Tag Archives: Chelsea Manning

Terrorizing Gender: Transgender Visibility and the Surveillance Practices of the U.S. Security State

While it still seems a bit unreal, my book will officially be out this fall! You can pre-order a copy directly at the University of Nebraska Press’ website or at other major booksellers. A huge shout-out to @cassilsartist for the amazing cover art and @micahbazant for their beautiful portrait of CeCe!

 

About the Book

The increased visibility of transgender people in mainstream media, exemplified by Time magazine’s declaration that 2014 marked a “transgender tipping point,” was widely believed to signal a civil rights breakthrough for trans communities in the United States. In Terrorizing Gender Mia Fischer challenges this narrative of progress, bringing together transgender, queer, critical race, legal, surveillance, and media studies to analyze the cases of Chelsea Manning, CeCe McDonald, and Monica Jones. Tracing how media and state actors collude in the violent disciplining of these trans women, Fischer exposes the traps of visibility by illustrating that dominant representations of trans people as deceptive, deviant, and threatening are integral to justifying, normalizing, and reinforcing the state-sanctioned violence enacted against them.

The heightened visibility of transgender people, Fischer argues, has actually occasioned a conservative backlash characterized by the increased surveillance of trans people by the security state, evident in debates over bathroom access laws, the trans military ban, and the rescission of federal protections for transgender students and workers. Terrorizing Gender concludes that the current moment of trans visibility constitutes a contingent cultural and national belonging, given the gendered and racialized violence that the state continues to enact against trans communities, particularly those of color.

Praise

“Mia Fischer’s Terrorizing Gender valuably unsettles normative assumptions and reveals precarious implications of the vaunted transgender ‘tipping point.’. . . Terrorizing Gender’s compelling necropolitical critique floodlights the conditions and obfuscations of trans precarity, and its closing call to embody Tourmaline’s politics of ‘nobodiness’ offers a promising glimpse of visibility’s queer future.”—Charles E. Morris III, professor in the Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies at Syracuse University and coeditor of QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking

 

Terrorizing Gender is an incendiary contribution to media studies and transgender studies. With brilliant rigor, Fischer shows how recent U.S. transgender visibility has occasioned a revival of narratives presenting trans people as deviant and threatening. . . . The result, as Fischer masterfully illustrates, is an extremely limited public trans visibility, premised on replicating white supremacy and violent policing of those trans people who do not or will not comply with state regulation. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in transgender politics and media.”—Aren Z. Aizura, assistant professor of gender, women, and sexuality studies at the University of Minnesota, and author of Mobile Subjects: Transnational Imaginaries of Gender Reassignment

 

“Methodologically innovative and theoretically sophisticated, this brave book exposes how transgender people in the United States are increasingly subject to state-sanctioned violence and surveillance practices. . . . This book will occupy a central place on my shelf as it bridges the fields of surveillance, trans, and media studies, and critical race and feminist theory. I can’t wait to teach it.”—Shoshana Magnet, associate professor at the Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies, University of Ottawa

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Answering a much dreaded question: what’s your dissertation about?

I realize that it has been quite awhile since I’ve been posting about some of my own research and an update is long overdue. Hence, I decided that it might be a good point to talk a little bit about my dissertation project and what I’ve been working on over the past year [warning: it is a rather academic read].

In my dissertation titled “Terrorizing Gender: Transgender Visibility and the Surveillance Practices of the U.S. Security State,” I explore how  the media representation of transgender bodies is connected to the surveillance practices enacted against trans communities at the hands of the state, e.g. through disproportionate rates of criminalization and incarceration etc. I’ve become particularly interested in exploring how mediated visibilities of marginalized communities, particularly those perceived as gender-non-conforming, impact the material realities of those communities, principally in terms of their access to national belonging and U.S. citizenship.

In recent years, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) movement has gained unprecedented legal victories – with marriage equality, the passing of federal hate crime legislation, and the repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy – granting recognition and rights to certain gay and lesbian citizens. The increased media representation of LGBT people – 2013 saw a record number of queer characters on broadcast networks – further suggests the successful inclusion of gays and lesbians into society. Indeed, gays may be “The New Normal,” as the title of a popular NBC sitcom proclaims. In sharp contrast, the disparaging media coverage of whistle blower and Wikileaker Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, which focused on her gender identity as a motivation for her leaking classified documents largely to the omission of her own account that she did so out of a “love for my country and a sense of duty to others,” paralleled the state’s own conceptualization of Manning as a traitor. Similarly, the local story of CeCe McDonald, an African American transgender woman charged with second degree murder and sentenced to 41 months in prison for killing her attacker with a pair of fabric scissors during a violent assault motivated by racism and transphobia in 2011, has turned a national spotlight on the discrimination, bigotry, and violence transgender people frequently face. These two stories, then, point to the ways in which, despite being nominally included in the LGBT moniker, transgender individuals were (and still are) not assimilated into the nation state, but are rather excluded from it.

                       

The contrast between gay and lesbian inclusion and transgender exclusion by both the state and mass media has caused some scholars in queer studies (e.g., Spade, 2011) to ask whether transgender bodies, communities, and issues are the excluded “step child” of LGB(T) politics. Using Manning and McDonald’s stories, as both illustrative and representative of everyday transgender experiences, my research takes up this contrast as a problem intensified by the practices of and connections between corporate media and the U.S. security state (an amalgam of governmental, corporate, and civil entities invested in fostering national security and citizen safety at the expense of civil liberties). I examine the media and the state’s differential treatment of transgender individuals as an entry point through which to analyze gender and sexual visibility within the contemporary United States because it affords the ability to interrogate the state’s increasingly prevalent surveillance practices since September 11, 2001.

Using Chelsea Manning and CeCe McDonald as case studies, my project examines how transgender lives are represented by the media and surveilled by the U.S. security state, specifically how media coverage of these individuals is connected to state surveillance practices post-9/11. My dissertation moves beyond studies of representation typical in media studies to build interdisciplinary bridges between critical media studies, queer studies, and surveillance studies. My dissertation asks how and why certain transgender people come under scrutiny by the surveillance practices of the security state as it analyzes the power relations intrinsic to those practices. I argue that the mainstream news media’s portrayal of Manning as “emotionally fractured,” plagued by “disciplining problems” and “delusions of grandeur” provides a rationale for the state surveillance of transgender bodies by tying their gender-non-conformity to mental instabilities that threaten state interests. Relatedly, the media’s framing of McDonald and her gender-non-conforming body as deceptive, as well as the state’s refusal to grant McDonald a right to self-defense, and the denial of her transgender subjectivity by the prison system (through placement in a male correctional facility and the denial of hormone therapy) further illustrates how both the media and the state deem transgender bodies deviant and therefore threatening. I suggest that in this mutually reinforcing process intersecting logics of gender, class, and race inform state surveillance practices that disproportionally subject transgender communities (particularly those of color) to frequent policing, discrimination, and incarceration.

Hopefully, this conveys a good glimpse of my larger project and over the next few weeks I plan on sharing some specifics and examples from the chapters that I have already completed and/or are appearing in publications. So stay tuned for more!

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