A Trans Philology of Racialized Gender Presentation (Faculty180)

cited authors

  • Gamble, Joseph


  • Abstract: This essay examines some of the conceptual networks that the “trans” prefix knits together in early modernity. In particular, I trace a convergence of logics of gender nonconformity and racialization that lodge themselves in the word “transport” over the course of the late sixteenth century. In 1598, George Puttenham translates the Greek term “metaphor” as “the figure of transport,” a figure he also insistently refers to as a sort of “inversion.” In 1596, Queen Elizabeth issues multiple warrants for the capture and forcible displacement of “blackamoors” in which she repeatedly refers to “transport[ing]” these Black Africans out of England, implicitly metaphorizing them into movable objects. Jostling between forms of “inversion” on the one hand and a “state-sanctioned. . .production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death” (to use Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s definition of racism) on the other, “transport” functions as a sort of “semantic engine,” Roland Green’s term for a word that “generates effects not only in its near set of corresponding terms but across a cultural terrain.” Building on the work of scholars as various as Hortense Spillers, C. Riley Snorton, Kim F. Hall, Sydnee Wagner, and Abdulhamit Arvas, in this essay I argue that the semantic engine of “transport” offers a useful philological entry point into the early modern construction of racialized gender precisely around the figure of metaphor. Well before the formation of Blackness and transness as identity categories, “transport” reveals that Black trans people are already caught between metaphor as a mode of thought that might wrest one from the vice grip of a gendered materiality imposed against one’s will (that is, metaphor as a figure for a liberating transness) and metaphor as, on the other, a mode of thought that might forcibly displace one from a materiality that offers a ground for life (metaphor as one of racism’s tools).


publication date

  • 2022

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