by Omi Salas-SantaCruz
Decolonial scholars have problematized coloniality in transgender studies (DiPietro, 2019; Lugones, 2020), education research, and criticism (Patel, 2014; Smith, 1999). In this paper, I make a case to shift to decolonial philosophy and relational commitments to delinking from Eurocentric knowledge to analyze racialized trans* epistemologies, resistance, and imaginations, particularly for analyzing the co-production of racialized trans* of color consciousness. I foreground the limitations of colonial/white trans education research to think through gender racialization as a colonial re-ordering of the social and a pedagogy that continues to shape the structures of trans educational criticism. Using decoloniality for a trans* of color educational criticism (Salas-SantaCruz, 2021a) provides educational researchers alternative conceptual and analytical tools to understand Black (Bey, 2017; Tinsley, 2000), Indigenous (Driskill, 2011; Laing, 2021; Muñoz, 2012; Reed, 2022), Latinx (Bañales, 2014; Pitts, 2021; Salas-SantaCruz, 2020) and other People of Color (BIPOC) trans*/queer imaginations concerning self-determination and expansive views on justice and popular education. In doing so, I argue it is possible to uncover an ever-growing resistant sociality grounded in ontological and existential pluralism (Anzaldúa, 1987; Lugones, 2007; Ortega, 2016) that is actively transforming consciousness and relational coalitional practices. The decolonial trans* of color approach is better suited to understand BIPOC students’ complex and multiplicitous trans* experiences of being, embodiment, and resistance to the coloniality of knowledge and being, specifically as students encounter monocultural white trans pedagogies structured by colonial/white transgender imaginations embedded in equity policies and programs (Salas-SantaCruz, 2022).
“When you do not see the plurality in the very structure of a theory, what do you see?” — Maria Lugones (2003, p. 75)
Trans, transgender, trans-, trans*, trans of color, and trans* of color mean different things to different scholars. Their meaning depends on which field, genealogy, and political commitments we ascribe to familiar terms and constructs. Specifically, I am interested in trans- as a field invested in categorical crossings (Stryker et al., 2008) but taking the lens of decolonial thinking. Decolonial philosophy is committed to delinking from the strictly Anglo and Euro-centrist world knowledge system and delinks the self from modes of being, living, and thinking established through colonization (Grosfoguel, 2002; Lugones, 2007; Mignolo, 2002). Decolonial thinking for trans* of color research and critique offers pluralist approaches to trans affect, embodiments, consciousness, materiality, and practices (DiPietro 2019, 2020a; 2020b; Lugones, 2020; Salas-SantaCruz, 2021a; 2021c). It is important to note that for some early trans scholarship, the asterisk in trans* has denoted gender variability (Halberstam, 2018) or a wildcard of the multiple configurations of trans- phenomena (Miller, 2018; Nicolazzo, 2016; 2017b; Tompkins 2014). For Black scholars, Latinx, and decolonial thinkers, however, the asterisk signals a critique of whiteness and investments in the human/ non-human/ post-human and even the figurations of monstrosity and its connection to neoliberal politics of inclusion, visibility, and equity (Bey, 2017; 2022; DiPietro, 2016; 2019; 2020a; 2020b; Ellison et al., 2017; Gill-Peterson, 2018; Green, 2016; Green & Bey, 2017; Hayward, 2017. Trans* signals a new orientation for trans-educational criticism and research that begin with and centers on Black, Decolonial, and Indigenous feminisms. A trans* of color critique that begins and ends with trans people of color knowledge, theories, and experiences within and despite coloniality as foundational to trans-critique. Specifically, I am interested in trans* of color critique as the pluralist approach to the category trans in its application for trans* of color educational criticism and research.
The decolonial trans* of color proposed in this paper differs from trans educational studies that I argue are primarily invested in the notion of being and identity from a singular perspective on the self that considers trans as a category of ontological singularity distinct from other social categories and separate from non-human others and beings (Alcoff & Mohanty, 2006; Driskill, 2015; 2018; DiPietro, 2016; 2020b; Hames-García, 2011; Patel, 2016). Under the intellectual posturing of the unitary self, trans education research uncovers an array of issues in the relationship between trans (gender) identity to educational issues and practice (Beemyn, 2019; Beemyn &Rankin, 2011; Goldberg, 2018; Miller, 2016; 2019; Rankin & Beemyn, 2012). A decolonial approach to trans* of color educational criticism thus takes a pluralist approach to ontology and existentialism, or pluralist views on the notion of self, being, and relationality (Hames-Garcia, 2011; 2013; Ortega, 2016). The shift towards multiplicity is thus marked with the asterisk in trans*.
Trans* of color critique marks decolonial thinking, or decoloniality, as the analytical frame to understand trans phenomena. The first order of business in decolonial trans* educational criticism is to acknowledge the multiple ways the colonial-white-Anglo-Western grounding of trans-educational criticism ignores the rich history of theorizing gender expansiveness from subaltern perspectives (Anzaldúa, 1987; Lugones, 2007; 2016; Moraga & Anzaldúa, 1983; Morgensen, 2016; Muñoz, 2012; Silva Santana, 2017; Smith, 2010; Spillers 1987; Tinsley, 2020) and how white trans theory makes it appear as if trans people of color, particularly Black and Indigenous scholars, are what Ellison et al. (2017) describe as providing new directions in research rather than being constitutive of foundational trans articulations of being within coloniality. What is currently and dominantly known as trans educational theory, pedagogy, and curriculum, therefore, lacks a pluralist view in the structure of its theory and more accurately represents an investment in whiteness and the coloniality of white trans being and knowledge. Decolonial thinking for trans* of color education research addresses this oversight.
Currently, trans educational research and theorizing are informed by mostly white trans students’ and teachers’ experiences. Even if research provisionally and peripherally includes BIPOC trans experiences, it does so through white trans theoretical frameworks and identity frameworks grounded in Western/Anglo thought. The ongoing dismissal of critiques of identity and identity politics from Indigenous, Black, and decolonial/postcolonial scholarship (Greensmith & Giwa, 2013; Haritaworn et al., 2013; Trinh, 1989; Weir, 1996) and alternative frameworks towards ontological and existential complexity (Hames-García, 2011; Ortega, 2016) become continuously apparent to decolonial scholars. An overview of what currently constitutes trans studies in education highlights the compulsory whiteness in the understanding of the self, identity, embodiment, and material practices of trans becoming and trans inclusion in education (Salas-SantaCruz, 2021b). With a shift to decolonial thinking and its critique of the geopolitics of knowledge and claims against universalism, education scholars can begin to foreground the rich historical trans imaginations and views of justice found in Two-Spirit Indigeneity, Jotería, and Black trans* (gender) imaginations and work towards coalitional projects that advance trans* of color justice (Salas-SantaCruz, 2021a). Given that decolonial thinking, Black study, Latinx philosophy, or transnational queer feminisms barely appear as conceptual or theoretical homes to understand the articulations of trans educational philosophy and racialized trans experiences in education research, pedagogy, and curriculum; it is imperative that education scholars center decoloniality for trans* of color critique to analyze research on racialized trans- populations.
A Note on White Trans Studies
Trans educational criticism, or white Anglo western trans educational criticism, informs how educational practitioners understand the experience of trans students, staff, and faculty (Johnson, 2019; Miller, 2016; 2019; Nicolazzo, 2016; 2017b). Most importantly, white/colonial trans criticism begins from what Dumas (2018) describes as beginning with Black suffering to spring toward visions of white racial justice. Numerous times, in engaging with the trans education field of study, I have encountered research where racialized trans death and memorialization become emblematic of a presumed shared trans precarity (Bhanji, 2019), which then becomes constitutive for theorizing new directions in education research. Moreover, the method of intersectionality is often reduced to an account of identity rather than power. Often, intersectionality is only approached structurally, neglecting political intersectionality and how different trans* of color populations organize and work towards divergent views on trans* of color educational justice.” For trans education research, this results in (white) trans pedagogy and (white) trans curriculum that informs new forms of learning and teaching. In Nicolazzo 2017a, for example, the concepts of race, gender, and sexuality are analyzed through an intersectional framework and show how other social identities exacerbate or mitigate the way trans students can potentially experience the cis-heteronormative structures of schools and school practices. This form of educational criticism fails to critically analyze how power assemblages (Puar, 2012) such as coloniality, racial capitalism, and imperialism shape knowledge production on trans identity, being/becoming, personhood, and the educational experiences of trans populations, particularly racialized people.
Additionally, white trans education criticism, in its failure to name the specificity of its theoretical whiteness, demands that BIPOC scholars do the labor of knowing and responding to white theory and imaginations from BIPOC-specific worldviews that need to name themselves as alternatives approaches of gender complexity rather than crucial and primary worldviews and practices that have emerged and flourished in resistance to and living through coloniality. Just like the various requests I received to account for white trans studies in the numerous iterations of this paper, it makes the work of BIPOC and decolonial scholars appear reactionary. The labor and responsibility to know and respond to white theory become imperative to be able to start theorizing elsewhere. It puts me, and trans* people of color in the academy through the distress of having to read, study, and repeatedly cite work and visions of white trans communities that rely on trans-BIPOC people suffering and death in order to make a case to center subaltern theory and knowledge, not just as a practice of epistemic disobedience but as a desiring to disengage with work and people who have chosen to ignore the rich history, imaginations, and desires of subaltern trans people.
As a scholar, I am making the case to stop citing white Eurocentric trans scholarship to address the experiences and practices of transgender and non-binary BIPOC communities. How do critical scholars in education and others invested in trans* Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) epistemologies and futurities engage in decolonial trans-educational criticism without falling into the traps of white trans scholarship? What emerges from decolonial trans* educational critique and pluralist accounts of being? What happens to how we conceive of trans- subaltern populations? Auspiciously for scholars committed to decolonial research, there is a rich history of theorizing and decolonial concepts to conduct trans- research through Black, Indigenous, Chicana/Latina, and Decolonial Feminisms.
Transgender as a category of identity and analysis emerged in the early 1990s through specific histories, politics, and practices (Stryker, 2006; Valentine, 2007). In “Imagining Transgender: An Ethnography of a Category,” David Valentine (2007) argued that “gender” that underpins the concept of “transgender” is rooted in sexology, where gender is seen as an individual and internal identity. In other words, transgender “is another kind of social difference that is structurally equivalent to but ontologically distinct from ‘sexuality'” (p. 59). The current hegemonic trans imaginary in education research consists of an ontological fragmentation that treats trans as ontologically different from other social categories. It leaves out senses of self among people of color, who do not rely on the gender/sexuality ontological distinction (Valentine, 2007, pp. 61-65). Valentine reminds queer theorists that the ontological separateness of gender and sexuality institutionalizes a specific transgender imaginary that ignores the complexity of racial and class locations and different experiences and theorizations of gender and sexuality from diasporic and Indigenous people.
In the TSQ volume titled, “Decolonizing the Transgender Imaginary,” Susan Stryker and Paisley Currah (2014), as the general editors, described the inescapability of colonialism as a framework for the institutionalization of transgender studies and the knowledge production that emerges from North American Anglophone scholarly work. Ignoring Valentine’s (2007) early methodological interventions on decolonizing the transgender imaginary, as it is currently constituted by an ontological separateness of gender and sexuality rooted in sexology, they offered this volume and “pay homage” to Emma Pérez’s (1999) decolonial imaginary to ask: “What a transgender imaginary might be, and how is it related to the process of colonization, and how— in theory as well as practice —it might be decolonized?” (Stryker & Curran, 2014, p. 304). For the editors, the volume offered strategies for decolonizing the transgender imagination through auto-ethnographic trans-of-color writings. The editors even forewarned readers of Lugones’ (2007) preemptive signaling “that every social encounter is a colonial encounter” (as cited in Stryker & Curran, 2014, p. 306). Though the volume offers an effective intervention to understand trans of color experiences, it does so through what Mariana Ortega (2006) described as a “loving, knowing ignorance” (p. 56). At the time, this volume was the only incorporation of subaltern decolonial voices within the journal’s history and ended up using Lugones’s (2007) critique and Emma Pérez’s (1999) decolonial imaginary to legitimate white trans imaginaries, ideas, and epistemologies. In other words, Lugones’ and Perez’s work was rhetorically recruited by the authors to further the coloniality of transgender, or the colonial insistence on looking for transgender everywhere (Lugones, 2020). It did not offer decolonial theory or thinking as foundational to decolonial transing methodologies (DiPietro, 2016). It offered a discussion of ‘decolonization’ without decolonial thinking. Engaging with decolonial thinking would entail accounting for coloniality and its systems of knowledge to avoid gender universalism, perceptions, and imagination of what gender is/does, and as a minimum would account for the relationship between the embodiment of transgender and colonial/modernity (Lugones, 2007). As such, even the special issue of decolonizing the trans imaginary as situated within (white/Anglo) transgender studies remains a metaphor (Tuck & Yang, 2012) as it deployed a move toward innocence to reconcile why foundational trans studies did not begin with decolonial thinking in the first place. This is not the first-time queer of color scholars have critically assessed the methods and circumstances of how Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other People of Color theories are incorporated or appropriated in feminist, queer, or trans studies. Audre Lorde’s (1984) “Letter to Mary Daly” or Ernesto Martínez’s (2010) “On Butler on Morrison on Language” show how knowledge is appropriated and discarded to uplift white theory. Martínez (2010), for example, shows how Judith Butler enlists Toni Morrison’s Nobel Lecture on Literature to support their thesis on linguistic vulnerability by distorting and discarding most of Morrison’s theory of language and narrative. Decolonial and BIPOC scholars have always questioned white/Anglo worldviews, theories, and politics and provided concrete conceptual and analytical frameworks for studying and thinking about identity, race, gender, and sexuality in terms of relations to power in the modern/colonial and settler colonial systems of power (Alcoff & Mohanty, 2006; Anzaldúa, 1987; Bacchetta, 2017; Bacchetta & Haritaworn, 2011; Calderon, 2014; Cohen, 1997; Cruz, 2011; 2019; DiPietro, 2016; 2019; Driskill, 2011; Greensmith & Giwa, 2013; Maldonado-Torres, 2007; Mignolo, 2002; Reed 2022; Sium & Ritskes, 2013). The task for decolonial scholars in education is to move from arrogant perception to transgressive decolonial hermeneutics (Fúnez-Flores 2021).
From Arrogant to Loving Perception
Since 2014, what is culturally known as the Transgender Tipping Point (Steinmetz, 2014) in U.S. culture, several schools and university campuses across the nation have begun to address and engage with the reality of transgender students in schools through policy and practical commitments to accommodate (or deny) trans students’ equal educational opportunities. The fight for (liberal) trans equality and the accompanying policies initially focused on access to gender facilities and sports that matched a person’s gender self-determination, gender/name recognition, and access to gender-affirming health access. These needs and concerns are ableist and assume monocultural trans materialities, citizenship, class accessibility to an array of services, and urban localities. At the epistemic level, educators began to address inclusivity in language, curriculum, and classroom practices (Keenan, 2017; Miller, 2018; 2019). This fight for liberal equality, however, did not consider or address the epistemic violence within white trans studies and the accompanying institutional trans violence (Salomon, 2018) that results from thinking about trans policies and services from the standpoint of a particular ontological, existential, epistemic, and epistemological understanding or worldview of trans subjectivity (Mayo, 2017). With this theoretical oversight in mind, I propose a shift to other genealogies, histories, vocabularies, and conceptualizations of the self and embodiment to trans* the pedagogy of trans educational criticism and research. I follow Anzaldúa’s (2015) notion of “shifting” to denote a cultural shift in understanding what knowledge consists of, how we come to know, and the knowledge we value in thinking about trans critique. This shift in decolonial thought entails moving from a (white/Anglo) worldview to a focus on alternative senses and views on the self, as a pedagogy of witnessing multiple oppressions to account for subaltern geographies of knowledge and resistant practices (Cruz, 2011; 2019; Lugones, 2003). A necessary epistemic shift that moves away from the knowledge that “colonizes our lives, meaning, and purpose” (Anzaldúa, 2016, p. 541). In doing so, I interrogate the monocultural politics of transgender educational criticism and unpack its limitations toward racialized gender justice. This critical intervention is not to argue against existing trans educational research, inclusionary practices, or knowledge of white trans life. These constitute valuable worldviews and life possibilities, and imaginations outside cis-heteronormativity. I argue that white trans analytical frameworks are not the only theoretical lenses nor the only possibility for trans theory, pedagogy, and education practice. I want to account for how trans* subaltern Black, Indigenous, and People of Color populations, their experiences, knowledge, and imaginations fit into a broader discussion of trans theory and justice. I also want educational criticism to be upfront with the ongoing complicity embedded within knowledge production that structures the atmospheres of trans-of-color violence (Stanley 2021) and the antagonisms knowledge produces when racialized trans people engage with such paradigms within the academic-industrial complex (Bacchetta et al., 2018).
The shift towards decoloniality in trans* of color theory and praxis considers critical pedagogy’s potentiality, the political possibility embedded in the practice of critique to reorient our interpretation of what constitutes trans outside white western/Anglo hermeneutics. Specifically, it considers the effects that knowledge production on trans subjectivity, trans resistance, and understandings of trans justice produces. Finally, it ensures subjugated trans* of color knowledge, theory, and educational strategies are geographically, historically, and culturally grounded in specific worldviews to avoid discursive colonization and the continuation of colonial legacies in feminist scholarship “under Western eyes” (Mohanty, 1988, p. 612). Trans* of color critique in education grounded in decolonial feminist thought is thus a method that grapples with colonial investments in heterogeneity, identity politics, fragmentation, and human/non-human distinctions and points out the Eurocentric and Anglo-centric hold on trans educational criticism that frames policy, curriculum, and practice. The disorientation toward a decolonial trans* of color critique in education is not just epistemic but a theoretical shift. Standpoint epistemology honors the social location of subaltern people to collect data for knowledge production. However, “the social location of where to produce knowledge is necessary but insufficient” (Harding, 1992, p. 445). What trans* of color critique demands is a reorientation of where we ground the epistemological, philosophical, and theoretical underpinnings of trans educational criticism, as both necessary and sufficient to explain trans* of color views on identity, embodiments, and practices without the need to explain trans experiences and practices through the analytical frames and the perspectives of white/Anglo worldviews and theory.
Specifically, this reorientation commits to the conditions of trans* critique that account for colonial and racial violence and how discussions of transgender scholarship and critique respond to Indigenous decolonization and issues regarding colonial authority and what/who can be known (Morgensen, 2016). Conditions of critique that have, up to now, been delegated to Indigenous, Latinx, Black, and other People of Color theorizing in education but ignored or neglected in the field of (white) trans-educational criticism. This failure, I argue, is tied to an epistemology of ignorance in trans studies in education, or more precisely, the failure to use decolonial trans* vocabulary and conceptual tools (Muñoz, 2014) as part of an ongoing arrogant perception that produces ignorance about trans* of color knowledge, theory, concepts, and work, while simultaneously proclaiming to have “knowledge about and loving perception” (Ortega, 2006, p. 61) towards trans* BIPOC people and students. I do not need to engage Butler, Stryker, or Spade to theorize structural, social, and cultural conditions and practices among trans* people of color. We can provide a theoretically rich and grounded analysis and critique using a long history of theorizing that emerges from living within and despite the coloniality of gender. As such, this piece is intended to uplift the pedagogical affordances of queering both trans-educational criticism and resistance studies in education by focusing on how decolonial thinkers have employed productive analytics to understand the coloniality of gender, particularly as it relates to the experiences and resistant social relations among trans* BIPOC populations.
Using the decolonial concept of pluriversality, as the multitude of reflections, genealogies, and geopolitics of knowledge and stories (Mignolo & Walsh, 2018) trans* of color educational criticism, can attend to divergent trans- genealogies to understand how students craft trans* of color futures. In doing so, trans* of color critique in education is postured to address three areas of epistemic violence. First, it analyzes colonial violence that emerges from hegemonic discourses of the trans (knowing) subject. Second, it addresses epistemic violence in the production of transgender knowledge. Here the concern is the politics of citation and being honest and straightforward on the genealogy of terms, assumptions, and commitments in how trans knowledge comes to be. It requires researchers and scholars to recognize the investment in white scholarship and Western/Anglo explanations in trans theorizing and transition to trans* of color criticism to center conceptual tools, vocabularies, and theories of trans*-BIPOC people as part of resistant approaches that emerge in the intersections of diaspora, decolonization, and living within coloniality, rather than taking apart, appropriating and diluting experiences and concepts to validate white trans worldviews and politics. To be clear, it is time we stop using intersectionality and “people of color experiences” to validate and uplift white theory rather than use it to directly engage in Black study and Black feminism, for instance. In other words, intersectionality to analyze the experiences of trans* people of color to validate white trans theory is a critique for the advancement of whiteness and not against it. Trans* of color critique uses intersectionality to analyze the erasure of complex identities and is to be used in tandem with Black, Indigenous, or Chicana/Latinx, decolonial feminist thought as an analytical lens to understand how colonialism, settler colonialism, racial capitalism, and even white supremacy shapes knowledge, experience, and the arrangement of educational practices for racialized trans subjects. In this case, trans* of color critique is a shift toward a grounding in the decoloniality of knowledge and being, not just as a BIPOC version of trans identity. It is a theoretical posturing grounded in subaltern people’s knowledge, concepts, and epistemes; what Vic Muñoz describes as the process toward decolonial trans-gender sovereignty (2012). Third, trans* of color criticism moves away from epistemic ignorance, usually encountered as an “arrogant perception” (Lugones, 2003; Ortega, 2006) or the frequent practice of categorizing white and BIPOC trans individuals as having similar gender complex characteristics that only differ by race and culture. In other words, Black (trans) genders, Two-Spiritedness, and Jotx identities/embodiments, for example, are not just forms of racialized forms of trans expressions and identities; they are complex ways of relating, being, and existing within and despite coloniality, and they constitute trans* of color resistant imaginations and relations within and despite coloniality. As such, trans* of color educational criticism counters coloniality in knowledge, precisely trans* theory, research, and practice, as to disorient (Ahmed, 2006) knowledge production and practices into queerer possibilities outside the cloak of white trans imaginations and practices of educational inclusion.
Decolonial thinking for trans* of color critique makes visible the institutional complicity, the fraught violence of monocultural white trans perspectives as colonial and white supremacist socializing forces that affect how transgender and BIPOC people conceptualize their sense of self and community in their multiplicity as racialized subjects living within the coloniality of transgender (DiPietro, 2020). Through a commitment to counter coloniality in education research and colonizing methodologies (Patel, 2014; Smith,1999), decoloniality in trans* of color research “queers” trans educational scholarship by shifting from normalizing whiteness as the source of trans knowledge. Queering thus entails scholars engaging in the practice of highlighting the normative colonial tendencies in educational criticism. I thus move from white trans educational criticism to a decolonial trans* of color critique to understand trans*of color pedagogies, becomings, imaginations, and praxis from a decolonial standpoint. The shift to decoloniality is not to dismiss the body of work that facilitates the unscripting of curriculum and pedagogy for white queer and trans educators (Keenan, 2017) but to account for how decolonial thinking provides new orientations in trans educational imaginations. Specifically, analytical tools such as the coloniality of power, knowledge, being and gender, settler colonialism, or the social life within human/non-human paradigms provide new directions in how we understand trans-resistant sociality (Salas-SantaCruz, 2020) outside reproduction and resistance frameworks from the legacies of the Frankfurt School in sociocultural studies and education research. In a sense, decolonial thinking is a shift outside of the common sense of trans critique. A shift towards decoloniality in trans* of color critique is, therefore, a methodology that mobilizes hermeneutics of love as a category of critical analysis (Sandoval, 2000). More precisely, a loving perception that enables subaltern scholars to learn and honor each other in the face of white erasure. What Chela Sandoval (2000) calls a methodology of the oppressed as a practice of coalitional building, where education scholars can learn and honor different forms of trans* of color resistance, transitions, embodiments, becomings, and imaginations (DiPietro, 2016; Driskill, 2015; Leo, 2020; Muñoz & Garrison, 2008; Silva Santana, 2017; Tinsley, 2020) outside the confines of sexology and medico juridical understanding of trans bodily aesthetics and practices, and discourses of the embodiment of the self that only rely on white/Anglo/Western phenomenological views on the trans self. The point is “to do our homework” on the existing theoretical contributions by U.S. and Decolonial Feminisms (Aguilar & Cruz, 2020, p. 6) to acknowledge, and affirm the plurality of trans theories that have been there all along.
Home-work: The Role of Decolonial Feminisms in Trans* of Color Critique
What would trans educational criticism look like when we move from an understanding of trans identity and embodiments that is always/already dependent on modernity, gender universality, and the category of human? (DiPietro, 2020b; Ellison et al., 2017; Spillers, 1987). As a transing of the knowledge structure on trans bodies, identities, and embodiments, a shift into decolonial thinking addresses Hortense Spiller’s question (2007), “whatcha gonna do?” when she asks how we would use and uplift Black and other U.S. Women of Color Feminist critiques of the human, gender, and social relations. World-traveling to U.S. Women of Color and transnational feminisms is a way to answer this call and address the issue of epistemic ignorance and violence in the formulation of transgender educational theory, equity, and research. In other words, naming the political investments in white theory uncovers an array of perspectives that exist unintelligible to trans equity, research, and praxis. It is what Lugones describes as a “disloyalty to arrogant perception” (1987; p.18). For example, in discussions of the theoretical analysis of the false traps of binary/non-binary, Jourian and Nicolazzo (2019) remain within the confines of gender identity, the “world” of a white trans theory of being/identity. While their analysis is important, the focus on the concept of not trans enough rhetoric is still bounded to claims on the generosity of gender complexity under the gender identity umbrella. A decolonial perspective would take this analysis further into uncovering the social relations and resistant practices occurring in the genders/no-gender divide within the colonial/modern gender system (Lugones, 2007). What would the analysis of non-binary identity, embodiment, and politics look like if we contend with a discussion of how subaltern populations have responded to what Maria Lugones (2003) describes as “the light and dark side” structuring of the colonial gender system? In other words, what can non-binary embodiment and practices tell us about living and resisting in the non-being/non-existing (Hayward, 2017)? What does a not trans enough non-binary embodiment do within the structures of coloniality among racialized people who are always/already mediating in the dark side of the coloniality of gender? What does a not trans enough practice tell us of those resisting and living in the colonial binary of the not-human/not human enough? What are the pedagogies of non-binary for the “less-than-human”? We are thus missing the decolonial trans* of color analysis, the worlds of sense of those whose notion of non-binary describes a “not trans enough” in terms of not being white, but with enough white knowledge to talk back and claim a stake in non-binary identity as a politic of refusal; an embodied praxis rejecting the coloniality of gender (Salas-SantaCruz, 2022). One way to do this is to analyze how subaltern trans* groups conceptualize being, the self, and their embodiments of trans and non-binary practices as forms of decolonial resistant practices that confront gender violence in the academy (Salas-SantaCruz, 2020). A shift to decoloniality thus requires researchers, practitioners, and critical scholars to pay attention to bodies of knowledge disregarded by ideological Eurocentric and Anglo violence as it demands a commitment to refuse to colonize research (Tuck & Yang, 2014). In other words, we need to move from research that asks what gender is and does to account for what the coloniality of gender is and what it is doing now. How are trans*BIPOC people in education responding to the pedagogies of the coloniality of transgender? We do this through what Alexander (2002) has described as the method of remembering the early contributions of U.S. Women of Color in Bridge Called My Back (Moraga & Anzaldua, 1987). Thus, I now return to decolonial feminist theorizing to address issues of imperialism in trans-education research. Here the point is to acknowledge the body of work that has been there all along. Remembering is not re-discovering (Spillers et al., 2007). It entails using new senses (Tinsley, 2020) to grasp other prisms of knowledge and queer embodiments to avoid defaulting to the common sense, the worlds of sense, of white queer/trans theory. Remembering is a decolonial methodology committed to a politics of citation and a political act that negates imperial and colonial designs of the modern trans self.
From Searching for Gender to Answerability to the Coloniality of Gender
Despite a growing number of trans educational criticism and equity and diversity initiatives attending to the needs of non-dominant student populations in terms of race, gender, and sexuality, little is known about how transgender inclusion (Nicolazzo, 2016), hegemonic trans discourses (Enke, 2012), and institutional transphobia (Salamon, 2018) figure into the geopolitics of trans knowledge and trans inclusion in education. Outside the representational mandates of visibility within identity politics, or the search for transgender in education, I am interested in what Puar (2007) described as the terrorist assemblages that investigate “the predominance of subjecthood itself” as a mode of circumventing neoliberal mandates of identity politics (p. 206). Decolonial scholars are wary of inclusion in their dependence on the categorical separation of being and existing demanded by the State and institutions. Decolonial trans* scholars urge to think of transing methodologies (DiPietro, 2016) to understand the relationships among coloniality, gender, and the human, and theorizations of multiple subjectivities, being, and knowing that can more accurately speak on trans* of color diasporic subjects in their “co-constituted multiplicities of relations of power in context” (Bacchetta et al., 2020, p. 578). In this manner, decolonial perspectives on trans* of color knowledge move away from taken-for-granted permutations of queer bodies as something that can be known, searched for, and included. It shifts into a constant state of queer becomings—a transing of entanglements that keep queer a trans* horizon, fleeing capture and governmentality. It focuses on how the coloniality of (trans) gender manifests itself in education research, practice, and schooling.
In Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times, Jasbir Puar (2007) urged readers to understand the mechanisms of queerness as a regulatory frame of biopolitics, wherein queerness is an assemblage that is spatially and temporal contingent (pp. 204-206). She argues that criticism aims to dismantle the representational mandates of visibility within identity politics and shift to the analysis of queer becomings. That is, we must move from the “taken-for-granted presence of the subject and its permutations of content and form” and move to “an investigation of the predominance of subjecthood itself” (p. 206). Haritaworn et al. (2013) called for an interrogation of the intersections between violence and feminist/queer politics of inclusion in a special issue that asked, how can inclusions be murderous? They urged scholars invested in queer/trans subaltern life to shift the focus from the promise of inclusion to its violence (p. 445). Their goal was to examine “the deadly logic of inclusion” as it informs queer citizenships and political formations of sexuality. Through this conceptual approach to inclusion, educational criticism can shift to examine forms of transgender monoculturalism that produce violent regimes of coloniality and student precarity within (white) trans justice. Simultaneously, it moves trans research from anthropocentric perspectives of trans pedagogies, embodiment, and relationality to focus on the role of land, people, and culture in addressing new visions for the social world. In other words, it moves trans-educational research from ownership to being answerable for learning, knowledge, and context (Patel, 2014) for trans-intersubjectivity and materialities.
The recent uptake of research on transgender subjectivity, makes ontological and existential conceptualizations of the self a critical intervention site to understand the experiences of trans* BIPOC populations as they encounter and engage with trans-specific pedagogies, programs, and services. Attention to pluralist ontological and epistemological perspectives is critical as the heightened visibility that leads us to the cultural transgender tipping point makes invisible the decolonial difference (Lugones, 2020) or the social relations, selves, embodiments, and materiality among trans* communities of color in the U.S. Accounting for coloniality in trans-research is, therefore, a framework that allows critical education scholars to conceptualize the double-bind of transgender (in)visibility and inclusion, where researchers shift from an examination of the promises of inclusion to an analysis of its deadly logic. In other words, what gets to count as trans subjectivity capable of being included in education depends on a regulatory frame of biopolitics premised on trans-of-color death demanded by normative sex/gender configurations of trans subjectivity while simultaneously ignoring or failing to see the colonial difference between those who resist, undo, and produce new social relations and meanings in their engagement with the modern/colonial gender system, a central concern to decolonial thinkers (Lugones, 2020).
Despite the growth of empirical studies on trans students in higher education (Beemyn, 2019; Beemyn & Rankin, 2011; Effrig et al., 2011; Gravey et al., 2019; Nicolazzo, 2106; Nicolazzo et al., 2017; Rankin & Beemyn, 2012; Rankin et al., 2010; Seelman, 2014; Schoenberg, 2010), no published research uses the pluriversal conceptual tools and theories of explicitly decolonial thinkers. Though the previously mentioned scholarly contributions are necessary to understand the experiences of students who identify as queer/trans BIPOC, the research has not centered on worldviews, knowledge, or experiences of a majority trans* BIPOC student population nor the unintended consequences of trans-affirming policy orientations for minoritized racialized subjects. Most importantly, a growing number of trans education scholarship and frameworks (Kean, 2021; Marine & Nicolazzo 2014, 2016; Miller 2018, 2019; Rands, 2009; Rankin & Beemyn, 2012) rely on the category transgender as an ontological separate category (Valentine, 2007) and reduce intermeshed social locations as simply overlapping or intersecting identities (Crenshaw, 1990) rather than accounting for the intermeshed complexities and assemblages of power (Lugones, 2003, 2007; Puar, 2012; Tinsley, 2020) that structure the coloniality of gender and power in the university and in schools.
Moreover, scholars have not included trans*of color individuals who refuse to engage with or avoid LGBTQ-specific spaces as these may be “too white” or arranged by white-centric understandings of gender and sexuality and thus alienate trans* BIPOC students (Salas-SantaCruz, 2022). Innovative approaches to trans* educational criticism will help uncover the tensions and responses that appear from trans essentialism when we “look for transgender” and intervene by asking how accounting for coloniality in education research and practice can produce new ways to transform programs, services, and policy for trans* BIPOC students. What can the responses to the conditions of the coloniality of power and gender teach us about what constitutes a trans* of color livable life? What do trans* BIPOC imaginations illuminate about power relations within trans inclusionary spaces, services, and programs? How can educational scholars and practitioners imagine new ways to honor diverse justice visions?
Reorienting trans-educational criticism to study the coloniality of gender is a pedagogical practice. A practice of suturing ideological and political commitments across time and space to bring a new consciousness of what coloniality is and does and honor alternative trans*of color imaginations and futurities. Practicing this new vision for trans educational criticism and knowledge is thus a form of social trespassing. Social trespassing, according to Lugones (2003), is the subalterns’ capacity to navigate through the hegemonic holds on knowledge, particularly the terrain of the geopolitics of knowledge, while simultaneously honoring Indigenous, decolonial, and U.S. Women of Color scholars and their theories on how subjectively people exist and organize within and despite the ongoing structures of colonial power and settler colonialism (Anzaldúa, 1987; Combahee River Collective 1977; Fanon, 1952; Mohanty, 2003; Smith, 1999; Spillers, 1987). In “Decolonizing Queer Pedagogy,” Kristin Smith (2013) reminded education scholars that a key pedagogical challenge for decolonial pedagogy rests in analyzing how dominant cultural logics of normalcy have constrained notions of sexuality, sex, and gender in students’ lives. Our goal is to critically assess how we (students/teachers) might learn from moving away from trans normativity through decolonial perspectives on trans* pedagogies.
Part of the challenge is to test the limits of what can be possible within social justice and gender-equity frameworks that rely on the concept of trans from singular and monocultural trans perspectives on the self. Therefore, analyzing trans-research investments in coloniality and providing pluriverse viewpoints on trans selves, embodiments, and relationalities is necessary to make sense of racialized trans* student experiences who do not make claims to respectability, belonging, and inclusion. Understanding how trans-normativity plays out in institutions of education allows educators, practitioners, and scholars to understand the reproduction of the coloniality of gender in institutions of education and the ongoing resistant practices to the reproduction of whiteness and coloniality in theory and practice. Shifting trans criticism to the pluriverse of decolonial thought supplies new orientations and analytical frameworks for investigating the effects of gender diversity policies on racialized subjects, cultural identities, educational choices, and the unintended effects, consequences, and limitations of gender equity and inclusion when approached from white-Anglo identity ideology and discourses. For policymakers, epistemic shifts in trans-educational criticism might reframe the current approach to studying trans-student populations from a monolithic social praxis to one that requires a robust understanding of power and coloniality. Lastly, for diversity, equity, and inclusion management, the data from decolonial trans* of color studies offer ways to better support trans* BIPOC by providing new perspectives to understand the effects of self-fragmentation in belonging related practices across identity-based centers and programming. Furthermore, critical theorists and scholars in education can find crucial foundational evidence on trans* BIPOC practices and meaning-making as they confront Eurocentric pedagogies that (violently) attempt to hail, fracture, and capture students’ sense of being within higher education systems. In this manner, decolonial approaches to trans* of color criticism and research can potentially uncover the structural dynamics and pedagogies of gender coloniality within the multicultural university (Salas-SantaCruz, 2022). It provides a reconstruction, new visions, or horizons of what it could mean to keep trans* education theory and practice a queer potentiality.
Notes on Contributor
Dr. Omi Salas-SantaCruz is the inaugural Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in Trans Studies at Penn State University. They earned a Ph.D. and Master’s degree in Education with a designated emphasis in Critical Theory and Gender, Women, & Sexuality from The University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Sociology from Columbia University. Their intellectual and community work focuses on trans* and queer of color futurities & resistant practices. They grew up as a transfronterizx along the Tijuana-San Diego border and the experience of border-crossings informs their research, teaching, and living practices. Their current project examines questions at the intersections of trans-Latinx cultural practices, land, and the politics of trans inclusion.
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