Exploring Non-binary Transgender as the place of Nepantla (@theTable: Transcending Transphobia)
By Robyn Henderson-Espinoza.
As someone who lives on multiple borderlands and always betwixt in/between male and female, race, class, ability, and religion, I have experienced a deep struggle in dominant trans literature that has largely surfaced throughout the academy for not having space for someone like myself. I am certain there are others who have similar experiences. And so, my contribution to this @theTable is one of deterritorialization of normative trans studies that stabilizes and contains genders into hard and fast containers that do not leave space, time, and place for new identities to emerge in the ongoing ruptures of becoming trans.
In doing this work, I implicate myself as a trans person, but one who transgresses normative masculinity and one who is always pushing what masculine of center –masculine of center (MOC) defined as one who does not identify as male but one’s whose gender expression is masculine— is toward those who are most vulnerable in their gender expressions those who are the margins of the margins. I never want to be stabilized in my masculinity, nor do I want trans studies to be stabilized in normative categories that result in re-inscribing the very thing they are trying to undo or destabilize. To be sure, trans humanity has often and especially recently been expressed through non binary articulations and expressions. Yet, trans studies and trans cultural discourses are continuously framed within the normative binary gender categories.
To do this work, I offer the term nepantla—often translated as middle space or the space that is in between. But while nepantla is often translated as space in between, in reality, nepantla is the holding of opposites and allowing for difference to become. Philosophically, difference exists outside of a norm, so nepantla as a trans space helps illustrate the reality of trans also being threshold space. And like all threshold spaces, nepantla connotes a particular movement that is fluid and ambiguous.
Nepantla is also the space of transgression that has the potential to enact radical social change. I am inspired by both Gloria Anzaldúa and AnaLouise Keating in their use of nepantla and follow their theoretical underpinnings to construct a non-binary trans theory of religion. These terms to the untrained eye might appear to be in opposition to each other: non-binary, trans, and religion do not fit together in normative or obvious ways. And, this is actually a good thing. I actually want to raise up the breaks, gaps, and fissures in order to weave together a trans theory of religion that privileges the threshold of non-binary, the transgression of non-binary, and the in/betweeness of non-binary.
While normative trans theory has privileged linearity (e.g. female to male), a non-binary trans theory privileges the space in/between male and female that is neither qualified by progression nor stasis. And, the excess space beyond these two recognizable genders functions as an always becoming space relative to gender. With regard to religion, I also utilize nepantla in a panentheistic manner and suggest that God is most present in the spaces, gaps, and fissures that exist, those in/between spaces where we locate the processes of becoming, and perhaps even the processes of becoming divine. Panentheism suggests that God is in all things, even in middle space, or in/between what is recognizable and what is not recognizable. I think this is the place, though unstable, from which I wish to think about a non-binary trans theory of religion—the place that is forever and always in/between, middle, and always becoming different to itself—the place where that which is conceived of as divine is said to always becoming.
Inherent to nepantla is an awareness of being on the cusp of transgression and the active expression of transgression. Inherent to non-binary transgender realities, is the ongoing transgression and celebration of a repeating difference that is always becoming different to itself. Nepantla serves more than a functional trope for a non-binary trans theory of religion; it actually mobilizes non-binary transness into a fuller expression of non-binary by mobilizing the multiplicities of realities that are occurring in nepantla space. Transgression is one such reality and another reality is that nepantla offers those who occupy this space the chance to become a [email protected] AnaLouise Keating wrote it best when describing Gloria Anzaldúa. Keating writes:
Anzaldúa was a nepantlera—a term she coined to describe a unique type of visionary cultural worker. Nepantleras are threshold people: they move within and among multiple, often conflicting, worlds and refuse to align themselves exclusively with any single individual, group, or belief system. This refusal is not easy; nepantleras must be willing to open themselves to personal risks and potential woundings which include, but are not limited to, self-division, isolation, misunderstanding, rejection, and accusations of disloyalty.
Nepantla space, as described by Anzaldúa and AnaLouise Keating, helps enliven the potentiality of non-binary transness and offers the study of religion an opportunity to move beyond enlightenment certainty into a frame of possibility and transgression by lifting up the reality of threshold as a space to be occupied by non-binary transgender folks.
Embracing a theory of non-binary transhumanity has the capacity to help us not only destabilize the gender binary but also denounce the recent HB 2 laws that were passed in North Carolina. Laws such as these that continuous enforce, police, and adjudicate a gender binary is not only harmful for [email protected], but also harmful to cis and other trans persons who occupy a particular gender binary. What nepantla offers is a chance to offer the possibility of multiplicity and abundance when thinking about gender and gender expression. When we lean into the conditions of possibility that yield an abundance of gender expressions, we create the conditions of possibility for difference and fluidity to materialize. That’s the power of nepantla as threshold space and as the expression of non-binary transhumanity.
Knowing intimately that the borderlands are a place of learning and growth, Robyn draws on their identity and heritage as a queer [email protected] in everything that they do. From doubt to divine and everywhere in between, their call as an activist-theologian demands the vision to disrupt hegemony and colonialist structures of multi-layered oppression. As an anti-oppression, anti-racist, non-binary Trans*gressive [email protected], Robyn takes seriously their call as an activist theologian and ethicist to bridge together theories and practices that result in communities responding to pressing social concerns. Robyn sees this work as a life-orienting vocation, deeply committed to translating theory to practice, and embedded in re-imagining our moral horizon to one which privileges a politics of radical difference.
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