Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Studies

Call for Papers: Teaching Critical Theory in the Era of Globalization

ddped_18_1Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture is seeking submissions for a special issue edited by Helena Gurfinkel (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville) and Gautam Basu Thakur (Boise State University), titled “Critical Theory in the Era of Globalization,” and scheduled for October 2020.

The editors of this special issue are seeking contributions on teaching critical theory in the global present. What is the relevance of teaching theory in the era of globalization, and what is at stake? What are the challenges and unavoidable paradoxes of teaching theory at a time when global classrooms are geared toward both neoliberal information/skills acquisition and conservative knowledge accumulation?

Changes in the classroom reflect changes in global politics. In the decades following the Second World War, that is, in the midst of the Cold War and the rapid decolonization of the globe, critical theory gained popularity across Anglo-American English departments with its radical interrogations of traditional society, politics, and culture. It drastically dislocated the imperial boundaries of English studies and was responsible for challenging the canon – “birthing” gender and postcolonial studies and connecting literature to politics, subjectivity, and networks of commodity relations. But does theory retain these strengths in the twenty-first century college classroom? What relevance does it have as pedagogy and practice to better understand and address the challenges of contemporary social reality – climate change, depredation of democracy, neoliberalism and violence, and the so-called “death of the humanities”?

This special issue will ponder these questions, as we seek new ways of teaching undergraduate and graduate literary theory and criticism courses. The editors would particularly like to rethink the institution of the survey course, an accepted narrative that begins with formalism and ends with identity.

Topics include but are not limited to:

  • Teaching a theory survey course (graduate and/or undergraduate) in a globalized world: challenges, rewards, and methodologies.
  • Teaching critical theory: new methodologies, forgotten theories/forgotten methodologies, new theories.
  • Teaching critical theory in a graduate course in the current (global) job market.
  • Teaching global literatures as theory/ Global literary theory as pedagogy.
  • Teaching a global critical theory survey: resisting chronology.
  • Teaching critical theory beyond the Western university.

The editors invite articles of 5000-7500 words and position papers of 1500 words. Articles are open to all theoretical approaches. Position papers should address one of the following: 1) teaching queer theory; 2) teaching postcolonial theory; 3) teaching the non-human turn. In all cases, global pedagogical contexts are essential. Pedagogy uses The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition.

Submission Deadlines:

March 2, 2018: 1-page CVs; abstracts of 500 words for articles, or of 150 words for position papers to Helena Gurfinkel and Gautam Basu Thakur.

September 4, 2018: full articles and position papers to Helena Gurfinkel and Gautam Basu Thakur.

Queries welcome.

Recent GLQ Forum on The Pulse Nightclub Shooting

ddglq_24_1_coverThe most recent issue of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies features a forum on the Pulse nightclub shooting in June 2016.

From the introduction to the forum by Jason Alley:

This special GLQ forum offers a range of responses to the murders of forty-nine people—and the injuring of many more—that took place in the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, at Pulse, a queer nightclub in Orlando, Florida. While acts of violence—everyday and spectacular—have long histories in queer and trans communities (threatening trans and queer people of color with double, triple, quadruple forms of jeopardy), one guiding question for this collection of contributions revolves around what is at stake in responding to and unpacking violent and publicly mediated events after the fact, after the events have faded from public consciousness yet when their aftereffects still haunt many of us…

…We invite readers to join us on the dance floor. Not to deny the deadliness of toxic masculinities, racialized violences, or Trumpism writ large. But, rather, to remind us that we must continue to hold each other in desire and political accountability alike if the affects we have in and effects we have on the world are still worth fighting for.

Read the special forum, “GLQ Forum/Aftereffects: The Pulse Nightclub Shootings,” made freely available.

Recent Scholarship on the 2017 Women’s March

On January 21, 2017, over 5 million people marched all over the world in support of women’s rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, environmental policy reform, reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion, and worker’s rights, among other causes. We are excited to share this recent scholarship that analyzes the Women’s March itself, as well as continued scholarship on feminism and women’s rights.

“Positions in Solidarity: Voices and Images from the US Women’s Marches” by Deborah Frizzell in Cultural Politics

Trump-WomensMarch_2017-top-1510075_(32409710246)In this article featured in Cultural Politics, Frizzell features photographs and remembrances of the Women’s Marches in New York City and Washington, D.C. The article addresses the efficacy of mass marches and similar forms of protest and poses questions about the nature of the March, what it achieved, and questions if solidarity can be sustained in an environment of ongoing divisiveness.
An excerpt from the article:
On the morning of January 21, 2017, I reviewed a PDF file from the National Lawyers Guild and the Black Movement Law Project to prepare for participation in the Women’s March in New York City. As I dressed for a mild winter’s day, I wrote with a Sharpie pen on my forearm the guild’s legal support hotline number in case of arrest. My good friend and colleague Sharon Vatsky and I decided to attend the march together. Although we had experience protesting in a number of marches over the years, especially during the 1960s and 1970s, we were not sure what to expect in 2017 with militarized police forces and escalating violence deployed by Trump supporters as a tactic against Muslims, Latinos, people of color, Jews, and LGBTQ communities.
Read the full article, made freely available.

“The Women’s March: New York, January 21, 2017” by Caroline Walker Bynum in Common Knowledge

Women's_March_2017-01_(04)Bynum wrote this article, featured in Common Knowledge, two days after the Women’s March in New York City. It describes the event while focusing on two specific aspects: the March’s multi-issue focus and its response to the denigration of women’s expertise represented in much of the hostility to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. Bynum argues that “a pernicious and often unrecognized denigration of female voices and female expertise forms an undercurrent of contemporary political debate that needs to be much more widely resisted.”

An excerpt from the article:

Indeed, the staggering diversity of issues was one of the most obvious aspects of Saturday’s march. Even among those in my little group, there were many reasons for turning out. Our signs spoke of defending Obamacare, Planned Parenthood, gun control, the inner cities, the environment. If there was no clear agenda, why does it seem so important that my friends and I marched?

Above all, it is important because it was a women’s march—a fact that the commentators have not fully noted and understood.

Read the full article, made freely available.

 

Additional Scholarship on Feminism and Women’s Rights

Read to Respond: Feminism and Women’s Rights

readtorespondOur “Read to Respond” series addresses the current climate of misinformation by highlighting articles and books that encourage thoughtful, educated debate on today’s most pressing issues. This blog post on Feminism and Women’s Rights features journal articles and books tackling topics from abortion laws, maternity leave, Islamic feminism, and more. Read, reflect, and share these resources in and out of the classroom to keep these important conversations going.

“Borders and Margins,” a special issue of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies

ddmew_13_3_coverThis special issue of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, “Borders and Margins,” approaches borders and margins through the lens of gender and sexuality.  Borders and margins are productive spaces to examine both the power and contingency of normative gender and sexual ideals and how gendered and sexual bodies participate in the production and reconfiguration of the nation-state. Essays in this issue analyze how women on the margins of society expose the exclusionary and gendered logics of nation-state formation and then generate new engagements with embodied politics and religious practice. This examination of borders and margins continues the feminist and gender-based analyses of material and discursive spaces and mobilities examined in previous issues.

The issue also features a special forum on Trump’s Presidency and Middle East Women’s Studies, examining topics such as the Muslim ban and the gendered side of Islamophobia. This special forum is freely available until May 2018.

Start reading with Sara Smith’s preface to the issue, freely available now.

“1970s Feminisms,” a special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly

ddsaq_114_4For more than a decade, feminist historians and historiographers have engaged in challenging the “third wave” portrait of 1970s feminism as essentialist, white, middle-class, uninterested in racism, and theoretically naive. This task has involved setting the record straight about women’s liberation by interrogating how that image took hold in the public imagination and among academic feminists. This issue invites feminist theorists to return to women’s liberation—to the texts, genres, and cultural productions to which the movement gave rise—for a more nuanced look at its conceptual and political consequences. The essays in this issue explore such topics as the ambivalent legacies of women’s liberation; the production of feminist subjectivity in mass culture and abortion documentaries; the political effects of archiving Chicana feminism; and conceptual and generic innovations in the work of Gayle Rubin, Christine Delphy, and Shulamith Firestone.

Start reading now.

“Trans/Feminisms,” a special issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly

ddtsq_3_1-2Feminism and trans activism don’t have to be mutually exclusive, argue the contributors to “Trans/Feminisms,” the most recent issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly.

This special double issue, edited by Susan Stryker and Talia M. Bettcher, goes beyond the simplistic dichotomy between an exclusionary transphobic feminism and an inclusive trans-affirming feminism. Exploring the ways in which trans issues are addressed within feminist and women’s organizations and social movements around the world, contributors ask how trans, genderqueer, and nonbinary issues are related to feminist movements today, what kind of work is currently undertaken in the name of trans/feminism, what new paradigms and visions are emerging, and what questions still need to be taken up.

Central to this issue is the recognition that oppressions intersect, converge, overlap, and sometimes diverge in complex ways, and that trans/feminist politics cannot restrict itself to the domain of gender alone.

This issue features numerous shorter works that represent the diversity of trans/feminist practices and problematics and, in addition to original research articles, includes theory, reports, manifestos, opinion pieces, reviews, and creative/artistic productions, as well as republished key documents of trans/feminist history and international scholarship.

Start reading now.

“World Policy Interrupted,” a special issue of World Policy Journal
wpj33_4_23_frontcover_fppIn “World Policy Interrupted,” a special issue of World Policy Journal penned entirely by female foreign policy experts and journalists, contributors imagine a world where the majority of foreign policy experts quoted, bylined, and miked are not men.

The issue challenges the perception that women are not policymakers by showcasing the voices of female experts and leaders. Contributors to this issue address topics such as feminism in Chinaabortion laws across the Americascombating violent extremism by working with religious leaders, and women in media. The issue also features a conversation with Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, President of Mauritus.

Start reading now.

Top Gender Studies Titles Adopted for Course Use

Living a Feminist LifeOur Gender Studies/Feminist Theory book list features authors well known for their work in gender studies, gay and lesbian studies, transgender studies, and queer and feminist theory. Many of our journals also address gender studies from transnational and interdisciplinary perspectives.

Our Gender Studies e-book collection includes essential titles and field-defining scholarship in queer theory, gay and lesbian studies, transgender studies, feminist theory, and women’s studies. If you’re interested in gaining access to these resources, have your librarian contact our Library Relations team to get more information.

Here are the top 9 gender studies titles adopted for course use:

View the title list for the Gender Studies collection, which features more than 500 e-books.

New Books in January

978-0-8223-6902-8.jpgHappy 2018! Ring in the new year with these exciting new titles from Duke University Press:

In Fractivism, Sara Ann Wylie traces the history of fracking in the United States and how scientists, nonprofits, landowners, and everyday people are coming together to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable through the creation of digital platforms and databases that document fracking’s devastating environmental and human health impacts.

Raymond Knapp’s Making Light traces the musical legacy of German Idealism as it led to the declining prestige of composers such as Haydn while influencing the development of American popular music in the nineteenth century, showing how the existence of camp in Haydn and American music offer ways of reassessing Haydn’s oeuvre.

In Media Heterotopias Hye Jean Chung challenges the widespread tendency among audiences and critics to disregard the material conditions of digital film production, showing how this emphasis on seamlessness masks the complex social, political, and economic realities of global filmmaking.

Charlotte Brunsdon’s Television Cities traces television’s representations of Paris, London, and Baltimore to show how they reflect the medium’s history and evolution, thereby challenging the prevalent assumptions about television as quintessentially suburban and showing how television shapes our perception of urban spaces, both familiar and unknown.

978-0-8223-7038-3.jpgIn Ezili’s Mirrors Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley traces how contemporary queer Caribbean and African American writers, filmmakers, musicians, and performers evoke the divinity Ezili—a pantheon of lwa feminine spirits in Vodou—in ways that offer a new model of queer black feminist theory.

Focusing on the hemispheric circulation of South American musical cultures, in On Site, In Sound, Kirstie A. Dorr examines the spatiality of sound and the ways in which the sonic is bound to perceptions and constructions of geographic space, showing how people can use music and sound to challenge and transform dominant conceptions of place.

Attending to diverse practices of everyday living and doing—of form, style, and scenography—in Jacques Rancière’s writings, Davide Panagia explores Rancière’s aesthetics of politics as it informs his radical democratic theory of participation in Ranciere’s Sentiments.

In Reclaiming the Discarded Kathleen Millar offers a comprehensive ethnography of Jardim Gramacho, a sprawling garbage dump on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where self-employed workers, known as catadores, collect recyclable materials and ultimately generate new modes of living within the precarious conditions of urban poverty.

978-0-8223-7036-9Bianca C. Williams’s The Pursuit of Happiness traces the experiences of African American women who travel to Jamaica and form affective relationships with Jamaican men and women that help construct notions of diasporic belonging and a form of happiness that resists the damaging intersections of racism and patriarchy in the United States.

We Wanted a Revolution: New Perspectives is the companion volume to the acclaimed Sourcebook, both of which accompany the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–1985. New Perspectives includes new essays that place the exhibition’s works in historical and contemporary contexts, poems by Alice Walker, and numerous illustrations. The exhibition is at the California African American Museum until January 14 and then travels to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo.

Never miss a new book! Sign up for Subject Matters, our e-mail newsletter, and get notifications of new titles in your preferred disciplines as well as discounts and other news.

Transpsychoanalytics

ddtsq_4_3_4_coverThe most recent issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies QuarterlyTranspsychoanalytics,” edited by Sheila L. Cavanagh, is now available.

While psychoanalysis has traditionally been at odds with transgender issues, a growing body of revisionist psychoanalytic theory and clinical practice has begun to tease out the trans-affirming potential of the field. “Transpsychoanalytics,” features essays that highlight this potential by simultaneously critiquing and working within the boundaries of psychoanalytic concepts and theories guiding clinical work. Featuring a range of clinicians and scholars, this issue centers on questions pertaining to trans experience, desire, difference, otherness, identification, loss, mourning, and embodiment.

The contributors explore these questions through topics like Tiresian mythology, bathroom bans, ethics, popular culture, and the Freudian couch. By setting up this dialogue between psychosocial studies and trans cultural studies, this revisionist work may radically transform psychoanalytic theory and practice.

Read the introduction, freely available online, and browse the table of contents.

The Most Read Articles of 2017

As 2017 comes to a close, we’re reflecting on the most read articles across all our journals. Check out the top 15 articles that made the list, all freely available until the end of January.

ddjhppl_38_2Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Health
by Lynn M. Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin

The Impact of the ACA on Premiums: Evidence from the Self-Employed
by Bradley T. Heim, Gillian Hunter, Ithai Z. Lurie, and Shanthi P. Ramnath

Revisiting Postmodernism: An Interview with Fredric Jameson
by Nico Baumbach, Damon R. Young, and Genevieve Yue

Policy Diffusion across Disparate Disciplines: Private- and Public-Sector Dynamics Affecting State-Level Adoption of the ACA
by Rena M. Conti and David K. Jones

ddpcult_27_1Instafame: Luxury Selfies in the Attention Economy
by Alice E. Marwick

Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?
by Cathy J. Cohen

Necropolitics” by Achille Mbembe

Pascal’s Wager: Health Insurance Exchanges, Obamacare, and the Republican Dilemma
by David K. Jones, Katharine W. V. Bradley, and Jonathan Oberlander

Policy Diffusion in Polarized Times: The Case of the Affordable Care Act
by Craig Volden

Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy
by Arjun Appadurai

ddbou_44_2The Authoritarian Personality Revisited: Reading Adorno in the Age of Trump
by Peter E. Gordon

My Words to Victor Frankenstein above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage
by Susan Stryker

Introduction: Antinormativity’s Queer Conventions
by Robyn Wiegman

Michael Brown
by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten

Althusser’s Dramaturgy and the Critique of Ideology
by Étienne Balibar

Trans Awareness Week: Resources from the Press

Trans Awareness Week, which leads up to the international Trans Day of Remembrance on November 19, is dedicated to transgender advocacy and awareness. We stand in solidarity with members of the trans community by sharing some of our most recent scholarship on trans studies.

readtorespondOur “Trans Rights” and “Bathroom Politics” reading lists include books and journal articles that address issues relevant to the trans community, from the recent bathroom ban to trans-inclusive feminism. The journal articles included in these lists are freely available through December 15, 2017, and book introductions are always freely available.

http://saq.dukejournals.org/?utm_source=blog&utm_medium=blog%20post&utm_campaign=j-transawareness_Nov2017The essays in South Atlantic Quarterly’s “Against the Day” section “Unrecognizable: On Trans Recognition in 2017” confront urgent questions regarding transgender recognition in the current political moment. Since Trump was elected, trans communities in the United States have expressed fear and outrage at the possibility that the “transgender tipping point” might be about to tip back. However, contributors to these essays explore the complicated relationship of the trans community to the “transgender tipping point” and express that even if recognition is inevitable, trans people may not always want to be identified. These essays invent new terms to describe the impossibility and violence of recognition and speculatively suggest an entirely different relation to visibility. In relation to the backlash, too, they argue that we cannot do trans politics without an analysis of political economy, of the history of racialization and the violence of liberalism, and of hetero- and gender normativity.

978-0-8223-6914-1Developed in the United States in the 1980s, facial feminization surgery (FFS) is a set of bone and soft tissue reconstructive surgical procedures intended to feminize the faces of trans- women. In The Look of a Woman Eric Plemons foregrounds the narratives of FFS patients and their surgeons as they move from consultation and the operating room to postsurgery recovery. He shows how the increasing popularity of FFS represents a shift away from genital-based conceptions of trans- selfhood in ways that mirror the evolving views of what is considered to be good trans- medicine.

 

FORTHCOMING FROM TSQ: TRANSGENDER STUDIES QUARTERLY

ddtsq_4_3_4_coverTranspsychoanalytics
edited by Sheila L. Cavanagh

While psychoanalysis has traditionally been at odds with transgender issues, a growing body of revisionist psychoanalytic theory and clinical practice has begun to tease out the trans-affirming potential of the field. “Transpsychoanalytics,” features essays that highlight this potential by simultaneously critiquing and working within the boundaries of psychoanalytic concepts and theories guiding clinical work. Featuring a range of clinicians and scholars, this issue centers on questions pertaining to trans experience, desire, difference, otherness, identification, loss, mourning, and embodiment. The contributors explore these questions through topics like Tiresian mythology, bathroom bans, ethics, popular culture, and the Freudian couch. By setting up this dialogue between psychosocial studies and trans cultural studies, this revisionist work may radically transform psychoanalytic theory and practice.

“Transpsychoanalytics,” volume 4, issue 3-4 will be available in early December.

National Coming Out Day: New Books in LGBTQ Studies

Today is the 29th annual National Coming Out Day, a celebration of the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. We’re happy to contribute to the occasion by sharing our newest scholarship in LGBTQ and sexuality studies.

978-0-8223-6914-1Developed in the United States in the 1980s, facial feminization surgery (FFS) is a set of bone and soft tissue reconstructive surgical procedures intended to feminize the faces of trans- women. In The Look of a Woman Eric Plemons foregrounds the narratives of FFS patients and their surgeons as they move from consultation and the operating room to postsurgery recovery. He shows how the increasing popularity of FFS represents a shift away from genital-based conceptions of trans- selfhood in ways that mirror the evolving views of what is considered to be good trans- medicine.

art1In the 1970s a group of pioneering feminist and queer entrepreneurs launched a movement that ultimately changed the way sex was talked about, had, and enjoyed. In Vibrator Nation Lynn Comella tells the fascinating history of how feminist sex-toy stores raised sexual consciousness, redefined the adult industry, and changed women’s lives. Comella describes a world where sex-positive retailers double as social activists, where products are framed as tools of liberation, and where consumers are willing to pay for the promise of better living—one conversation, vibrator, and orgasm at a time.

978-0-8223-6367-5The contributors to The War on Sex, edited by David M. Halperin and Trevor Hoppe, document how government and civil society are waging a war on stigmatized sex by means of law, surveillance, and social control—from sex offender registries to the criminalization of HIV to highly punitive measures against sex work. By examining how the ever-intensifying war on sex affects both privileged and marginalized communities, the essays collected here show why sexual liberation is indispensable to social justice and human rights.

In Disturbing Attachments Kadji Amin challenges the idealization of Jean Genet as a paradigmatic figure within queer studies to illuminate the methodological dilemmas at the heart of queer theory. Pederasty, which was central to Genet’s sexuality and to his passionate cross-racial and transnational political activism late in life, is among a series of problematic and outmoded queer attachments that Amin uses to deidealize and historicize queer theory.

978-0-8223-6365-1Critically Sovereign, a collection edited by Joanne Barker, traces the ways in which gender is inextricably a part of Indigenous politics and U.S. and Canadian imperialism and colonialism. The contributors show how gender, sexuality, and feminism work as co-productive forces of Native American and Indigenous sovereignty, self-determination, and epistemology.

The most recent “In Practice” section of Camera Obscura, “Queerness and Games,” seeks to expand the relationship between feminist film theory and practice and feminist and queer video game culture and criticism. It features essays exploring topics such as Adrienne Shaw’s LGBTQ Video Game Archive, the Queerness and Games Conference (QGCon), and queer performativity in mobile device–assisted interactive play.

ddsaq_116_3The essays in South Atlantic Quarterly’sAgainst the Day” section, “Unrecognizable: On Trans Recognition in 2017,” confront urgent questions regarding transgender recognition in the current political moment. Since Trump was elected, the trans communities in the United States have expressed fear and outrage at the possibility that the “transgender tipping point” might be about to tip back. However, contributors to these essays explore the complicated relationship of the trans community to the “transgender tipping point” and express that even if recognition is inevitable, trans people may not always want to be identified. These essays invent new terms to describe the impossibility and violence of recognition and speculatively suggest an entirely different relation to visibility. In relation to the backlash, too, they argue that we cannot do trans politics without an analysis of political economy, without an analysis of the history of racialization and the violence of liberalism, as well as of hetero and gender normativity.

An Excerpt from The Look of a Woman by Eric Plemons

The Look of a WomanIn The Look of a Woman: Facial Feminization Surgery and the Aims of Trans- Medicine, Eric Plemons explores the ways in which facial feminization surgery is changing the ways in which trans- women are not only perceived of as women, but in the ways it is altering the project of surgical sex reassignment and the understandings of what sex means. In this excerpt he describes attending the annual Celebrate! conference.

Celebrate! is an annual conference for cross-dressers and trans-women that has been held in the same rural town  since 1990. There are only a small handful of these conferences in the United States each year, and many people attended as many of them as they could. In addition to informative presentations, conferences were important places for folks to build community, to feel accepted and seen as they were.

Throughout the weekend as I attended workshops, talks, and social events, shopping excursions and fashion shows, I chatted with people about FFS and surgical interventions more generally. With the exception of Rene, who was attending her first trans-conference and was generally blown away by everything she saw, everyone I spoke with had an opinion about facial feminization surgery.

I met Molly before the “Cross-Dressing 101” workshop. When I asked her about FFS she responded quickly, “I like everything I’ve got, just how it is.” Molly was consistently recognized as male, but that didn’t bother her. Cross-dressing was an occasional practice that she really enjoyed, but she had no interest in transitioning or changing her body in any permanent way. She compromised with her wife about little changes: Molly shaved her chest and body hair during the winter months and let it grow out for the summer swimsuit season.

Just because people knew about FFS did not necessarily mean they were interested in undergoing the procedure. During the second night of the conference I joined the official evening event at a town bar hosting a locally famous cover band that specialized in pop songs from the 1980s and 1990s. Their big conference draw, though, was that all the band members were cross-dressers. The small bar was packed with an amiable mix of town
residents and conference attendees, making it a people-watching event for all tastes. In between beers and sweaty dances I struck up conversations with trans-women who were leaning against the wall or seated at the bar, watching the scene. “Yeah, sure, faces are a big deal,” Gina told me, shouting against the thrum of the music. “But the real tell is the hairline. You can have a beautiful face, but if you’re bald, no one is buying you as a woman.” I heard these kinds of rejoinders a lot. Another person told me the voice is the real key. What good is a pretty face with a baritone voice? Another said hands were most important. Another said shoulders. For these trans-women FFS might have been desirable, but facial surgery alone would not have made the difference between being recognized as women or not. For them that line was located somewhere else on the body. Even beautiful faces would not have been enough.

Sophia knew two people who had had FFS. She said “they really do look much more feminine” and that her friends considered FFS to be the most important thing they’d done in their entire lives. While she acknowledged the transformative power of ffs, there were two reasons she was not interested in it for herself. “I’m six foot three,” she said, “and there is nothing I can do about that.” Like the women I met at the bar, Sophia understood other characteristics of her body — in her case, her height — were more determinative of her perceived sex than was her face. Changing her face on top of her tall frame would have been ineffectual. “More important,” she said, “I have this.” She picked up the silver walker she used to help her get around. “Once people see the walker, they really don’t look at anything else about me.” Dressed in a skirt and blouse, wearing a shag-cut gray wig, and leaning against a walker, Sophia was recognized as a woman most of the time. In part, she explained, because people don’t look so closely at old women or disabled women. These characteristics of her body already deflected the scrutinizing and sexualizing gaze that subject many other women to viewers’ judgment. Other folks sharing our conversation considered Sophia’s walker to be an ingenious strategy. They joked that she had a great prop and that a walker was far cheaper than an operation. Sophia played along. “Oh yeah, I’ve got it all worked out,” she said with a smile.

Femininity is an ongoing achievement. For some people facial surgery was the first and most important thing to do in order to achieve the femininity they desired. For others it was learning to move differently, or returning over and over again for electrolysis to remove beard and chest hair, or finding an elusive strappy sandal in the right size. Some other challenge comes next for everyone and becomes the thing that is standing in the way of the embodiment they desire. This is the way of sex and gender.

For many folks at the conference the first necessary step in pursuing femininity was learning to see it. Ousterhout and Beck offered two among many forms of expertise on that subject as they explained to attendees what made their face masculine and what must be done in order to achieve the femininity they desired. The surgeons’ talks were well attended by hopeful viewers who wanted the characteristics of their face explained as plainly as the presenter for “Cross-Dressing 101” had explained how to hold a handbag. And while some audience members listened intently, scribbled in their notebooks, and booked individual consultations for later in the day, other rooms at the conference were teeming with people whose future would not include FFS. Elese said she was too old. Mona was happy just as she was, thank you very much. Jackie couldn’t afford it. Shana just didn’t have the stomach for it. These folks wanted something else from medicine or wanted nothing at all.

Eric Plemons is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Arizona. Save 30% on The Look of a Woman now with coupon code E17LOOK.