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Above the Radar: Transtopia and the Rhetoric of History

Date and Time: 
Thursday, February 21, 2019. 06:00 PM - 08:00 PM
Meeting Location: 
Humanities Center Boardroom
Workshop: 
Feminist/Queer Colloquium
Meeting Description: 

This study borrows from Adrienne Rich’s thinking on the lesbian continuum as a way of situating gender/sexual variation beyond the social periphery. In particular, I develop the theoretical concept of transtopia as a universal outlook that expounds the malleability and plurality of gender formations in an age of global cross-referencing.  To do so, I advance a series of “methods” that challenge the limited view of transgenderism as a minority phenomenon, namely, the approaches of globalizing, titrating, inscribing, and creolizing transgender.  By surveying a range of sources—from the archive of sexology to the press coverage of transsexual and intersexed celebrities, and from films about castration to the legal and literary transformations of queer intimacy—I also seek to make an important contribution to the theory of history. Transtopian historical thinking scrutinizes the relationship between transgender existence and the various rhetorical “forms” that history assumes. My central argument is that trans subjects cannot be presupposed to exist in historical reality for recuperative purposes, but transgender expressions and politics should be more accurately conceptualized on the basis of a continuum model. A related ambition is to think about the production of transness from the historical vantage point of multiple sites without resorting to an area studies approach whereby Sinophone (Chinese-language) case studies merely serve to either illustrate or debunk Western theoretical models of queerness. Expanding from a central focus on how the politics of marginal bodies has intersected with the entrenched rise of global China, Above the Radar proposes radical ways to redress the often-missed encounter between queer theory and the writing of transnational history.

Born in Taiwan and raised in Canada, Professor Howard Chiang joined the faculty of UC Davis in 2017. His first research monograph, After Eunuchs: Science, Medicine, and the Transformation of Sex in Modern China, was published by Columbia University Press in 2018. It analyzes the history of sex change in China from the demise of castration in the late Qing era to the emergence of transsexuality in Cold War Taiwan. He is currently completing a second book under contract with Columbia University Press, tentatively titled Above the Radar: Transtopia and the Rhetoric of History. He has also begun working on a new project on the history of psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and mental health in transpacific Chinese culture. Prior to coming to UC Davis, he taught at the University of Warwick in England and the University of Waterloo in Canada.

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