SOAS University of London

Centre for Global Media and Communications

Trans Femme Futures: Femme, Complicity, Solidarity

Dr Nat Raha & Dr Mijke van der Drift

Date: 18 November 2021Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 18 November 2021Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: BGLT

Type of Event: Seminar

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Chair: Dr Alyosxa Tudor

In this talk we discuss transfeminism as ethical and politicised collective practices of care and solidarity. In contrast to arguments that read gender through the pressures of legible social categories or that root politics in the possibility of individual rights, our reading of transfeminism emerges from femme and the heterogeneous collectivities that form through and around femme lives. We emphasise (learning from Marquis Bey (2020)) that transfeminism opens approaches to embodiment and social formations, and thereby holds space for collective flourishing while simultaneously resisting the violence of categorical gendering. From the collective spaces of femme thus emerges a radical coalitional ethics that enables anti-oppressive world-making and collective autonomy.

We conceptualise femmeness as an aesthetics of gendering, saturated with generosity, emerging through the multilogical engagements of collectivities (not just a claim to becoming “who one is”). Femme describes a constellation of queer, gendered expressions emerging from marginalisations of race and gender, disability, and victim/survivor. Using experiences of desire, belonging, and generosity, but also harm, femme works to uproot the expectations of femininity, which in turn inform the building of community and collective power. This involves navigating relations, contradictions, and contestations. With femmeness rooted in working against dominating structures, it does not ‘manage expectations’ in the manner demanded of normative femininities as reproductive labour. Instead, femmeness plays with expectations and relationalities and is in that sense not predicated upon mastery, but on embellishment, nurturing, and relishing the joyful aesthetics of gendered play.

Thinking through complicity as an abolitionist practice (Lugones 2003, Drift 2021, Bernard 2021) allows an ethics to change form, from a mono-directional or a law-like single structure, to a navigation of different pulls and pushes that retain collective imaginaries of liberation. Femmeness opens up navigating spaces where complicities are at play. Instead of monological attributions such as ‘propriety’ ‘virtuousness’ and ‘rightness’ that encapsulate relations in a single structure, the question of ‘how do people relate to me’ becomes attentive to difference and collectivity. This acute awareness replaces assumed commonality and gauges communalities in practice. Simultaneously, this awareness also highlights complicities as a factor in coalition building. Accountability for complicities can provide a motivating force for dismantling structures. Transfem(me)inism highlights how coalitional engagements contest purification and thereby hold space for differences. At the same time, such collectives are at any time in need of accountability and to face up to complicities.

Speaker bios:

Dr Nat Raha is a poet and activist-scholar, based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her current research focuses on transfeminism, practices and collectives of care and social reproduction, racial capitalism and decoloniality, across politics, poetry, art and hi(r)story. She is the author of three collections of poetry, of sirens, body & faultlines (Boiler House Press, 2018), countersonnets (Contraband Books, 2013) and Octet (Veer Books, 2010). Her recent creative and critical writing includes 'Queer and Trans Social Reproduction', in Transgender Marxism (Pluto Press, 2021); 'The place of the transfagbidyke is in the revolution', co-authored with Grietje Baars, in Third Text ('Imagining Queer Europe', 2021); 'Embodying autonomous trans healthcare in zines', in TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly ('The Europa Issue', 2021); 'blubber, guts, southern leith', in MAP Magazine; and 'solidarity & house.', commissioned for the Love & Solidarity, Solidarity & Love exhibitions by Jamie Crewe (Grand Union and Humber Street galleries, 2020). Her writing also appears in We Want It All: An Anthology of Radical Trans Poetics (Nightboat Books, 2020) and ON CARE (MA Biblioteque, 2020). With Fiona Anderson and Glyn Davis, Nat co-edited 'Imagining Queer Europe Then and Now', a special issue of Third Text Journal (January 2021).

Nat completed her PhD, titled 'Queer Capital: Marxism in queer theory and post-1950 poetics' at the University of Sussex in 2018. In her current role as a Research Fellow at the University of St Andrews, Nat co-curated the exhibition 'Life Support: Forms of Care in Art and Activism' at Glasgow Women's Library (14 August - 16 October 2021).

Nat and Mijke have been working together on transfeminism since 2015, and are collaboratively writing a book titled 'Trans Femme Futures: An Ethics for Transfeminist Worlds'. Together they co-authored the chapter, 'Radical Transfeminism: Trans as anti-static ethics escaping neoliberal encapsulation', in The New Feminist Literary Studies (Cambridge UP, 2020).

Mijke van der Drift is tutor at the Royal Academy of Art, the Hague, and Visiting Lecturer at the Royal College of Art, London. Mijke is currently working with Red Forest Collective on Sambatas Stagings in HKW, Berlin as part of an ongoing research into Extractivism, Datafication and Transformative Justice, funded by Kone Foundation, Finland, Goethe Institute, and Haus der Kulturen der Welt.