A new frontier

Now here’s the way to do a hoax. If it is a hoax. It’s impossible to tell. It’s about identifying as a hippo.

This article explores the formation of a tranimal, hippopotamus alter-ego. Confronting transgender with transpecies, the author claims that his hippopotamus “identity” allowed him to (verbally) escape, all at once, several sets of categorization that govern human bodies (“gender,” “sexuality,” age). He starts with an account of how his metaphorical hippo-self is collectively produced and performed, distinguishing the subjective, the intersubjective and the social. The article then investigates the politics of equating transgender and transpecies, critically examining the question of the inclusion of “xenogenders” in the trans political movement.

This could go either way. It could be another “how dare you say that!” open letter outrage calls for retraction thing, or it could be the new dogma which it’s crime and outrage to dispute.

It started as a joke.

Such an “identity” allowed me to (verbally) escape, all at once, several sets of categorization that govern human bodies (“gender,” “sexuality,” age) through the supposedly sarcastic metaphor of transanimality. Now that I’m growing a bit tired of answering any kind of “identity” investigation, I no longer find those detours witty or funny. However, I do strongly love when my friends call me “hippo,” refer to my “paws” and pretend that they see no difference between me and one of my stuffed hippopotamuses, except that I’m a little bigger than most of them. In a surprising, sometimes overwhelming way I find comfort in this collectively performed animal identity. Let me put it this way: something about being a hippo makes me feel cute, confident, sexy, and safe. I discovered that another self was available for me: being a hippo means that I don’t have to be a boy or a girl, a child or an adult, normal or strange. It means that my smile becomes a hippo smile, and the way that I carry my body, a hippo walk. It brings me freedom, space, and a thrilling sense of possibility.

I don’t know. If the identity were a giraffe there would be a thrilling sense of tallness. If it were a bird, a thrilling sense of flying (unless penguin, emu etc). If it were an elephant, all the things one can do with a trunk. But a hippo? I’m not seeing the thrilling possibilities.

When my becoming transgender had sort of closed something for me in terms of identity/identification, becoming a hippo brought me back to an open field with an open sky. Unlike the somewhat checkered, locked-down, and policed space of transgender, the space of transpecies remained open, as it is not scripted.

Um. Isn’t this getting a little transphobic here? Or is that ok when it’s a trans person being even more trans? Is that how this works? So that in a few years (or months?) everyone will be talking scornfully about cis-species privilege and saying “Do you believe trans-hippos are hippos, yes or no?”? Is plain old vanilla trans gender already stale?

Transpecies can be temporarily defined as any literal, figural, metaphorical and/or material migration from a species to another species. Transpecies is concrete, and/or imaginary. Transpecies emphasizes the fluidity and indeterminacy of the process of becoming. It reveals the contingency and reconfigurability of identification and/or embodiment, as the possible hybridizations between human and non-human are infinite. It challenges the idea that there is such a thing as a fully, unproblematically human body. It reminds us that the norms associated with the category of human have precluded numerous potentialities in terms of embodiment and imaginaries, prohibiting bodies, closing worlds. “Transgender,” however, has become territorialized, to use the Deleuzian lexicon; or more precisely it has been an important category in the process that territorialized gender deviance, a process critically and meticulously documented by David Valentine. Because I naturally love bodies of water, I will use a water-based comparison: if “transpecies” is a large lake, wild, spectacular, inhabited, possibly dangerous, mysteriously opaque, and painfully beautiful because it is unfathomable, “transgender” would be a swimming pool structured by defined lanes, organized around and by a purpose, empty of magic, busy but lifeless, functional, but not accessible.

Ouch. I guess that answers that question – transgender is so yesterday.

It seems that “transgender” as a category is to gender deviance what the engineering view described above is to the depths of a river. In other words, “transgender” is operating as a normative device, leaving a burning need for creative diversions of hegemonic gender norms that would not be swallowed and recreated by the matrix of gender itself – one of the multi-faced, insidious, truly sly apparatuses of power that the human species is responsible for.

Now see I thought hegemonic gender norms were supposed to be entirely the fault of radical feminists – you know, the people who have been resisting hegemonic gender norms for decades – but here it turns out it was “transgender” all along. Unless of course this is the next thing. Or a hoax.

I suggest that my hippo-self is my chosen way to be trans instead of being transgender. But is it too simplistic – maybe too optimistic – to oppose the category of transgender as institutionalized, norm-producing, territorialized on the one hand, and on the other the norm-free, uncharted, and possibility-producing space of transpecies? How does my becoming-hippo relate to transgender, and how does it relate to transpecies? What can it tell us about the relationship between transgender and transpecies, and about the subject’s agency in the constitution of its identity/reality?

What indeed.

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