. . . the unintelligible trans that plays with gender and understands transness as transcendence.
—KRIZIA PUIG, “The TransAlien Manifesto: Future Love(s), Sex Tech, and My Efforts to Re-member Your Embrace”
THE “THING” THAT PRECEDES something like the LA riots, the thing to which the riots respond—a long-occurring nothing-newness that subtends life as an ongoing violence—is what Chandler calls the “disaster” (1, emphasis original). The disaster is the thing that permits the legibility and possibility of the Rodney King beating, the shooting of Itali Marlowe and Atatiana Jefferson. The disaster, though, need not be anything spectacular. It often isn’t. The disaster is something like racial distinction. The disaster, too, is other subjective distinctions, which is, is not the gender binary, too, a kind of disaster?
Problems do not exist in and of themselves. Problems do not simply have an ontology that is self-evident outside of various structures that pose this thing as, indeed, a problem. Problems must problematize; within problems, as a noun, there is always an agential verb—the doing and making of the problem that the problem is said to be. If X indexes the Negro and (trans)gender problem, X also signifies that these figures are not ontological facts existent outside of other structures that deem them such; they are verbs that do the work of problematizing. They serve as problems for the purported unproblematic world in which these problems are situated. They serve as problems for the pure. Thus, X’s demarcation of error or wrongness, its indexation of the black Negro and nonnormative gender, demarcates, then, a refutation of Chandler’s “project of purity” rooted not simply in “(. . . the superiority or supremacy of) a social subject understood as ‘White’ or (White) European’” (20) but also, I maintain, in the superiority of the presumed coherently gendered body, a gendered body predicated on its immersion in either pole of the gender binary—the trans, too, in Eva Hayward’s terms, “as . . . meant to disturb purification practices.”1 There have long been problem people: the Negro problem concerned the heady question “What are we going to do with these freed Negroes”; the transgender problem, what perhaps can find roots in the gay problem insofar as “gaybashing” was not simply a reaction to sexual acts but also a violence stemming from the transgressive gender expression indexical, supposedly, of nonheterosexual sexual acts. So it becomes a matter of what problem people do, how purported problems are texturing their problematizing, a problematizing of which the Negro and the trans can be exemplars. Or rather, it precisely does not become a matter of anything inasmuch as these figurative problems, the Negro and the trans, produce exorbitances that exceed “all forms of being that truly matter” (23).
The Negro as figured through and as the X denotes a disruption, an “exorbitance” or “originary displacement,” in Chandler’s nomenclature. How, though, might the revelation of the introduction of gender to the U.S. lexicon bear on this? In the United States, “gender” was a sexological introduction meant to regulate unruly bodies, or bodies that did not adhere to the boundaries of the gender binary—“male” or “female.” Not until the early 1950s with the publication of John Money’s dissertation, “Hermaphroditism: An Inquiry into the Nature of a Human Paradox,” did the term “gender” begin to mark something closer to how we understand it today. For Money, though a controversial and vexing figure in the fields of intersex and trans studies for reasons that focus primarily on his surgical intervention on intersex children to make their genitals and bodies more aligned with normative genders, Money nonetheless used the term gender to describe not only a linguistic relation between words; gender became for the first time, at least pervasively, what a person is or could be, an ontological status conferred onto infants and fetuses that were presumed to persist unchangingly. Hence, questions that are now possible, like “What gender are you?” or “What is your gender?” were not really possible in the English language until post-Money and his discourse on “hermaphrodites.”2
This is all to say, in short, that sex-cum-gender nonnormativity became a disturbance that needed to be “managed.” The rending of gender normativity at the site of the infant with nonnormative genitals—and thus the projected future of gender nonconformity—was what brought gender as a term online. This constituted what Judith Butler has called a “deviant beginning,” and thus gender “named a problem, an errancy or deviation, a failure to actualize the developmental norm in time. It exposed the fact that sex and gender do not always match, that the one does not mirror the other; that the one does not follow from the other. Gender was not an identity, but the name for that very incommensurability.”3 This incommensurability, this inability to be expressed in common social subjective integers (e.g., “male,” “female”; “man,” “woman”), gives gender and the nonnormativity it inaugurated or highlighted over to a sense of anoriginary displacement. If the figure of the “hermaphrodite” can be understood as a precursor to, or prefiguration of, a generalized sense of transness, then trans is marked by this incommensurability and thus primordial displacement. For “X” to be a marker of, among other things, a birth (non)gender or an intersex identification, which could accurately describe many of Money’s patients, the X comes to stand in as a problem of gender—X-as-nonnormatively-gendered-subjects is a problem for thought, for the body.
Where Chandler reads in Du Bois’s critique of race’s ground an emphasis on the nonphysical, which implements a theorization of difference and differentiation as “undoubtedly based on the physical, but infinitely transcending them” (39), I read this maneuver alongside Puig and the epigraph that graces this chapter as an unintelligible transness and play, too, with gender transcendence, a play with gender to get to trans as a name for that Spillersian “something wider.” So what comes next demands a bit of a swerve. A productive foray into the black feminist work of Denise Ferreira da Silva illuminates a potent avenue for thinking the X. Da Silva brings the mathematical to black feminism, theorizing Chandler’s figure of the X as hacking—or breaching defenses set up to preserve the integrity of normative systems—gender. Bringing Hortense Spillers’s female flesh ungendered to bear on Chandler’s Negro, his X, da Silva hacks the X (“\X” as hacked X, ungendered or transed X) and uses \X as a device of confrontation to disrupt patriarchal forms and figurings. \X “explode[s] the male-form XY” and thus serves my purposes of illuminating how X as the figure of the Negro doubles, or polysemously singles, as a gender problematic.4 Da Silva mathematically solves already known equations of biological reproduction, namely, sexually reproductive heterosexual cisgender coupling and cisgender coupling without the “mother-wife.” But further, she deploys the hacked X as an experimentalizing of these already known equations, concluding that hacking X—problematizing systematicity and the normative tenets on which proper racial and gendered logic rest to engender Man—leads to a Kantian “Thing” unable to be apprehended by intuitional forms or categories. Hacking the X leads to an excessive mode of living that troubles existing logics and offers the potential for forms of life other than current stultifying ones.
“Hacking the Subject: Black Feminism and Refusal beyond the Limits of Critique” sets as its task a reconfiguration of Chandler’s reconfigurative project. Da Silva is animated by a confusion with Chandler, or a wanting more from him, inasmuch as it is unclear how his desedimentation disassembles the patriarchal form Chandler reads in Du Bois’s discussion of his genealogy, a form da Silva reads as the formal condition that permits a juridical political subject to be enunciated. Desedimentation, da Silva argues, operates within the patriarchal form—with which I agree, hence the necessity to think gender problematics explicitly—so it is necessary, in her language, to hack the figure of the X.
Her aim ultimately is to articulate the utility of “the female figure of blackness” staging a confrontation, or intervention, a more radical desedimentation, in relation to the notion of the subject, the object, and the other.5 This confrontation comes from a lineage of “unacceptable women” like Sojourner Truth, whom da Silva marks as a spectral interlocutor, and explicitly genders the “Negro” as the gesture for problematizing the problematic thought. Using Chandler’s book and his discourse on Du Bois as a critical point of departure, da Silva homes in on the question of the paternal and patriarchal in a way that opens up a gendered space. She subsequently deploys Spillers’s female flesh ungendered as what she deems a hack of the Chandlerian X in order to reconfigure Du Bois’s unnamed great-grandmother—the subject in Du Bois’s text, on Chandler’s reading, who cannot be named and thus bears only the “name” of the X—as an antipatriarchal analytic.
I want to utilize da Silva’s theorizing as an evidentiary tangent, or supportive thrust, to prove my understanding of the X’s double duty as both racial (black; Negro) and gender (trans; gender nonnormative) problem. A hacked system causes a problem, so hacking the X, which itself is already a hacking of a system, entails the problematizing of a problem. Blackness’s problem for thought is compounded by transness’s problem for gender. Both’s situatedness in the figure of the X gives the letter, as figurative, over to a significatory problematizing that rummages around in the dregs of ontology in order to interrogate, to problematize, the project of purity—whether racial origins, locatable gendered corporeality, or both. To hack this overarching project allows me to argue for the inextricability of blackness and transness by way of their referentiality, by which it is meant that the black and the gender nonnormative overlap in order to demonstrate byzantine nodes of the critique of what Sylvia Wynter calls Man.6 I am thus figuring both, by way of Chandler, in the figure of the X, theorizing the X’s utility in highlighting all of this.
The hacked X (\X) must refuse determination and acts as a referent for (the figure of) indeterminacy. This indeterminacy connotes gender nonnormativity’s hegemonic indeterminacy, and trans and transed gender make their mark on refusing external determination from without. With this, however, is an abiding blackness, and the indeterminacy that connotes transness also, simultaneously, is proposed by da Silva “as blackness’s greatest gift.”7 Refusal of determination from rubrics fundamentally predicated on determining the totality of being proves deeply troublesome, and residing in this trouble is what the X, or the \X, continues to do on the valence of race and gender problematics. Characteristic of this indeterminacy is an undelimitable origin. Chandler puts “the African American subject” at the center of this indeterminacy, as it “is quite often ‘both/and,’ as well as ‘neither/nor,’” emblematizing the inability to determine or undetermine—a radical (non)positionality of disallowing determination from anywhere (37). But the African American subject, to the extent that it is an inflection of blackness, also promotes a gender trouble by its refusal of determination. Gender self-determination is axiomatic in trans theorizing, but the “self” of this determination is one that has ecstatically unbounded itself from normative logics of self insofar as those logics necessitate inhabitation of the gender binary. It then becomes determination via a self that is not a self, a mobile subjectivity dis/located elsewhere: its subjectivity resides in the both/and and the neither/nor. This is the gender problem in the folds of Chandler’s theorizations.
This is a project that yearns for a radical otherwise and outside. Looking at ourselves “in a radically other way” is the figure of the X (111), so it is perhaps the Negro and the trans that might shuttle us toward this outsidedness, or a subjectivity as outside. To be and do blackness and to be and do transness mean that we look at ourselves and others radically differently; we are and do radical difference and differentiation. This radical difference and differentiation demands the reception of a gift. This reception is impossible, we know from Derrida, for we cannot even acknowledge the givenness of the gift without annulling it, cannot thank the giver without inducting the gift and act of giving into the economy of exchange. But the gift persists, here, in the problematics of the Negro and the trans as modalities of desedimentation that might quite literally free us from ourselves or cultivate the possibility for non-ontological being—indeed, da Silva’s “being-in-the-world anew.”8 This gift forms nothing, da Silva says, a radical departure from theorizations of different ways to be, more or less, the same subject. For her hacked X, a gendered theorization of the X, to form nothing is to seriously claim that we are not looking to “center black women” or simply posit black people or black women as the ground for theorizing done on the same logics, for these are still ensnared in the logics of opposition, or ontology, or some kind of purity, whether that purity is a pristine whiteness or brooding categorical blackness. To form nothing is to take seriously that having no form, abandoning the ontological ground, is the desedimentation of the ontological ground. And that is whence we must begin anew.
Da Silva, in short, “violate[s] his [Chandler’s] reading by hijacking his ‘certain X’ toward the ends of a radical (black feminist) praxis,” which is, further, toward the end of the displacement of identity, toward an impurity that displaces pure being.9 We get, truly, to a desedimentation of pure being when we engage the explicitly gendered, a gendered engagement that does not end at the gender question, which Spillers reprimands many, including black women, for doing; this engagement is in fact the only way to arrive at, or get closer to, the displacement of identificatory logics that are themselves, even when those identities are ones we love—black, transgender, woman, African American, and so on—to be ultimately abandoned. And another way to put this is in the language of the trans; that is, I had an anonymous reviewer on an excerpted earlier draft of these meditations insist, understandably, but overlooking the fundamental thrust of the identificatory displacement, that I talk about “actual” black transgender people. The reviewer demanded that I discuss, at length, “the concrete everyday realities of black transgender people.” I get it, truly, though my body of work has been a sustained meditation—and will likely continue to be a sustained meditation for some time—on why I wish to skirt this imperative. The figuration of the Negro-cum-blackness and the trans is not reducible to people who are called black and/or transgender. I refuse the insistence on discussing, again at length, the concrete “lived experiences” of people who rest at the nexus of black and transgender (though this is not to say that those materialities and epistemologies do not inform my theorization, nor is it to say that I never discuss these things). My refusal stems from a desire for subjectivity to emerge outside of and away from the dictates inscribed in ontology. If blackness and transness displace ontological ground, we in fact cannot simply outline the materialities of black and transgender subjects, for to do such would not get us outside of the very logics that circumscribe such violated life, not to mention that some “black” and “trans” people do not do black and trans work and some who are not “black” or “trans” in fact do. As da Silva puts it, “when a subject emerges in the determination of (decision on) a gender-sexual position”—or ending at the gender question, simply accepting the transparent and untroubled validity of there being black transgender people, black cis women, and so on—“s/he hopelessly restates the positions of ‘subject’ and of the ‘other.’” What she suggests here is that the anonymous review to which I was compelled to adhere was an attempt to disregard the radical work of moving toward a radically other logic; I was required to recapitulate the same logic, unable to displace it. But to concede the emergence of, say, black transgender people on the terms that orchestrated such a subject restates the ontological ground. For a cis man to occupy the position of valid subject is not the totality, or even primary concern, of the issue. It is, rather, “that the gender-sexual feature—referent of the patriarchal-form—requests both positions (a subject and an object)”—or the ontological ground of racial distinction and the gender binary require a subject (white, cis, male) and an object (black, trans, femme) in order for subjectivities to be legibly organized.10
I offer, then, a series of imaginative—or aspirative, unknown and unknowable, outside the bounds of even the imagination—claims Chandler provides for a new civilization.
I am proposing . . . a generosity without limit—as the opening toward another form of “civilization” altogether.
That is to say,
- – beyond all problems of remembrance (although an unfungible, necessary reference);
- – beyond all existing forms of limit (which must yet be ceaselessly engaged, challenged, displaced, and dismantled); and even,
- – beyond what we can yet inhabit as imagination (which must still be affirmed without reservation, even in the form of desire [the twinkle in the eye]);
- – the “African Diaspora” or, better, the general problem of the Negro as a problem for thought may be taken as a theoretical name for the possibility (and necessity) that a new organization or constellation of historicity (across the centuries to come) will have been inaugurated in the ceaselessly redoubled, disseminated, practices by which a certain (mobile and strictly undelimitable) we has been constructed for itself and for others. (174–75, emphasis original)
This new civilization is begotten, perhaps primarily or solely, by way of understanding the X as racial and gender hack, in da Silva’s sense, as she, too, alludes to something akin to Chandler when she yearns for what “the gift of the X” could bring, that is, possibility, a new way of being-in-the-world unviolated, undetermined, or being-out-the-world-in-the-world. A new civilization goes by alternative ethics and relations, different and differing logics. If the oppositional logic of the current system is inadequate, its binary logic too stultifying and necessarily disrupted by the Negro and gender problem, what we must imagine toward is another sort of logic, an (il)logic perhaps, or what Chandler gestures toward as “the radical possibility of this other logic” (4). Syntactic skewering, grammatical upheavals, rhetorical oddities, ontological impossibilities, and the like must characterize our new way of being in our new civilization, if civilization is even an apt term for such an environ. Our constellations will morph and shift into things we could never have anticipated. We will live, hopefully, simply in the beyond, in a place that is placeless, a horizon unattainable yet attained in our pursuit of its impossibility.
Hack the X, irrupting the chromosomal and the sexed binary that makes use of it, problematizing the order of purity where “order” and “purity” buttress the taxonomic categorization in which violence inheres. For X to be hacked is not to disrupt it; for X to be hacked is, in no uncertain terms, to proliferate the proliferative, which destroys polarities that organize a Manichean world. Hacking the X is precisely the aim of The Problem of the Negro as a Problem for Gender: if X serves as a hack to an order of totalizing purity marked and inaugurated by whiteness, the hacked X, which might be to say the transing of X, the trans of the X, is to problematize the problematic of blackness—to demonstrate how the problematic of blackness is, too, endemically, a problematic of and for gender. Chandler overlooks one of the subject’s forms (the patriarchal) while undermining, generatively, another (the racial). He gains footing to undermine and desediment the racial distinction by leaving sedimented the gender distinction, or the gender binary. To desediment racial and gender distinction, to hack the X that is already a reconfigurative figure, is more than a deconstructive move toward another possible determination (recall Lamonda Horton-Stallings’s critique of an “(un)naming” which seeks to unname in order to later rename in favor of “unnaming” or leaving indeterminate); it is a desedimentary move, a hack, a figuration of indeterminacy.
This is to gesture toward the polysemous anoriginally displaced site that is the Negro and gender problem. Put differently, origins are never original and pure; all those who yearn for the purity of the before-“white”-folks-came and, as many of my incarcerated students misguidedly say, “turned brother against brother” or had “black” people “selling their own into slavery,” yearn for a myth. There was no pure, unadulterated African unity. Indeed, there was no “Africa,” no racialized blackness that connected all the denizens of the second largest continent; it is fallacious to believe “that very deep continuities supervene upon skin color,” and those yearners possess an unyielding “conviction that if you traveled back in time and dropped the needle on a James Brown album, Cleo[patra] would instantly break out into the Camel Walk. The hope and belief that we cherish is not so much a proposition about melanin and physiognomy; it’s the proposition that beneath the scales of time and through the mists of history Cleopatra was a sister.”11 So, too, are the gender binary and natal assignations of “sex”—which, it bears being stated, is not a transparent category or objective description but rather, and always, a fiction that is inaccessible outside of what has been deemed gender12—believed to possess an origin at which we can arrive and glean objective truth. It is presumed that there is an originary point of cohesion to discern sex or gender, located either in the genitals, the brain, the chromosomes, or what have you. But this also proves dismally fallacious, as gender as well as sex are always dis/located, bound by no agreed-upon point of discernment, and mutable (a mutability that shifts all the more radically when circulating with blackness). The gendered “origin” of, say, the technician who deems a fetus “a boy!” during a sonogram is enacting a political interpellation, drawing the fetus into boyness rather than observing an untampered-with facticity. The declaration is neither innocent nor pure.
Thus “there is no from. There is no there, or somewhere, or place that a black from is anchored to,” as Katherine McKittrick argues; the origin of blackness and, too, gender is radically displaced, so much so that it is radically nowhere—what McKittrick goes on to notate as “the fantastic nowhere of blackness.”13 To have no origin, which constructs the black and trans as arising from nowhereness and nothingness—from Colebrook’s transitivity—is to desediment any ontological mooring from either of these historicized figures. The figures, ultimately, are empty, unfigured, and hence mobilized as anoriginal ontological dislodgings. The Negro and the trans, the black and nonnormatively gendered, become not figures as such or identifiable corporeal subjects; instead, and primarily, they ping the residue of what cannot and indeed refuses to exist under extant conditions of possibility. Having no Africanic or biologically binaristic from to anchor figuration, blackness and transness subsequently have no designated “to,” leaving the future open-ended, radically, and serving as that open-ended futurity. They hack subjectivity; they hack the future of what we might become.
The purpose of articulating the Negro and trans as problematics is to render purportedly originary and pure sites of, in this instance, race and gender as deviantly generative for otherwise ends. The X and its hacking are the indexation of an alternative possibility that exceeds how racial and gender taxonomies have been operationalized and now proves as “the recognition of the generative capacity that might arise by way of an affirmation of difference in human relation at all levels of social and historical generality,” Chandler writes.14 Affirming difference is to hack the X, to precipitate the problematizing of a problematic. Recognition that the Negro viz. blackness arises not from a purity in history but indexes precisely the “multiple forms of genesis, always both diverse and re-inaugurating, in the instance of an originary irruption” necessitates the recognition—though perhaps more closely a nonrecognition, a hacking of the interpellative gesture—of the trans viz. nonnormative gender and gender problematic as radically anoriginally displaced, resting nowhere, bearing no “truth” in a discernible location, always dispossessed and dispersed from the jump that disallows the very move toward natality.15