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Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility

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The increasing representation of trans identity throughout art and popular culture in recent years has been nothing if not paradoxical. Trans visibility is touted as a sign of a liberal society, but it has coincided with a political moment marked both by heightened violence against trans people (especially trans women of color) and by the suppression of trans rights under The increasing representation of trans identity throughout art and popular culture in recent years has been nothing if not paradoxical. Trans visibility is touted as a sign of a liberal society, but it has coincided with a political moment marked both by heightened violence against trans people (especially trans women of color) and by the suppression of trans rights under civil law. Trap Door grapples with these contradictions. The essays, conversations, and dossiers gathered here delve into themes as wide-ranging yet interconnected as beauty, performativity, activism, and police brutality. Collectively, they attest to how trans people are frequently offered “doors”—entrances to visibility and recognition—that are actually “traps” accommodating trans bodies and communities only insofar as they cooperate with dominant norms. The volume speculates about a third term, perhaps uniquely suited for our time: the trapdoor, neither entrance nor exit, but a secret passageway leading elsewhere. Trap Door begins a conversation that extends through and beyond trans culture, showing how these issues have relevance for anyone invested in the ethics of visual culture.


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The increasing representation of trans identity throughout art and popular culture in recent years has been nothing if not paradoxical. Trans visibility is touted as a sign of a liberal society, but it has coincided with a political moment marked both by heightened violence against trans people (especially trans women of color) and by the suppression of trans rights under The increasing representation of trans identity throughout art and popular culture in recent years has been nothing if not paradoxical. Trans visibility is touted as a sign of a liberal society, but it has coincided with a political moment marked both by heightened violence against trans people (especially trans women of color) and by the suppression of trans rights under civil law. Trap Door grapples with these contradictions. The essays, conversations, and dossiers gathered here delve into themes as wide-ranging yet interconnected as beauty, performativity, activism, and police brutality. Collectively, they attest to how trans people are frequently offered “doors”—entrances to visibility and recognition—that are actually “traps” accommodating trans bodies and communities only insofar as they cooperate with dominant norms. The volume speculates about a third term, perhaps uniquely suited for our time: the trapdoor, neither entrance nor exit, but a secret passageway leading elsewhere. Trap Door begins a conversation that extends through and beyond trans culture, showing how these issues have relevance for anyone invested in the ethics of visual culture.

30 review for Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility

  1. 5 out of 5

    Zaynab

    I honestly didn't know what to expect when I decided to buy this book on a whim. I was looking for trans theory and trans cultural production beyond the usual suspects of the academy. So I bought this whim on impulse, and took a long time reading it. There are so many things I loved about this book. Beyond its extremely high production values, the essays and conversations between cultural producers, academics, and artists contain so many gems and so many profound insights. There are essays about I honestly didn't know what to expect when I decided to buy this book on a whim. I was looking for trans theory and trans cultural production beyond the usual suspects of the academy. So I bought this whim on impulse, and took a long time reading it. There are so many things I loved about this book. Beyond its extremely high production values, the essays and conversations between cultural producers, academics, and artists contain so many gems and so many profound insights. There are essays about the ethics of cultural production, the struggles of curation and the construction of cultural/collective memory, histories of trans resistance that can be found in art, film, etc. By the same token, I was left wondering about a lot of things. I wonder who realistically could afford a $50 art book. I understand price has to compensate for production values. Yet by the same token the price alone made me question who is the intended audience of this book. If its widely understood that TPOC, particularly TWOC, live below the poverty line, I wondered how they're supposed to access this book. In the five years since this book has been published, I wonder how price point and inaccessibility affects its reception to the very communities that its documenting and writing about. This question was further complicated by the inclusion of theorists like Sara Ahmed. While I appreciated Sara Ahmed's essay, I did wonder whether it was appropriate to be included. I really didn't care to see a cisgender voice in a volume about trans cultural production. Above and beyond Ahmed's name recognition, I think it was a missed opportunity to forfeit the politics of academic celebrity that is understood to help sell books and actually include a theorist who could effectively write an essay on the same subject, just from a different take. I would have wanted to hear from someone who I don't know, who doesn't have name recognition, but has something important to say nonetheless. All and all I enjoyed this book, but it did leave me wondering "who is this for?" Maybe such an underlying question and the embodied contradictions of assembling an anthology is intentional. I could see that, as much as I think its kitschy and unnecessary given that embodied contradictions are always a thing in anthologies.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Furger

    As RuPaul’s Drag Race becomes more main stream, this is an important reminder of how entertainment has been dramatically changed drag/transsexual people for a long time. Important read, but it is pretty scholarly- not a criticism, but may not be a read accessible to everyone!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Julian

    I would give something between 3 and 4 stars. There were very profound and insightful ideas that got me thinking in new ways and I got some new avenues of reading to pursue out of it. Some of the essays and interviews were great, others I didn't find as interesting. I feel like I only understood like 70% of this book though, with much effort, and I kind of wish it was written in a more accessible way for trans folks outside of the art world who don't have an academic background in queer theory. I would give something between 3 and 4 stars. There were very profound and insightful ideas that got me thinking in new ways and I got some new avenues of reading to pursue out of it. Some of the essays and interviews were great, others I didn't find as interesting. I feel like I only understood like 70% of this book though, with much effort, and I kind of wish it was written in a more accessible way for trans folks outside of the art world who don't have an academic background in queer theory. It was so dense and I felt relieved and accomplished when I finally got through all nearly 400 pages of it. All of the essays and interviews were the perfect length though, which made it easier to keep moving through the book. As soon as I got tired of one essay, it was over and on to the next! Really an essential discussion on the visibility/vulnerability of trans people in the contemporary US. I appreciated that it centered Black and Latinx trans women and femmes who are the people in our community that the double edged sword of visibility/vulnerability cuts the deepest. For all of the great ideas it was borderline unreadable at many points due to the convoluted prose in most of the essays, but that's pretty standard for queer theory. I think the approach of interviewing artists and activists and including essays from activists, scholars, and artists was a great way to try to get at a complex and nuanced topic with few easy answers.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Z

    Love, love, love, love, love it! This book is such a remarkable and important collection of essays that I continue to come back to time and again.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Robert Hudder

    I was worried when I started this book. It is a book on predominantly black trans folk in America. It was published in 2017 with the rise of deaths and visibility. The Black Trans Lives Matter movement has become more present in American culture and I have some concerns with the way this movement has worked and shared its aims. Read the next few sentences before deciding that I must be racist and transphobic. Let's start with the marked. I am a white cis man living in North America, specifically I was worried when I started this book. It is a book on predominantly black trans folk in America. It was published in 2017 with the rise of deaths and visibility. The Black Trans Lives Matter movement has become more present in American culture and I have some concerns with the way this movement has worked and shared its aims. Read the next few sentences before deciding that I must be racist and transphobic. Let's start with the marked. I am a white cis man living in North America, specifically Canada. As a nation, we have benefitted from slavery and oppression of our own aboriginal folks. It is still happening. See the fishery dispute in Nova Scotia. As for the unmarked, I am going to leave that alone. In some ways, where I am unmarked has echoes in some of the themes in this book. What put me at ease was in the introduction the acknowledgment that the POV was predominantly American and the way that the queer movement comes from there. These are largely folks working in that environment and tradition. It is also firmly rooted in the modern (since 2000), so that is all up front. Having said that, there are acknowledgment of the past in some of these essays, roundtables, etc. Stretching back into the 1800's and into places that are not particularly thought of queer in the mainstream of anything. There is a tacit marking of times such as post war, post Stonewall and the AIDS years. This is good. The pieces are uneven when trying to cover such a huge topic. I enjoyed many of them, especially when the voices were less homogenous and didn't reflect a certain lockstep. There are critical takes on normalization of the gay movement, how focusing on bathrooms is kinda white, and the way history of trans folk is created. The pieces that I didn't like were more of the description of pieces. They read like artists' statements and sometimes bored me with their particular style that anyone would recognize who reads those things. There was no reluctance to shy away from some of the more outre connections, i.e. trans and aliens or the connection to interspecies relationships. I can honestly say I was sometimes challenged, amused, angered and bored. I was happy to have the multiplicity of voices that helped show how even the American take was not homogenize and that there were divides and fractures between radical and anarchic. There were calls to do more than just the standard way of doing things. Calls to move beyond taking over the same structures and perpetuating the same old same old. It isn't enough to replace the current rights with womens' rights, blacks' rights or trans' rights. We have to subvert the norms and continue to be queer. Now, that isn't everyone's perspective but there is a sense that the current way of talking about outing and closets and how to get the same rights as everyone else isn't working so good. With the rise of visibility, there is a rise of violence and more disenfranchisement. With the creation of a category, it others some who were previously there. But this is just my takeaway and there is lots to delve into with this book. I am no expert on Black Trans Lives and I am not interested in saying that I get it. However, it is hard not to read these folks and hear the suggestions that trans visibility has to be more than adding rights, and non gendered bathrooms to the list.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Squirrel

    Rounded up from 3.5. This collection is a mixed bag of pieces. Theoretical, practical, art, activism. Thematically I think that Gossett did a good job at linking these somewhat disparate pieces together. The problem is one of momentum, though; Gossett spaces out her more theoretical pieces in between more approachable pieces such as roundtable discussions, which I actually found to be more difficult than, say, grouping all of the theoretical pieces together. Which is part of why it sat open half Rounded up from 3.5. This collection is a mixed bag of pieces. Theoretical, practical, art, activism. Thematically I think that Gossett did a good job at linking these somewhat disparate pieces together. The problem is one of momentum, though; Gossett spaces out her more theoretical pieces in between more approachable pieces such as roundtable discussions, which I actually found to be more difficult than, say, grouping all of the theoretical pieces together. Which is part of why it sat open halfway, unread, for about 3 months. While reading it, I kept thinking, who is this collection for, really? I'd also like to thank the person who checked this book out before me as they put pencil marks next to all of the more theoretical articles in the index. It turns out that they were the articles that I liked the least but ignored all of the articles about more concrete ideas, such as archives, political organizing, and history-making. And they put a question mark next to Sara Ahmed's "An Affinity of Hammers," which imo they should not have passed on. The main question that is the backbone of this book is, "what is the value of increased visibility & representation?" What might have been an interesting conversation in the summer of 2016 but is somewhat moot in October of 2020. Like no, no, please stop the representation! We would like to *not* be the visible part of the conservative backlash now. I appreciate the introduction to people such as Chris E Vargas and MOTHRA, and Kai Lumumba Barrow. But in 5+ years, who will even read this?

  7. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

    This book contains a series of essays that center around the current "transgender tipping point" and grapple with the dichotomy of increased trans visibility and increased violence against trans people. An essay that stuck with me was "The Labor of Werqing It" which discussed how accounting for race challenges the "trans tipping point" narrative and the exceptionalism/death binary. The essay uses the example of a black drag performer that was the target of harassment by the police while white dr This book contains a series of essays that center around the current "transgender tipping point" and grapple with the dichotomy of increased trans visibility and increased violence against trans people. An essay that stuck with me was "The Labor of Werqing It" which discussed how accounting for race challenges the "trans tipping point" narrative and the exceptionalism/death binary. The essay uses the example of a black drag performer that was the target of harassment by the police while white drag performers were hired to perform without a problem. This article takes issue with the narrative of the "transgender tipping point" because the narrative suggests that public interest in trans people is peaking in the present (when there has always been evidence for public interest) and misses the ways in which peaks in violence/visibility are cyclical. Another reading that stuck with me was the one on violence against black people and how social media exploits our feelings and how we should stop sharing videos of violence against black bodies. This reading was particularly pertinent given the current riots. The "Models of Futurity" reading was along a similar vein and discussed how peaceful protests had not worked to dismantle the neo-liberal state in the past.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Seb Swann

    “But if I am black or I am trans, and if people can’t see that, then what am I? Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish the difference between the self we hold inside of us and the self that is named by others.” If you like anthologies about trans identity and visibility; through essays and conversations, this anthology grapples with questions and themes related to identity, art, performance, beauty, activism, and the contradictions of trans visibility. The texts range from free-flowing accessible con “But if I am black or I am trans, and if people can’t see that, then what am I? Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish the difference between the self we hold inside of us and the self that is named by others.” If you like anthologies about trans identity and visibility; through essays and conversations, this anthology grapples with questions and themes related to identity, art, performance, beauty, activism, and the contradictions of trans visibility. The texts range from free-flowing accessible conversations to academic theorizing with an elevated vocabulary; for me, they were hit or miss.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ignatz

    Some of this was pretty good as an interrogation of trans 'visibilty', and interesting as a collection from just before the mainstream tide seemed to turn on trans people, but there was also a LOT of uncritical representation politics and it largely seemed pretty oblivious to its own institutional loyalties. Some essays were better than others - the conversation between Che Gosset and Juliana Huxtable and the essay on Mark Aguhar, for example, and I found Hayward.. worth reading, if critically - Some of this was pretty good as an interrogation of trans 'visibilty', and interesting as a collection from just before the mainstream tide seemed to turn on trans people, but there was also a LOT of uncritical representation politics and it largely seemed pretty oblivious to its own institutional loyalties. Some essays were better than others - the conversation between Che Gosset and Juliana Huxtable and the essay on Mark Aguhar, for example, and I found Hayward.. worth reading, if critically - but on the whole maybe skip this one.

  10. 4 out of 5

    cosima concordia

    Trap Door is a gorgeous collection of essays and other art that explores the uncomfortable contradictions within the media's obsession with the "Transgender Tipping Point" and the mixed results it brings for the actual lived experiences of trans people. What does visibility actually mean? What are the consequences of "acceptance" within oppressive dominant norms? How does one live authentically within a system that was built for your erasure? The beautiful voices bursting from within Trap Door b Trap Door is a gorgeous collection of essays and other art that explores the uncomfortable contradictions within the media's obsession with the "Transgender Tipping Point" and the mixed results it brings for the actual lived experiences of trans people. What does visibility actually mean? What are the consequences of "acceptance" within oppressive dominant norms? How does one live authentically within a system that was built for your erasure? The beautiful voices bursting from within Trap Door brings revolutionary weight to these questions, elevating the discourse to new heights.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Eleanor Kallo

    I'd do 3.5 if I could, but that is really just my personal taste. This is a PHENOMENAL book, however as an outside from the art world a good chunk of it went absolutely over my head... Some of the essays were so moving, and made me think for days. Others I simply could grasp what they were saying - but I have no doubt an artist would be able to. I suggest this for anybody who is in the art community! I'd do 3.5 if I could, but that is really just my personal taste. This is a PHENOMENAL book, however as an outside from the art world a good chunk of it went absolutely over my head... Some of the essays were so moving, and made me think for days. Others I simply could grasp what they were saying - but I have no doubt an artist would be able to. I suggest this for anybody who is in the art community!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Alex L Combs

    Trap Door is an amazing collection of essays and conversations that examine the politics of trans visibility today. These artists, critics, activists, and historians examine this topic from a variety of perspectives that center intersectional knowledge bases. The weaving together of art, prose, and scholarship makes for an immersive creative experience. This book had me thinking on another level!

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tallon Kennedy

    The pieces in this collection were hit or miss for me. Regardless, a lot to think about in terms of trans visibility, violence, trans art, and more. Certainly a valuable collection of trans thought and imagination. 6/10

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jasper

    an incredible and necessary book that examines the dangers of visibility and the need to move beyond the neoliberal framework of "representation." sara ahmed's essay particularly took my breath away 🖤 an incredible and necessary book that examines the dangers of visibility and the need to move beyond the neoliberal framework of "representation." sara ahmed's essay particularly took my breath away 🖤

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alexis

    I really loved how this book was set up. I liked that articles further in the book referenced back to past chapters. They were also building on the history and interweaving that discussion into the Art that was discussed in multiple articles. I will probably reread this book in the future!

  16. 4 out of 5

    shimmerr

    some compelling essays! I enjoyed the interweaving of more academic style theory with interviews,artist works, and roundtables.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Eamon

    essential - particularly recommend the Sara Ahmed, Evay Hayward, Miss Major, and the archival materials

  18. 5 out of 5

    harper

    worth it but why so dense??????? WHY

  19. 5 out of 5

    Aurélien

  20. 4 out of 5

    Matt Kennedy

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sylvia

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tobias Wiggins

  23. 5 out of 5

    tara

  24. 4 out of 5

    Milan

  25. 4 out of 5

    TL

  26. 5 out of 5

    Anéya Sousa

  27. 4 out of 5

    Katja

  28. 5 out of 5

    PT Reader

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ezra

  30. 5 out of 5

    hannah

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