In the fall I will be joining the faculty of Grand Valley State University as a Visiting Professor in Visual and Media Arts. My first semester I will be teaching Film Culture, Film Theories, and History of Documentary. I am looking forward to becoming a member of GVSU’s vibrant campus and collaborating with my fellow Film and Video faculty.
I am back in LA after yet another amazing WisCon. This was a big year for me. I presented on three panels (one on judging the Titpree, a second on Sense8, and a third in response to the vids that premiered at the vid party). The Sense8 panel, which included brilliant papers by micha cárdenas and Cáel Keegan and extended our discussion about the series’ utopianism from the Spectator roundtable, was especially well received. I also premiered my Hidden Figures vid at the vid party and my student Nina Lamaria premiered “Meeting of Two (Space) Queens,” the Barbarella femslash vid she made for my “Sexuality and Science Fiction” course. The audience loved the latter and discussed it fervently at the panel the next day. I felt extremely proud to be her teacher. Finally, as a member of the 2016 James Tiptree, Jr. Literary Award jury, I was given the incredible opportunity of introducing Anna-Marie McLemore and giving her the award for When the Moon Was Ours. I am sharing my speech about the novel below as well as the vid I made, which played for the 1000-person audience before Anna-Marie came on stage.
A few weeks after we selected When the Moon Was Ours as the Tiptree winner, I assigned the book to a small class of USC undergraduates. The seminar was “Sexuality and Science Fiction,” and I begged the forgiveness of those more fastidious students invested in the differences between science fiction and fantasy for sneaking in this work of magical realism. This stake in genre specificity was partially a result of my having assigned Joanna Russ’ “Speculations: The Subjunctivity of Science Fiction” on the first day of class. In that 1973 essay, she made the argument that what provides science fiction its dynamism is that “science fiction must neither be impossible nor possible.” By this she meant readers must judge the science-fictional-ness of any given story by what they themselves know of the actual world. In comparison, fantasy, she wrote, carries its own frame with it. “Actuality is the frame, fantasy (what could not have happened) exists inside the frame.” However, my last-minute choice to assign When the Moon Was Ours in a science fiction seminar was quickly forgiven.
True, in this novel my students encountered impossible characters, objects, and events quite unlike those we had read in any other text across the semester: a girl who grows roses from her wrist, their changing colors exposing her most intimate desires; pumpkins that turn to glass, only shattering and rising to the stars when long silenced truths are finally spoken; a river with the potential to either change one’s body, as one had always wished, or take it away, as one had also sometimes wished. However, to my students, many of whom were queer and at least one of whom was trans, When the Moon Was Ours and its impossible characters and events articulated the very possibility of their own lives. Too often rendered impossible by those who would wish them so, my queer and trans students found in the magic of Sam and Miel’s love (and that of Miel’s sister and Sam’s mother and even the Bonner sisters who learn to let go) the magic they experience every day. In speaking her and her husband’s truths, Anna-Marie McLemore shattered the frame that tells queer youth that their love could not or ought not to exist. She created imagery that made the forms of intimacy and kinship so familiar to me, my students, and thousands of others like us as palpable as a pollination brush on a flower petal. She gave us the moon and made it ours.
Before Anna-Marie comes on stage to accept her prize, I would like to play a vid I made of the book, which celebrates the queer love story at its core.
The special issue of Spectator on transgender media that I edited is off to the printer and should be available to readers in a matter of weeks. It includes essays by Laura Horak, Tom Sapsford, Quinlan Miller and Erica Rand, Lucy J. Miller, Eliza Steinbock, Rachel Reinke, and John Musser as well as a Sense8 roundtable featuring Moya Bailey, micha cárdenas, Laura Horak, Lokeilani Kaimana, Cáel M. Keegan, Geneveive Newman, Roxanne Samer, and Raffi Sarkissian. Check with your university library for a copy!
The book I edited withWilliam Whittington, Spectatorship: Shifting Theories of Gender, Sexuality, and Media, is available for pre-order with UT Press. It is designed for feminist and queer media studies classrooms and features contributions by Amy Lawrence, Gaylyn Studlar, Anna Everett, Stephen Tropiano, Mary Celeste Kearney, Christie Milliken, Sean Griffin, Hollis Griffin, Raffi Sarkissian, Jennifer DeClue, Harry Benshoff, Suzanne Scott, and others from across 25 years of the journal Spectator’s history.
My review of the Queer Film Classics series is now available online here. It is but one entry in Jump Cut 57. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the issue, which includes dossiers on Transgender Media, Queer Media, 1970s Leftist Media, and Under The Skin as well as a very special archive of the early feminist film journal Women and Film.
As the 2016-17 Postdoctoral Scholar–Teaching Fellow in Cinema & Media Studies at USC, I will be editing an issue of Spectator on transgender media. Below you will find the CFP. Please email me if you have any questions about contributing.
Call For Papers
Between Laverne Cox appearing on the cover of Time and Caitlyn Jenner starring in her own E! reality series, the debut of Transparent on Amazon and the release of the first season of Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s Sense8 on Netflix, the last two years have witnessed an unprecedented eruption of transgender characters and stories. Few corners of U.S. popular culture, news, and media have remained untouched by these media events. This issue of Spectator is devoted to critically examining and contextualizing these events within contemporary feminist, LGBT, and anti-racist political movements; the changing media landscape; and the history of transgender media. How have race, sexuality, and class informed the materialization of these representations and their circulation? What are their genealogies and how has transgender media changed over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries? This issue is also particularly interested in contributions devoted to the study of the work of lesser-known transgender media artists. It is curious about the spaces that have been created within media or media cultures for genderqueer folks who live outside of the binary as well as how the stakes of visibility politics differ for trans women and trans men. Finally, the editor would like to organize a roundtable on Sense8. If you would like to participate in such a contribution, please specify your approach to and interest in the series.
Deadline for Submission: November 15th, 2016
Spectator is a biannual publication and submissions that address the above topics in the following areas are now invited for submission:
- Transgender representation in media (historical or contemporary)
- Transgender cultural production (the work of transgender filmmakers, showrunners, etc.)
- Theories of transgender spectatorship or transgender audience studies
- Transgender celebrities and the popular press
- Transgender aesthetics or poetics
- Transgender temporalities and media
- Book reviews of recent scholarship in transgender media or related studies
Manuscripts to be considered for publication should be sent to:
Roxanne Samer, Issue Editor
The Bryan Singer Division of Cinema & Media Studies
School of Cinematic Arts, Room 320
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA 90089-2211
Submissions should be emailed directly to the issue editor. Manuscripts should include the title of the contribution and the name (s) of authors. As well as the postal address, email address, and phone numbers for author who will work with the editor on any revisions. All pages should be numbered consecutively. Contributions should not be more than 5,000 words. Please include a brief abstract for publicity. Authors should also include a brief biographic entry.
Articles submitted to the Spectator should not be under consideration by any other journal.
Book Reviews may vary in length from 300 to 1,000 words. Please include title of book, retail price and ISBN at the beginning of the review.
Forum or Additional Section contributions can include works on new archival or research facilities or methods as well as other relevant works related to the field.
Electronic Submissions and Formatting. Authors should send copies of their work via email as electronic attachments. Please keep backup files. Files should be Microsoft Word in PC or Mac format, depending on the editor’s preference. Endnotes should conform to the Chicago Manual of Style.
Upon acceptance, a format guideline will be forwarded to all contributors as to image and text requirements.
Download the PDF: SpectatorCFP_TransgenderMedia_Samer
On April 12th I defended my dissertation. As I prepare to file with the university, I would like to share my acknowledgments publicly, because the people named below are nothing less than incredible and deserve recognition as such. Writing a dissertation can be an isolating experience. I feel very fortunate that I was never alone for long.
This dissertation owes its completion and any intelligence or poetics it demonstrates to Kara Keeling. For six years she has served as my greatest mentor, role model, and advocate. She has pushed me in my thinking and writing and done so with untold patience and an incredible sense of humor. My hope is that I have met her partway.
I am grateful for the support, feedback, and encouragement of an incredible committee. Henry Jenkins has read countless drafts and offered tireless comments on each. He is either in possession of the best time turner or the kindest heart. Probably both. Aniko Imre has also served as a careful reader, and her comments and questions have challenged my thinking about the project’s methods and scope. Jack Halberstam has repeatedly surprised me with the enthusiasm he brings to my research and writing. His feedback will sustain my thinking as the project grows.
At USC, I have also benefitted from the less formal mentorship of David E. James, Bill Whittington, and Laura Serna. David welcomed me to USC and has continued to encourage my research on women’s experimental cinema through support and example. Bill soon became a great friend in the department, helping me navigate graduate school when I needed it most. Laura directed the Visual Studies writing group. Her insightful feedback made me a better writer.
Over the course of this journey, I have also had the pleasure of finding mentorship among friends. I have learned more than I could ever hope to convey from Alex Juhasz, Alexis Lothian, micha cárdenas, and Lokeilani Kaimana. I admired Alex’s research long before I met her, and by working with her as a teaching assistant I was able to witness her put her feminist methodologies into practice as a teacher. She brings out the best in her students, and whenever we meet she brings out the best in me. This project quite simply would not be what it is without Alexis’ friendship and mentorship. Alexis introduced me to WisCon. She inspired me to vid. At times I have followed closely in her footsteps. She in turn has often held up a mirror for me and championed my work. micha has been my sister in the fullest sense of the word. So many of my ideas grew in discussions with her at the beach, over tacos, and stuck in LA traffic. She has cheered for me and given me hope every step of the way. Without Lokeilani I would not have made it through one of the roughest periods of writing. Isolated in rural Massachusetts, the queer world we made together in conversation gave me life. I continue to feel that warmth whenever we are together, in person and online. I aspire to their gracefulness and consideration.
Umayyah Cable, Tisha Dejmanee, and Branden Buehler have been my comrades on this journey. Each of them has nurtured my work through feedback or collaboration. However, they have also done much more in their friendship—in talking about anything but work and in their kindness and humor when doing so. The cats of the Kitty Bungalow Charm School for Wayward Cats have been my and Tisha’s great conspirators. Rosanne Sia got me dancing again. My mind and body thank her. I also like to believe that the project owes a levity to her influence.
This project grew through the feedback of countless individuals in writing groups and at conferences. I would like to thank everyone in the Visual Studies writing group. Umayyah Cable, Luci Marzola, Joshua Mitchell, Feng-Mei Heberer, Lara Bradshaw, Alison Kozberg, Kevin Driscoll, and Kate Page-Lippsmeyer were always generous with their comments. Jennifer DeClue read much of this dissertation is early draft form and asked questions that were necessary to answer in moving forward. While I was in Northampton, Michelle Maydanchik, Alex Seggerman, and Yael Rice kindly welcomed me into their writing group and helped me give structure to my third chapter. I presented much of this work at the Society of Cinema and Media Studies and the National Women’s Studies Association, and the project has benefited from fellow panelists and audience members’ questions and suggestions. Thank you especially to Julia Lesage, Chuck Kleinhans, Patty White, Lisa Henderson, Robin Blaetz, Shira Segal, Jackie Stacey, Ingrid Ryberg, Greg Youmans, Carol Stabile, Vicki Callahan, and Amanda Phillips. Thank you also to the SCMS Queer Caucus and to Jen Malkowski, my Queer Caucus mentor.
This project would be a faint shell of what it has become without the support of the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Harvard University and the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College. Grants from both of these institutions provided me with sustained access to materials now at the heart of this project. The archivists at each of these institutions introduced me to some of my most intimate interlocutors, in ephemera and in person. Joanne Donovan made it possible for me to view Songs, Skits, Poetry, and Prison Life and the Just Us videoletter. She also made them both available online, so that I could watch them again from Los Angeles. Maida Goodwin was an immense help while I was doing my research at Smith. She also put me in touch with Joan E. Biren, which in turn lead to interviews with the other members of the original Irises. Getting to speak to Joan E. Biren, Frances Reid, Mary Lee Farmer, Cathy Zheutlin, Ariel Dougherty, Jeanne Gomoll, and Amanda Bankier grounded this project and gave it pleasure. I feel privileged to be the one who gets to share these women’s work with the world, and it was an honor to discuss it with them. A deep thanks also to May Haduong and Cassie Blake at the Academy Film Archive.
In many ways this project began years ago during my earliest research as an undergraduate passionate about feminism and film. Monica McTighe did not blink when I wanted to write about film and video in an art history class. She also introduced me to the writing of Laura Mulvey. One of my fondest memories is of the two of us traipsing back to her office on a snowy day, so that I could borrow her copy of Visual and Other Pleasures over Thanksgiving weekend. Before I started my undergraduate thesis on Carolee Schneemann, Monica told me I needed to learn how to write. I took her feedback to heart, and this dissertation is evidence of my continued work to do just that. When I was a master’s student, Tom Gunning had a similar impact. He introduced me to the films of Marjorie Keller and helped me secure funding so I could travel to New York and watch prints of her films. He also instilled in me an enthusiasm for close reading. My undergraduate and master’s cohorts served as much needed friends and inspirations as I began this work, Laura Mitchell and Naomi Slipp especially.
Some of my strongest supports have been those friends who have known me since the time when becoming an academic was the furthest thing from my mind. Katie Cissel, Ari Chadwick-Saund, Kristina Moravec, Aaron Waechter, and Russell Shitabata have loved and believed in me since the era of collaged bedroom walls, chess tournaments, and crushes on dojo boys (and, before long, girls). They continue to serve as reminders that there are more important things in life than work. They also each inspire me with their own passions. It has been a joy to grow with and alongside each of them. When I was young my parents, Sally Marie and Yuri Samer, always encouraged me to follow my passion, and they have both been patient as it has lead to degree after degree after degree. As a media studies scholar, I wish they had let me watch more TV. However, I also know that my love for reading, which I learned from their example, has proven more than just useful, and I would not trade it for anything. My bio sister, Zoe Samer, has been my best friend in life. It is fun to see how similar our interests are in adulthood, even as they diverge from those of our parents. She is my favorite anti-racist, queer, feminist fan.
I am grateful for the partnership, love, and support of B. Bradburd during the crucial years of writing this dissertation. My chapter on Tiptree owes much to our thinking together.
Two fabulous creatures have sustained me through it all. I would not have survived graduate school without Raffi Sarkissian. We met on our first day at USC. Everything I have done since then, I have done with him (usually, literally) at my side. He read nearly every draft of every chapter, long before any committee member. He believed in me when I did not believe in myself. He is the brother-sestra I always wanted but have only recently come to realize I needed. I aspire to his kindness and generosity. Finally, I adopted my cat Amelie a few months before starting my undergraduate thesis. All of the ideas I have had since then may be but her own. Most of this dissertation was written with her on my lap, on the back of my chair, or at her perch immediately to my left. I will be eternally grateful for her companionship and love.
This week I am traveling to Milwaukee for the National Women’s Studies Association conference. I will be presenting on the “Fraught With Feeling: Affect, Activism, and Vulnerability in Networked Counterpublics” panel with Alexis Lothian, Avery Dame, Megan Condis, and Carol Stabile (as our respondent). In my paper, “Raising Fannish Consciousness: Accountability, Vulnerability, and Allyship in the Formation of Feminist Science Fiction Fandom,” I examine the early feminist science fiction fanzines Janus and The Witch and the Chameleon and argue that this fandom’s longevity (WisCon, the feminist SF con, is celebrating its 40th anniversary in May) is due to its early cultivation of an ethics of relation. Feminist science fiction fans and authors merged feminist and fannish practices, embracing accountability and vulnerability in the discussion of differences. Unlike the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which closed this year after decades of turmoil, largely around its anti-transgender policies, feminist SF fandom and WisCon continue to evolve, and they do so because of difficult negotiations, not despite them. Another important component to feminist SF fandom’s adaptability and perseverance is its sense of humor, and I will therefore also be discussing the zines’ hilarious fan art, as hinted at here.
The panel is Friday morning at 8am in Wisconsin Center, 102C (LCD). My co-panelists will be discussing trigger warnings in multiple contexts and queer online gaming culture. Please join us!
The preliminary conference program for SCMS (the Society of Cinema and Media Studies) came out today, and I am happy to announce that I will be participating in both a panel on LGBT audiences and a workshop on feminist and queer archiving methods.
The workshop, “The Unexpected and the Possible: Methods in Creating Feminist and Queer Archives,” with Alicia Kozma (Co-Chair), John Musser (Co-Chair), Vicki Callahan, T.L. Cowan, Dayna McLeod, and Jasmine Rault, will be Wednesday, March 25th, from 2-3:45pm.
The panel, “Looking for LGBT Audiences: New Approaches to Queer Media Spectatorship, Community, and Discourse,” with Raffi Sarkissian (Chair), Diana Pozo, Nicole Hentrich, and Patricia White (Respondent), will be Friday, March 27th, from 12:15-2pm. Below you can find the panel proposal, written by Raffi Sarkissian.
Please consider attending one or both, especially if you are a queer media studies scholar. Also, as the Queer Caucus Graduate Representative, I invite you to attend the Queer Caucus annual meeting and mixer (dates and times TBA)!
Looking for LGBT Audiences: New Approaches to Queer Media Spectatorship, Community, and Discourse
The increased visibility of and access to LGBT images and narratives over the past three decades has brought with it a stronger focus on LGBT audiences, audiences for LGBT content, and their active and queer participatory practices, past and present. Scholarship on such audiences has spanned many approaches: as agents of queer reading through spectatorship (Doty’s Making Things Perfectly Queer and White’s Uninvited); as constituent publics at film festivals (Rich, The New Queer Cinema); as constructed by the market (Sender, Business, Not Politics) and politics of the nineties’ “gay” movement (Becker, Gay TV and Straight America); and as active participants in online and new media platforms (Pullen, LGBT Identity and Online New Media). For the most part, this body of work chronicles LGBT audience’s constructed or interpretive position in relation to the text, without concentrated attention on their role in actively shaping the content. As media culture keeps moving online, audience’s commentary, consumption habits, and community building are becoming more central to how filmmakers, distributors, and marketers configure their content and its circulation.
This panel builds on existing and recent scholarship to assert that audiences play an increasingly formative role in the making and meanings of both mainstream and independent LGBT-produced media content. Whether it is commenting online, attending festivals, streaming niche content, or spreading the word through community, the three papers on this panel investigate the industry habits and audience discourse of gay television, queer women’s films, and queer porn to argue the various ways audience participation constructs the media made ostensibly for them. Diana Pozo turns to participatory production practices of The Crash Pad to investigate the blurring of producer/consumer and authenticity/fantasy in queer porn spectatorship. Roxanne Samer utilizes archives, interviews, and evolving industry practices to detail the role finding and making community plays in the distribution of films from second wave feminists to queer women filmmakers today. Nicole Hentrich and Raffi Sarkissian analyze the online discourse produced around HBO’s Looking to argue for the centrality of audience engagement in shaping the series’ cultural import. Patricia White will prepare a response. Together, this panel proposes focusing attention on the role audiences play in understanding queer media culture today.
Ahn, Patty, Julia Himberg, and Damon R. Young (eds.). “In Focus: Queer Approaches to Film, Television, and Digital Media.” In Cinema Journal, 2 (53), 2014.
Becker, Ron. Gay TV and Straight America. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. 2006.
Ng, Eve. “A ‘Post-Gay’ Era? Media Gaystreaming, Homonormativity, and the Politics of LGBT Integration.” Communication, Culture, & Critique 6.2 (June 2013): 258-283.
Rich, B. Ruby. New Queer Cinema: The Director’s Cut. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013.
Sender, Katherine. Business, Not Politics: The Making of the Gay Market. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.
On Sunday I presented on transfeminism and the BBC America TV series Orphan Black as a part of the “Transgression, Gender Disturbance, and Feminist Sci-Fi Futures” panel with Kim Brilliante Knight, Amanda Phillips, and micha cárdenas and chaired by Anne Cong-Huyen at the National Women’s Studies Association meeting in Puerto Rico. Giving my presentation the title “A Transfeminist Media Archaeology of Radical Feminism’s Futures,” I had originally planned to connect ideas around the possibility of living gendered life differently from early radical feminist texts, such as Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex, to 1970s feminist science fiction, including Joanna Russ’ The Female Man and James Tiptree Jr.’s “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?,” and more recent science fiction TV texts and then use this media archaeology to debunk trans-exclusionary radical feminist’s claims for representing 1960s/70s radical feminism’s futures. However, as I began to write my paper, I realized that the fan art of vidding might be a more appropriate medium within which to do such work. I had made a half a dozen or so fanvids over the last two years and was familiar with Alexis Lothian’s scholarship on vidding as a critical fan practice with similar processes as academic writing. I therefore decided to make my first academic fanvid, cutting together citations from all these sources with Orphan Black footage to Mirah‘s “Gold Rush.”
As a number of people asked for the link to the vid, either so that they might watch it again or share it with students, and because I would like to share the vid with others who could not make it to NWSA, I decided to make the presentation available here on my website. Below is a slightly revised version of my presentation, including the vid itself. I have cut my paragraph introducing the series, as plenty of more detailed information about Orphan Black can easily be found online. Thank you to Kim, Amanda, micha, and Anne (especially micha, who provided feedback on earlier versions) and our enthusiastic and insightful audience members!
A Transfeminist Media Archaeology of Radical Feminism’s Futures
Too often feminist history is written as a family drama with a fairly cisgender and heteronormative cast of mothers and daughters bickering about who ought to be respectful of whom and who is at risk of disinheritance or, alternatively, abandonment. Susan Faludi has gone so far as to call the latter “feminism’s ritual matricide,” writing, “With each go-round, women make gains, but the movement never seems able to establish an enduring birthright, a secure line of descent—to reproduce itself as a strong and sturdy force.” A recurring conflict within this family drama that has yet again come to the fore in recent months—with a series of largely online skirmishes—is around transfeminism and various feminist and/or female institutions’ unwillingness to accept trans women as “sisters.”
In Michelle Goldberg’s August 4th New Yorker article, “What is a Woman? The Dispute Between Radical Feminism and Transgenderism,” the narration of such family feuds appear as a full out war, except in her account it is the more senior women (tenured and retired faculty and forty year organizers of Michfest) who seem to risk violence at every turn. Goldberg chronicles threats these women receive on Twitter whenever they travel to speak without mentioning the many personal attacks trans-exclusionary radical feminists (or TERFS, as they are often called) make against trans women online on a daily basis. However, feminism’s resistance to engaging with trans women and trans* issues more generally has meant misogyny’s manifold dimensions—which transfeminism teaches us affect not only those designated as female at birth but all women as well as feminine people, regardless of gender or sex—have been inadequately and under-theorized. And, as Julia Serano points out in her response to Goldberg’s article, such characterization of this conflict misconstrues the actual setting of debate, which is within feminism, within the LGBTQ community, not between radical lesbian feminists and trans people on the periphery. Put in feminist historians’ terms, transfeminism is a “family issue.”
I take up the historiographical element of this issue through a form of genre bending and rewrite this family drama and its cross-generational conflict as a speculative fiction. I use the fan art of vidding to bring together characters from across time—including radical and lesbian feminists, 1970s feminist science fiction authors, and more recent transfeminist scholars and activists and the “sisters” (or “seestras”) of Orphan Black—and facilitate a brief introduction, so as to ask how they might interact should they be given the opportunity to. Doing so reveals the ways in which transfeminism, contrary to Sheila Jeffreys, Cathy Brennan, and other TERFs’ claims otherwise, might be seen as extending (and necessarily so) radical feminism’s early and provocative critiques of family, rape, normative heterosexuality and the institutions and ideologies that sustain them. With this audiovisual historiography, I am working toward a historical framework of adaptation, transmutation, and cloning—a model of repetition that suggests affinities and draws connections but also takes note of dramatic differences. I offer this first early articulation of such a model as a historian of 1970s feminisms, media scholar, and queer cisgender feminist ally of trans* people. It is my hope that an explicitly transfeminist historiography might offer new readings of “second wave” feminist pasts that are contingent upon making productive connections outside of reproduction and reconceiving “sisterhood.”
There is a lot I could say about the various choices that went into cutting this vid (and I would be happy to say more in the Q&A), but for now here are just a few notes: As those of you more familiar with Orphan Black probably noticed, this is not a vid about Tony, the one transgender clone. Instead I have cut the vid so as to read the series’ overarching clone narrative as a trans narrative, wherein these characters, by virtue of who they are, face a series of both institutional and non-institutional violences—being denied life-saving medical treatment, facing unlawful arrest and imprisonment as well as sexual harassment, assault, and police brutality, and in each of these cases receiving such maltreatment as a direct result of being perceived as less than human. In the face of these violences, each of the clones have to negotiate their and their loved one’s immediate safety as well as their vehement disinterest in placating oppressive institutions. For example, each has a different reason for choosing to sign or not sign The Dyad Institute’s contract, which (falsely) promised a life free of day-to-day monitoring (and thus relative “freedom” and “safety”) in exchange for regular scientific observation and testing. The reasoning that went into Sarah, Alison, and Cosima’s decision-making, such as the physical safety and access to medical treatment that signing would provide, recall those challenges trans* people face in negotiating pathologizing medical discourses and stringent legal processes in order to get the identification documents and/or medical treatments necessary to move about the world safely.
Orphan Black starts by isolating the clones as individuals with varying attitudes toward what they may or may not share beyond genes. However, over the course of the two seasons, these clones become “sisters” or, as Helena puts it “seestras.” And those whom they are closest to (such as Sarah’s foster brother Felix) also come to be counted as fellow sisters. This shift in understanding is not a matter of resigning themselves to the fact of their genetic relation. Instead, it is the result of a long process in which each of them realize that, though they would initially seem to have nothing in common (nationality, class, gender, sexuality, religion, politics), they are facing similar institutional oppressions and violences, and their resistance is stronger together than apart. This is what radical feminism desperately needs to learn from transfeminism. At the same time, Orphan Black reenacts and reveals the persistent limitations of even such “sisterhood,” whereby it is Tony, the trans man, who is sent away and not allowed to participate actively in this support network, and it is Helena, in many ways the most vulnerable and most frequently racialized clone, who is recurrently sacrificed for the good of the whole. Lastly, I have brought in citations from 1970s feminist SF authors Joanna Russ and James Tiptree, Jr. not only because I find thematic connections between their fiction and Orphan Black but also because I believe that if we take the connections between radical and transfeminism seriously and then imagined transfeminism with a similar futurity and utopianism as these authors’ fictions, there would be no dispute as to who our “sisters” are, as we would recognize that without loving each other, including that which we share and that which differentiates us, we could not have escaped our violences.
Vid Quotations (in order of appearance)
Shulamith Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution (1970).
Emi Koyama’s “The Transfeminist Manifesto” (2001).
Joanna Russ in “Symposium: Women and Science Fiction,” Khatru 3/4 (1975).
Kai M. Green’s “Navigating Masculinity as a Black Transman: ‘I will never straighten out my wrist’” (2013).
Emi Koyama’s “The Transfeminist Manifesto” (2001).
Audre Lorde’s “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” (1977).
James Tiptree Jr. in “Symposium: Women and Science Fiction,” Khatru 3/4 (1975).
Monique Wittig’s “One Is Not Born a Woman” (1980).
Barbara Smith’s (with Beverly Smith) “Across the Kitchen Table: A Sister-to-Sister Dialogue” in the second edition of This Bridge Called My Back (1983).
Joanna Russ’ The Female Man (1975).
bell hooks’ NWSA 2014 keynote (2014).
“Gold Rush” Lyrics
[0:21] Oh love when I get lonesome I’m gonna call you up into my world When waters rise up I do my best To keep my home floating upon your chest Oh love when I get lonesome I’m gonna grow you up like you deserve
You’ll be a big tree, branching up around me I’ll be your baby, cradle me safely Come on and hold me like I’m your girl And I’ll hold you like I’m your girl In this the ending of the world
[1:12] After the gold rush shook off the gold dust After we’d taken more than god had meant for us We dammed up plenty but still felt empty The land was rich but we left it poor I’ve spent a fine sum, but I will share I know you’re thirsty and unprepared When I wet my lips with love you’ll feel me there But then I’ll run from you ’cause I’m scared
[1:56] And I’ve trained myself to run this way I’ve trained myself to fly And I’ve dragged you all this way without an understanding why And I’m holding on to nothing – oh, I know that hurt your pride I just thought I could keep you from the loss of having to say goodbye But there’s nothing ever saving us from that we’re gonna die There’s nothing ever saving us from that we’re gonna die
[3:21] Come see my wide eyes, behold my wild mind I love you, leave you here by my blindside But when 14 feet came on a flood tide I still tried to keep us up, to hold us high And I never meant to put you down But this disaster that came through town Rose up the sea and tunnels drowned My boats broke free and battered you ’round But if you hold me like I’m your girl I’ll still hold you like I’m your girl In this the ending of the world In this the ending of the world