initiated by Grayson Hunt & featuring Tamsin Kimoto, Amy Marvin, Perry Zurn, Andrea Pitts, and Megan Burke
“Trans derailed the philosopher I thought I was supposed to become, and maybe philosophy also derails the trans person I could have been otherwise.”–Tamsin Kimoto
Since this issue of QT Voices is about transness, and in particular theorizing transness, I wanted to reflect with past organizers of the Thinking Trans//Trans Thinking Conference about where we’ve been and where we’re headed. The language of trancestry was introduced to me by Ash Williams and Tommi Haynes at the 2018 conference. They gave a workshop called “Mapping and Contextualizing Black, Queer, and Trans Resistance in North Carolina” and they started with a shrine & prayer to connect us all to our trancestors. I think of all the shrines I’ve seen at Trans Day Of Remembrance events and all the mentoring and citation practices and trans history that connects us to our trans elders and I’m filled with gratitude. I reached out to past organizers to learn about their orbits, journeys, & communities. The resulting conversation is filled with our personal experiences and hot takes, and so we’ve included a bunch of low quality conference pics (from previous, IRL conferences) to enhance the experience! –Grayson Hunt
First things first: Does Western Astrology speak to you? If so, what is your sun sign?
Andrea: Nope, but my abuela was a practitioner of Catholicism and Santería, and her saint/orisha was San Lázaro/Babalú-Ayé, so they have special meaning to me.Tamsin: Sort of. I’m an Aquarius sun!
Grayson: I’m Gemini sun, Sagittarius moon, and Aquarius rising. And I’m a twin, just like Perry! Being an actual twin has more meaning for me than being a Gemini.
Megan: My sun sign is Taurus. If it is revelatory of me in any way, then steady, grounded, and stubborn seems fitting.
Amy: My sun sign is Sagittarius and I have been informed by several that it is accurate.
Perry: Scorpio! And while the general reticence of the figure rings true for me, I have to say that this crew of trans philosophers–Amy, Andrea, Brooklyn, Grayson, Megan, PJ, Tamsin, Jacob, Loren, Talia, Yannik, and so many more–has meant the world to me.
What happened first? Trans or Philosophy?
Grayson: I mean, I can’t be sure, but I definitely earned a PhD in Philosophy before I explicitly realized I was trans. But I’d been misgendered my whole life, especially as a child and long before earning that degree, so who knows?
Megan: My gendered life and philosophical pursuits have always been deeply entangled, but I’d have to say philosophy. Although, it was definitely the study of gender, including my own, that pushed me toward philosophy in the first place.
Amy: I think living as trans is living in an indeterminate site of inquiry, so a drive to know and specifically know thyself coincides with living as trans, experiencing the world as trans, and experiencing the institutional world specifically as trans. The difficulties of being trans are frequently existentially and philosophically puzzling, at least from a philosophical vantage point that lends more texture to trans life. Even if trans is historicized, philosophy as historicized runs into an institutional ship of Theseus issue that contests its claim to a lengthier legacy. I find so-called “real” philosophy to be quite funny in this regard.
Perry: I think there were whispers of both from the beginning. I was a deeply reflective kid and, as such, fairly attuned to the path I was picking out, irrespective of expectations around me. I suspect in some sense the two were not only co-originating, but co-constituting. Philosophy and gender-bending were always about making room in the material-discursive world, especially where I was told there was none. Playing with what was possible, but also coming to love certain possibilities and pathways I would not have met without the urge to wonder and wander off.
Tamsin: I’m really not sure to be honest. I still don’t know if I am a philosopher. Or at least, if I am, I’m not in the way that I thought I was going to be when I first started studying it. And my experiences in transition have certainly also changed how I experience even being a philosopher. I really like this phrase that I think Judith Butler used in an interview once: a derailed philosopher. I think that really captures my own experience. Trans derailed the philosopher I thought I was supposed to become, and maybe philosophy also derails the trans person I could have been otherwise.
Who are your philosophy trancestors? Who’s in your constellation?
Amy: I don’t know if I have trancestors. Maybe it is because of the pandemic but I feel hesitant to craft much in the way of a “we” at the moment, especially a historical “we” populated by people who I do not think I have taken enough time to get to know. The lineage question is also difficult for me because I feel like I am in a time warp most days. Perhaps other trans people who have tried to keep up with their art after circumstances have thrown them into a total morass, like having to move suddenly or having to hold a shitty job, which is also a lot of trans people. But then there’s something of a historical connection I find when doing syllabus design. When I teach Trans Philosophy or Trans Studies I do want to place a trans history and a trans history of thought on the syllabus that can be discussed. So I guess there’s a question of who has influenced my thinking and discussions in my courses (many trans people) and people who have made my life more livable (many trans people) but I am anxious about the idea of claiming people through the word “trancestor.” I think more often about who is my friend in conversation, even if I just know their work from a pirated pdf that I’m reading while on the clock.
Perry: Seeing older butches at philosophy conferences has always been a big deal for me. It mattered that they were there, even if I was too reticent to strike up a conversation. I’m sure it wasn’t always easy for them. But their lives made other lives possible. It gets me thinking about where I show up and move in the world, who I come alongside of and where I lend my voice. This can be meaningful in ways I’ll never know… to people I’ll never know. So I try to think about that quiet work of just showing up and leaving a trail.
Tamsin: Certainly other trans philosophers are increasingly constellating (is that a word? who cares?) with me as I encounter them and get to know them. And many of them are also really dear friends as an added bonus. But I think, like many of us, the first people who got me thinking about gender, sexuality, and race (and all of these are linked in my experiences of transness) were not necessarily themselves trans. Women of color feminist thinkers made me interrogate myself in ways that Plato never did.
Andrea: While I suppose that some of the main people who have shaped my understanding of trans life and the beauty of gender transgression did not explicitly identify as “trans,” I can certainly say that people like Sylvia Rivera and Gloria Anzaldúa have been big influences on me. That is, they each affirmed the messiness, imperfection, and brilliance of desires and bodies that don’t neatly map binary gender systems, ableist norms, and aspirational whiteness. For that, although I was never fortunate enough to know them personally, their legacies do resonate with me in terms of the people I grew up with, and my understanding of philosophy and the world.
Megan: I returned to graduate school in 2009 after spending about five years out of academia. During my first term back, I came across Talia Mae Bettcher’s “Evil Deceivers and Make Believers: On Transphobic Violence” while writing a term paper. Although I didn’t meet Talia until years later at the first Trans Philosophy Conference, that article opened up a lot for me.
Grayson: Talia Bettcher was the first trans person I came out to. I feel so grateful to have had trans people in my life and in my profession already to come out to. When I told Talia, she said, “We’ve been waiting for you.”
Who got you star struck?
Andrea: I was super nervous when I first met Talia Bettcher, because she’s so prolific and so incredibly smart. But, when I realized that she was as much of a nerd about María Lugones as I was, I felt much more comfortable, and we geeked out together about Lugones’ writings, questions of history, and multiplicity. I now consider Talia as a tremendous collaborator, someone who I still deeply admire and respect, of course, but as someone who wants to build something together, which is a really great feeling of comraderie.
Grayson: Before I came out, I was starstruck around all trans people! It’s embarrassing to think about it now, but yeah. Even once I came out, I remember at philosophy conferences searching for my conference friends who were trans because there were no out trans faculty or staff at the university I was working at. It was lonely. Trans philosophers and theorists definitely have celebrity status in my mind because I’m so happy they/we exist! But also because we’re doing such amazing work. C. Riley Snorton, Amy Marvin, Hil Malatino all blow me away with their work.
Megan: I don’t know if I can speak to being starstruck, but I do know there’s a lot people doing trans philosophy whose work I admire a great deal.
Amy: I worked at New York Comic Con once and was embarrassingly starstruck while meeting a celebrity. Now I try to push very hard against that tendency, rightly or wrongly. I do think when reading and listening to work by other trans theorists and philosophers I often get very excited and amazed by their work. I think this is the kind of starstruck I like the most now, struck by a particular constellation of friends and acquaintances. I hope to co-write something again soon.
Perry: When I get starry-eyed, it’s typically not when I see people getting big awards or prestigious jobs or giving fancy keynotes. I’m struck by people who write deep theory, but write it with soul, with heart, with a sensitivity to the magic of language. Word-benders like Mel Chen and Eli Clare. Theirs isn’t beauty for beauty’s sake, or complexity for complexity’s sake. Their work hits home because the world is just that complex and beautiful. And it takes just that level of courage, that deep sensitivity, and that creativity in community to see it, if even partially.
Tamsin: I’m still low-key starstruck whenever I talk to Talia, but I think the most starstruck I’ve ever been when meeting someone in person has either been Sara Ahmed or Linda Martín Alcoff. Alcoff was someone I read as an undergrad and whose work was one of those things that made me realize that I could ask the questions I wanted in philosophy and that my concerns were philosophical despite what classmates or professors were telling me. And Ahmed’s work continues to pull and push me beyond myself, so meeting her remains one of the high points of my time in philosophy.
How did you get into Philosophy?
Perry: I stumbled into philosophy proper in high school, while reading for fun. I’m pretty sure my twin handed me a history of philosophy book and said, “Read it; it’s pretty cool.” I tried to ignore my love of (and desire for) philosophy (while simultaneously making a protracted attempt to ignore my queer/trans self). But philosophy obviously won out pretty hard (as did the other thing). And I’m happy to report, theory is still what I read for fun! Currently, I’m deep inside Hil Malatino’s Queer Embodiment and Gloria Anzaldúa’s Light in the Dark.
Grayson: I took a feminist theory class in my first year of college, taught by political theorist Any Francois. We read Carole Patemen’s The Sexual Contract, and then Charles Mills’ The Racial Contract, alongside Hobbes, Locke & Rousseau. I was hooked.
Megan: As an undergraduate I took a course on feminist theories of embodiment and it was the philosophical work of feminists that I read in that class that got me into philosophy.
Andrea: By accident–I took a bunch of courses after I dropped out of a jazz composition/performance program in my first year of university, and I stumbled into this weird course where you could basically pick apart conceptions of god and justice. That kind of snarkiness was really appealing to me at the time, a disgruntled little queer mixed Latinx punk who never thought they’d go to college or live past 30 (jaja). I was a terrible student (sleeping in class right in the front row, cramming the night before for exams, and taking as much drugs and alcohol as my body would allow), and in the last semester of my third year, I thought “Oh shit! I need to pick a major.” I had taken enough courses in philosophy and sociology to most of their requirements, and had gravitated towards those courses because we got to study things like social deviance, capitalism, and how scientific knowledge is produced. I hated math, and the only course left for sociology was a quantitative methods course, so I declared the philosophy major. In my senior year, I asked a moral philosophy professor, Daniel Callcut, who I had taken a course with on issues of moral skepticism (which is also snarky in some ways, e.g. why be good?), to do an independent study on the metaphysics of race and gender. After that, I was hooked on questions in those areas, and I figured that graduate school was “the next grade,” so I applied.
Amy: I have a lot of answers for this, many of which are half-truths, and it feels like a very chaotic narrative for me to hold together without telling several pseudo-fantasies. There’s the being-forced-to-examine-myself angle. There’s also the wanting-to-better-understand-a-hostile-world-that-seems-strange-to-me angle. And then the not-being-able-to-get-employed-after-undergrad-and-wanting-a-stable-grad-student-teaching-job-with-health-insurance angle. But right now I really just enjoy reading philosophy and shaking things up through conversation, so it is a rather good fit. Maybe it’ll even pay bills again at some point, but there’s going to be a very long game involved.
Tamsin: Completely by accident. I took an ancient philosophy class in my first semester of undergrad and then followed it up with a philosophy of race course. The professors for both of those classes, Julie Piering and Elaine Chukan Brown, really are the reasons I ended up in the field. And I resisted it for so long, and I think I am in some ways still reluctant to think of myself as in philosophy. But to the extent that I am in philosophy, it’s definitely because of the people I’ve been lucky enough to find along the way. Maybe it’s that I’m still getting into philosophy because of things like meeting Amy Marvin or Andrea Pitts and getting to talk to y’all.
Where is trans philosophy (or trans or philosophy) going? What are its directions, its possibilities?
Tamsin: I don’t know! I don’t know where it’s going or if, indeed, it is going anywhere at all. So many of us are so precariously situated in this field. And it’s not lost on me that it’s primarily the trans feminine trans philosophers who are not getting the few tenure-track jobs that trans philosophers are getting or who are not invited to do x or y thing. So few of us are people of color as well. I hope the future is not one in which trans philosophy remains a microcosm of the larger demographics of the field except now we’re also trans.
Grayson: I don’t know either! Maybe it’s expanding? I want to read that new TSQ article by Amy Marvin, Cam Awkward-Rich and Cassius Adair titled “Before Trans Studies” before I answer!
Megan: I’m not sure. But, given the recent work in trans philosophy, including work presented at this last conference, I do have hope for what trans philosophy will become.
Amy: I find the conferences incredible. I think the 2020 conference was incredible. I am so excited about the many different places it is going, institutionally, non-institutionally, and anti-institutionally. I hope it goes differently in many ways from what I expect. The lack of jobs issue will continue to be a problem, but also helps trans philosophy stay non-dogmatic about professionalization and prestige in a way that I think most of the rest of philosophyworld struggles with. I am so excited about many exciting trans theory and philosophy books and articles coming out in 2021. I hope we all find a way to live and keep writing.
Perry: There’s so much to do between trans studies and philosophy, between trans life and theory. And I know we will carry all kinds of baggage into that project. But we will also necessarily carry in all kinds of life. When I think about where I want trans philosophy to go, I think about deep work: reflexivity, accountability, imagination, and engagement. Not slick and quick philosophy. But solid wood work, and solid wood words. There’s no real shortcut. Love takes time. Listening takes time. Coalition and repair work take time. Writing together takes time. And space.
How do you see the conference in relation to trans worldmaking? What else is worldmaking for you?
Tamsin: This conference is such a space of worldmaking for me. It’s the place where I get to do the most inventive and vulnerable kind of work because I don’t need to go back to 101 to make sure people are there with me. It’s the place where I get to see and laugh and talk and constellate (still not sure that’s a thing but we’re going with it) in the field of philosophy. Other kinds of worldmaking spaces like that in the field, are spaces dominated by philosophers of color (the few there are), and even in spaces dominated by white, cis philosophers, those moments of quiet respite and enjoyment with people with whom I can simply be. Increasingly, though, worldmaking for me is happening in the ongoing work of active struggle and resistance and organizing outside of the spaces professional philosophy tends to inhabit. Worldmaking is happening in the streets and in meetings and in moments of care afterward. I’m also looking forward to a world in which worldmaking is again happening on the dance floor.
Perry: What is worldmaking for me? Hmm…. Knowing the earth I walk on. Coming to know the creatures breathing beside me (and that enable me to breathe). Reading Indigenous philosophy lately, I’ve been wondering, What does it mean to connect with place? Not to live on or through one’s place, but with one’s place? Not to live on or simply through my trans body, but with it? Coming to notice and to care for the very landscape within which I become possible. For me, the trans conference is a way of building ground.
Megan: I’d like to think the conference is a place for trans worldmaking, or at least that it has the potential to be. The first iteration of, and idea for, the conference was really centered on the issue of trans exclusion in philosophy (which is, obviously, still a serious problem). But, I think that initial impulse transformed during the first conference just by the sheer mood of having trans philosophers in the same space, and a certain kind of space at that. Although I couldn’t attend, it seems Perry’s and Andrea’s work on the second conference offered a more expansive vision and space for trans worldmaking in philosophy, which I am very grateful for.
Amy: I think part of world-making is having conversations, and a conference is a place holding conversations. It can also be a way to transform grant money into real money for trans writers, artists, and thinkers. I always turn back to Virginia Woolf, a room and something to write with, when I think about worldmaking. But I think it requires not only a place for conversations but also a means of meeting needs, which requires people having enough space for themselves.
Andrea: Worldmaking, to me, feels like something to do with reconceiving our futures in terms of new pasts and new presents. Lugones really brings out this point, to my mind, regarding the need to believe in concrete communities in the past and present who live by radically different sets of norms, standards, and commitments and where queer and trans of color liberation is not only possible but flourishing.
Grayson Hunt is Director of Equity, Outreach and Resources in the Provost’s Office, and Associate Director of LGBTQ Studies in the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He completed his PhD in philosophy at the New School for Social Research in 2013. He specializes in transgender studies, feminist theory, and Continental philosophy. For the past three years he has hosted the monthly Transgender Feminisms Reading Group. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to join the reading group.
Tamsin Kimoto is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Goucher College. Kimoto works in the areas of women of color feminisms, queer and trans studies, health humanities, philosophy of race, and social and political philosophy. They earned their doctorate from Emory University with a dissertation on critical phenomenology and trans politics. Their current research projects examine the racial underpinnings of medical narratives of trans identity and the links between environmental racism, racialized health disparities, and necropolitics in the United States.
Amy Marvin received her PhD from University of Oregon after writing her dissertation on feminist philosophy. Her work can be found in Transgender Studies Quarterly, Hypatia, Feminist Philosophy Quarterly, APA Newsletter on LGBTQ Issues in Philosophy, Contingent Magazine, Curiosity Studies: Towards a New Ecology of Knowledge, We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics, and Contingent Magazine. She was a co-organizer for the Trans* Experience in Philosophy Conference in 2016.
Perry Zurn is assistant professor of philosophy at American University and affiliate faculty in the Honors Program. He received his PhD from DePaul University. A political philosopher, Zurn studies forces and histories of change, focusing on the power of curiosity, political resistance, and trans life. He is the author of Curiosity and Power: The Politics of Inquiry (2021), the coauthor of Curious Minds (forthcoming), and the coeditor of Active Intolerance (2016), Curiosity Studies (2020), and Intolerable (2021). He’s currently at work on a book about trans activism.
Andrea Pitts is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at UNC Charlotte and is affiliate faculty of the university’s Department of Africana Studies, the Center for Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Studies, the Latin American Studies Program, the School of Data Science, the Social Aspects of Health Initiative, and the Women’s and Gender Studies Program. Andrea received their PhD in philosophy at Vanderbilt University. Their research interests include Latin American and U.S. Latinx Philosophy, critical philosophy of race, feminist philosophy, and critical prison studies, and they have taught graduate and undergraduate courses over the last five years on topics such as queer migration studies, prison abolitionism, critical transgender politics, and feminist epistemology.
Megan Burke is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the Sonoma State University. They received their PhD in 2015 from University of Oregon. They specialize in 20th Century Continental Philosophy, Feminist Philosophy, LGBTQ Studies, Phenomenology, Philosophy of Race, Social and Political Philosophy. Their book, When Time Warps: The Lived Experience of Gender, Race, and Sexual Violence was published in 2019 by University of Minnesota Press.