My Gender is Black?: The Speculative Refusals of Black Queer/Trans/Feminism, a conversation between Tavia Nyong’o and Susan Stryker

Thursday, March 18, 2021 | 5:00 PM PDT
Presented by the Mills College Trans Studies Speaker Series

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Contemporary Black art, thought, and activism is infused with feminism, queerness and transness like never before. But this dissidence is also frequently lived through modalities that reject white normative frameworks of sex and gender, declaring, with non-binary writer Hari Ziyad, that “My Gender is Black.” What recent history has set the stage for this particular conjuncture? How have queer/trans/feminist refusals drawn from and contributed to critical theories of antiblackness? In particular, how have these refusals modulated afropessimist and afrofuturist tendencies? Refusal and reticence, this talk argues, has shaped Black responses to the ongoing destruction and devaluation of Black life even in a period of growing homo- and trans-normativity. Black queer/trans/feminist refusals must dynamically negotiate despair on the one hand, and, on the other, forms of political engagement that risks reproducing an antiblack world. Black aesthetics, the talk concludes, has become an increasingly important site for staging this tension, if not fully resolving it. Rather than representation in liberal humanist terms, art affords non-binary blackness possibilities of opacity, abstraction, speculation, and collectivity.

Tavia Nyong’o is Chair and Professor of Theater & Performance Studies, Professor of American Studies, and Professor of African-American Studies at Yale University. His research and teaching interests span black queer cultural and performance studies, contemporary art and aesthetic theory, and speculative genres. Nyong’o’s first book, The Amalgamation Waltz: Race, Performance, and the Ruses of Memory (2009) won the Errol Hill award for the best book in black theater and performance studies. His second book, Afro-Fabulations: The Queer Drama of Black Life (2018) won the Barnard Hewitt award for best book in theater and performance studies. He is currently embarking on a study of critical negativity in black performance in the twenty-first century.

Nyong’o writes for contemporary art and culture publications such as Artforum, Texte Zur Kunst, Cabinet, n+1, NPR, and the LA Review of Books. In 2019, he curated “Dark as the Door to a Dream” at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. In 2017, he co-curated “The Critical Matter of Performance” at the New Museum for Contemporary Art in New York. A long-standing member of the editorial collective of Social Text, he is also on the editorial boards of TDR: A Journal of Performance Studies, Theatre, and Contemporary Theatre Review. He co-edits the Sexual Cultures book series at NYU Press, and is a member of the Practicing Refusal collective.

The Mills College Trans Studies Speakers Series (MCTSSS), hosted by Emmy-Award winner Susan Stryker, Barbara Lee Distinguished Visiting Professor in Women's Leadership, offers a regular public forum for exploring transgender issues with some of today's leading thinkers, artists, and activists. All Trans Studies Speaker Series events are being held online and are free and open to the public. Be sure to check individual event listings to confirm the start time.

MCTSSS is co-sponsored by Trans Studies @ Mills College, Distinguished Visiting Professor Susan Stryker, Mills Performing Arts, and the History and Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) Programs at Mills College.

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