by Brooklyn Leo
“Surely there have always been bodies that move in the way ours do”Hil Malatino, Trans Care
Hil Malatino’s Trans Care pays witness to the networks of care that trans folks weave by way of survival. Maintained through the everyday mundanity of trans life, these care webs act as support when institutions inevitably continue to fail trans needs, reproduce trauma, and, then, force trans folks to wade through its aftermath. In five nuanced, accessible, and brief chapters, this book challenges ableist, racist, and heteronormative notions of care and labor work in the field of care ethics, offering trans practices of care as integral to trans survival and world-building. Drawing from personal, archival, and cultural history, Malatino highlights how trans lifeworlds are more than the ‘gaps’ that institutions left us; they are worlds which can finally hold the complexities and diversity of expressions in trans joy, melancholy, longing, anger, and, even, our communal hauntings.
Perhaps, one of the central contributions of Trans Care to care ethics–among many others–is its introduction of the concept, “voluntary gender work.” Coined by Ruper Raj, a trans activist and elder, Malatino expands this term to stand-in for the wide-spread phenomenon in which trans folks are overloaded with “mostly unremunerated advocacy work” in our respective fields (20). Work that must also fight barriers to success due to “the dearth of communal, institutional, and social support” for trans folks and our organizing (20). Voluntary gender work points to the institutionally under-paid, yet crucial support that trans folks organize in an effort to help others in our community. However, Malatino also highlights the involuntary or compulsory gender work of trans folks. From being followed home at night to the litany of misgendering by supposed allied-colleagues, the harassment, social alienation, and stigma that trans folks experience is “a laborious process. It is work” (38). It is work to be forced to serve as “the litmus test” by which cis-subjects enter into legitimate gender (38). Although trans flesh is used to legitimize the realhood of cis genders, trans folks are denied such recognition on a daily basis. No wonder we–trans folks–are exhausted; because, as Malatino points out, burnout does not begin to describe the ways that our social death is, actually, hard work. Work that is commodified, but does not cut us a check to pay for food, medical bills, rent, and the other accrued costs of living as a trans person in a transphobic world.
In fact, this book provides a sound critique of how social death dominates the literature on trans embodiment and experiences. While analyses of social death focus on the spectacularized murders of trans women of color, Malatino writes, “I’m interested in how we survive this, how we cultivate arts of living that make us possible” in the face of all the mourning, death, and violence that affectively circulate amongst trans discourse and spaces (5). “Some of us do and don’t survive. There are many empty beds, many missing persons, many mourned bodies[;]” those who have passed remain beloved hauntings in our care webs as those who have made possible our adjacent-slanted-sideways movements, lovings, and relations (33).
In chapter four, “Something Other Than Trancestors: History Lessons,” Malatino explores how these hauntings manifest in archives. Often, trans visitors to such archival locations bring with them deep longings to make legible a trans history through the traces of gender, genital, and sexual deviance that appears within its records, photos, and documents. How do we–trans scholars, thinkers, activists–take care of the images, stories, and information which come to us bubbling up forgotten, lost, or mistreated from the depths of the archive? This question is central to Trans Care. Malatino’s ethics of trans archival care contributes to relevant concerns from Indigenous trans, queer, and TwoSpirit folks who critique white trans folks for claiming gender-deviant Indigenous bodies in the archive as evidence to either absolve one of their settler status or to appropriate such lineage directly or indirectly. Resources in Malatino’s book points to wisdom that Black, Indigenous elders of color have been teaching for years about protecting ancestral stories through a refusal to share or make them known widely. It is an unwillingness to sell one’s ancestors’ histories of trauma to the industrial academic complex, rejecting the allure of the promise’s exchange for these stories to build a legible ‘trans history.’ Resistant to the seductive lure of the idea of a ‘Trans History,’ Malatino instead offers the idea of these archival ghosts as among a “spectrum of specters that undo and exceed it” and we, ourselves, exist on the continuum of this spectrum (59). While the concept of ‘transcestor’ will remain central to Black, Indigenous trans and TwoSpirit wisdoms, Trans Care begins to grapple with the ethics of caring for the trans lives we encounter in archives, especially since the visibilization of trans folks in the archive may coincide with violence. As more trans of color, especially TwoSpirit Black, Afro-Indigenous, and Native folks take up this book, I hope that more discussion is had to the concept of ‘transcestors’ as specific to animating and sustaining trans of color care networks and worlds.
Trans Care is a testament to the arts of survival that trans folks craft, weaving webs that are sustained by the everyday care trans folks enact. Abandoned, often, by conventional family structures and institutions meant to help trans folks, trans worlds continue to persist because of this care work. Hil Malatino’s timely book not only makes visible the disenfranchisement of trans folks from traditional networks of care, but also offers a hefty challenge to care ethics. One that tasks the field to reconceptualize its reliance on cis-centric and normative modes of care. In search of trans worlds, Trans Care begins from “a different set of location” and ends with the opening of a trans spectrum, a constellation of trans relations.
Brooklyn Leo is a dual-title Philosophy and WGSS PhD candidate at Pennsylvania State University. Brooklyn’s research sits at the intersections of phenomenology, decolonial theory, and trans philosophy. Currently, they are a Holocaust, Human Rights, and Genocide Education Initiative fellow where they are designing a trauma-informed and anti-racist training module for Pennsylvania K-12 teachers. When they are not in the college classroom, Brooklyn is a teaching-artist-in-residence for Ridgelines, a local-non-for-profit that works to uplift queer rural voices. Here, Brooklyn leads queer and trans poetry workshops for youth in rural Centre County, where they are exploring the idea of dysphoria as diaspora.