Postdoctoral project: Yv E. Nay

Affective Activism – The feeling of belonging in transgender communities

This project examines the recent extensive transnational political activism of transgender people – those expressing variance from gender-conforming norms. Transgender persons are increasingly visible, with unprecedented media coverage of transitioning celebrities; gender-non-conforming characters and performers in mainstream culture; and rising social movements to end violence against gender-variant people. This has increased politicians’, legislators’, and the publics’ awareness of the challenges facing transgender persons, prompting the drafting or adoption of innovative legislation on gender recognition in various jurisdictions. From a social science perspective, the large-scale changes achieved by transgender activists and their allies are remarkable. This project explores such transgender activism, which swiftly expanded from predominantly local dimensions to increasingly global social movements with transnational impact. Three aims and questions are examined in an ethnographic analysis of three leading global-scale organisations of transgender activists acting from the Global North and West:

Arguing that lived experiences of discrimination and violence mobilise transgender activists, the project, firstly, asks how emotions can be viewed as a political resource that forges transgender activist communities and propels feelings of belonging to them. Secondly, given preliminary results that gender-variant people in many parts of the world may not identify with the concept transgender or the political regimes that disseminate its logics, the project analyses the use of transgender as a generalising dominant category. It explores how activists in transnational transgender organisations disenfranchise other forms of gender-variant expression, while still building a global movement that fights transgender discrimination. Considering the exclusions produced by a universalising term transgender, this project, thirdly, examines how the political regimes of global-scale transgender organisations evoke conflicts which fissure the sense of belonging to transgender communities.

These issues are key to a general account of the force of affect and emotions in building activist communities and political mobilisation, and to a particular account of social movements involving transgender people. Focusing on affective activism, this project thereby contributes to the reconsideration of existing notions of political mobilisation, activism, and social movements in the social and political sciences.