Introduction: beyond the special guest--teaching "trans" now.

Author:Agid, Shana
Position:Transgender - Editorial

The theme of this issue of Radical Teacher, "Beyond the Special Guest: Teaching 'Trans' Now," originated in a conversation between Erica and Toby Beauchamp in a hotel lounge during the 2009 American Studies Association annual conference. As our conversation turned from queer and trans issues in sports studies to the pedagogical challenges we have encountered teaching trans material in women and gender studies, Toby shared with Erica the work he and his colleague at UC Davis, Benjamin D'Harlingue, were doing to develop arguments and models for shifting from "an additive model in which trans bodies and identities are assigned their own separate unit" in introductory courses to one that integrated "discussions of trans bodies" throughout. As they write in the essay they have since co-authored on the topic, called "Beyond Additions and Exceptions: The Category of Transgender and New Pedagogical Approaches for Women's Studies," they sought to "resist casting transgender and gender-nonconforming bodies as exceptional tools for teaching primarily to non-trans students, and to avoid a personal experience framework that positions individual bodies as special objects of inquiry without attending to the production of such experiences and narratives." Toby described a great teaching tool that they used in the service of those goals, an episode of a talk show in which a guest who identified as neither male nor female refused to remain in the position of interrogated spectacle but shot received questions back to the host and audience, thus shaking up the very structures and beliefs that render gender nonconforming people objects of surveillance, study, and, often consequently, control, rather than agents of meaning production and self-determination. (1) In teaching contexts, these structures and beliefs, even as adapted by well-meaning, feminist allies in the struggle against gender oppression, often include an in-class version of the talk show's very special guest scenario, where a visiting guest speaker, or a panel of guests, talk about their own experiences living a gender nonconforming life, often with the same expectation that, like talk show guests, they will answer any personal questions asked of them about their history, body, gender, and sexuality--and maybe about nothing else.

When the Cultural Studies Association (CSA) invited Radical Teacher to offer a panel at its 2010 annual conference, Erica, on the board of the journal, was inspired by this discussion and ran the idea past Toby of using it as a basis for the panel, which came to be called "Not Another Very Special Guest: Teaching Trans Matters in Women and Gender Studies." He and Ben agreed to present their work in progress described above and Erica presented her work on teaching the canonical novel Stone Butch Blues against her students' impulses to make Leslie Feinberg's main character a fictional special guest. Erica also solicited Emily Thuma, who presented on "Interstices, Outlaw Cultures, and Contested Spaces: Cartographies of Women's and Gender History," and Shana, another member of the RT board. He could not participate in the CSA session but agreed to co-edit this issue.


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