions this journal can make to that dialogue.”

From the introduction by special issue editors David Gramling and Aniruddha Dutta:

As editors, it brings us more than a little delight that the articles we present here far outshine—in their political imagination, analytical precision, and methodological ambition—the hopes expressed in the original call for papers. The contributors include literary translators (Nathanaël, Rose, BaerLarkosh), anthropologists (Jarrín, Pons Rabasa), a musicologist (Roy), a political scientist (Josephson), a classicist (Gabriel), a modern linguist (Leino), a film scholar (Leung), literary comparatists (Concilio, Heinrich, Larkosh), a sociologist (Einarsdóttir), poets and fiction writers (Nathanaël, Dowd), a religious studies scholar (Strassfeld), and translation studies specialists (Baer, Almarri). These critics and writers draw on the demands of their particular research contexts to nourish a sensibility around translation that is vernacular, emergent, and problem oriented, rather than prescriptive and monodisciplinary. They have thus offered an unwieldy, asymmetrical, and mutually interrogative constellation of approaches, such that one contribution’s core categories of analysis find profound and contradictory echoes in the next. To take just one instance, while Unni Leino, writing from the Scandinavian context, contends that the ways the Finnish language divides the conceptual domains of sex, sexuality, and gender “make a difference in fighting the sexualization of trans people,” Alvaro Jarrín’s critical analysis of travesti access to public health care in Brazil is in contrast primarily oriented around fighting precisely the nonmedicalization of travestis in that context. Divergent linguistic orders that constrain local and transregional modes of “thinking for speaking” (Slobin 1996) thus play a complex structuring role in the putatively extralinguistic social and symbolic positions available to speakers. These two juxtaposed analyses—Leino and Jarrín—clarify why and how (trans) gender discourses mean in structurally distinct ways in one linguaculture versus another, thus placing the broader justice claims pertinent to each in critical relief.

Read the full introduction, made freely available.

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