Sutured Futures: Trans(homo)nationalism and Assemblages of Imperial and Colonial Genocide
The US military, or any western military for that matter, is not to be defended, least of all by trans folks. Western militaries operate as vectors of mass neoliberal, imperialist, and colonial violence and in doing so, are deeply invested in importing cisnormativity (and thus transphobia) all over the globe. Despite that, one of the foundational ways that this assemblage of violence reproduces itself is through the construction of the military industrial complex as something that is desirable for trans people to be included in. The military is not something that trans folks should strive to ‘perfect’, it’s something we should work to completely dismantle (along with the state its attached to). These nodes in the larger assemblage of imperialism, colonialism, and cis/heteronormativity works to produce a sort of ‘transnormativity.’ This transnormativity works to produce, deploy, and sustain a very specific, and violent, conception of trans folks that are welcomed into the systems of neoliberalism as markets for investment. Obviously, not only does this conception of transness work to justify the continual violence, experimentation, and destruction of those trans folks that are always-already excluded from said conception, but it also works to position transness and those populations targeted by colonial and imperialist violence (brown and black bodies) as inherently oppositional (Puar, The Right To Maim, 2017, p. 73). Thus, my project seeks to work with Puar’s theorization of ‘trans(homo)nationalism’ to indicate the way in which neoliberalism, imperialism, and colonialism operate as a violent assemblage, and in doing so, produce a transnormativity as both a justification, and deployment, of their violences (Puar, The Right To Maim, 2017, p. 58).
In so far as this trans(homo)nationalism arises as a product of neoliberalism’s infiltration into trans politics, and thus conceptions of transness, it becomes necessary to articulate what neoliberalism is and how it functions. In its simplest form, neoliberalism could be understood as amalgamation of classical liberalism’s ideas of rationality and individualism, with the massive growth and globalization of privatized capitalist markets. Although the sort of capitalism that is endemic to the neoliberal world is one that is increasingly privatized, in which all life is completely subjected and semiotized (inducted into the semiotic realm with hegemonic importance) to the economic, neoliberalism does not eliminate the role of state control or intervention. Rather, neoliberalism fundamentally changes the function for which state invention serves to do when it comes to both facilitating and deploying the logics and violences of capitalism (Noys, 2010). Thus, under neoliberalism, state intervention functions as a way to rapidly increase the privatization of social services, capital production, and market investment with the purpose of enveloping all political, and thus social, life within the coffers of privatization (Noys, 2010). Thus, for example, the increasing privatization of food distribution and access to healthcare. For neoliberalism everything is a new potential market to become a commodity (and thus generate capital) and thus the state (and other apparatuses of capitalism) operate as the facilitators for the constant market opening and inventions that neoliberalism requires.
This difference is best articulated by Mark Fisher when talking about the divergence between the ways that non-neoliberal capitalism constructs and circuits subjectivity and how neoliberal capitalism does. Fisher (2013) says “The good old days of exploitation, where…Work then meant the annihilation of subjectivity, your reduction to an impersonal machine-part…Now, there is no time away from work, and work is not opposed to subjectivity. All time is entrepreneurial time because we are the commodities.” What Fisher is getting at here is that capitalism under neoliberalism no longer destroys subjectivity as a way to reduce, and thus subjugate, populations to mere cogs within the capitalist machine. Instead, because of the hyper intensification of capitalism due to neoliberalism, subjectivity is reconstructed as work, or capitalism, in of itself. To elaborate, the way in which subjects construct every aspect of their life (relationships, time, materials) in their relation, and thus their worth, to work or capitalism. A relationship, space, organization, or subject is only intelligible in so far as it can accumulate or facilitate capital. This subjectivity-as-capitalism means that the only way in which subjects can conceptualize themselves, and the signification that their life has, is through integration and submission to the multiple regimes and apparatuses of neoliberal capitalism (Fisher, 2013). Thus no longer does the body only work to produce commodities, but is in fact a commodity in of itself. This is very clearly a different formulation and articulation of the ways in which capitalism extends and deploys its violence, and one that very succinctly explains the changes in neoliberalism. As Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (2005) articulate, this type of intensified capitalism represents merely a new reconstruction of mass violence, (through a variety of different means) most chiefly due to subjectivity being produced as constitutive to capitalism, subjects desire and thus gain pleasure in the genocide, violence, and subjugation that is endemic to capitalism (p. 458).
What’s important to note here is that neoliberalism not only changes the way in which capitalism deploys itself and its subjectivity (privatization and body as commodity) but in fact changes capitalism in of itself. Particularly, because of the way in which neoliberalism transfers the container of capitalism from primarily the state to privatized forms, it causes the creation of a multitude of clusters or ‘assemblages’ of capitalism that cause its intensification to spin out of control (Deleuze and Guattari, 2000, p. 233). Assemblages refer arrangements or organizations that are horizontal in nature and are not signified or ‘territorialized’ by any internal meaning, for example to be included within [x] group you have to look or be like [y], but rather void of internal meaning or ‘deterritorialized’ (Deleuze and Guattari, 2005, p. 15). An assemblage, for example, could be elaborated by the intertwined ways that corporations and capitalist states extend their neoliberal control through the affective, material, and diplomatic pathways they are engaged within. Thus, because neoliberalism explodes the places for which capitalism is able to develop and run its logics, it necessitates the constant creation of new assemblages of capital and capital production.
One of the foundational ways that neoliberalism is able to both sustain itself, but also to protect itself from revolutionary action, is through the co-opting of formally radical groups, or groups with potentially radical action, into the neoliberal status quo. Neoliberalism does this to open up new avenues of investment and privatization, thus extending its reach and control. Examples of this are unfortunately plentiful, but a recent example being Chelsea Manning’s anarcho-communism becoming distilled into bourgeoisie party politics through being welcomed into a system of electoralism. In terms of radical movements, a similar capture can be seen in the revolutionary action of 80’s-90’s AIDS organizations (for example ACT UP) being hemmed into the assimilatory function of ‘legalized marriage.’ Neoliberalism is thus able to capture figures and organizations, like Manning, and wear their former radicalism as a spectacle, selling itself as a radical future when in reality it is the same material conditions merely sutured with new signifiers. This process of perpetual inclusion, or “modulations,” is called the ‘politics of inclusion’ and is the place where neoliberalism infects itself in trans politics, organizing, and transness and thus where transnormativity is birthed from (Deleuze, 1990, p. 4; Puar, Terrorist Assemblages, 2017, p. 156).
To be clear, when I talk about transnormativity I do not mean to say that trans folks or transness are oppressive in of themselves, although it is true that trans folks who are bundled up within other structures of oppression (like myself with whiteness and settlerism) can be vectors of genocidal violence. That violence is not because of their transness, because cisnormativity and transphobia are very real regimes of structuralized violence, but rather in spite of it. Rather, when I talk about transnormativity I mean to elucidate the way in which neoliberalism, imperialism, and colonialism are able to sustain and create a conception of transness, signifying that conception into the semiotic realm as ‘truly trans.’ Transnormativity answers the question of why culture understands Laverne Cox as trans, and welcomed into mass culture, but CeCe McDonald as a threat that’s needs to be eradicated vis-à-vis imprisonment. This is then used to frame out those trans folks that are unable to be welcomed within the coffers of a transnormativity as not ‘legitimately’ trans, or even trans at all, for the purpose of both reconfiguring regimes of cisnormativity, but more trenchantly as a continual reification of the imperial and colonial project. This sort of process is why we see Caitlyn Jenner as a trans patriot (and thus hero) but justify the material genocide of black trans women at the hands of the police; black trans women are made fungible by both their blackness and transness, not correlating to the deployed transnormativity (Puar, The Right To Maim, 2017, p. 57). The question then becomes how these sorts of transnormativity arise, for which Jasbir K. Puar is able to provide for us.
Puar articulates that this transnormativity arises both because of neoliberalism’s investment indexing transness into a compressed affective identity category, rather than a structural position, but also because of neoliberalism’s constant need to find new investments. Something that is part in parcel to all conceptions of normativity, is the exceptionalizing of that which is being made normative. What I mean by that is that because normativity seeks to create a binding universal claim about [x], in this case transness, it needs to create an exceptional figure of that which it is normalizing as that figure which embodies said normalization. Thus in this context, transnormativity creates the exceptional trans body, or that body for which is made normative. This exceptional trans body comes in the form of having to medically transition through the medical industrial complex, relying on the ‘wrong body’ narrative in which trans people are understood as being ‘born in the wrong body’ (Puar, The Right To Maim, 2017, p. 68). This narrative thus impels trans people to have to medically transition into the ‘right body’ (only using the tools of the medical industrial complex) to be considered trans-enough to be included with the rights based framework. To be clear, I am not suggesting that trans folks who need to transition are inherently ‘neoliberal’ or that it is our fault in anyway, because us trans folks should be allowed unbridled access to medical technology. Rather, I am arguing that the structural construction of trans folks as only legitimate if they do so is part in parcel of this violent construction of transnormativity.
This particular transnormativity that semiotically sutures transness with medically transitioning (the meaning produced when trans is uttered comes to be always tied to medical transition), is a product of neoliberalism’s need to necessarily expand itself. To elaborate, due to the way in which technology produced within capitalist matrix’s will always mirror said capitalist realities, it means that the capture of transness into the medical industrial complex is done to reinforce neoliberalism’s ceaseless control (Deleuze, 1990, p. 5). To quote Deleuze (1990), “This technological evolution must be…a mutation of capitalism” (p. 5). Thus, technology is utilized within the neoliberal matrix as not only a way to expand its particular process of subjectification (creation of subjectivity and semiotics), but also as a way to create new nexuses in need of technology, and whose need of such technology transforms them into a market for which neoliberalism can invest within. To return to Fisher’s characterization of neoliberal capitalism, this process is done to construct subjectivity-as-capital, graft that conception of subjectivity onto the bodies of the masses, and then into their desire as that which they should internalize and produce themselves. In the context of trans folks, this is done through transnormativity and is born out these neoliberal apparatuses to function as a sort of forcible market creation. To elaborate, trans folks are subjected to daily mass violence (whose severity depends on other intersections), and then produced as only having the possibility of being considered ‘legitimate’ if they transition using the medical industrial complex, despite that never being the case.
Thus, within the status quo, trans subjectivity is produced as inherently tied to neoliberalism, in which to be legitimately trans you have to engage within systems of neoliberal medico-technological control. This sort of transnormativity could be thought of as the production of trans subjectivity-as-capitalism; insofar as the semiotic realm of transness is produced as always-already traveling through the medical industrial complex, it becomes inherently tethered to neoliberalism. This results in what Puar calls the ‘piecing’ of trans bodies, in which particular parts of trans bodies, understood as ‘body modifications,’ are circuited, or ‘pieced,’ as necessary to acquire to be truly trans (Puar, The Right To Maim, 2017, p. 69). Examples of this piecing reveal themselves in the imposed necessity to “acquire” ‘new’ genitals and thus, acquire particular body parts that are sutured as inherently male, female, or otherwise. Due to the fact that these pieces are only acquirable through neoliberal medical markets, “Trans piecing performs medicalization as strategic embodiment” (Puar, The Right To Maim, 2017, p. 69) in which trans bodies are transformed into a ‘multi-sectional market.’ Thus, in so far as transnormativity is born out of neoliberalism, and thus requires the piecing of trans bodies, transnormativity operates to forcibly transform the trans body into a market-in-of itself. One that, through being trans, is able to accumulate capital. Through forcing trans bodies into a situation in which the only (false) respite from violence is to engage within the medical industrial complex, neoliberalism is able to create a perpetual market of capital accumulation and investment in trans populations through the piecing of our bodies (Puar, The Right To Maim, 2017, p. 70).
Kill the Terrorist, Save the Trans:
Thus, in so far as it is clear that a, or multiple, transnormativity exists, the question is then “what does this transnormativity look like?” This question can be answered by interrogating the ways in which neoliberalism is necessarily intertwined with settler colonialism, colonialism, and imperialism. I contend that these intersections produce a transnormativity that operates through the killing of those populations (black and brown bodies) that Western coloniality and imperialism has marked as always-already the ‘terrorist.’ Thus, the classical colonial framing of the “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” (which certainty still exists) could be reconstructed through transnormativity to become “Kill the Terrorist, Save the Trans” in which the only way to crystalize your body as being ‘trans enough’ for inclusion within neoliberal rights frameworks, one must participate within systems, structures, and actions that engage in genocide against those constituted as the terrorist. This particular transnormativity seems to answer Puar’s (The Right To Maim, 2017) question of whether a “Trans(homo)nationalism” really exists, with a resounding yes (p. 58).
Briefly, before theorizing how trans(homo)nationalism operates, it is necessary to articulate what ‘homonationalism’ is, in that trans(homo)nationalism operates on the same conception of modernity that Puar sketches homonationalism as. Puar (Terrorist Assemblages, 2017) beings to theorize homonationalism as a marker, and thus structure for modernity, in which a state, population, or civil society is measured as good or ‘civilized,’ based on their ability to index queer people into a neoliberal rights paradigm (p. 276–277). Part in parcel to this marker of modernity is a very particular conception of queerness, one that reinforces the realities of imperialist and colonial violence. This conception of queerness constructs the ‘queer’ as an individualized, exceptional subject; one who is able to articulate their proximity to the US nation building enterprise and thus is always-already white (Puar, Terrorist Assemblages, 2017, p. 21). Constructing the queer is such a way is done not only to continually forward the US genocidal project (through welcoming new communities to particulate in it), but also to frame out black and brown bodies from ever being considered queer in the first place (Puar, Terrorist Assemblages, 2017, p. 79). This vector of colonial and imperial violence operates not only in the overkill of black and brown queer folks (by wiping them from the ‘history’ of queerness altogether), but also produces an additional justification for genocide against said black and brown bodies. By severing people of color from a conception of queerness altogether, neoliberalism is able to paint them as inherently oppositional, or at the very least at some inherent tension. Neoliberalism is then able to utilize this violent conception of queerness to paint brown and black bodies as inherently homo and/or queerphobic, which is then used as a justification for their mass death vis-à-vis imperialist violence (Puar, Terrorist Assemblages, 2017, p. 79). This is done to circuit the desire of supposedly ‘radical’ organizations within the West to invest within imperialist projects as necessary for ‘queer liberation’ (Puar, Terrorist Assemblages, 2017, p. 79).
Trans(homo)nationalism functions similarly in that it operates as a marker of modernity, in which the neoliberal rhetoric of the ‘trans tipping point’ has led to the evaluation of (along the colonial scale of civilized/savage) civilization to be measured on the ability to index ‘trans rights’ within state, and non-state, apparatuses. This brings with it a conception of transness, or more specifically a transnormativity, in which to be read as legitimately trans, and thus able to be welcomed within the neoliberal rights paradigm, one must engage within structures and paradigms of colonial and imperialist violence. Although this paper has almost exclusively talked about the ways in which neoliberalism operates, and thus deploys its violence, it would be a mistake to think about neoliberalism (or any structure of power) as an isolated vector of violence. This is a mistake not only because trans(homo)nationalism arises out of the interplay between neoliberalism, settler and non-settler colonialism, and imperialism, but also because as Eyal Weizman brilliantly reveals in his book Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation, neoliberalism interface with other structures of oppression as an assemblage. Analyzing the way in which Israel’s settler colonial control of Palestine manifests itself, Weizman (2017) articulates that due to neoliberalism’s fundamental decentralization, and constant creation of new markets, its interaction with settler colonialism is one that diffuses the systems of settler colonialism into all aspects of life (p. 27). In the context of Palestine, an example of this being the way in which the Zionist settler colonial narrative, and thus violence, is affectively channeled through raw materials like buildings. To elaborate, after the British colonization, and then transferal to Israel, of Jerusalem, they razed most of the city and then rebuilt it with very specific stone codes that mandated a particular stone cladding (Weizman, 2017, p. 27). In the words of the architects of this plan, this was done to carry “emotional messages that stimulate other sensations embedded in our collective memory, producing…strong associations to the ancient holy city of Jerusalem” (Hashimshoni et all, 1972, p. 13). Or in other words, this was done in order to affectively forward the narrative of settler colonialism by generating emotional responses to said architecture, naturalizing the hegemonic land claim that Israel manifests to Palestine (Weizman, 2017, p. 28).
Thus, this trans(homo)nationalism arises out of a permutation of this assemblage of violence as a way to deploy said violences, and continually expand the assemblages reach by penetrating new forces and intensities, in this case transness. Like homonationalism, by indexing in a very particular conception of transness into rights paradigms, trans(homo)nationalism is able to project new horizons for the imperialist project. Through the severing of people of color from ever being considered trans, and thus constructing non-Western nations as unable to welcome trans folks into a paradigm of neoliberal rights, the Western world is able to justify imperialist wars to ‘civilize,’ or bring transness to those populations that have been removed by the semiotization of transness. To be clear, this does not mean that trans(homo)nationalism engages in violence only on the transnational theatre, but also in the domestic as well. Through reproducing the logic of fungiblity of the black body, in which blackness is always-already deserving of nothing but death and enslavement, the severing of transness from blackness is done in order to justify the mass killing of black trans women at the hands of the police while simultaneously praising the West’s ability to ‘protect’ trans people (Spillers, 1987, p. 67).
As previously articulated, one of the foundational ways that neoliberalism is able to reproduce itself is through the trapping of political organization and action into the current structure of political formation. In the context of the US this looks like politics only being able to be intelligible if they are expressed as ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal,’ with anything radical (that critiques the entire system of politics) like communism or anarchism being dismissed as ‘impossible’ or ironically, idealist. This specific function of neoliberalism, and an example of trans(homo)nationalism, reveals itself in Trump’s trans military ban and mainstream trans/LGBT groups responses to said ban. By utilizing the rhetoric of ‘trans inclusion’ and deconstructing transphobia, neoliberalism is able to circuit the entirety of trans politics to express itself soley in a way that reinforces the current state of things, and in the context of trans(homo)nationalism as a marker for modernity, reinforce the imperial and colonial projects of killing those that have been marked as the terrorist. To elaborate, responses that were deemed ‘worthy’ of entrance into mass culture (neoliberal) consisted of rigorous defenses of trans people being allowed into the military, rather than a critique of the military as something that is inherently imperialist and colonialist, and by consequence, transphobic (Milstein et all). In the charter of trans(homo)nationalism, trans narratives like that of Madeline Martinez, in which their transness and their military service are analogized as “in our core,” are universalized as constitutive of transness writ large (Milstein et all). The US military is then constructed as a bastion for trans people, and whose inclusion within it will help break down the construction of trans people as disposable. In this way the subjectivity of trans folks is produced as only intelligible in so far as they are able to participate within imperialist apparatuses like the military. It’s literally constructed as “in our core,” or that transness and service within the military cannot be separated from each other.
This particular flashpoint in the larger picture of US politics reveals the project of modernity under trans(homo)nationalism, the continual reification of imperialism, colonialism, and anti-blackness under the guise of neoliberal rights frameworks, politics of inclusion, and transnormativity. This method of modernity comes with very real violence, the marking of those deemed the terrorist, and the systemic elimination of them while residing within their own countries is a byproduct of trans(homo)nationalism. The fear of clear skies (as heralds of drone strikes) on the part of people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Palestine is a product of trans(homo)nationalism’s modernity. And to be clear, when I utilize the word terrorist I do not mean to deploy it in the same way that Western nation states do. Rather, I utilize it to reveal the way in which said nation states deploy it; as a tool of racialized violence. Specifically, the West semiotizes terrorist in particular ways (a threat to be eliminated, a threat par excellence) and then grafts it onto black and brown bodies very flesh. This is to say that their flesh is inscribed as always-already terrorists in waiting.
Thus, terrorist should not be thought of as a descriptor for a ‘threat’ or ‘evil’ but rather a racial signifier that justifies regimes of endless and genocidal violence; imperialism and colonialism. These particular signifiers should be thought of as that which generates the coherency for contemporary imperial actions, in that imperialism in the neoliberal age is fundamentally structured, and deployed, through the construction of the terrorist and the inevitable elimination of the terrorist. This is done because imperialism is best sustained when the masses desire it, forward it, and invest within the structures that allow for imperial violence to happen (Deleuze and Guattari, 2000, p. 345). Put more simply, structures of oppression are only able to sustain themselves when the masses don’t engage in revolutionary action against them, but rather remain complicit and/or actively forwarding them. Given that is the case, the assemblage of neoliberalism, imperialism, and settler colonialism produces the semiotics of the terrorist (a racialized justification for the killing of bodies of color), and then circuits that semiotic construction through the entirety of the way in which we conceive of the world, and thus desire. This then causes the elimination of the terrorist, or as Frank Wilderson II would argue, the elimination of the black body, as that which gives white, settler, and western life meaning and coherency (Wilderson, 2003, p. 232). Thus, fundamentally, trans people engaging in mass imperial violence against people of color all across the globe is no act of trans liberation, but rather the complete opposite. It merely forwards the imperial project under a different face, a different subjectification, that of transness and trans(homo)nationalism (Deleuze and Guattari, 2005, p. 129).
Given that trans(homo)nationalism, operates as a structure for which we chart modernity and thus the world, the question then becomes “how can we completely destroy this structure of modernity?” Following Alyson Escalante, I propose revolutionary action as an answer to trans(homo)nationalism, in the form of gender abolition. Given that trans(homo)nationalism is only able to sustain itself due to the bounds established by the structure of gender, and thus static conceptions of gender identity (rights), the complete destruction of gender would necessarily cause trans(homo)nationalism to collapse in on itself. Gender abolition is not a call for a privileging of trans violence or gendered violence above others, rather it is a call for the complete and total destruction of the world as we know it. As Escalante (2018) succinctly says “The abolition of gender…means destroying the capitalist system which produces the nuclear family…This means overcoming colonialism and white supremacy which rely on gendered discourses to justify their violence.” Without this commitment to complete and total abolition, trans futures become sutured with the continual reproduction of mass violence and true trans liberation becomes irrevocably impossible.
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— — (2005). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis and London, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
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Milstein, K., & Steinmetz, K., & Bubello, K. (No Date). ‘I Will Forever Be An American Solider’: Transgender Service Members Respond To Trump’s Ban. Time. Retrieved from http://time.com/donald-trump-president-transgender-troops/
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Puar, J. K. (2017). Terrorist Assemblages: homonationalism in queer times. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
— — (2017). The Right To Maim: Debility | Capacity | Disability. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Spillers, H. (1987). Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book. Diacritics, 17(2), 64–81.
Weizman, E. (2017). Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation. London and Brooklyn, NY: Verso.
Wilderson III, F. B. (2003). Gramsci’s Black Marx: Whither the Slave in Civil Society? Social Identities, 9(2), 225–240.
 I know that a statement like this would seem to ignore the way in which anti-blackness produces the black body as the slave, vis-à-vis the re-composition of chattel slavery and anti-blackness writ large, (in that blackness is always a commodity for civil society) but following Frank B. Wilderson III, the context for which I am talking about is the position of the worker, which is a position that the black body is never afforded because it is constructed and disciplined as a slave in of itself. This is a distinction that I do not have time to flesh out in this essay, but if interested I would recommend reading Frank B. Wilderson III’s article “Gramsci’s Black Marx: Whither the Slave in Civil Society?.”