The Translation of the Self Across Time

By Grace Picante (a pseudonym)

I have known Grace for a number of years. She has been a dear colleague and intellectual interlocutor that has assisted me immeasurably by proofreading my translations. When I sent her the announcement about the launching of this site, she read the blog post I created called “What does the word queer mean anyway?” She wrote to me and told me that it reminded her of a time when she was attending a university, finishing her undergraduate degree, and there was so much talk about gender identity. She told me that she felt confused about all the terms and what they meant, so over time she went online and looked up Wikipedia entries to try and make sense of it all. She also wondered if she would find among those entries a description of her own sense of self. In that email, she went on to share some intimate details about herself, things I never would have imagined had crossed her mind. I was so impressed with what she shared that I asked her if she would be willing to share a part of it with our readers. She said, “Yes!” provided that we publish it with a pseudonym. It is an honor to be able to bring this story to you all, a story we have entitled, Translation of the Self Across Time. Please let us know your thoughts by commenting below. We invite you to dialogue with us.

My own identity journey evolved with unpredictable plot twists. At the age of four, the spirit of my deceased brother showed up as my constant companion. At times I was not sure where he ended and I began. I also heard the calm male voice of my spiritual guide then..

By age six, as a shy white girl living in suburbia, I fully accepted that I would be raised by the guide as a Plains Indian boy in a tribe of one. Feeling socially awkward in dresses, I could hardly wait to get home from school, put on jeans and play in the woods. I focused on my inner world, but also felt that the problems of the outer were somehow my responsibility. The invisible entity continued to watch over me through years of intense loneliness and anger (which thankfully I was able to fully overcome).

At eleven, fully expecting to become a man, I began intentionally lowering my voice. For about a year, guttural native-sounding chants poured out of my being, and then abruptly stopped. I figured I must be channeling the Lenni Lenape who had once walked those same Eastern woods. At twelve, the guide told me it was time to leave the woods, and find a way to be socially comfortable in the world. Although this was a difficult request, I accepted the challenge and obeyed. This was followed by a vivid dream/vision in which I was a confident Hindu girl ornately dressed for her wedding. Years later, I would understand that some of my past lives have apparently been a part of the present one. In any case, this exalted image of the feminine allowed me to fully embrace a new possibility. Initially I felt strong in this new identity, until at fourteen it was disrupted when I realized that from then on, males would mostly treat me as an object; more interested in my female body than my mind. Cut off from returning to the innocence of being either a girl or a boy, but needing to grow up, for decades I continued in a reluctant, mostly female, identity. It seemed necessary to hold back my full, true self in order to fit in socially.

There are too many chapters to tell between then and now, but I have arrived again at a similar place as I did at age seventeen, happily celibate after feeling unfulfilled from too many shallow relationships, strongly focused on an inner spiritual life with outward service to the people in my surroundings, and not feeling particularly female or male.

Now I feel more comfortable in my skin and in my soul. AMEN.

What does the word “queer” mean anyways?

Wikipedia does a great job of explaining the current state of this term. They present the various uses of the term when it comes to identity and politics. Although I acknowledge that there are those in the LGBTQIA spectrum that cringe sometimes at the use of the word, since I have embraced it in my theoretical, literary, and translation research and practice, I have found using it liberating.

Queer to me is a moving target. I like that it is hard to pin down and rough around the edges. It underscores the resistance that I feel as an integral part of identifying with the term. In fact, the whole series of articles on Lesbiangaybisexual, and transgender(LGBT) people that Wikipedia has are quite informative. Undoubtedly an exploration of these articles will help you to decide what is comfortable for you, personally. However, in this collective we embrace the use of this term and its meaning as “non-normative.”

What do queers want?

51iyuwsmxwl-_sx304_bo1204203200_Now, I want to draw your attention to the introduction of a book by Michael Warner entitled Fear of a Queer Planet in which he provides a historiographical and theoretical discussion about the origins of queer theory, the challenges we have faced and are still facing, and where current theorizations are taking us.

Michael Warner, author of Fear of a Queer Planet,[1] is critical of left leaning social and political theories that have been unwilling to ask a simple question. What do queers want? Warner is troubled because, rather than posit theoretical discourses that include queer lives in contexts other than sex, “they have posited and naturalized a heterosexual society” (vii). Queer lives are often theorized as the binary opposite of heterosexual lives within the social realm. Heterosexual desire is sublimated while queer desire is subordinated at best, for queer lives are often kept in the shadows of thought. The social realm Warner identifies, “is a cultural form, interwoven with the political form of the administrative state and with the normalizing methodologies of modern social knowledge” (xxvii). The knowledges produced in theoretical discourses often become part of the archive of the administrative state apparatus. Therefore, queerness must become part of the archive and the process of creating society itself. Queer actions, facts, events, patterns of thought or ideas “must first be seen, heard, and remembered…into things—into sayings of poetry, the written page or the printed book, into paintings or sculpture, into all sorts of records, documents and monuments” (Arendt 95).[2]  The question of what do queers want must be clearly and convincingly answered by turning the factual world of queer lives into tangible objects through the act of remembrance.

Warner has edited this volume to engage political theorists with queer experiences, so queer concerns and protests can take center stage rather than be relegated to mere footnotes. He argues, in a nod to Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition, that this can only happen if theorists can “hear the resonances of queer protest [as] an objection to the normalization of behavior…and the cultural phenomenon of societalization” (xxvii). Queer lives become visible when people “can see and hear and therefore testify to their existence” (Arendt 95). In other words, like Arendt, Warner posits that new queer politics must make queer desires visible through the outward and constant manifestation of queer existence. Furthermore, new queer politics must be both deliberate and self-reflective—equally critical of all normalizing discourses, including queer ones. Therefore, in a world conceived as a heterosexual society, “we might say that queer even says that queer politics opposes society itself” (Warner xxvii). Warner has divided the book into two parts. The first collection of essays contest theoretical traditions, which he labels heterotheory, in the fields of “anthropology, Marxism, psychoanalysis, psychology, and legal theory,” (vii) whereas the second, which he labels The New Queer Politics, deals with “current issues in queer culture: shifting styles of identity politics; intersections of nationality, race, and gender; conflicts over the state and the media; and the building of new cultures” (vii). Warner wants readers to regard the essays of this volume as being both steeped in “skepticism about knowledges of the social” and “reflecting the modern conditions of queerness” (xxvii).

[1] Warner, Michael. Fear of a Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social Theory. University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

[2] Arendt, Hannah, and Margaret Canovan. The Human Condition. University of Chicago Press, 2012.