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Queering Paradigms IV

South-North Dialogues on Queer Epistemologies, Embodiments and Activisms

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Edited By Elizabeth Sara Lewis, Rodrigo Borba, Branca Falabella Fabrício and Diana de Souza Pinto

South-North Dialogues on Queer Epistemologies, Embodiments and Activisms is composed of research presented at the fourth international Queering Paradigms Conference (QP4), held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In line with the QP project ethos of bringing together diverse epistemological and geographical allegiances, this volume intends to contribute to building a queer postcolonial critique of the current politics of queer activism and of queer knowledge production and circulation. However, rather than perpetuating the North-South dichotomy, the papers gathered here are an effort to establish global dialogues that crisscross those axes, as well as attempts at queering epistemologies, socio-political bonds, and bodies, embodiments and identities. They endeavour to trouble unequal geographies of knowledge – namely the North as an exporter of theories and the South as their importer; the North as a producer of knowledge and the South as its object of study – hosting enormous potential for reinvention.

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Trans vs. Homo: Negotiating Borders of Gender and Sexuality in Mid-Twentieth Century Transsexual Autobiography

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← 344 | 345 → HUGH ENGLISH

I come to this topic partly through consideration of my own autobiography: I remember walking around in the late-1970s, in my own version of gay liberation radical chic, or radical drag or gender fuck, as we called it – black riding boots, business-drag brown skirt, almost unadorned save for the fabric-cut detail down the left leg (how I loved to watch my thighs lift against this elegance), t-shirt with the iconic image of Virginia Stevens, before she was Virginia Woolf, and the big straw hat fastened to my head with a bright red scarf and framing my fully-bearded 20-something face – fucking with the sartorial terms of gender, while carrying deep suspicions of transsexuality. Decades later, I came to see that my suspicions were not “of transsexuality” itself, but rather of dominant and popular mid-twentieth century articulations of transsexuality. Occupying a cultural space that offers at least an historical analogue to our contemporary “gender queer” understandings, many gay liberationists could not find our own struggles mirrored in transsexual representations, unsurprisingly given what we can now see as the heteronormative imperatives of the emergent category of transsexuality – the mid-twentieth century dilemmas for non-normatively gendered people. Such a divide is part of what leads Susan Stryker in Transgender History to articulate the 1970s and 1980s as “the difficult decades” (2008: 91).

Mid-twentieth century transsexual writers of autobiography such as Christine Jorgensen, Jan Morris and Renée Richards negotiate both the medical protocols for access to sex-reassignment...

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