Trans Sans Frontières: Transtopia, the Asia Pacific, and the Politics of Historical Difference


Location: 1050 Jenkins Nanovic Halls

Howard Chiang Image 2


The concept of transtopia, which posits a continuum model of transness, activates a space of historical inquiry that exceeds both the transphobia of the past and the transgender presumption of the present. That is, it challenges both the assumption that gender nonconforming figures did not exist historically and the idea that the Western category of transgender delivers the best framework for understanding their experience. Historians and other scholars of the past can learn from the interventions of transtopia, because doing queer/trans studies this way unveils some of the most salient problems that have plagued the methods of historical inquiry. These problems include (1) the imposition of contemporary Western categories, such as transgender, on the distanced past or colonized societies, (2) the neglect of racial capitalism and settler colonialism in regions beyond North America and Australia, and (3) the denial of the value borrowed from a theoretical rubric invented in a non-Western context to throw light on marginalized experiences within the West. Informed by recent work in global queer Asia, this talk situates the stakes of transregional historical knowledge at the forefront of contemporary queer and trans thinking.


Howard Chiang is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Davis, and Founding Chair (2019–2022) of the Society of Sinophone Studies. He is the author of After Eunuchs: Science, Medicine, and the Transformation of Sex in Modern China (Columbia, 2018), which received the International Convention of Asia Scholars Humanities Book Prize and the Bonnie and Vern L. Bullough Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, and Transtopia in the Sinophone Pacific (Columbia, 2021), a Lammy Award and Bullough Prize Finalist. He served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Global Encyclopedia of LGBTQ History (Gale, 2019), which was awarded the Dartmouth Medal by the American Library Association. With James Welker, he coedits the “Global Queer Asias” book series published by the University of Michigan Press. His current work on the history of psychoanalysis in the Sinophone Pacific has received support from the Tang Prize Foundation, the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, the National Humanities Center, and the Institute for Advanced Study.

This lecture is part of Border Crossings in Asian Humanities, a series examining transnational Asian experiences, and is sponsored by the Liu InstituteGender Studies Program, Department of American Studies, Department of EnglishDepartment of History, Department of Film, Television, and Theatre.