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The College of Arts & Sciences Center for the Humanities at the University of Miami and
the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures present

Trans Global
Global Trans

April 2, 2010
9:30 am - 6:30 pm

Symposium Abstracts (in order of participation)

“Transnational Conversations in Migration and Queer Studies:
Multimedia Storyspaces"
Gema Pérez-Sánchez, Associate Professor of Spanish
Dept. of Modern Languages and Literatures

Abstract: In 2005, Spain surprised the world when it passed a law allowing same-sex marriage. It continued to surprise with Law 3/2007, which allows citizens to change their gender in the National Registry without proof of gender-reassignment surgery. As important and progressive as these laws are, there is a growing suspicion among scholars that the recent public focus on the legalization of same-sex marriage and transgender rights may be a diversionary tactic for avoiding recognition of the problem of racism and homo- and trans-phobia against immigrants. In this paper, I analyze the installation piece by activist group GtQ (Grupo de Trabajo Queer), National Identity Card? Deconstruction of the National ID and the short documentary film about a transgender man, El viaje de Moisés, to argue that the “hybrid storyspaces” opened up by these works allow both for critical and utopian revisions of the dominant Spanish narratives about identity, belonging, and citizenship that have been available under democracy.

“The Virgin of Flames: Trans-Global Inferno” 

Brenna Munro, Assistant Professor of English

Abstract: In this paper I will try to think through the relationship between “transgender” and “global” through Nigerian writer Chris Abani’s 2007 The Virgin of Flames, and its particular set of locations, identities, and histories.  This dark, poetic novel set in LA follows a Nigerian-Salvadorian artist called Black, who is in love with a transgender Mexican stripper called Sweet Girl, and has his own disavowed cross-gender identifications: the book ends with his suicide. What is troubling about this text is that Black’s queerness can be read as a damaged “black” masculinity emerging from a history of emasculation, fatherlessness, and diasporic unbelonging. Transgender border-crossing seems to lead to self-immolation.  However, in its unflinching, loving portrayal of Black’s desire and suffering, and its suggestion that he is queerly sacred, we could see the novel as “looking backwards” in Heather Love’s sense—refusing to disavow the troubled births of queer transnational subjectivities, or to produce a homonormatively happy ending.

“Referring and Refereeing Alternative Sexualities:  The Language of the GLBT Movement in Brazil Today”

Steve Butterman, Associate Professor of Portuguese
Dept. of Modern Languages and Literatures

Abstract: Although my original intent was to study terminology used in supposed "reference" texts or manuals and how this language reflects or distorts the lexicon of words and phrases actually utilized in authentic social circles, a study deeply invested in sociolinguistics and queer studies, my project has evolved to encompass analysis of how very recent socio-political movements within São Paulo's LGBT community have come to shape language and culture for Brazilian sexual minorities. My preliminary results show that there is a dramatic gap between the language theoretically in use by Brazilian LGBT persons and that in actual everyday practice. In fact, in recent surveys, none of the respondents demonstrated any significant knowledge of the 30 terms I isolated and selected, and there are numerous interesting variations in interpretation between and among subjects self-identified as G, L, B, or T. My research is also informed by taped oral interviews with influential figures in the very recent sociopolitical climate of LGBT-related organizations and associations in Brazil.

“Queering Desire in the Global South: Chamacos in Havana, Istanbul and Miami”

Lillian Manzor, Associate Professor of Spanish
Dept. of Modern Languages and Literatures

Abstract: Chamaco - Boy at the Vanishing Point, is a play by Cuban-Spanish playwright Abel Gonzalez Melo. The playtext thematically and formally borrows elements from classical tragedy and transforms them with a contemporary theatrical language. It is also a transgeneric text, parts poetry and narrative, that is written in a lyrical and colloquial language in a non-linear structure that resembles cinematography. The characters, all heroes and antiheroes, like the postmodern citizen- spectator, find themselves at the vanishing point that results from the strictest laws of patriarchy in their colonial versions, heteronormativity, and savage capitalism. This presentation will analyze comparatively how three different stagings performatively construct transgender identities and queer desires in three cities of the Global South: Havana, Istanbul and Miami. I argue that this play, through its interaction with its different live audiences and the repurposing of different artistic currents, intervenes in the discourse of the nation by creating local/global sites of community formation.

“Queer Roots for the Diaspora”

Jarrod Hayes, Associate Professor of French, University of Michigan

Abstract: Part of a larger project entitled Queer Roots for the Diaspora, Ghosts in the Family Tree, this talk will consider the relation between roots and diaspora in a number of Jewish North African texts: Sappho’s Un mensonge, Albert Memmi’s La statute de sel, Jacques Derrida’s “Circonfessions” and Glas; and Edmond Jabès’s Le livre des questions. While none of these writers is homosexual, their return narratives queer the relation between diasporic identity and its roots by acknowledging their own fictionality, challenging the heterosexuality of the family tree that typically structures return narratives, and thereby proposing alternative, multiple roots that ground an identity based on not only sexual diversity, but also diversity in general. Queer roots, in these accounts, also challenge the patrilineal lines of descent implied by roots by disrupting the linear process of storytelling that constitutes identity. By reading Derrida as an Algerian writer whose Jewish roots keep returning in his more autobiographical writings, it is possible to understand deconstruction as, in part, an allegory for diasporic identity. By reading his works alongside those of other French-language Sephardic writers like Albert Memmi, one can also return to the Jewish African roots of deconstruction. As a part of Africa, the Maghreb has its own diaspora, part of which is Jewish; the Maghreb thus has a unique contribution to make to the field of diaspora studies. In the Maghreb, Jewish and African diasporas intersect and overlap, and the Maghrebian Jewish diaspora is just as African as it is Jewish. Through a more extended engagement with the Maghreb, specifically, and Francophone studies more generally, diaspora studies can not only return to its own roots, but also queer them. Indeed, even the queer sub-field of diaspora studies that has emerged since the late nineties can be further queered through such a return to the Jewish Maghreb. 

Run, Caster Semenya, Run: Nativism and the translations of gender variance”

Neville Hoad, Associate Professor of English, University of Texas, Austin.

Abstract: How does the "trans" in translation relate to the "trans" in transglobal and the "trans" in transgender? This paper reluctantly turns to the recent global controversy about South African athlete Caster Semenya and the national language controversy that followed in South Africa to begin to address this cluster of questions. Julius Malema, the head of the African National Congress Youth League, and like Semenya, a Sepedi speaker, sparked much linguistic sleuthing with his claim: “Hermaphrodite, what is that? Somebody tell me, what is hermaphrodite in Pedi? There’s no such thing, hermaphrodite, in Pedi.  So don¹t impose your hermaphrodite concepts on us.” Various rebuttals followed, all similarly nominalist, but unevenly attuned to the stakes in Malema's aggressive nativism. This controversy will be read in terms of wider debates on the status of minority languages in South Africa, the increasing hegemony of English and in counterpoint to Sepedi writer Phaswane Mpe's brief fictional account of the struggles of one of his protagonists to publish frankly about matters of sex in Sepedi in his 2001 novel, Welcome to Our Hillbrow. The problem of finding words for a diagnosis of gender variance imposed from above by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and resistance to it must be distinguished from projects that attempt the translation of the diversity of forms of South African and African gendered embodiment, even as such projects risk the incommensurate.

“Global Female Masculinities”

Judith Halberstam, Professor of English, American Studies and Ethnicity
and Gender Studies, University of Southern California

Abstract: My aim in this presentation is to show how contradictory the politics of gender variance can be and how much confusion there is in a US/European context in relation to thinking about gender stability and gender flexibility and their relations to gender normativity. Having localized a set of debates about gender variance in a US/European context, I turn to a global context and trace the way that these very local debates about gender variance become stabilized and universalized when they form the basis for studies of gender variance elsewhere. In the final section, I survey some recent films that take the diversity of global transgenderism seriously.