Queer-Trans-Race-Empire Symposium

About the Conference

For this event, we will be bringing together a range of scholars who in various ways are working within queer studies and trans studies on questions related to race and empire.  The aim of the symposium is to help make connections across what otherwise can be separate fields (both disciplines and interdisciplines) and to generate conversation — among participants as well as faculty and students at UNCG — about the kinds of knowledge that can be produced through queer and trans analytics when engaging questions of race, comparative racialization, imperialism, and colonialism.

Our interest in holding such a symposium at this moment in time also has to do with recent events in the state and, in light of them, our desire to illustrate the vital work performed by queer and trans scholarship; to speak to our students’ expressed interest in developing intersectional frameworks for understanding sexuality and gender identity; and to forge ahead in the face of efforts to undermine such work.

The symposium will take place on Friday, February 24 in the Virginia Dare Room of Alumni House.

The symposium is cosponsored by: Women’s and Gender Studies, Communication Studies Department; Department of Educational Leadership and Cultural Foundations; Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures; English Department; History Department; Media Studies Department; Office of Intercultural Engagement; Office of the Provost; Office of the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Religious Studies Department; Philosophy Department.

Presenter Bios

ShahNayan Shah
University of Southern California

Nayan Shah is Professor of American Studies & Ethnicity and History and chair of the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. His research examines historical struggles over bodies, space and the exercise of state power. His scholarship has contributed to studies of race, sexuality and gender, to the history of migration, health, law and governance. He is the author of two award-winning Asian American history books: Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality and the Law in the North American West(University of California Press, 2011) and Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown (University of California Press, 2001). He is former co-editor of GLQ. His new project on the Refusal to Eat in Indefinite Detention, explores the transnational history of mass hunger strikes, and political struggle and medical ethical crises with 20th century and contemporary case studies drawn from U.S. and British suffrage activists, Irish Republicans, Bengali Revolutionaries, Japanese American Internees, South African anti-apartheid activists, Guantanamo prisoners and refugees in Australia, US. and Europe.

HallLisa Kahaleole Hall
Wells College

Lisa Kahaleole Hall is interested in the intersections of race, colonialism, and indigeneity with gender and sexuality. She is currently engaged with two different scholarly projects—one an exploration of the space for the grassroots cultural productions of indigenous women and women of color in the US "Women in Print" movement of the 1970-90s, and the second a transnational comparison of indigenous feminisms in the US Hawaii, Australia and Aotearoa / New Zealand. Her work has appeared in Wicazo Sa Review, American Quarterly, The Contemporary Pacific, and Amerasia Journal, as well as in several scholarly collections.

WuCynthia Wu
State University of New York, Buffalo

Cynthia Wu specializes in Asian American and critical ethnic studies, U.S. literatures after 1865, disability studies, and queer of color analysis. She is the author of Chang and Eng Reconnected: The Original Siamese Twins in American Culture (Temple University Press, 2012). Currently, she is at work on two projects—one that examines military service among Asian Americans and the other on intraracial same-sex desire in Asian American literature. Excerpts from these manuscripts have appeared in Amerasia Journal, Meridians, and Signs. In addition to her scholarly work, Wu has written for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. She has held leadership positions in the Association for Asian American Studies, the Modern Language Association, and the Society for Disability Studies. She has served on the editorial boards of Disability Studies Quarterly, the Journal of Asian American Studies, and Text and Performance Quarterly.

AizuraAren Aizura
University of Minnesota

Before joining the University of Minnesota, Aren Aizura was a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Research on Women at Rutgers University. He also held a post-doctoral fellowship in Gender, Race and Science in the Department of Gender Studies at Indiana University. Aizura’s interdisciplinary research looks at how queer and transgender bodies shape and are shaped by technologies of race, gender, transnationality, medicalization and political economy. He studies gender reassignment surgery tourism in Thailand and elsewhere; trans and queer migration, especially queer/trans involvement in transnational economies of care work; and looking at the circuitry of nationalism, and biopolitics and value as they relate to gender variant life. His current book project, Mobile Subjects: travel, transnationality and transgender lives, maps the figure of transsexual transition as a travel narrative.

SmallsShanté Paradigm Smalls
St. Johns University

Shanté Paradigm Smalls teaches courses on African American Lit & Culture, global blackness, hip hop, queer theory, and race and genre fiction. Her current book project is Hip Hop Heresies: New York City's Queer Aesthetics which uses critical race theory, hip hop studies, and queer theory to consider how New York City hip hop music, visual art, and film offers “queer articulations” of race, gender, and sexuality. Her next book project: Androids, Cyborgs, Others: Black Futurism, Black Fantasy, investigates black post-humanism from the 19th century to the present. She is the co-editor of “All Hail the Queenz: A Queer Feminist Recalibration of Hip Hop Scholarship,” a special issue of Women & Performance with Jessica Pabon, and she has articles published or forthcoming in Lateral, Criticism, and American Behavioral Scientist.

CovielloPeter Coviello
University of Illinois, Chicago

Peter Coviello specializes in American literature and queer studies. He is the editor of Walt Whitman’s Memoranda During the War (Oxford 2004) and the author of Intimacy in America: Dreams of Affiliation in Antebellum Literature (Minnesota 2005) and Tomorrow’s Parties: Sex and the Untimely in Nineteenth-Century America (NYU 2013), a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in LGBT Studies and Honorable Mention for the Alan Bray Memorial Book Prize from the MLA’s GL/Q Caucus. With Jared Hickman he co-edited a 2014 special issue of American Literature entitled “After the Postsecular.” He has written about Walt Whitman, the history of sexuality, queer children, 18th- and 19th-century American literature, Mormon polygamy, stepparenthood, pop music, and much besides. This work has appeared in PMLA, American Literature, ELH, GLQ, and Raritan, as well as in venues like the LA Review of Books, Avidly, Frieze, and The Believer.

Symposium Schedule & Presentation Abstracts

Due to the fact that two of the presenters had to withdraw at the last minute, the schedule has been changed to the following:
10:00 am – 12:15 pm >> Panel 1: Genealogies of the Present

Lisa Kahaleole HallBodies of Knowledge: from Junípero Serra to Kumu Hina

Recent protests against the canonization of Father Junípero Serra, known as the founder of the California missions, highlight the long history of colonial hatred and disgust acted out on racialized bodies and the diversity of their gender and sexual expression. Contemporary movements combatting sexism, misogyny, homophobia and anti-trans violence must be connected to this larger history in order to fight for the sovereignty and worth of all bodies.


Peter Coviello — Sex and the Gods: Notes Toward a Biopolitics of Secularism

This talk takes up what prophet Joseph Smith called “plural patriarchal marriage” – that is, polygamy – in its relation to the racialization of Mormonism in the later nineteenth century, over a stretch of years in which the Mormons would appear, by turns, as heretics, sex-radicals, “American Mohammedans,” zealous anti-imperialists, racialized refugees, colonizers, and eventually white nationalists (as well as reluctant monogamists). I want to suggest that the scandal-making Mormons, who were so much a part of the racial history of American sexuality, offer us a unique purchase, too, on what I call the biopolitics of secularism: on the emergence of that fused, disciplinary calibration of sex, racial status, and religiosity that, across a fantastic range of locales – from Utah to North Dakota to Tahrir Square to the policed beaches of France – continues to organize our fractured, long-running imperial modernity.


Cynthia Wu — The Chicago School’s Queer Gaze: Paul Siu’s The Chinese Laundryman

Paul Siu, a Chinese American sociologist, was a protégé of early Chicago School figures such as Ernest Burgess and Louis Wirth.  The ethnographic research for his dissertation, which was conducted in the 1930s and 40s, examined Chinese immigrant launderers.  As a son of a launderer himself, his personal history placed him in proximity to his subjects.  However, as a student who entered the United States under terms that exempted him from the Chinese Exclusion Acts, he occupied a structural position that was very different from them.  Siu both upheld and undermined early sociology’s valorization of heteronormativity in the same-sex attachments he developed in his ethnographic work.

12:15 pm – 1:15 pm >>Lunch Break
1:15 pm – 3:15 pm >> Panel 2: Worldings

Nayan Shah — “Estrangement and Survival”

Surveying four centuries of empire, conquest and racial subordination, this presentation examines the technologies of estrangement applied to and strategies of survival by sex and gender variant indigenous and racialized peoples in the North America. Estrangement operates through several technologies: colonial and imperial knowledge formation; state policing, incarceration and extralegal violence; subordination, exclusion and normalization. While the technologies of estrangement have produced a long history of violence to personhood, relationality, and intimacy, they have never been totalizing. Estrangement has also inspired strategies of survival, adhesiveness, refuge and support. Appreciating the operations of estrangement and the repertoires of belonging and endurance opens up alternative ways of understanding queer and trans pasts and futures.

Aren Aizura — Trans Worldings: Minor Mobilities in Wageless Life 

Trans and gender nonconforming subjects are recently becoming visible within the international left: their labor is suddenly being taken seriously in political theory, not merely as the freakish exceptions to a heteronormative labor theory of value but as paradigmatic subjects of labor. However, the racializing politics of devaluation haunt and deform even the political frameworks that seek to see or include trans and gender nonconforming subjects, filtered by assumptions about what can take place outside the borders of national citizenship or in wageless economies. In this paper I explore the complexity of that inclusion, both in labor theories of value and within left-social justice movements. I center my approach on the formation of a critical trans politics that draws on trans of color critique and theorizations of transnational reproductive labor chains. Instead of rejecting the primacy of the figure of the trans of color sex worker in an attempt to garner respectability, this approach collaborates and colludes with sex worker activism and trans women of color engaged in decarceration and jail solidarity, in order to make clear the stakes of relations between social reproduction, queer and trans visibility, racialization, and wageless life-making.

Shanté Paradigm Smalls — #BlackDeathsMatter: Performance, Queer-Trans-Black Bodies, and Public Space

In the wake of intensified state-sanctioned murder, abuse, and disenfranchisement of Black people, bodies, and lives in the 21st century, as well as the advent of new media and technology (both civilian and state-based) capturing many of these murderers and abuses, and most directly inspired by the murder and maligning of teenager Trayvon Martin, and the non-indictment of his murderer, three Afro-descended women, two queer and one straight, founded the #BlackLivesMatter movement in an attempt to circumvent and expose the everydayness of Black material and social death at the hands of the State, its agents, and its allies. #BlackLivesMatter activists, scholars, and sympathizers have deployed all manner of performance from die-ins, to #BlackBrunch disruptions of gentrified white Sunday brunch, to teach-ins, to performances, benefits, and other public acts by famous and non-famous artists, actors, and athletes.

My paper thinks through #BlackLivesMatter’s silent but implicit twin, #BlackDeathsMatter by turning to a trio of dance performances that, to varying degrees, work through the questions, affects, and aesthetics of Black Death. The performance items I discuss—all in video format—include rap artist Flying Lotus’s promotional video for his 2012 album, Until the Quiet Comes, which features the haunting death dance of Brooklyn dancer Storyboard P; a voguing dance performed by a gender-non-conforming Black person at the April 29, 2015 Union Square New York City protest against the murder of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray while in police custody; and the March 2016 voguing protest Black transwoman activist Mickey Bradford performed in defiance of police in front of North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory’s Charlotte mansion—foreground Black trans(ed) and queer(ed) performance and performativity translated into what Tommy DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez term “black sensibilities.”

These Black sensibilities are, they argue, “the enlivened, vibrating components of the palpable black familiar [and they] demonstrate the microeconomics of gesture that cohere to black performance” (2014, 8). That is to say, these performances demonstrate the value and value-exchange of Black performance in the wider world, certainly, but they also function as doings that imbue the everydayness of Black performative gesture with vitality, vitality that contests social death, and even vitality after material death. These dance and gestural motifs shake up the naturalness of the trajectory of Black social death and queer, especially trans and genderqueer, death and abjection. I’d like to argue that these Black performative gestures traverse in a bodily, affective, and psychic macro- and microeconomy and serve to restore Black life at the site of transaction—viewership, hearing, watching, participating, and other sensorial modalities of incorporation. For if the Black body is a target as many have argued, then can the Black dancing/performing body not also be a restorative agent? It is one that travels, and through gesture, dance, scholarship, and other modes or performances, heals and restores the vitality that has been stolen from Black people. This paper also thinks through the possibilities of the historical, affective, performative, speculative, and political linkages between the terms “Black,” “Death,” and “Matter.”

3:15 pm – 4:00 pm >> Closing Reception

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