Because Trans People Are Speaking: Notes on Our Field’s First Special Issue on Transgender Rhetorics

While there have been a good many special issues around trans topics in other fields—and while the flagship journal, Transgender Studies Quarterly is nearly ten years old now—for K.J. and I, two1 trans scholars in rhetoric and composition, this special issue (the first of its kind in our field) feels like a long time coming. To observe that this special issue, which exclusively focuses on trans topics, is “new” doesn’t quite get at the importance of this moment. This is, quite simply, for many of the contributors included here, the issue we needed as graduate students—and, if we’re being honest—perhaps, even now, as faculty.

There have, of course, been several notable special issues and edited collections in rhetoric and composition on LGBT topics. We value these collections for the conversations they have opened up in our field. And yet, as Patterson and Spencer observe in this issue, there’s something deflating when it comes to searching for transness in such collections only to find that the “T” is more often than not silent. You begin to wonder if there’s anyone out there like you—or if you’ll only ever be the only gender-expansive scholar (or educator)  in your orbit. You wonder if our field’s journals will ever acknowledge the trans-specific research, writing, teaching, and professional experiences you encounter. You wonder how much of the professional advice espoused in such academic literature actually applies to you.

This isn’t, of course, to say that trans people are monolithic, nor is it to say that some of us haven’t benefited from LGBQ scholarship written by our cisgender colleagues (no doubt, we have)—but there is something important, something necessary, about centering trans-specific inquiries, concerns, and experiences. Though this inaugural special issue on trans rhetorics is just the beginning of the conversations that need to happen in our field, we nevertheless hope our readers experience even a fraction of the life-affirming joy we feel in bringing scholarly voices together around this topic. For our fellow trans and gender-expansive students and colleagues, we hope this issue provides a moment of feeling seen and valued within our field—which, as Hsu, Maier, Cedillo, and Yergeau rightly point out in this issue, regularly fails to consider “the multidimensionality of trans experience,” even as it attempts at trans inclusion

Setting our enthusiasm aside for the moment, I devote the rest of our introduction to anticipating and answering the following questions that our readers are likely to ask:

  • how are we defining trans?
  • are the authors here exclusively trans?
  • what does trans have to do with rhetoric?
  • and why does this special issue belong in Peitho?

Trans, we posit, is a somewhat imperfect umbrella term to describe those who disidentify with the sex and/or gender designated to them at birth. As Rawson and Williams have elsewhere opined, the definition of trans, along with the people who do claim the term is—and perhaps always will be—an enduring process (6). To be crystal clear, however, we understand trans as an umbrella that welcomes those of many (and even multiple, and in some cases, no) genders. We honor our trans sisters and brothers, and all of our gender-expansive and gender-agnostic siblings. Our nonbinary, agender, bigender, pangender, genderqueer, and genderfluid kin are not only “valid” (as the many internet memes insist), their insights and rhetorical contributions are also valued and welcomed here. As LeMaster illustrates through their intervention in this issue, nonbinary scholars offer important lenses for interrogating “racist cisheterosexism.” Moreover, as Bey illustrates in their essay on the connections between blackness and nonbinariness, one may find possibility, invitation even, extended to “the marginalized and the outcast.”

It also feels important to add that trans is not a universally welcome term to describe all gender-expansive people. Indeed, as Presley echoes in this issue, we must be vigilant in rooting out a troubling colonial impulse to label people without their consent—or to erase other gender cosmologies under the rubric of transness. Nor should culturally-specific terminology, traditions, histories, and identities be appropriated (or used as a prop) “to dismantle gender oppression and the gender binary system” (Towle & Morgan, 471). All gender-expansive people ought (as we will expand upon later) to be granted the rhetorical agency to speak for themselves.

And here we pivot to the second question: Are all of the people featured in this special issue trans? In brief, no. This collection includes the work of cisgender authors, gender-questioning authors, trans authors—and, of course collaborations between them. That being said, our primary aim in editing this collection was (and is) to feature trans voices—particularly multiply-marginalized trans voices. We trust our readers not to interpret this aim as some shot across the bough at cisgender scholars, who also write on trans topics. We value our cisgender colleagues. At the same time, we echo Barsczewski’s insistence (in this issue) that while cis researchers can (and sometimes should) write about trans topics, they may want to “deeply consider whether they need to speak on trans experiences and to ask themselves why.” This point isn’t inconsequential. As it stands, the majority of published scholarship on trans experience has been published by cisgender academics (Galupo, 1).

In recent years, several trans scholars have published pieces lamenting the experience of being crowded out by their cisgender colleagues—who, however sincerely they may be committed to trans scholarship, simply cannot lay claim to the same embodied, emotional, and socio-political ties that trans scholars have to their communities (Benavente and Gill-Peterson 25; Chu and Drager 103-104; Malatino 407-408). For this reason, we invite our cisgender colleagues to join us as co-conspirators—crafting a scholarly ethos that not only resists monopolizing trans airwaves but that also actively seeks to signal boost trans voices, whenever their privilege affords them such opportunities (Patterson 149-150).

With this in mind, we pivot to the next question: what does trans have to do with rhetoric?

Perhaps the answer to this question seems obvious—but we think it’s worth stating explicitly. Some might say, for example, that trans becomes relevant to rhetoric at the level of argument. Indeed, there seems to be no shortage of arguments “about transness”: Are trans kids too young to assert their genders? Should trans people be allowed into gender-segregated spaces with “everyone else”? Should trans athletes be able to participate in competitive sports? Are nonbinary people just snowflakes trying to get attention with their made up genders? Isn’t it a bit ridiculous to talk about menstruation and pregnancy in gender neutral ways? What’s the harm, really, of gender reveal parties? Isn’t trans identity a sin? Aren’t trans people asking for trouble by misleading people about “who they really are”? Isn’t it a slur to be called cis—or to be called a TERF?

Such arguments abound. And sometimes, as trans colleagues sharing your hallways and departmental spaces, we find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of being called upon to act as informants. Not long ago, for example, I found myself in the inevitable position of being asked by a cisgender colleague and fellow rhetorician (who sidled into their office without so much as a by-your-leave): “I mean, you can see that there are both sides to this whole trans debate, right?”

So let’s be clear: trans identities are not up for “debate.”

Trans people are not topics to be trotted out into our classrooms for the purpose of practicing “the arts of persuasion” through sloppy pro/con arguments. Trans people are real human beings. As Hibbard and Bartels remind us in their contributions to this issue, trans people are our students, our fellow colleagues. Trans people are our neighbors, our partners, our friends and family members. And, as Jackson, DiCesare, Rawson, and McCormick also remind us in their contributions to this issue, trans people are rhetorical agents—moving through the world as activists, writers, educators, creatives, lawyers, workers, healthcare professionals, politicians, and community organizers. Trans people are crafting arguments that, quite frankly, need listened to, because cis culture’s profound lack of imagination about the ways gender is weaponized and racialized doesn’t just result in terrible arguments—it results in danger, precarity, and soul murder for gender-expansive people.

For us, what trans has to do with rhetoric hinges upon the simple fact that trans people are speaking. Full stop.

Finally, I close this essay by addressing what may (for some) seem like the elephant in the room: what are the connections between transness and feminism? Why does this special issue belong in Peitho?

There are several ways to answer this question. An optimist might answer that feminism is for everyone. For instance, it seems relevant to point out that, in 2016, the Coalition of Women Scholars in Rhetoric & Composition changed the name of their organization to the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in Rhetoric & Composition to highlight this very fact. And, indeed, addressing and redressing kyriarchal violence extends well beyond the experiences of white cishetero women. Trans-inclusive feminism, Stryker and Bettcher argue, can be charted all the way back to Combahee River Collective’s 1977 statement, which rejected biological determinism as the basis for politics (9).

It would be remiss, however, to ignore the fact that trans culture tends to harbor simultaneous feelings of affection and ambivalence toward feminism. Many of us, after all, have cut our teeth on the writings of feminist scholars, cis and trans, whose words lit up the night sky for us. On the other hand, it is also painfully true that some feminist academics still tend to over-rely on a cis-centric gender binary (Keegan, 10) and sometimes publish reductive narratives about trans people (Awkward-Rich, 825-827). And, in turn, some of these feminist publications are then used to justify policies meant to deny trans people access to housing, employment, medical care, legal documents, bathroom access—along with a host of other indignities. Such violences call to mind the now thoroughly memed question: if your feminism isn’t intersectional, then who’s it really for? But it also feels important to ask, if feminism is the robust organizing principle it presents itself to be, then why does this question need to be asked in the first place?

Our job here isn’t to resolve this issue for readers—nor is it to belabor the connections between our contributors’ scholarly insights and what (by some) may be regarded as the traditional concerns of feminist scholarship.

We are here to take up space. We are here because trans people are speaking—and we are indebted to our trans elders (those who are living and those who have walked on), whose radical insistence in taking up space and speaking anyway has made our lives possible.

Endnote

  1. I’d like to thank my co-editor, K.J. Rawson; my partner, the newly-minted Dr. Mandy Watts; and my friends-and-colleagues, Jen Wingard and Jo Hsu, for generously offering up feedback on this introduction. I’m lucky to have y’all in my world.

Works Cited

  • Alexander, Jonathan, Janell Haynes, and Jacqueline Rhodes, Eds. “Public/Sex: Connecting Sexuality and Service Learning.” [Special Issue] Reflections: A Journal of Public Rhetoric, Civic Writing, and Service-Learning, vol. 9, no. 2, 2010.
  • Alexander, Jonathan, and William Banks, Eds. “Sexualities, Technologies and the Teaching of Writing.” [Special Issue] Computers & Composition Online, vol. 21, no. 3, 2004, pp. 271-400.
  • Alexander, Jonathan, and Jacqueline Rhodes, Eds. Sexual Rhetorics: Methods, Identities, Publics. New York, Routledge, 2016.
  • Awkward-Rich, Cameron. “Trans, Feminism: Or, Reading like a Depressed Transsexual.Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 42, no. 4, 2017, pp. 819-839. University of Chicago Press, doi: 10.1086/690914.
  • Banks, William, Matthew Cox, and Caroline Dadas, Eds. Re/Orienting Writing Studies: Queer Methods, Queer Projects. Logan, Utah State UP, 2019.
  • Benavente, Gabby, and Gill-Peterson, Julian. “The Promise of Trans Critique: Susan Striker’s Queer Theory.GLQ, vol. 25, no. 1, 2019, pp. 23-28. Duke University Press, doi: 10.1215/10642684-7275222.
  • Chu, Andrea Long, and Emmett Harsin Drager. “After Trans Studies.TSQ, vol. 6, no. 1, 2019, pp. 103-116. Duke University Press, doi: 10.1215/23289252-7253524.
  • Combahee River Collective, “Combahee River Collective Statement.” Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology, edited by Barbara Smith. New York, Kitchen Table Press, 2000, pp. 264-274.
  • Galupo, M. Paz. “Researching while Cisgender: Identity Considerations for Transgender Research.International Journal of Transgenderism, vol. 18, no. 3, 2017, pp. 1-2. Research Gate, doi: 10.1080/15532739.2017.1342503.
  • Keegan, Cáel M. “Getting Disciplined: What’s Trans About Queer Studies Now?Journal of Homosexuality, vol. 67, no. 3, 2020, pp. 1-14. Taylor & Francis, doi: 10.1080/00918369.2018.1530885.
  • LeMaster, Benny, and Amber L. Johnson, Eds. “Unlearning gender—Toward a critical communication trans pedagogy.” [Special Issue] Communication Teacher, vol. 33, no. 3, 2019, pp. 189-198. Taylor and Francis Online, doi: 10.1080/17404622.2018.1467566.
  • Malatino, Hil. “Pedagogies of Becoming: Trans Inclusivity and the Crafting of Being.” TSQ, vol. 2, no. 3, 2015, pp. 395-410. Duke University Press, doi: 10.1215/23289252-2926387.
  • Mayberry, Maralee, and Lane Hansen, Eds. “Transgender Youth: Focusing on the “T” in LGBT Studies” [Special Issue]. Social Sciences, vol. 5, no. 4, 2016.
  • Morrison, Margaret, Ed. “Queer Rhetoric.” [Special Issue] Pre/Text, vol. 13, no. 3-4, 1992.
  • Nicolazzo, Z, Ed. “Introduction: what’s transgressive about trans* studies in education now?” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, vol. 30, no. 3, 2017, pp. 211-216. Taylor and Francis Online, doi: 10.1080/09518398.2016.1274063.
  • Patterson, G. “Entertaining a Healthy Cispicion of the Ally Industrial Complex in Transgender Studies.” Women & Language, vol. 41, no. 1, 2018, pp. 146-151.
  • Rawson, K.J., and Cristan Williams. “Transgender*: The Rhetorical Landscape of a Term.Present Tense, vol. 3, no. 2, 2014.
  • Spurlin, William J., Ed. “Lesbian and Gay Studies/Queer Pedagogies.” [Special Issue] College English, vol. 65, no. 1, 2002.
  • Stryker, Susan and Talia M. Bettcher. “Introduction Trans/Feminisms.” TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, vol. 3, no. 1-2, 2016, pp. 5-14. Duke University Press, doi: 10.1215/23289252-3334127.
  • Towle, Evan and Lynn Marie Morgan. “Romancing the Transgender Native: Rethinking the Use of the “Third Gender” Concept,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, vol. 8, no. 4, 2002, pp. 469-497.

Editor’s Welcome

It has been humbling to be the editor of one the few Rhetoric and Composition journals dedicated to feminist work, throughout the Trump administration and now during the global protests working to validate, celebrate, and at least ensure that Black Lives Matter in the U.S. Regardless of my personal scholarship and political commitments, I have viewed my editorial mission to expand the definition of feminist work in the field through the submissions and publications in Peitho.

At this moment, I am reflecting and asking myself: is that enough? Is the move toward inclusion of BIPOC authors and scholarship merely a mark of performative allyship rather than authentic allyship? And if it is, what else can I do as a journal editor to challenge that model, so that I am not implicitly gatekeeping and maintaining the status quo. Regardless of my vision for Peitho, it is still a journal that follows academic convention. And by its very inception, as we have seen in the brave accounts posted in #BlackinTheIvory, the academy is built on the principles of white supremacy. So no matter how much we try to open the gates, those gates always already belong to the power base.

Therefore in my final year as editor, I want to continue to question what it means to be a feminist in our field by asking all contributors to think about the following:

  1. How does your scholarship engage with or intervene in historical or current systems of oppression?
  2. Who are you citing? Are you citing feminists of color?
  3. How can we engage history, rhetoric, writing to work to dismantle systems of oppression that create vast inequalities in our field, our country, and the world?

I recognize these are big questions, but nevertheless they are important ones. And I believe it is the responsibility of all of us doing feminist scholarly work in our current political moment. Regardless if we look at historical figures and texts, or current political movements, we all need to be thinking about how our work can engage with the larger critiques being made across disciplines of
#[insertdisplinehere]sowhite.

In the upcoming journals, we are demonstrating how Peitho is working to shift the conversations around feminism and history in our field. In our current issue there is the new Recoveries and Reconsiderations section, which Wendy Sharer will discuss more in her introduction to the section. I am hopeful that this section is a space to begin conversations about the field’s history and how we can re-center our own historical narratives. Our next Summer Special Issue is devoted to Transgender Rhetorics and will be published on August 15th. KJ Rawson and GPat Paterson have put together an issue that will help us think through questions of gender, activism, and responsibility in important ways. And in our Fall 2020 issue we will have a special article cluster commemorating Rhetorical Listening, with an Introduction by Krista Ratcliff and a Response by Cheryl Glenn, all edited by Timothy Oleksiak.

Each of these sections and issues are sites where we can begin conversations on what it means to be a feminist, in composition and rhetoric and in the greater world. And it is my hope that these conversations will create spaces where we can continue to speak truth to power in Peitho, instead of merely gatekeep the conventions of the academy. We have a lot of work to do, and I intend to make space for that work in this journal during my last year as editor.

Stay Safe, Be Well, Keep Fighting.

Jen Wingard
Editor

Editor’s Welcome

Editor’s Welcome

Jen Wingard

All of this news is to say that as Peitho continues to grow, please continue to read and submit your work here. It is an exciting journal with a long history of feminist commitment and scholarly support in the field of rhetoric and composition. And it is certainly continuing to be a thriving place for intellectual work. 

Editor’s Welcome

This is why having a journal such as Peitho, that publishes work that looks to both the historical and the current moment as sites of feminist analysis, is so valuable. And this particular issue of Peithodoes this work. It moves the analyses between past and present with an eye toward how each time period is not static, but rather a conversation point in a larger feminist project. It is not enough to rely on the lessons from the past, which at times fall on deaf ears it seems. But we must put those lessons in conversation with the happenings of the present, so that we may learn how to create stronger arguments, analyze seemingly disparate happenings, and ultimately learn how to work together as accomplices[1]rather than mere allies.

[1]Martinez, Aja. “The Responsibility of Privilege: A Critical Race Counterstory Conversation.” Peitho 21.1 (Fall/Winter 2018): 212-33.

Editor’s Welcome

Changing the Landscape: Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies, Five Years Later

Editor’s Introduction

Peitho 20.1, our Fall/Winter 2017 issue, is being released during a fraught political and cultural moment. The work in this issue intends to assist us all in the struggle, by making us re-see how even foundational feminist work needs to be challenged during difficult times.

Tributes to Jan Swearingen (1948-2017)

Texas A & M Professor Carolyn Jan Swearingen would have been 69 on August 18, 2017. She died on June 1, 2017, after being diagnosed with a mean and aggressive form of cancer in early December 2016. A powerful classicist, stalwart feminist, loyal colleague, and loving friend, Jan is remembered by many of us who worked closely with her.

The following professional tributes could be ordered in a number of ways, but I’ve chosen to arrange them from the personal to the pedagogical to the professional. All of these tributes offer harmonious tones of mourning, celebration, and appreciation. The final tribute offers advice on how we might best continue to honor Jan’s intellectual legacy.—Cheryl Glenn

Editor’s Welcome

I want to welcome you to Peitho 19.2 Spring/Summer 2017. I feel that this issue presents an exceptional cross-section of current feminist scholarship, and demonstrates the varied scholarly foci engaging feminist rhetoricians today.