An Interview with Susan Stryker
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
BY GRACE LAVERY
Grace Lavery (GL): Thanks so much for agreeing to this exchange about the “transamorous” controversy. I see my role here as facilitating the dialog, since I wasn't part of the team that made the judgments regarding the trans porn issue, and thus can't speak on behalf of the journal regarding this matter, nor can I speak on behalf of those who took the time to communicate the ways in which the "transamorous" piece hurt them, since I wasn't part of those conversations either, and my own immediate responses came from a somewhat different place.
I think the first question would be for you to walk us through how this piece came to be published. The man identified as "Geoffrey T. Nicholson" mentions having been approached by the editors—this, I take it, was the issue editors, rather than you and Frank. Nonetheless, from the journal's perspective it's a bit unusual to include confessional writing of this kind. Was there any question of asking Sophie Pezzutto and Lynn Comella to rethink?
Susan Stryker (SS): Thanks, Grace, for facilitating this exchange. Although I felt blindsided by the intensity of the "transamorous" controversy, I really appreciate the opportunity it gives me personally, the journal, and the field of trans studies to examine some of the submerged tensions and differences that rarely if ever get addressed in an open way. That the controversy happened at a moment when TSQ had just announced its change of editorial structure on social media, including me stepping away from actively editing any given issue and taking a more administrative role as part of my long-planned phased retirement, actually feels fortuitous. Same with the timing of launching an expanded version of the journal’s companion website, which has been in the works for over a year, so that we could respond to relevant events in the field more quickly and at greater length than would be possible in print alone. I hope the controversy and how the journal responds to it can serve as a "teachable moment" for how things can move forward differently from this point.
I first want to acknowledge that I understand how being "porno-fied" can feel violative, or how having one's whole personhood perceived through the lens of someone else's fetish or kink can feel reductive, objectifying, and dehumanizing. As I trans woman I've experienced those feelings myself, and feel angry whenever I experience non-consensual eroticization or have to fend off the occasional stalker or overzealous fan. As a member of the TSQ editorial team, I want to reaffirm, personally, the short statement we all issued the day after the controversy broke, that I deeply regret any offense taken. I’m not dismissive of those feelings. But I also want to acknowledge that I didn't personally feel any discomfort with the "transamorous" article, and am unwilling on principle to act as if there is only one true, correct, acceptable way to feel about this topic—or, frankly, any other similarly controversial or potentially divisive topic that we might want to address within the field, and among ourselves. I want to sit with how such profound discrepancies in response have come to be. Some of this has to do, I think, with differences in personal experience, and some with a sense of how the field is constituted—what it does and who it imagines as its participants and its audience. Those issues are worth delving into.
GL: So, before we explore those other questions, how did the trans porn issue come about, and how did Nicholson’s “transamorous” piece come to be included?
SS: I'd always wanted to do a porn issue. I have long felt that there are four main topics that have not been adequately address in trans studies: prisons/abolitionism, HIV/AIDS, pornography, and sex-work. These are all deeply salient socio-political conditions under which trans-knowledges have been and are being produced, and yet they've remained largely unexamined, for reasons having to do, I think, with class and race and educational access, by respectability politics and professionalization. I also think they represent something of an unconscious for the field, topics that are typically disavowed or abjected in the formation of a conscious trans-identified self that seeks social recognition and legitimation. Of course, there are activist writings and various kinds of disciplinary or applied research and scholarship or policy formulations that engage with these topics, but they haven't been the focus of interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary cultural studies approaches that, for me, are central to how I think of "trans studies" as a power/knowledge formation (rather than studies of trans people from the perspective of a particular disciplinary field or profession). When founding co-editor Paisley Currah was ready to rotate out of TSQ's co-editorship a couple of years ago, and Frank Galarte moved from the editorial advisory board and fashion editor roles into the co-editorship, Frank and I discussed the topics we'd like to see addressed in upcoming special issues, given that, at that particular moment, we didn't have any proposals for guest-edited issues on special topics. Frank was amenable to my suggestion to do trans porn and HIV/AIDS issues in volume-year seven, calendar year 2020. I took the lead co-editorial role for steering the porn issue into print.
GL: Ah, okay.
SS: Since the journal's inception, our practice has been to cultivate a guest-editorial structure that broadens the perspective of published work in an effort to keep the journal from becoming too clubby, and to broaden the range of people involved in the field. Of the 24 issues that have been published or are now at press, 18 have had guest editors. Our practice has also been, whenever possible, to pair more experienced or senior scholars with emerging or younger scholars, to offer mentorship and intergenerational connections, and thereby use the guest-editorial structure as part of field-building. We also operate under the assumption that the guest editors are the experts on their particular trans-related topic. The in-house co-editors have allowed the guest editors great latitude in how they conduct the peer review process—drawing on the in-house database of reviewers and members of the editorial advisory board as well as reaching out to their own networks—and in how they select work and frame and structure their issue. All of these long-standing practices informed the guest-editorship of the trans porn issue.
GL: How did the guest-editorship take shape?
SS: I had been in correspondence for some time with Sophie Pezzutto, a trans woman and doctoral student in anthropology at Australian National University, who was writing her dissertation on the commercial trans porn industry. She was coming to the US on a prestigious research fellowship to do ethnographic fieldwork in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and her academic supervisor was Lynn Comella, a noted feminist porn studies scholar at UNLV connected with the peer-reviewed academic journal Porn Studies. They seemed to me the perfect match for TSQ’s proposed porn issue, and both were amenable to editing it, so off we went.
GL: What did the issue look like after the CFP closed?
SS: I was disappointed that the response to the trans porn CFP was the lowest of any issue of TSQ to date. (I think this has something to do with what I referred to earlier as the taboo nature of some topics for the field—it seems there are some things many of us simply don't want to talk about). There were only a handful of articles submitted, not all of them publishable. So, my instructions to Sophie and Lynn were to do what editors typically do when they are short on word-count for a special-topic journal issue: send the best of what came in over the transom out for peer review (we do double-blind review by two outside readers); solicit work from colleagues whom you know to have something relevant to say and send that through peer review, too (solicited work sometimes goes through an abbreviated in-house review process given that subject-area experts have already deemed its scholarship to be sound); write a robust “literature review”-style introduction to the issue; curate a roundtable of leading scholars discussing the special topic; include relevant works of fiction, poetry, or visual art; and seek supplemental non-peer-reviewed opinion pieces, policy statements, manifestoes, and first-person essays. This is pretty standard practice for interdisciplinary cultural studies journals, which often include contextualizing materials other than peer reviewed articles that are somehow relevant to the conversation or topic being addressed. I would disagree with your statement that “from the journal’s perspective it's a bit unusual to include confessional writing of this kind.” From my experience editing this journal, and having edited numerous special issues of other journals, this feels routine (though calling it “confessional” makes it sound a little tabloid).
GL: Ah, I see—that’s a helpful point of context. So, the Nicholson piece was solicited during this leg of the issue’s production?
SS: Yes. Nicholson’s short, first-person "transamourous" essay was one such non-peer-reviewed item that originated in the personal networks of the two guest-editors. As with the similar statements from porn-industry workers who are not academic experts on porn but have some relevant personal experience with the topic, the authorship was anonymized to protect privacy. We’ve heard some feedback from our readership that the article should have been better flagged as non-peer-reviewed, and not “scholarship,” given that it’s listed in the Table of Contents as an “article” rather than something else. I see how that could cause confusion, or lead to a concern that TSQ is not academically rigorous. There’s merit to that concern. Frankly, this is the first time this issue has come up. The journal’s format has been divided into editorial introductions (from in-house co-editors and the guest editors), “articles,” comprising the featured content for that issue, and “recurring content,” that is, the book reviews, arts and culture commentary, translations, etc., all of which have their own section editors. Sometimes, the editors create special sections to highlight a certain kind of contribution—for example, a “policy statement,” as when the “Making Transgender Count” issue had a brief report from someone working in IT about how their university dealt with requests for name and gender markers on student records. But in reviewing what has been included in “articles” over the past seven years, that section has included many types of content, not just original peer-reviewed research articles--for example, the prison letters of CeCe MacDonald. Moving forward, I think the journal can easily flag which kind of content is which in each section, to better avoid this sort of misunderstanding and confusion in the future.
GL: And what were your impressions when you first read it?
SS: When I, as the in-house editor liaising with the guest editor, reviewed the draft manuscript, I considered the inclusion of the “transamorous” piece to be appropriate for a couple of reasons. Maybe a better way of saying that is that I simply didn’t think to question its appropriateness to begin with.
First, we don't second-guess our guest editors and impose a "house style" of trans studies on their vision for the issue: we don’t stipulate a pronoun policy; we don’t mandate a preference with regard to using trans, trans-, trans*, transgender, transsexual, gender-nonconforming, nonbinary or what have you; we don’t have a policy on dead names and citational practices; and we don’t say “this is trans studies, and that isn’t” (I can recall only two instances, one research article and one book review, in which the in-house editors asked the guest editors to work with an author to strengthen an accepted piece of work’s engagement with existing trans studies literature). To a remarkable degree, the objects and methods and tacit rules of the field itself are really contested, and perpetually up for grabs. TSQ has always imagined itself as more as a platform for different takes and topics than as a disciplinary apparatus.
Second, I think of porn studies as a subfield not just of sexuality or gender studies, but of media studies—it revolves around questions of representations and their production, distribution, and reception—and saw the "transamorous" essay as a primary source for trans studies and porn studies scholars curious about questions of reception and consumption. There is precious little information on trans porn audiences, so the first-person report seemed intrinsically valuable.
Third, I am quite loath to stifle or censor content, particularly on questions of sexuality, even more especially with regard to porn, given the long history of anti-porn rhetoric and the often quite reactionary ends to which calls for censorship have been harnessed. My tendency is to err on the side of publishing rather than not publishing. I would rather see something being put out there, and dissected and rebutted and contested, than simply saying "this can't be said, or should be unsaid."
GL: Could you say more about how you think about this question through the lens of trans studies?
SS: Part of my personal motivation for working towards something called "trans studies," whatever that is, over the past few decades has been to cultivate different arrangements of power-knowledge in which we who are trans can speak, act, and know differently, among ourselves and in conversation and collaboration with others, and thereby contest frames of reference that objectify and diminish us. Those contested frames include, among others, psycho-medical pathologization, religious or cultural traditions that reject or stigmatize us, transphobic versions of feminism and ciscentric versions of queerness, as well as demeaning forms of sexualization. It’s been more about discursive intervention and a proliferation of new speech than a policing of utterances. Wittgenstein’s language games, Austin’s performatives, Searle’s speech act theory were all near at hand in my early thoughts about “trans studies.”
As I mentioned in “(De)Subjugated Knowledges,” my introduction to The Transgender Studies Reader, before the early 1990s trans people typically had not been in a speaking position in most discourses about trans phenomena. We were objects of knowledge, not subjects of knowledge. When we spoke, we were reduced to reporting our experience as data, or to strategically narrating our lives according to a script somebody else wrote. I saw the disruption of existing discursive arrangements as a performative utterance that recast the relationships between speakers, audiences, and objects of knowledge. In a sense, I saw “we who are trans” (and that’s a very messy “we”) turning to others (whomever those others might be), to launch new conversations about the conditions within which transness exists. I did not see it as an identitarian move—that only those of us who are trans have a right to speak about transness—but rather as a desubjugation of discredited ways of knowing about trans that could, with a new set of interlocutors, contest our subjugation by externally imposed tropes, discourses, and narratives. “We” are in dialog with others who approach us from a position of mutuality, about whatever we all think is pertinent to talk about, including returning the gaze, so to speak, to interrogate those who seek to render us as their object. Out of this essentially political intervention into existing discourses, trans studies has developed innovative methods of analysis that make it not merely political, but rather something that has salience for a broad range of academic inquiries. It’s a field.
GL: And how do you see this dynamic connecting to the piece?
SS: I saw Nicholson’s short first-person "transamorous piece" in that light, as providing a piece of information for a conversation about trans porn among the "messy we" of the journal's audience, rather than the inclusion of a perspective that was inappropriate due to its non-scholarly nature, or its exploration of a desire that some trans people find objectionable or harmful. Arguably, if we want to understand how trans lives get porno-fied, asking somebody who consumes trans porn why they do so has some bearing on the topic under scholarly discussion.
I know that some people have cast me in the role of a "bad trans" for not rejecting the piece. While I resist this over-personalization my role in the journal and the field, I don't want to dodge personal responsibility. I'm responsible for my own actions regarding this particular and issue and acknowledge their consequences. I see that offense has been taken, and regret that, because it was not intended; I apologize to those who experienced the inclusion of the essay as harmful and recognize those feelings as legitimate, without disavowing the decisions I made or the reasons for making them, which I feel are also legitimate. Airing the roots of that difference, perhaps coming to a different understand or developing a different way of negotiating differences within the field, feels to me like it would be productive. I'm down for that conversation.
But I also want to acknowledge that I am more than happy to step out of the way and watch the conversation go on without me. It’s sometimes hard to be part of a conversation when part of the conversation is about one’s own role in helping frame the conversation that the conversation is about, when one has become less of a speaker and more of a spoken-about, one whose words can weighted differently than those spoken by others. I'm increasingly aware of generational differences in the experience of being trans, as well as in understandings of the field of trans studies, and increasingly feel that it's better for me take a back seat, or not be in the room at all. That’s a big part of my decision to shift into a different role with TSQ, to stick around for a while as an old hand on deck to help smooth the transition, while handing more editorial responsibilities over to people twenty or more years younger than me.
GL: Turning back to the question of "transamory." In a sense, we're neither of us especially well qualified to think or talk about this topic. I know you have some thoughts about that, and I myself am too far into psychoanalysis to see much of a difference between desire and misrecognition. That is, I have never experienced someone being attracted to me as anything validating or affirming, except in a theatrical sense. But clearly there are pressing political questions around this topic: centrally, the question of "transamory" as a vector of sexual violence against trans women, particularly sex workers and women of color, and the marginalization and isolation of straight trans women within queer and trans social spaces. I'm thinking here of Diana Tourjée's journalistic writing. There is also a sense in which the transamorous gaze mimics and reproduces racializing logics of fetishism and exceptionalism. Quite aside from this article, or this journal, how do you think about transamory? Why is it, do you think, that the article didn’t trip your trigger?
SS: Some of it has to do with the rather bloodless reasons I outlined above, about understanding transamorousness as a topic that “we” who do trans studies can explore, and understanding the essay in question as a statement on that topic. But at a more personal level, this controversy has led me to reflect on how I simply haven't felt particularly traumatized by the porno-fication of transness, and thus haven't foregrounded in my own awareness that other trans folks may have had really different experiences, for all the reasons you just mentioned—the reproduction of racialized logics of fetishization, a vector of sexualized violence, the ways straight trans women can feel marginalized by it. As a trans dyke, my own erotic and affectional life, my relationships with partners and lovers, takes place almost entirely outside the “transamory” discourse.
To be even more confessional, I've never been that into porn, and don't pay a lot of attention to it. I know it's important as a source of employment for a lot of trans people, that it is important for the larger cultural perception of trans people, that it's an important venue for many trans people to fantasize, either through identification or disidentification, in the process of forming their own trans sense of self. I think it’s a topic that needs to be better understood. But I can only think of two or three times in my sixty laps around the sun that I've seen or read something sexually explicit or pornographic that made me hot. It's just not how my own erotic life is strung, I'm more tactile than visual, and rarely encounter a scripted scenario that resonates with my own desires. Maybe my lack of being tuned in to the potential experience of harm has something to do with a lack of feeling deeply implicated in porn, that it's more of an intellectual or political interest than one of actual desire.
I'm also personally very comfortable with kink, fetish, BDSM, and other stigmatized subcultural forms of sexuality. Between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s I was quite active in the San Francisco Bay Area leather community, and it was a formative experience for me, every bit as much as being at Berkeley as a grad student in the years that spanned Foucault’s death and Butler’s arrival. It's the scene I came out into as a trans person. I've written about this in "Dungeon Intimacies: The Poetics of Transsexual Sadomasochism," where I embrace what Shannon Bell has called "pornosophy," that is, an insistence on the epistemic parity of the philosopher, the scientist, and the whore, and a refusal to disavow what carnality can teach us. I've worked retail in a fetish gear shop, written erotic fiction in queer zines, done sexually explicit spoken-word in subcultural performance spaces, and even appeared in a non-sexual role in a trans porn film. I had a very short stint working as a pro-dom/femme top in a private commercial dungeon, which was an important step in my decision to transition publicly; I wanted to know—if I lost my family, career, home and other employment prospects—could I support myself through sex-work if that's what it came down to? Yes, I found out, I could. When I read the "transamorous" essay, it reminded me of some of the guys I met while doing the pro-dom work. Clients run the gamut between creepy and fun, and I always I appreciated those moments with the non-creepy ones when I could glean something about what made them tick and brought them to their encounter with me.
I was privileged in that it turned out I also had other ways of making a living than sex-work, and I successfully pursued those other avenues. Although this has become less true for me over time, as I’ve moved out of the precariat and through the ranks of the professoriat, I’ve often said that being a “girl who lived by her wits” by hitting the college lecture circuit to cobble together bits of income was just another way of doing the one job most trans women are allowed to do: figuring out how to get other people to pay them for being a trans woman.
GL: How has your work from that era shaped your thoughts on the persistence of pornification today?
SS: I know that one of my best-known works is "My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix." That article does a lot of things, but one of them is to enact my own sense of what it feels like to have been abjected-as-trans and to return to the socio-symbolic register with an empowering sense of monstrous difference that bears a transformative power. My own deepest sense of what to do with the nasty shit that can get pointed at us as trans people is to receive it and redirect the force that shoots it our way, to turn it in a new direction, back into the world. I think because I worked through my own feelings about abjection decades ago, and came up with some effective strategies for moving into and out of those feelings and directing the intended negativity toward other uses, that it’s easy for me to forget how horrible it can feel when something unasked for sticks to you. My Teflon is pretty thick. This is one of those realizations that leads me to want to step back from my hand-on editorial role at TSQ. I joke about being a “granny tranny,” but it’s true; I achieved détente with others’ potential porno-fication of me literally before some of the people who have taken offense to the “transamory” essay were born, or decades before they transitioned. My perspective is not the most timely or relevant.
All of which is to say that I see in retrospect how "transamory" is more charged for others than it is for me. I'm perfectly willing to acknowledge my misstep in not being more attentive to that.
GL: I’d like to turn the conversation in another direction. The transamory controversy erupted on the TransPhD Network Facebook Group. There are members in that group who are trans people with Ph.Ds (or seeking them, or are at least involved somehow with scholarship and academe), but who do not necessarily do “trans studies,” imagined as an interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary field similar to queer studies, critical race studies, disability studies, cultural studies, etc. One of the themes of the criticism TSQ was receiving was that there is a problem with a journal like TSQ publishing a piece like this when it often declines to publish work by emerging trans scholars. Some of that criticism seems inevitable - speaking for myself, I bear a grudge against every journal that has ever rejected me! - but I suppose another part of it speaks to the circumstances I’ve just alluded to. Emerging trans scholars from fields other than "trans studies" - whatever that is - contest some of the basic premises of the method that you and I have learned how to use - that mixture of cultural history, textual analysis, continental philosophy, Marxism, psychoanalysis, poststructuralism. Many of these emerging scholars work in disciplines where those methods aren't taught, or aren't even respected - like legal studies, public health, and even philosophy proper - I'm thinking now of philosophers like Ray Briggs and Rachel McKinnon. So, what is the journal's responsibility towards work on trans-related themes, by trans scholars, emerging from these other disciplines? I ask this partly as a practical question, as a new editor. I realized the other day that the list of reviewers we need to assemble is probably the largest and broadest of any journal I can think of.
SS: I think you’ve hit at least one of the nails squarely on its head. I see big differences between people who think of “trans studies” as primarily a social-scientific field—that there are trans people and we study them from our various social-scientific disciplines—versus people who think of “trans” as more of a methodology, rubric, heuristic or what have you, through which we interrogate the world. I see this distinction as akin to the distinction between LGBT Studies and queer theory, women’s studies or gender studies and feminist theory, ethnic studies and critical race theory, disability studies and crip theory. One approach is not necessarily better than another, but they do have different objects and methods.
Another pitfall for “trans studies” is inherent to organizing a field of study around an identitarian label. On the one hand, doing so acknowledges the “theory in the flesh” that we derive from the experience of living through particular historically/culturally/linguistically available categories of personhood, and attends to the fraught biopolitical nexus in which the cultivation of our subjectivities is part of absorbing or excluding us from a given population and territory, a site where some forms of agency exist within constraint. On the other hand, doing so tends to imagine, or at least fails to contravene, a falsely homogeneous sense of the identitarian subject. I know you’ve recently written on what you consider to be the implicit transphobia of Sedgewick’s queer theory, but I’ve always appreciated Sedgewick’s fundamental axiom: people are different from one another. Nowhere is this more important to keep in mind than when “we” who are irreducibly different all answer to the same label, or struggle over whether that label actually names us or has been foisted upon us, or whether another label would be better, or no label at all; this is the paradigmatic problematic of Sedwick’s “nonce taxonomy.”
Many trans people understandably are desperately hungry for affirmative representations of themselves, and I think many trans academics want TSQ to be a place where they can see themselves reflected back. I think inclusion of the transamory piece caused offense to people who not only didn’t want a “chaser” in what they considered to be “their” space, but who thought including the piece diminished their own credibility, in their own professional worlds, by diminishing “trans studies” according to their own definition of what the journal is for, or what the field does. To the extent that some of TSQ’s audience imagines it as a place for identitarian investment as much as for publication of work relevant to trans studies, I think they felt that their personal identities had been besmirched. They wanted to see something that reflected trans in a positive light, and instead saw something they found objectionable in its place.
From my perspective, TSQ has always deliberately presented itself as an interdisciplinary cultural studies journal. While it has explicitly encouraged work drawn from many disciplines (mostly non-quantitative social sciences, humanities, arts, and some life-sciences), it has also explicitly excluded work that doesn’t interrogate its own disciplinary boundaries. It has deliberately refused to foreclose the question of the field’s proper object, as reflected in the shimmering vacillation between the T in TSQ and the explicit “transgender” in the journal’s subtitle, as well as the inclusion of the asterisk—the symbol for “everything” in a Boolean search algorithm—in the journal’s logo. TSQ has been more interested in work that asks how transess means and manifests than in work that assumes it already knows what transness is. It simply can’t be all things to all people who want to feel included or represented there.
All of these positions are of course completely contestable. TSQ could have been something else, and could well be something else in the future. But what it is, it is deliberately. As the new editorship settles into place, as the audience demographic changes, as the socio-political and economic circumstances of being trans shift, as academe and the institutions of higher education become whatever they become in the world-historical moment of COVID-19 and its presumably long afterlives, TSQ will undoubtedly undergo its own transformations. But that is a race for a different runner; I consider the baton to have been passed.
GL: Finally, I wonder how you see TSQ in relation to the cycles of controversy, counter-controversy, and factionalism that so often structure trans discourse online. Clearly, we don't want to reproduce it, but nor can we entirely quell it (nor would we want to). But I suppose recently we've been moving towards a scholarly model that is more in line with the hot take factory of Twitter, at least with regard to this new companion website. I know that the print journal received a lot of responses to Andrea Long Chu and Emmett Harsin Drager’s “After Trans Studies,” some of which will be published in a special section of TSQ 7.3 (third quarter of 2020), some of them quite polemical—as polemical as Chu and Dreger’s critique of the field. Looking ahead to TSQ 7.4 (fourth quarter of 2020), the HIV/AIDS issue guest edited by Eva Hayward and Che Gossett, there’s a different polemic at work, one emerging from a tradition of black radical critique rather than from white twitter, that similarly challenges some of the operative assumptions of trans studies. How best to address these increasingly deep and complicated questions about the field and its formation, without simply fighting unproductively with each other? How do we address the kinds of trans knowledge emerging in the interstice - writers like Kay Gabriel, say, or much of Jules Gill-Peterson's online work - that seems to occupy a role between activist/community twitter and the academy, in that it's mostly (I assume) legible to grad students and academic workers, but eschews traditional academic organs of publication. It seems to me to be a strength of "trans discourses" that it exists in so many registers. But how should we think about TSQ in relation to "public” trans discourse?
SS: I was quite disheartened by the online response to TSQ’s porn issue, which all focused on one three-page-long essay that some people found objectionable. Whatever merit those objections have, however legitimate the critique, there was no discussion or argument, no benefit-of-the-doubt probing into how the piece came to be published, just an immediate take-down.
I have very little patience with the hair-trigger outrage, the call-out culture, the horizontal hostilities and finely cultivated snark that seems so characteristic of online culture, trans or otherwise. Social media is less a place to have nuanced conversations than it is to avoid nicking your ankle and leaving a trace of blood in the water. Once a feeding frenzy starts it attracts more negativity and easily spirals into something far larger than the inciting incident. People who might feel differently than those who were first to pile on are often unwilling to chime in to rebut or reframe the conversation, because they fear they’ll be attacked themselves for being on the wrong side of the issue, which then creates the false impression that there is no range of opinion. I myself have demurred when called upon, from time to time, to weigh in on some controversy du jour—deciding that the potential personal downside of wading into a contretemps far outweighed whatever positive contribution I might make, and just kept my mouth shut in public. Since the TSQ porn issue was published, I’ve certainly received private messages from people expressing their sympathy and solidarity with me personally, the topic, the issue, or the journal, who haven’t expressed those sentiments more openly. And I totally understand why.
I really think we who do trans studies owe ourselves a better way of airing differences, from a place of mutual respect and scholarly engagement. Perhaps the new TSQ-affiliated website can point toward that better way. I have my doubts about how possible that will be, even while I hope it will add something positive. I think of blogs and websites with curated content as something of a middle ground between the slow formality of print publication and the shoot-first-ask-questions-later sensibility of Twitter, so my fingers are crossed for TSQ’s expanded online presence to split some of those differences. There seems to be so much to say and we need more space to say it, and we need a quicker response to a rapidly changing world than is afforded by the typical time-lag of 18 months between submitting manuscript to the press and putting the published issue in the readers’ hands.
I feel really bad for Lynn and Sophie, especially Sophie as an ABD doctoral researcher and young trans woman just starting out in her academic career. The controversy over the transamory article essentially implies that she thinks about trans wrong, and is maybe not the right kind of trans herself. That’s gotta hurt, and is gonna leave a mark. I know Lynn and Sophie both worked really hard to fill the issue with quality content, and I was quite pleased with the results. I think the issue makes solid contributions to both trans studies and porn studies, both in the guest-editors’ introduction and in the content; I think the first-person statements have value. And now both Lynn and Sophie are reluctant to publicize the issue, which is a shame. I know some of the contributors feel bad that now their own work is tarred by association, and will find less of an audience. And I think that’s unfortunate. I hope that TSQ’s really robust online response to the controversy will allow some of those who took offense, or who avoided the issue out of fear of controversy, to take a second look—or a first one.
I wish you and the other co-editors well as you navigate these shoals. I hope the silver lining of the “transamory” controversy can be an ultimately refreshing clearing of the air that will benefit the field, as well as a chance to model what socially engaged scholarship that is responsive to its constituencies and the broader public can look like, both in print and online.