Graduate Spotlight- Dana Ahern

March 23, 2019

 Imperial Knowledges: Bounding the (Trans)itory Body

Time becomes something very confusing when transitioning/transitioned.  Many transgender people disconnect themselves from their past, seeing their lives as having begun at the moment of starting the transition.  Others leave behind a past reluctantly, encountering an increasing number of people who will only have known them post-transition.  Still others try to hold on to a past or reject the notion of a before or after. These scenarios of course beg the question of when a transition itself starts, or what transition entails at all.

The project tracks the development and movement of transgender knowledge and bodies, looking for the origin points of transgender medicine and research and examines the histories and presences of colonialism and imperialism required to make transgender medicine possible.  I trace the various transgender knowledges/experiences/bodies that get racialized and examine them alongside the knowledges/experiences/bodies that become whitewashed, asking how does this racialization and whitewashing interact, or rather play out, in the liberal systems in which openly transgender bodies are most commonly found – universities, medicine, and human rights.  The project traces the development and subsequent migration back and forth of knowledge, bodies, laws, and violence.

The methodologies of this project can be articulated much as its own kind of transgender experience, using the logics of trans-ness as a way through which to push against logics of linearity.  Lisa Lowe describes a past conditional temporality, the ‘what could have been,’ which she describes as “a space of productive attention to the scene of loss” and she argues for the necessity of this past conditional temporality “in order to reckon with the violence of affirmation and forgetting” [1] as she examines a genealogy of liberalism and its violence.  Lowe’s work is taken up by Neda Atanasoski and Kalindi Vora in their work with postsocialism stating, “Postsocialism marks a queer temporality, one that does not reproduce its social order even as its revolutionary antithesis.  Resisting the revolutionary teleology of what was before, postsocialism creates space to work through ongoing legacies of socialisms in the present.” [2] I connect these ideas to consider “the transition” as it is situated by transgender studies, transgender medicine, and transgender human rights projects, as both a kind of past conditional temporality, as well as a postsocialist condition.

[1] Lowe, Lisa. The intimacies of four continents. Duke University Press, 2015: 40-41.

[2] Atanasoski, Neda, and Kalindi Vora. "Postsocialist politics and the ends of revolution." Social Identities 24, no. 2 (2018): 141.