Trans Studies at the Crossroad: From Racialized Invisibility to Gendered Legibility

The Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Race, ed. Patricia Akhimie (Oxford University Press, 2024), pp. 195-211. 

Premodern critical race studies, long intertwined with Shakespeare studies, have broadened our understanding of the definitions and discourse of race and racism to include not only phenotype, but also religious and political identity, regional, national, and linguistic difference, and systems of differentiation based upon culture and custom.

     This chapter argues that race and gender are social practices that evolve over time, in each other’s presence, and in different social spaces. Race and trans studies are fields of study borne out of necessity, the necessity to understand the world, and the necessity for all to live a liveable life. Race and trans studies are fields of study borne out of necessity, the necessity to understand the world, and the necessity for all to live a liveable life. 

     This chapter brings critical race theory and trans studies together to examine racial and gendered otherness through case studies of performances of Shakespeare’s plays. Providing critical tools to understand atypical bodies, trans studies solidifies critical race studies’ support of minority life experiences. Critical race methods, with their attention to the social production of hierarchies, can also help trans studies address its often-unacknowledged whiteness. 

     To correct the early modern studies’ tendency to privilege narrative texts, this chapter uses global and performance studies methods—as critical tools that are designed to capture transformative cultural practices—to highlight embodied significations of transness.

     The chapter concludes with a reflection on pedagogical implications of multidisciplinarity. Providing critical tools to understand atypical bodies, trans studies solidifies critical race studies’ support of minority life experiences. 

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