With my PhD in English Literature at Edinburgh University about to begin, I will be reading lots of stuff this year. Do not expect weekly reviews, I do not read quickly. But I will share with you anything interesting I do read, whether it’s a novel that’s in vogue, or something from my course that I think is worth knowing that broadened my horizon. I’ll be reading a lot of things about transgender discourse, but hopefully, a lot of things which aren’t, as well.
I include here the introduction to my chapter in the anthology Women and the Abuse of Power (Emerald Publishing, 2022). The anthology is the outcome of a conference I attended back in 2018, where my paper - very different to what it eventually became in this anthology - was one of several selected by the project's driving force and editor, Professor Helen Gavin of the University of Huddersfield. I will say that the timeline of this project (two years in the making, from when the project started properly in the autumn of 2019) and cost of the book (£65!) underscore the challenges and frustrations of working in academia: the difficulty of acting or responding quickly with a piece of work, in a way that's easy to disseminate to non-academic publics. Who buys books for £65? This is a shame, because the chapters in this book look amazing. Just as importantly, my chapter is on two brilliant trans artists, Travis Alabanza and Emma Frankland, whose performances have mesmerized me over recent years (Travis via their poetry readings and their play Burgerz, Emma through her plays Hearty and We Dig). How can trans people from a largely marginalized community access a £65 anthology to read about these amazing artists? Do I Youtube a reading of it? Is it illegal to make my chapter available online? So many questions, but in the meantime, here's the introduction to my chapter to give you a taste of what it's about:
Punk Mood, Junk Food: Portrayals of Transgender Apocalypse in the work of Travis Alabanza and Emma Frankland
The transgender figure is the siren of the apocalypse. So implies Slavoj Žižek and his cumulative analyses of the “moral vacuum ... of the apocalyptic times in which we live” (2011: 327), with the “ultimate difference, the ‘transcendental’ difference that grounds human identity itself” destabilized by the “sex-change operation” (2008: 28). It is a collapsing world similarly recognized by Camille Paglia with her warning of transgender identity as a harbinger of when “a civilization is starting to unravel” (2016: 4.20), and by JK Rowling who declares, ‘We’re living through the most misogynistic period I’ve experienced,’ a condition she claims to be encapsulated by the Presidency of Donald Trump, the Incel movement, and Trans Rights Activists (2020). Yet what of the transgender figure and how they view a crisis in gender? In the 2019 Edinburgh Festival, trans artists Emma Frankland and Travis Alabanza conveyed in their shows a transgender apocalypse from their distinct perspectives and experiences. Their respective productions Hearty and Burgerz, with their particular aesthetics and narratives, will be the focus of this chapter. Their siren calls via punk mood and junk food contribute to this essay’s refutation of the belief in the emergence of a transgender movement that destabilizes and damages society for the majority. The mode of cisgendered order apparently valorized and feared for by Žižek, Paglia, and Rowling, will be highlighted as more resilient than they credit it, and can in fact be viewed in its enduring hegemonic dominance as a significant cause of the violence enacted against transgender people in its many forms.