Trans Without Borders: Displaced Sovereignty, Transtopia, and the Politics of Historical Difference

Howard Chiang
UC Davis

This book charts new ways of writing trans history. The concept of transtopia, which posits a continuum model of transness, activates a space of historical inquiry that exceeds both the transphobia of the past and the transgender presumption of the present. That is, it challenges both the assumption that gender nonconforming figures did not exist historically and the idea that the Western category of transgender delivers the best framework for understanding their experience. Historians and other scholars of the past can learn from the interventions of transtopia, because doing queer/trans history this way unveils some of the most salient problems that have plagued methods of historical inquiry. These problems include (1) the imposition of contemporary Western categories, such as transgender, on the distanced past or colonized societies, (2) the failure to account for female gender/sexual transgression in most social histories outside the West, (3) the neglect of racial capitalism and settler colonialism in regions beyond North America and Australia, and (4) the denial of the value borrowed from a theoretical rubric invented in a non-Western context to throw light on marginalized experiences within the West. Though overlapping to some degree, each chapter of the book addresses these problems separately.