Paul B. Preciado: Identity in transit

From Paul B. Preciado (Liberation 27/05/2016 – in translation), reflections on the radicalness of trans and migrant “identities”, identities that must be refused as fixed identities, identities that are rather lines of flight that put into question, contend with, mechanisms and apparatuses of oppresssive social reproduction, of truth production, and open up spaces beyond truth and falsity, spaces of autonomies.

As an exiled person abandons her/his country, the trans person leaves behind the gender that was assigned to her/him at birth.  Their political condition is as if suspended.

A person presents her/himself at the boarding gate of an airport, or at a border, or at a hotel reception, or at the counter of a car rental agency …  S/he shows her/his passport and the hostess, the salesperson, the receptionist, the administrator or the customs officer looks at the document, then looks at the body that is before her/him and declares: “This is not you!”  A systemic rupture is thereby produced in all of the legal and administrative conventions that construct the living political fictions.  The social apparatus of the construction of identity breaks down then, as if in slow motion, and its techniques (photographs, documents, enunciations …) fall one after the other, like the dazzling, blinking game over sign on the screen of a video game.  In the space of an instant reigns a glacial silence, Wittgensteinian.  The sense of being off-side in the language game: the terror of having exceeded the limits of social intelligibility; the fascination of being able to observe from the exterior, or more exactly from the threshold, even if only for an instant, the apparatus that constructs us as subject.

It could be a scene from a nightmare, or the paroxysmal moment of a pataphysical fiction.  It is however a banal event in the everyday life of a transgender person waiting for the legal change of their identity.  To the exclamation “This is not you”, I sometimes wish to respond “Of course that is not me!  Show me your passport and tell me if it is you or not.”  But here we are riveted, the officer and I, re-playing the central scene in Hegel: “Independence and subjection: domination and servitude.”  I don’t get smart.  I know very well that in this scene the role that falls to me is that of the slave and not the master.  I return to the fold of recognition: the frontiers of the language game are full of institutions,  of incarceration and punishment.

I deny what queer deconstruction has taught me and I reaffirm the apparatus of gender social reproduction: I explain, in waving a letter from my lawyer, that I was mistakenly assigned at birth the female sex and that my request for the recognition of male identity is the object of a legal procedure before a judge of the Spanish State.  I am in transition.  I am in the waiting room between two systems of exclusive representation.

Transition is the name given to the process that supposedly allows one to pass from femininity to masculinity (or vice versa) via the legal-medical protocol of the re-assignment of gender identity.  In general, this is announced as: “I am in the process of going through my transition.” And in Spanish, this is expressed in the gerund.  The two expresssions seek to describe the transformation from one state to another, and at the same time, they accentuate the temporary and thus provisional character of the process.  However, the process of transition does not refer to the passage from femininity to masculinity (these two genders are not ontological entities, they are only biopolitical and performative), but rather to the passage from one apparatus of the production of truth to another.

The trans person is represented as a sort of exiled person, someone who has left behind the gender that was assigned to her/him at birth (as someone would abandon their country) and who henceforth would seek recognition as a potential citizen of another gender.  In legal-political terms, the status of the trans person is comparable to that of the migrant, the exiled and the refugee.  They all find themselves in a temporary process of suspension of their political condition.  In the case of trans persons, as with that of the bodies of migrants, what is asked for is a biopolitical refuge: to be the subject of a system of semiotic assemblage that gives meaning to life.

The absence of legal recognition and biocultural support denies sovereignty to the bodies of trans persons and migrants, and places them in a position of very high social vulnerability.  In other words: the ontological-political density of a trans body or of a migrant body is inferior to that of a citizen whose gender and nationality are recognised by the administrative conventions of the Nation States which s/he inhabits.  To use Althusser’s terms, we could state that trans persons and migrants are placed in the parodic situation of asking to be recognised as subjects by the same apparatuses of the State that exclude them.  We asked to be recognised (and thereby to submit) to be able to invent forms of free social subjection.

What trans persons and migrants solicit, in asking for a change of gender or asylum, are administrative (names, right of residence, documents, passports …) and biocultural (foods, medicines, biochemical elements, refuge, language, self-representation …) prostheses necessary to be able to construct oneself as living political fictions.

What is called the refugee “crisis”, or the so called “problem” of trans people, will not be resolved by building refugee camps or clinics for sexual re-assignment.  What is in crisis are the systems of the production of truth, of political citizenship and the technologies of the Nation State, as well as the epistemology of the sex-gender binary.  Consequently, it is the political space as a whole that should enter into transition.

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