Transgender Studies + Humanities Series

Friday, October 19, 2018
Julien Fischer PhD Candidate, Department of Literature, Duke University
Histories of the Transgender Child


The Duke Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies Program concluded its Transgender Studies + The Humanities Initiative last Tuesday, October 16, by hosting a lunch seminar for graduate students and faculty led by visiting transgender studies scholar Julian Gill-Peterson. Currently a professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Gill-Peterson has just published their first book, Histories of the Transgender Child, with the University of Minnesota Press. Seminar attendees were asked to read a pre- circulated excerpt from Gill-Peterson’s newly published monograph, which traces a history of trans children in 20th century medical archives using a trans of color critique.

Dr. Gabriel Rosenberg (GSF and History) opened the event by introducing the visiting scholar and their exciting contributions to transgender studies.  Gill-Peterson followed with opening remarks on their groundbreaking monograph, which intervenes into the nascent field of trans studies with a historical provocation: “If there were so many trans children hiding in plain sight in the past, how have we failed to see them?” (Gill-Peterson, 3). Trans children, Gill-Peterson claims, have existed for quite a long time. The myth that trans children are a new social form emerging from recent technological advances in sexual medicine insidiously erases trans children’s history prior to medicalized transsexuality’s emergence. Gill-Peterson’s scholarship sets out to excavate the stories of those trans children that populate the sexological archive, and to combat the prevalent myth of the trans child’s newness.

Responding to Gill-Peterson were two commentators, Professor Robyn Wiegman (Literature and GSF) and graduate student Julien Fischer (Literature). Dr. Wiegman’s remarks centered on the metacritical and political stakes of Gill-Peterson’s intervention within the interdisciplinary field of Trans Studies, while Fischer’s comments centered more closely on the sexological archive and the historiographical challenges of reading a past archive from the perspective of the political present. The remainder of the lunch seminar was dedicated to an open discussion period, during which faculty and graduate students engaged with Gill-Peterson’s work in the richly interdisciplinary space of the Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies’ and Transgender Studies + The Humanities Initiative.

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