Vortrag am Freitag: Queer Animality

Prof. Eva Hayward
Cut Sex Animal – The Social Aesthetic of Trans
Freitag, 4.12.2009, 12 Uhr (c.t.) an der Universität Hamburg
Fachbereich Soziologie, Allende-Platz 1, Raum 245

Außer der Reihe möchten wir Euch zu einem Vortrag mit dem vielversprechenden Titel „Cut Sex Animal – The Social Aesthetic of Trans“ einladen, den wir in Kooperation mit der Koordinationsstelle für Frauenstudien/Frauenforschung ermöglicht haben und der am morgigen Freitag, dem 4. Dezember 2009 stattfindet. Prof. Eva Hayward ist zurzeit Guest Researcher am Center for Gender Research an der Uppsala University in Schweden und Assistant Professor am Department of Cinematic Arts des Interdisciplinary Film and Digital Media Program der University of New Mexico.

Im Vortrag (in englischer Sprache) geht es um den Schnitt am transsexuellen Körper als eine materialisation des Selbst, um die Probleme der Kategorie „menschlich“, um „ambiguously specied/sexed bodies“, und um die tierisch-menschliche Vermischung von Buffalo Bills Haut. In ihrem Vortrag überschreitet Eva Hayward Grenzen von Kunst und Wissenschaft sowie von Intimität, Transsexualität und Animalität.

Ein ausführliches Abstract zum Vortrag findet Ihr weiter unten. Alle Interessierten sind herzlich Willkommen!

Cut Sex Animal – The Social Aesthetic of Trans
In a series of speculative investigations of Susan Stryker’s autoethnographic performance piece, “The Surgeon Haunts My Dreams,” Erika Rutherford’s figurative painting “The Challenge” (1995), Jonathan Demme’s filmic character “Buffalo Bill” in Silence of the Lambs (1991), and my own embodied knowledge (phenomenological account) of transsexual becoming, this paper looks at how male-to-female cuttings (SRS, body modification) are enactments of species boundaries and cutting as healing.

In conversation with Stryker’s work, I propose that the cut enacts a kind of trans-embodiment such that to cut is not necessarily about castration or bodily loss, but an attempt to re-cast the self through the cut body. The whole (body) and the part (cut) are metonymically bound in an attempt to trans-form. However successful or not, however uncomfortable for readers, however seemingly masochistic, Stryker’s “[I’ll] lift my hips to meet His knife” can be understood as wished-for metamorphosis. To cut is not to be an amputee, but to produce the conditions of physical and psychical re-growth. The cut is possibility. For some transsexual women, the cut is not so much an opening of the body, but a generative effort to pull the body back through itself in order to feel mending, to feel the growth of new margins. The cut is not just an action; the cut is part of the ongoing materialization by which a transsexual tentatively and mutably becomes. The cut cuts the meat (not primarily a visual operation for the embodied subject, but rather a proprioceptive one), and a space of psychical possibility is thereby created. From the first, a transsexual woman embodiment does not necessarily foreground a wish to “look like” or “look more like a woman” (i.e. passing)—though for some transwomen this may indeed be a wish (fulfilled or not). The point of view of the looker (those who might “read” her) is not the most important feature of trans-subjectivity—the trans-woman wishes to be of her body, to “speak” from her body.

From this vantage of cut-sex-as-heal-wound, I turn to Rutherford’s (post-operative transsexual) abstracted human-animal figures. I propose that the transsexual embodies a problematic for the category of “human.” Indeed, the transsexual, here specifically MTF, transitions through “animal traffic,” constituting the self in opposition to humanizing efforts even when that opposition is not desired. (The MTF transsexual does not necessarily desire transition to oppose gendered/sexed distinctions—indeed many of us want the comfort of, what Jay Prosser calls, body as home). In addition to illustrating the absence of a wished-for referentiality, Rutherford’s painting also records the animal lifeways that constitute transsexual transitions in formal aspects (thickness of paint, brushstroke) as well as narrative devices (representation, metaphor).

Her painting, “The Challenge,” evokes a reminder that Eugen Steinach studied “Hormonal replacement therapy” through the surgical alterations of testes and ovaries in animals. These transplantation techniques led to experimental surgeries on humans. The first MTF sex change (1921) was a non-human ovary implantation. Premarin, consisting primarily of conjugated estrogens isolated from mare’s urine, would replace these treatments. This “zoontology” is depicted in Rutherford’s paintings of ambiguously specied/sexed bodies. Her painting illustrates corporeal assemblages of species and sex. She focuses on how transsexuals create embodiment not by jumping out of their skins, but by taking up a stitch in their skins, by folding themselves, and tying a knot in themselves, with all the consequences en-fleshed and en-skinned into the so-called “self.”

Working from Stryker and Rutherford, I turn to the fictional (but no less figural) character of Buffalo Bill to consider how cutting the body exposes the ways sex is speciated. Bill practices a form of animal husbandry on his/her victim because s/he suffers a kind of “gender dysphoria” and thinks this can be remedied by covering him/herself in skin: in fact, s/he is making him/herself a “woman suit,” and s/he harvests to gather the necessary “fabric.” Bill is the animalized-human, chrysalis to moth, a transsexual that makes her/himself out of the skins of others.

What Bill makes visible is that the the of the body is constituted through a pellicular imagination, skin feels its way toward embodiment. The skin is not only metonymic of the body, a part of the whole, but indeed the skin stands as indistinguishable from the body, the skin enfolds and encloses the the of the body into itself. It is this the of the body where we can see here how Bill’s sexual transformation is articulated constitutively with a species discourse. Bill represents a trans-sex-species effort in reworking his/her own skin by betraying symbolic laws that differentiate sex and make human-skin “self” and animal-skin clothing. This is to say, cutting the sex of the body is a transgression of a speciated self (what it means to be human), which is announced in Bill’s turning human skins into wearable skins, making his/her victims animalized-humans.

Eva Hayward is an assistant professor in the Department of Cinematic Arts, University of New Mexico. She has lectured and published widely on animal studies, experimental film, and embodiment. Her recently published essays, “Lessons From a Starfish: Prefixial Flesh and Transspeciated Selves” and “Spider City Self,” explore intimacy, transsexuality, and animality.

“More Lessons from a Starfish: Prefixial Flesh and Transpeciated Selves”. In: Women’s Studies Quarterly, 2008.
“Lessons from a Starfish” In: Queering the Non/Human, Noreen Giffney and Myra Hird, Eds. London: Ashgate Press, 2008.
“Coralogical,” In: Human/Animal Encyclopedia, edited by Mark Bekoff.
“Enfolded Vision: Refracting The Love Life of the Octopus,” In: Octopus: A Journal of Visual Studies, Volume 1, Fall 2005.