States, Sexes, and Circulating References: Untangling paradoxes of classification, a talk by Paisley Currah
Tue, April 9, 2013 • 3:30 PM • GEB 4th Floor Conference Room
States, Sexes, and Circulating References: Untangling paradoxes of classification
Rules for sex classification (or reclassification) are notoriously contradictory. When some individuals cross borders, walk into a government office to apply for benefits, get a driver's license, go to jail or prison, sign up for selective service, try to get married, or have any interaction with any state actor, the sex classification of some people can and often does move between F and M. Even within a single jurisdiction, almost every particular state agency—from federal to municipal—has the authority to decide its own rules for sex classification. The different metrics for sex are telling, and much is lost when those differences are seen as irrational contradictions, vestiges of social structures long past. While these policies may appear to be contradictory, they're not. In fact, if we let go of the idea that there is any whatness to sex apart from what any particular state actor say it is, the contradiction evaporates. What seems to be contradictions in sex definition—across jurisdictions, between agencies, and at different times—are simply the consequences of the fact that “the state” is not a singular entity but multiple, does not do one thing, but many, is not produced through one process, but many. In this presentation, I'll talk about the advantages of studying the problem of sex classification through a Latourian ethnographic lens.
Reception to follow
Paisley Currah is a professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His research and teach interests include: transgender studies; sexuality and gender studies; the LGBT rights movement; queer legal theory; and contemporary political and social theory. With Susan Stryker, Currah is the Founding Co-Editor of Transgender Studies Quarterly, a new journal from Duke University Press. Currah is a co-editor of Transgender Rights (Minnesota, 2006), the first comprehensive work on the transgender civil rights movement, which won the Sylvia Rivera Award in Transgender Studies and was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award. Recent articles include: “Homonationalism, State Rationalities, and Sex Contradictions” (Theory & Event, 2013); “Securitizing Gender: Identity, Biometrics, and Gender Non-conforming Bodies at the Airport,” co-authored with Tara Mulqueen (Social Research 2011); “ ‘We Won’t Know Who You Are’: Contesting Sex Designations on New York City Birth Certificates,” co-authored with Lisa Jean Moore (Hypatia 2009); and “The Transgender Rights Imaginary,” in Feminist and Queer Legal Theory: Intimate Encounters, Uncomfortable Conversations, edited by Martha Albertson Fineman (Ashgate Press 2009). With Monica Casper, he co-edited Corpus: An Interdisciplinary Reader on Bodies and Knowledge (Palgrave 2011). His current book project, The United States of Sex: Regulating Transgender Identities (NYU, forthcoming), looks at contradictions in state definitions of sex and their effects on transgender people. Currah sits on the editorial boards of GLQ: A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies, Women’s Studies Quarterly, and Sexuality Research and Social Policy. He received his PhD from Cornell University in 1994, where he studied political science with a concentration in sexuality and gender studies. Currah served as an outside expert on two New York City agency committees, written for think tanks (the Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Transgender Law and Policy Institute), and worked on non-discrimination legislation at the city, state, and federal levels. Currah has served as the Coordinator of the Women's Studies Program at Brooklyn College and the Executive Director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the City University of New York. He currently is the chair of the Department of Political Science at Brooklyn College.