Mobile Subjects: Transnational Imaginaries of Gender Reassignment by Aren Aizura

Introduction by
Natalie Oswin

Through discussion of archival and documentary evidence as well as ethnographic material on gender reassignment surgery in Thailand, Aizura brilliantly and beautifully lays out the importance of thinking transness through the lens of mobility and motility, while “tak[ing] seriously how travel and mobility themselves are concepts freighted with the history of global and transnational travel and its representation: colonial and imperial exploration and settlement and migration by sea, land, and air” (2018: 3). 

I

n the opening paragraphs of Mobile Subjects, Aren Aizura notes that while popular and self-help discourses frequently describe gender transition, affirmation, or reassignment as a ‘journey’, trans studies scholarship trains attention mainly on “how trans narratives are governed by temporalities.” He continues: “As crucial as this work on temporality has been to challenging trans normativity, such a focus on temporality risks losing sight of the spatial and geographical figures that animate understandings of transition and gender reassignment” (2018: 2). In the pages that follow, through discussion of archival and documentary evidence as well as ethnographic material on gender reassignment surgery in Thailand, Aizura brilliantly and beautifully lays out the importance of thinking transness through the lens of mobility and motility, while “tak[ing] seriously how travel and mobility themselves are concepts freighted with the history of global and transnational travel and its representation: colonial and imperial exploration and settlement and migration by sea, land, and air” (2018: 3). 

At the March 2019 Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers, I had the pleasure of chairing an ‘author meets critics’ panel on Mobile Subjects. More than three years later, with gratefulness to the participants for persisting through pandemic time-space disruptions, I have the pleasure of bringing distillations of that conversation to publication. Debanuj DasGupta offers praise for Aizura’s transmaterialist analysis and ‘follow the actors’ method, and situates the book alongside existing work in queer and trans studies within and beyond geography. AM Kanngieser values the autoethnographic foundation of the work, its ‘disposition of attunement’, and its deeply intersectional and interdisciplinary orientations. Rae Rosenberg appreciates the ways in which Mobile Subjects critically attends to the whiteness as “constituting ‘proper’ and legible femininity” while also pushing for attention to the transnational mobilities of trans women of color living in the global north. Finally, Aizura responds with ruminations on trans care and mutual aid, asserting that “within ‘disposability’, people still organize” and imploring critical scholars (of whatever discipline) to shift their definition of the political so that this work might be seen. 

Natalie Oswin is an associate professor of human geography at the University of Toronto Scarborough, and managing editor of Environment and Planning D: Society and Space and the Society and Space Magazine.

essays in this forum

Trans/Space: Race, Class, and the Differential Politics of Gender Affirmation Procedures

Aren Aizura charts the motilities and mobilities of trans/bodies through an exploration of gender reassignment surgery as a set of procedures and technologies which allow individuals of diverse nationalities to achieve their gender identity.

By

Debanuj DasGupta

“Following the Actors” as a Practice of Attunement to Transgender Life

Like the process of gender affirmation, Mobile Subjects inhabits the perpetual motion of the journey. An appropriately interdisciplinary text, its geographical heart lies in its fundamental concern with transgender movements across space and time.

By

AM Kanngieser

Interrupting Narratives: Exploring Race through Trans Somatechnics

"Mobile Subjects" operationalizes an innovative elevation of trans studies through and beyond the body, by using gender reassignment surgery (GRS) as a way to conceptualize the entanglements of mobility, trans intelligibility, and transnational circuits of capitalism.

By

Rae Rosenberg

Moving While Standing Still: Trans Space, Mobility, and Care Within Disposability

It’s difficult but rewarding to refuse the valence of any given trans subject as political signifier, while also looking at how particular figures function to articulate crisis across the breadth of capital, surveillance, policing. While Mobile Subjects doesn’t quite do justice to this vision, it tries. 

By

Aren Aizura