Black Shakespeare(ans) Database

Colby Gordon

Scholar Profile by Jamie Lee


Colby Gordon is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Literatures in English at Bryn Mawr College. His work has been published in multiple journals, including articles on prosthetic bodies, transgender embodiment, and creation narratives in Shakespeare’s sonnets; trans confession and lyric obscurity in the poetry of John Donne; trans animality in The Duchess of Malfi; bleeding Eucharists and host desecration narratives; housebreaking and the sanctity of the home in The Comedy of Errors; soft architecture and queer futurity in Antony and Cleopatra; political aesthetics and The Tempest’s soundscapes; and Carl Schmitt, Sianne Ngai, and the aesthetics of political theology. With Simone Chess and Will Fisher, he edited a special issue of the Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies on early modern trans studies. Professor Gordon is currently at work on a manuscript entitled Glorious Bodies: Trans Theology and Renaissance Literature.


Gordon, Colby. “A Woman’s Prick: Trans Technogenesis in Sonnet 20.” Shakespeare / Sex, 2020. doi:10.5040/

Gordon, Colby. “The Sign You Must Not Touch: Lyric Obscurity and Trans Confession.” Postmedieval11, no. 2-3 (2020): 195-203. doi:10.1057/s41280-020-00172-x.

Gordon, Colby. “A Man in Hew: Trans Philology in Sonnet 20.” Modern Philology, 2020

Full Interview Transcript


Gordon From this computer. Okay. I think I will just send it down.


Lee Thank you, Professor Gordon. Hi, y’all today. We are with the amazing Early Modernist who is booming in the field of trans studies, Professor Colby Gordon. And we will be having a 20-minute conversation thinking about some of his current articles, his recent work in the field. I’ll be asking him a couple of questions about what it might look like and how we can think about these things together as scholars in the field, especially me as an emerging scholar in trans studies and black studies and note this is for the Black Shakespearian Database project here at U Chicago. Um, yeah. So, um maybe I could send off with the first question professor. You okay with that?


Gordon Yes. Thank you so much for inviting me. No, of course.


Lee I feel very honored to be here with you and thank you for taking time out of your very amazingly busy schedule to do this with me. Um, I guess my first question is really about method and the field largely. And I guess I was asking like, you know, what do you believe? Um, early modern trans studies is doing differently, both in terms of like method and theory for the field, especially as it is actually formed by its sororal sub fields, like feminist, queer, and critical race theory. Um, and how might it be opened up to different kinds of conversations and other kinds of public appeals, because I think I’m always like interested in that and what has made it hard for me to have a conversation around trans studies is that people are always talking about the corporeal. And so, it’s hard for folks to see it outside of the body, as we were discussing, you know, five minutes ago, like so much in early modern trans studies. I like that it gives us room to have more nuanced conversations across disciplines. Um, trans historically, you know.


Gordon That’s a great set of questions. So, I’ll start with the first one. Um, so it is true that, uh, the vocabulary of transness and trans studies has essentially been absent from an early modern criticism on gender for a long time, if transness showed up for a long time, it tended to be figured as something else, like a sign or a symbol for some other kind of problem, for like a commodity fetishism, for instance, or ideology, where are the bad subjects of ideology often. And there are a number of reasons for that. And I don’t think we can understand why this absence exists without talking about the almost complete exclusion of trans scholars from the academy for a very long time. And even now there are very, very few of us, um, in certainly in tenure track positions. So, I think that that’s part of what’s happening.

That’s part of the case, and I’m also a little bit suspicious of the professional demand to brand ourselves as doing something new that kind of perpetual search for novelty, right? Because what I have taken as the kind of most important central concept, um, has been kind of transformative to me in my work, that I’ve drawn from trans studies, contemporary trans studies, it’s that the historical processes that created, um, the possibility of, uh, sort of understanding of sexual differentiation as a kind of natural state of being a kind of something that can’t be transcended, um, that, that has sort of created the landscape of contemporary transphobia. All of those are the result of technologies of race making. And so, for my money, I actually think that we’ve been talking about all of these issues in early modern studies for a long time. I think that scholars working on critical race theory, I think scholars like Kim hall and Arthur Little and Margo Hendrix in general being heard and spread.

And I think, I think that people have been having these conversations about, um, the mutability of flesh, the fungibility of black flesh in particular about the creation of gender as being associated with whiteness. I actually don’t think those are new conversations for us to have what I see early modern trans studies doing is sort of continuing in a very logical and natural way. All of these ongoing conversations that have been happening for a long time. And if we sort of begin from that perspective that this isn’t actually just sort of me arriving with something new that now we must all do, because it’s the newest thing. If we actually think about the kind of genealogy, the intellectual genealogies of what early modern trans studies might be, then the conversation is a little different. It’s not so much the case that we haven’t been talking about these things because of transphobia in a kind of isolated sense. It actually has to do with the racism of the academy and of early modern studies and a commitment to whiteness that has occluded particular forms of thinking about gender, because they’re conversations about racialized genders. I think that’s how I would answer that question. What are we doing? That’s new? Well, we’re bringing a sort of body of work that has been kind of excluded from the field, but it’s not as new as perhaps we’re being kind of compelled to present it.


Lee Yeah. Um, yeah, I guess like, yeah, for me, I love how you’re presenting that because I’m always trying my best to like, not like name the work as novel, because I think I get caught up in like feeling that still building out ways of thinking about, um, the complex formations of gender, but the reality is like the early modern period show us to that the kind of configurations of religion, race and sexuality are the kind of modes and vectors that we’re constantly thinking, especially racialized gender in the kind of 19th century, 18th century. It’s like, you know, what those conversations were already being had in scholars of early modern or the number of queer scholars are we’re having this conversation about all of this work. It’s like so much about the configurations of gender and the, in that period is found in a variety of materials, right. Variety of texts. Right. And in material archives. So, I agree. I think there’s nothing novel about the kind of conversations, nothing about the kinds of theoretical frameworks that birth thinking with, you know, and I think it does keep us trapped in limits our scope and like how we can also expand the kind of field because that’s, what’s really dealing with, you’re expanding the field, you know, you’re building off of scholars who are already thinking about how these vectors have been shaped.


Gordon Absolutely. I think that, yes. And I think that maybe the best-case scenario is actually creating certain kinds of switch points between the work that is ongoing in our field, the most interesting and exciting work, which all has to do with race and contemporary trans studies, which has, which is also focused on these same issues. What do we have to offer contemporary conversations about transness trans embodiment transphobia? Um, actually quite a lot is my feeling actually I think the archives and, um, sort of theoretical frameworks that have been developed in early modern studies have, have a lot to do with thinking about the kind of contemporary landscape that we’re, you know, that, that makes trans life livable in some contexts and absolutely unlivable and others. Um, we, we don’t, that does not begin in the 19th century that begins with processes of colonialism and settler colonialism and enslavement and genocide, I think, which are part of our field. That’s part of our responsibility to be thinking about those contexts. And it’s not a purely historical or intellectual exercise. We are living in the worlds that have been created by that. Uh, so that’s, I think truly that is part of my hope is to facilitate some of those conversations and intellectual exchanges, um, which have felt very siloed by this kind of pervasive sense that transness is a new phenomenon. It’s not, and transphobia is even older.


Lee Yeah. Yeah. And I also think it’s important. I think in what you were naming is that like scholars have already been like non-trans scholars have already been talking about these really, at least these kinds of ideas. Right. And then I was like, you know, I’ve been troubled by, I was like, oh, like, are people like it’s a Harvard out in competition with me in class because they’re like how they think about the history of trans scholarship or kind of theoretical underpinnings that like are not novel actually. And so, it’s, it’s, I guess I’ve been troubled about that in classrooms sometimes it’s like, how do I bring these conversations to the foreground of a lot of my, you know, in, in classes maybe that talk about, um, at-bats in gender. Like, I mean, it’s a variety of courses that I just find it very troubling to have this kind of conversations. And I felt very isolated and lonely in that those middle school.


Gordon I just, I am not interested for myself in a form of scholarship where I go around and I like wag my finger at people who have like, not been talking about transness in the right way or in the way that they should have been. I am much more interested in creating networks of affinity and community. How does our work compliment the other kinds of work that might be happening? How, how are we doing things that feel relevant and live? Uh, you know, again, there’s, there’s a, there’s a sort of capitalist drive to present everything that we’re doing is new. And when you start writing your dissertation, the question you’re going to hear time and time again, is what are you doing? That’s new, what are you doing? That’s different? How are you developing particular kinds of conversations? And of course, that’s, you know, part of what we’re doing.

But I think that urge to present everything as kind of a radical break, that from everything that came before is really misguided and it’s damaging to the work that we’re trying to accomplish. Um, we need to be speaking with one another. We need to be, um, thinking about the real genealogies of what it is that we’re doing. And I just, the more work that I do, whether it’s my own research or sort of, you know, organizing conferences or doing editorial work, the more I’m invested in showing that this is a continuation of ongoing conversations and that that’s, that’s only a positive thing in my mind.


Lee Thank you so much for her. Um, I mean, you kind of did on this question already, but I was intrigued in, interested in thinking about books you have thought with, besides, you know, who are some of the key scholars who have shaped your thinking and have pushed for you to take on, like you were telling me these rigorous historical, um, uh, projects, um, in particular you and your work largely in early modern, of course.


Gordon Yeah. So, Simone chess and Will Fisher invited me to be a co-editor for the volume on early modern trans studies. And that was totally transformative for me. I love collaborative work. Um, Simone really did write what, what was sort of the first book that was drawing on trans studies explicitly to apply them to early modern texts. It was really exciting to be able to work with them and to be able to invite people in and to just say in a really open-ended way, if you were looking for transness in general, in early modern texts and archives, where would you look? And it was surprising to see what people came up with. Were a little bit afraid. It was going to be like 15 different readings of 12th Night or something. None of that happened. People found exciting new things.

Um, so, so that was really wonderful. I had been seeing, um, in, in sort of adjacent fields, the kind of early steps towards, uh, bringing it kind of explicitly trans vocabulary into the conversation. So people like Eddie Chesky in medieval studies like us, we had to fund we’re, we’re doing some work at that point, Greta LaFleur and Scott Larson working in sort of the 18th century and early American contexts. Um, so these are some of the people that I was thinking with and just sort of imagining what field building would look like. Um, so that was all really helpful for me. Um, of course, in addition to all of the names that I’ve already said as people who have sort of, um, inspired and kind of framed the research that I do, um, not to mention everyone again, um, in trans studies, I think no one has been more important to my way of thinking about what transness means and about the kind of early modern career of transphobia than Riley Snorton.

I think that’s not just true for me. I think that’s true for everybody in trans studies. Um, increasingly, uh, people like Marcus Bey have been really meaningful. I think Jules Giles Peterson’s work on this racialized history of the trans child, I think have been really transformative in my ways of approaching, um, complicated archives that were not built for people like me, um, that are sort of about me, but not for me that that’s been really helpful, uh, in thinking, um, grace Lavery, uh, Sandra Chu. Yes. I love a good contrarion Andrea Long, certainly one to think with absolutely. Um, I often work with legal archives, so people like Dean Spade and pace, and Eric Stanley have been really helpful for me in thinking about the stakes of the encounters between transness and the state and the law. So those are some of the people who have kind of shaped my thinking.

Um, I suppose the other that, that I must name is my teacher, Julia Lupton, who has sort of given me a way of kind of, uh, not just a sense of methodological generosity to think with the things that I’m looking at, even when there are very complex things, um, but a real affirmative account of theology and what that might actually look like. And that has really kind of guided a lot of my ways of encountering religious archives, which are the kind of meat of my research. So, I think those are some of the people that have, that have really shaped me in my ways of thinking that, yeah, I love it to bring up.


Lee Religion and theology are very much a threading in your work and is also thinking about the rest of transness and in the state. It’s so important to go to archives. Um, I am particularly interested in like your kind of creative connections and threads in poetics and like literature and poetry. And so, I’m deeply intrigued by your thread of creative aspirations within like, with like your method and theoretical readings and affinity for mobilizing like poetry in the early modern or through modern, um, um, work in general. So I’m interested in, like, in some of work, you talk about poetry, you talk about Sonnet 20 I’m into a certain like that creative form for your writing and like how and what shaped you into writing this, as well I would just want to push you to get to think about poetry in some kind of way with Shakespeare and just like what it might be bringing or how it might be generative towards your work. And also, in terms of thinking like about legality and the state and the allegory. So, and I know those are all threads in, um, a couple of your pieces.


Gordon Yeah, yeah absolutely. So, uh, that’s a great question. I am so much more interested in poetry than drama, which I think makes me kind of unusual. And there’s a, there’s a sort of joke among trans people that, you know, the second you transition, the second you announced to the world that you’re transitioning. The first thing that happens is that somebody tries to make a documentary about you. And then somebody demands that you write your memoir, and you publish your memoir. And I, I think that I have this kind of sense that I wanted to resist that. So, like people like Vivian Namastay talk about the ways that trans people get kind of trapped in memoir. Like that’s our genre we can’t escape it. If a trans person is going to be speaking, the only thing that they can be doing is talking about their journey.

And for me, I think that the real trans genre is not memoir. I think it’s lyric poetry. I think there is something profoundly dysphoric about the ability to create this kind of other self, this other body, this other voice. Then you would have it for a bit and that you try on and it’s, and it’s visible, but it’s also a little bit withholding, and people can, um, Stephanie Burt is the one who sort of guides my thought on this. And she says,
“when I write poetry, I create another body that can at least be heard if not seem,” and that it just like it breaks my heart, but also, it’s so true. There’s something about lyric itself. That makes me feels deeply and profoundly trans and that transness is almost the condition of possibility for lyric poetry. So really, I like writing about poetry more than anything else on earth.

That is what I prefer to do. And I, I truly think it has to do with the kind of formal structures of lyric and what it makes possible. So, for me, that’s sort of how I got into thinking about and writing about lyric. And again, I encourage everyone to read Stephanie Burt’s writing on the subject, because I think it’s, it’s really helpful for imagining other ways that trans writing can exist. Besides just constantly talking about my journey, which of course comes out of particular forms of, um, sexological and then psychiatric writing, which is essentially designed to gatekeep transness. Dean Spade writes about the kind of trans journey is something that like allows CIS people to feel good about themselves by shutting down trans possibility. If you did not know these particular things at this age, if you did not have these particular kinds of sexual experiences, don’t worry you’re not going to transition. It’s okay. I’m more interested in finding trans possibility. And I think that if you like poetry, you’re maybe a little bit trans, I don’t know what to say.


Lee I love that phrase, and ‘m obsessed with poultry right now. The main person I’m like constantly thinking about is Joshua, Jennifer spinosa. In her book There Should. be flowers, there’s something about trans poetics for me like you said that deeply saddens and bemoans the world and bemoans corporality, but like, it’s so interesting in like trying, trying to find like oneself inside, outside in and through other kinds of bodies, like there’s something deeply productive there for me in poetry like that. Like, I don’t know how to pinpoint right now and the kind of arguments I’m making around blackness and transness or the possibilities that like blackness lens transness and transness lends blackness, which, you know, the Marquis Bey is thinking about. And so yes, there’s something there and I’m so glad you named that because it’s, it’s where I’m at right now with poetry.

So, I don’t even know the day I began to love poetry. I just picked the Jennifer’s work, and I was like me and my best friend, and we were reading it together and like, they were just reading me different poems from her book. There should be flowers and Professor Gordon, I just started crying. I don’t know why, maybe because I resonated so deeply with how she was thinking about the body and how she was mourning the body. And I don’t know. So yeah, I totally agree with everything you just named about around that poetry.


Gordon I think that lyric poetry is probably the most trans genre, but I think that literary criticism is a close second. I think that like all of these ways of getting inside of other people’s writing of producing kind of other selves and other bodies, um, there’s something sort of dissociative about what we do. I think it’s not a coincidence that trans people wind up being writers and literary critics, as often as we do. I think that that’s, um, to me that there’s something really true about these kinds of practices, which are, which are, and are not practices of self-fashioning. Sometimes they’re, they’re sort of egg like strategies of, of holding off dysphoria or preventing transition. But I, I feel like there’s still part of our world either way when they’re kind of explicitly trans and when they’re not,

Thank you so much, professor you’re blowing my mind right now. I have to work with you.


Lee I have the app. I want to continue the conversation. So, I’m reading your mind-blowing essay, “A Woman’s Brick Trans Technogensis and Sonnet 20. I was fascinated by your move towards DIY craft and fiber arts in thinking an elastic poetics of surface/depth or the handmade regarding the “handmade” regarding the woman’s prick and the fair youth as a new way of reading Sonnet 20 and Genesis 1:26/27 together to think about gendered embodiments “as a process unfolding emergence over time”. I was interested in this theoretical move and how you got here? also especially interested in like your kind of trans historical thinking besides 21st century scholars, like Jeanne Vaccaro, who is a mentor. An amazing professor, she wrote my letter to NYU and supported me with some other scholars. So, you were thinking besides Andrew Long Chu, a couple of scholars you were thinking about there were like 21st century, but, um, interesting. Like why you choose to get here because I think it interesting.


Gordon Yeah. And also, just to add a name to the list, um, Jules Gill Peterson’s new work is on trans DIY. And again, like there’s a reason we’re all kind of poets and literary critics, and it’s kind of the same reason that we’re all like crafters and makers and things like that as well. Um, so I wrote that essay because I was mad at the Pope that’s sort of long and short of it, like the good Pope, right? Like the one that you know, was, is supposedly like the liberal one, um, kept comparing us to like nuclear bombs and colonizers, which I really did not appreciate, especially given his collaboration with other dictators and they were youth and things like that. And, um, he, he would go back to, and in fact, his peers, his first paper in is a long scholarly writing about Genesis and, um, uh, you know, it’s, it’s deeply and profoundly transphobic.

And because I’m an early modernist, I knew that there is this like several thousand-year long tradition of reading those texts in ways that are incredibly queer and incredibly trans. And I just, I knew about them in advance. So, I wanted to see what it would look like to go back to some of those archives and texts and not to cut to the end of Genesis when we have, you know, sort of sexual differentiation, what are all of the intermediate steps that it takes to get there? What are all of the texts that think about the kind of like ongoing unfolding processes of creating gender and embodiment in creative and sexy and complicated and comical ways where it’s just where it’s not the kind of, um, master artist, which is like a discourse that’s so deeply invested in like whiteness and patriarchy. What are all of the ways that things are kind of felt out in all of these different forms of X?

And to me, Genesis is a text that really is about kind of DIY bodily creation. Um, so, so I like, you know, Sonnet 20 was just a kind of opportunity to sit with all of the pleasures of, uh, what it means to create and construct a body, to try things out, to put different parts in different places, to, you know, present yourself differently, to have different, complicated kinds of relationships other bodies, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. Like if that is not me and all of my friends, I don’t know what it is. So, it was just a kind of opportunity to remember that theology has offered a conceptual vocabulary for thinking about queerness and transness for a very long time, for a long time before, um, medicine sort of declared eminent domain on the possibility of transition. People went to theology among many other places to think about what bodies could do. And Genesis is so profoundly about what bodies might be able to do. So that was sort of held that as true.


Lee Yeah. It’s why I’m in love with you professor that like, I promise you, like, you’re thinking about these high conceptual moments in theology. I think I’m kind of, I’m also becoming obsessed with creation narratives. Like how we think about the ways om which we come into the world, and I think that’s so important to like trans life is like, like what bring us into these bodies, but keeps us from disassociating in moments where we cannot stand to be in flesh, all of these kinds of moments that like signal, um, in like really, um, rupture corporality. Um, and there’s something really beautiful about how you’re also thinking assemblage.


Gordon Yep. Never just the self in isolation. Um, it’s, it’s always plural from the beginning and we are always plural beginnings and I love that. Um, there’s a desire to think, you know, if you, I don’t recommend it, but if you sort of encounter, uh, turf logic, which is everywhere in the world right now, there’s this idea that the self is stable, and it’s bounded and it’s individual and it’s intact and it’s perfect. And if you, if you touch it in any way, just everything collapses. And I love those of us who were like, I’m going to run my endocrine system by hand for a while, just see how it goes. See what happens, try things out. You know, nothing is final. Nothing is, nothing is ideal. Nothing is complete. Everything is unfolding. Everything is in the process of becoming, and that can, that can happen in so many different ways. I love any form of thought that allows us to inhabit that kind of space not just a space in mindset, but also a practice and a practice with our bodies.


Lee I agree. Thank you, professor. Oh my God. Okay. So, um, we have three more questions. Okay, um, so your essay, “The Sign you must not touch: Lyric Obscurity and Trans confession” was amazing. And how it allowed you to think about these everyday scenes of subjecting trans folks to a singular comprehensible self-narrative that elicits a particular diagnosis and medical legibility, and there is something about the ways you thought about how metaphysical poetry can lend us tools to obscure these violent procedures and forms of violence. Like how would like, like you say, a lot of us disassociate from the body might and not quite make sense of the body, um, or of the conditions of our livelihood. Um, and I’m interested in the theoretical perspective of how one comes to know, so I guess I’m assuming how it, how the thinking in that, in that essay might lend, racialized and trans, uh, trans writers of color like me, like, a way to put this into practice?

Like how can, how can name this possibility? I’m thinking about like, how, how does or how can that lend us practical thinking in our day-to-day lives? Because there’s something really beautiful about obscurity for me that I’m, I’m sitting with and thinking with those kinds of daily practices in our lives. Like how to, yeah. I don’t know. I don’t know if that question makes sense, but there is something there about like how to practice obscurity in my life as a trans person, how metaphysical poetry lends me from being a queer and trans writer as something in our daily lives, someone should understand how this comes to be, especially with movement and thinking about metaphysical poetry.


Gordon Right. Right. When I was asked to write this essay, the word count was very, very short. They’re like 3000-word sort of provocation. So, I wrote it in a kind of like mood of how I was writing. And I, you know, I think I was trying to get my birth certificate updated in the state of Kansas and it is one of two states that like wouldn’t let me. It was illegal for trans people to update that particular document. And then there was like a window where was like, now maybe I can. And I was trying to figure it out. It’s always in a bad mood. You know, I was just, I was thinking about all of the ways I have to make myself visible to the state and the different, the differential kinds of risks that puts trans people at depending on their own, um, intersectional identities.

And, you know, I just that’s when I was reading John Donne’s poetry, I was like, I see all of these different trans elements. And he’s just like, this is a writer who is constantly fantasizing about sometimes becoming a woman. He did write that poem in the voice of Sappho. Right. But, but mostly Donne wanted it to be un-gendered again and again, in the poetry and the sermons and the writings. You know, what if, what if when we have sex, actually, we just become sexless. What if, when I die, I’m going to be transmuted to this angelic state of a differentiation. What if I’m restored to this kind of pre lapse area and state of wholeness and unity in which I don’t even have a gender. Right. It’s like your John Donne is like the, like, they’re in pursuit for what the fantasy is not, it is not exactly transitioned it’s to be done with gender altogether.

So you, you, you know, someone who’s trans and reads this poetry, I think could get pick, it starts picking up on all of these things, but there are also all of these ways, the poetry shuts it down too. It sorts of teases you like, oh, but, but it was just a joke all along. Oh. But you know, it disguises the kind of trans elements in all of these complicated, um, syntactical structures and, um, modes of disavowal and the tone is very difficult to pin down. It makes it very easy to disavow and that’s, that is what scholars have done when they’re reading of Donne’s poetry. Right, and it just seemed to me like how nice to be able to do that instead of having to constantly be declaring, I am trans and here are my letters from the therapist. And here is how I felt when I was seven years old, and here’s how I felt when I was 12 years old, what a luxury, not to be able to do that.

In fact, this became the kind of core of a chapter that I wrote on Donne and Grace Lavery’s essay, “Egg theory.” So, I wrote a chapter, and the chapter became egg theories and early modern style. And it’s about John Donne being a little egg. And you know, what, I found myself being a lot less optimistic when I sat with Donne for longer and really thought about the kinds of privilege that allowed him in particular to kind way to do this song and dance. And yet, am I, am I not? What is it, what is it not? And I think where I landed was there’s something about Donne’s whiteness and his relationship to things like, um, the colonial project, which he was an active propagandist for, that allowed him to kind of inhabit the state of obscurity.

There’s something very self-indulgent about it. And I wanted it to be more radical than it was, you know, I, I went in hoping that it was going to be this kind of radical thing. And I don’t know that John Donne is where you can find it at the end of the day. So maybe it’s a, it’s a less optimistic answer than that. Certainly, I was looking for it. Does John Donne give us sort of tools for navigating? I don’t know. I certainly think that it is part of the kind of genealogy of sort of visibility being a trap. I think look like Toby Beecham and his work, ongoing stealth, and surveillance technologies. I think it, I think it is part of the kind of histories of that, but I don’t know that it offers us necessarily tools for resistance or subversion. I think that’s not where I landed with it.


Lee Yeah. And to be honored professor, I think we need scholarship that is sitting with these kinds of questions. Right. I think like there are literal, I mean, there are trans folks who are, who choose stealth and choose obscurity who are like it. It’s a real time thing to even have a poet that plays with the song and dance that plays with this kind of like theoretical, like an underpinning of like, what might it mean for me to like, refuse, but still kind of desire, like, right. Like it’s necessary. And he like may not be hyper liberatory, liberatory, but like, it, it gets you to sit with yourself in some kind of way in the way that you’re thinking, we made things of your, about your subjectivity as a trans and subject and a non-trans subject to you as a white man, who’s, who’s, who’s writing this, who’s like creating this kind of really complicated poetry right. In 17th century. So, it’s, I love it. I was very intrigued by your mood. So, thank you. Thank you for blessing. Lesson goes with that essay. Like the offer was a blessing to as much as you, and also like, I’m so sorry that you were sitting with so much during that time.


Gordon I mean, it’s just annoying, you know?

Oh my God. Right. If I have to, if I have to say this one more time, you know, uh, yeah. It’s, it’s irritating, but, but it’s also, you know, for me, I have had access to like the, the legal and administrative and institutional and medical technologies of transition in a way a lot of people don’t. So, for me, it’s annoying for other people, if the stakes are literally life and death, and I think that’s what we’re looking at when we kind of encounter these kinds of histories and questions and archives, and, you know, um, there are reasons that we need to be thinking and strategizing about these things right now.


Lee You literally answered my question. It’s a quick one. I think you’re getting that for some people. It isn’t life and death. And I think that’s what I’m trying to, like, that’s what your essay allows me to sit with. Right? Like I both desire this kind of obscurity, but like, I’m like, oh, well, but also like for folks like me as a trans black trans woman, I’m like, this is a matter of life and death. It literally is.


Gordon And with that, the right. Yeah. For Donne, it’s like this funny little thought experiment. And I like, I, I don’t go looking for historical trans people. I got my questions about John Donne. I am not sure about Donne as a historical CIS person. Let me put it that way. Um, but you know, he had all of the privilege in the world. Like literally all of it, you know, has access to the actual king. Like he was the Dean of St. Paul’s. He had, even though he kind of screwed up his career, he had access to like all of these, you know, like the corridors of power were open to him. And so, for him to be like, I, you know, I have this like almost intrusive thoughts of transitioning and transitioning is like something that is just happening to me. And I don’t even have to do anything about it. I’m like, I know, I know what this fantasy is, you know, how, how nice for him. And it could just that that’s, you know, that that’s how he could do it, that it could be this kind of like playful little thing that was like a game for him and the poetry. He was only circulating among his rich and powerful friends. Um, that is, that is not where we’re going to find liberation.


Lee I know. And you, and you name it towards the end, and I don’t, I live with you like actively to say, I do not think that we can do read John Donne a trans historical character. And I’m like, and they just said, I also don’t think we can read how much cis.


Gordon No, I don’t think that person is the one to say,

Uh, like he’s just like in the ether. And like, there’s something about that too. Like

Talk about trans lyric, right? Donne was like, I’m going to be Sappho now, and I’m going to be a pair of campuses. Now I’m going to be a poisonous cloud of dysphoria. Now, you know, it’s like, like they’re not even bodies at a certain point. It’s like done as like, I am going to now, I’m going to be a sphere. I’m going to be a disembodied. It’s like, these are fantasies that are profoundly dysphoric. Like that is, that is the kind of imagination that produces that type of poetry. And all I will say is I recognize it. I, you know, like what indeed what indeed, if we were just to be spheres and have no parts that we have to worry about. Yes, John Donne. I see, I see where this is going.

Yeah. Yeah. I went and got him, and I said, I was like, there’s something here, but there’s something missing. And so, and not with your word, but with John, I’m like, yes, this person is this best at this right there.


Lee Interesting.


Gordon They’re interesting.

I see you, John, you don’t want me to perceive you, but I perceive, and I love it.


Lee Give us that, like, you give us that lens, right. Almost like, wow. The question is a really challenging, and the poem is hard like to comprehend. Like, I didn’t understand how he was mapping subjectivity, but it was if he was not being, yeah. It was just, it was challenging until like you gave me the rubric to think about ways to see him. Right. And then also the vanish at the same time. So, it’s, and I’m in love with that. And I’m sitting with that.


Gordon The, the way Grace Lavery describes it in a theories early style, she says, the theory that eggs have is you must not transition or, or, or you can’t, it’s just, it’s transitioned is not possible. And nevertheless, it creates this kind of aesthetic style where transition is both impossible and inevitable. And I’m like if that is John Dunn, right. There’s not a, there’s not a possibility, but it’s just, it’s just happening. Like as our bodies decompose together and we become a bracelet of hair and bone, and then people dig it up and they’re like, yes, this is the perfect body. There’s always some dude in the poems, like this figure of dissociation and dysphoria. There’s like this other person there. That’s like, that’s it. That’s the perfect gender. And who would this guy, do we all think that this is actually the perfect gender? Or can I interest you in some hormones? Like, I don’t know. I don’t know job well done

It can I offer you some? Okay. Maybe not.


Lee So, so my next question is, um, okay. So, I, I think it’s rigorous and exciting, um, work that you do in your essay made in queue Trans Philology and Sonnet 20, you have an obsession with Sonnet 20 and I love it. Yes. Shakespeare, um, around Tracy and the trends, simple understandings of color, skin, flesh, bone, and all of its variegated meanings you do by pointing to majority rubrics, uh, exploration of the trans pixels scattering effects in quote, that challenge directionality operations, where the terms of usage and what you’re exploring regarding the kinds of cuts and convergence and acted on racial and gender bodies in particular for use again, I love, so I’m interested to hear more about like, how you think about how you’ve been thinking about commercially in your work as theology and, or the modern trend studies and how you’ve been figuring the cut. Like I’m interested in this kind of two terms that you’ve been playing within your work and, um, how you’ve been situated in them. And if we might see that in future work as well. So yeah.


Gordon Yes, I’m timing is excellent because I am actually just now writing a chapter on the, of Venice and trans cutting and conversion is so important to think about in this period because it is both a deeply gendered phenomenon, which involves quite literally in the sort of early modern English imagination, different forms of cutting and genital cutting. And that, that can be circumcision, but that can be castration, right? So, people like Patricia Parker, his work on, um, barbers and Barbary, I think are really important. Um, wrote an essay on, um, what the modern trends Unix, uh, that that’s been, I think, I think really helpful and transformative, um, credible Fluor’s work on sodomy and, um, captive like Barbara captivity narratives sort of helped me think through that. So, it’s about transition in, in kind of literal physiological senses. Um, but also is about, um, the categories of racialization, uh, that are sort of emerging in this period.

So, conversion the possibilities and limits of conversion in this period are right at the center of what I think of as the kind of, one of the central archives of early modern trans studies, because everything is happening around these kinds of figures of cutting and conversion. And I think if you look at the kind of contemporary landscape of transphobia and Tofino, and it has a real problem with anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, um, that there’s like for instance, the person who radicalized JK Rowling, um, w subscribed to this sort of protocols of the elders as I on model that, um, George Soros was secretly funding, this cabal of, uh, that was sort of designed to, to, to trans the youth, right? So, you see this fantasy coming up in, um, even kind of central kind of exponent of, of contemporary transphobia. And I think that that fear of trans cutting has roots in things like, um, early modern Islamophobia, uh, the blood libel, the sense that, um, you know, Jewish doctors now are, you know, being targeted, uh, but, you know, by transphobic activists, they are today, they certainly were, um, in the thirties, if you think about Hitler denouncing one, miss Hirschfeld, uh, who was one of the, um, earliest, uh, physicians to both, uh, offer hormone therapy and gender affirming surgery, that was one of the first targets of the third, right.

Um, you know, the this has early modern origins in conversations about race and religion, uh, which are also about transness and transition. So, I’m thinking about the kind of ongoing afterlives of early modern antisemitism and Islamophobia, which of course is also deeply implicated in anti-black racism and settler colonialism in the period. So, I’m, I’m thinking about that with the merchant of Venice. I also have a chapter in the book that I’m writing about Samson ethnicities and sort of the figure of castration and the kind of racialized fears of trans cutting as a disabling and racializing technology. Um, so I’m continuing to think with those categories, because although, you know, we were living in the worlds that were created by early modern conversations, um, about all of these topics and conversion is right at the heart of those.


Lee No. Yeah. I found it very like central to that, that work. I, um, I don’t, I haven’t, I’ve never really said he philology. And so I was, it was, I was trying my best to like,


Gordon Say you


Lee Were bat tracing hue. I’m like, oh, well, this is rigorous. I was so proud of you. I was like, I don’t know. Like I was like, how does this, how does this mean? Like,  is very, like, say, it’s like, you just do some really outstanding work in you.


Gordon This was a full experiment. I had to Google, like, what it is philology. I wonder how this works, but, um, but it’s fun. It opens up different ways of kind of like moving across archives and texts in historical periods. And like, everyone should read just Charles, uh, field. I think it’s like, what are the most beautiful things in the world? It was also like a, gave me an excuse to bring that into a, but like a text that, that really is about early modern stuff. Uh, philology was fun. I, it was a, it was a new thing to me, but I think that it’s cool to find different ways to inhabit and work with theory, texts, and archives. And I’m always kind of like, I know what sort of works for me, but I love finding new ways to, to move through those different elements of the type of writing and thinking that we do. So maybe philology, who knows maybe that’s a different tool that you can have.


Lee But, but yeah, it, it it’s, um, it’s definitely from work. I would love to also like maybe get some introductory pieces of quality for like, if somebody could point me towards, to like think, you know, to like, have the graph on that, um, build, uh, to think about to the thing trans porn.


Gordon And, um, in the collection that Simona myelinated, um, they’re two really cool essays on trans philology. Um, so Joey Gambles on, I think it’s called towards a trans philology. They are a genius. I love that piece so intensely. Um, the, the ways that it opens up these kinds of conversations about like, well, we can’t talk about transness before, like tumbler, because that didn’t exist, and those words didn’t exist. And that question of just saying like, okay, well, what kinds of words were being used? And like, what are, what are the actual histories of these kinds of terms? And where does that take us through 19th century eugenics and sexology, like back into all of these like curious and wild terms, like trans feminine and trans Vista Kates, and like all of these different ways of talking and thinking about transness as a possibility. I love it. And then Marjorie group right, also has a really phenomenal essay on trans philology and, um, the roaring girl, uh, who gets called the thing one knows not how to name, but actually becomes this kind of endlessly proliferating source for terminology and like a creation of all of these different kinds of names and categories. Um, so those are two that are fabulous, highly recommended.


Lee We’ll definitely check those out. Thank you so much, professor. Oh, of course. Okay. So, my last questions is about your first work.

Um, so my last question, um, I’m so excited for your first monograph after reading, and you have so much more work that I’m, I’m gonna, I’m going to continue to like to read and like, I w I, you definitely will be someone I will be studying will be thinking besides, and I’m moving through my coursework and am I moving towards my comms? You will definitely be in my car. Like, I just know you’re working with my company. Like you have very much inspired me. Um, so I’m interested in your, and your, for forthcoming monograph, glorious bodies, trans theology, and Renaissance literature. Um, what an interesting historical, the radical mood for vengeance and you can’t, I mean, I went away for the book, but like, what are you exploring? Give us a brief kind of, it’s a little like snippet of what you made, would giving the world, would you’re blessing the word?


Gordon So, the, the way I sort of approached this particular text is I, I was thinking about, you know, where did people go to think about transition and transness and gender fluidity, and what bodies were capable of, you know, 400 years, let’s say 300 years before, you know, the medical technologies of transition were broadly available. There were some people have been doing genital reconstruction for example, thousand years, but you know, what, where do people go? What kinds of vocabularies did they use? What kinds of texts were they looking at? And I think there are a lot of answers, but the one that I’m following is theology. People went to religion to think about transness and transition and, um, what a body should be. And what about it, what a perfect body might look like. And their answers were sometimes very CIS and sometimes very trans. So that, that sort of grounded the kinds of archives that I’m looking at, the kinds of texts and, um, both literary and non-literary that I’m approaching.

So we’ve talked about, I think at this point, most of the chapters, um, but that’s, that’s really what I’m looking at. And I think that there’s a value, like an ongoing value to finding other kinds of discourses, besides the medical to talk about transness, because as we’ve discussed it, trans people have complicated relationships with doctors and allowing SIS physicians and therapists to kind of set the parameters. Impossibility is of trans embodiment has been a huge problem. And finding other discourses where people have been doing that, there is used to that. There is used to thinking formatively about trans theology. It was a mistake and I follow Melissa Sanchez. And as I also like her believe that it was a mistake to let, um, like the right wing conservative reactionary factions of society have religion and say, oh, no, we’re doing something else. We’re secular, we’re medical we’re whatever else.

Um, well, secularism is implicated in white supremacy and transphobia, certainly. So is the history of medicine. It was a mistake to just sort of seed that, um, to, to the people who are actively trying to kill us. So that’s, I think what I’m sort of interested in is returning to this moment prior to medicine, sort of laying claim to trans possibility and just seeing what we can do with it. And that’s not to say that theology has always or only been somehow trans-affirming of course that’s not true. And of course, trans miss, um, uh, or sorry, the, um, theology has also been implicated in white supremacy and transphobia in a, in any number of ways. So, it’s trying to sit with that, the complexity of that, what is there to be reclaimed? What is there that could be useful. And also, how do we have to think about the histories of white supremacy and transphobia when we’re looking at these archives? And it’s both for me, it’s always both.


Lee Yeah. Yeah. I, um, the Aldi is so important for me, religion, because I think like, whenever I, it wouldn’t like my embodiment and it’s like, so often have to, like, even, I think in the small, everyday moments in my life, when I’m talking to folks about, you know, they ask that question, like, why transition? What made you want to be a woman, or obviously believing their arguments are always tied in theology. They’re always like tied to religion to kind of rebuttal, like, like one to ask me the question about being in my body, what brings me to this body and into rebuttal way by saying, oh, well, like, how do you feel about like this kind of scripture? Like, you know, like how do we know, like, whatever kinds of ritual practices they practice, like it’s always utilized to like, um, denounce my, um, my narrative, like in like the ways I like my I come to being in my body. So, I think it’s interesting to you to think about the Arctic theology, like the kind of early modern, the electrical archives, um, to kind of think through the kind of ways that we come to conceptualize what the perfect body may look like or what, um, large, like, w like how that over time.


Gordon Being to be able to say to them, I mean, Jesus transitioned, if it’s good enough for her, it should be good enough for me. You know, I don’t to that, like, I don’t know that it’s going to change anyone’s mind, but it’s true. You know, so I was just saying, I love that Christianity is full of transmits.


Lee Oh, that’s my next move, my next move. Okay. Thank you for, but I did not. Oh, Okay. You are brilliant. And like, oh, okay. Well, Jesus heard that she may be so calm down. It’s okay. Yeah.


Gordon Right. I mean, you know, I’ve seen, you know, the figuring, I know what that is. I’m just saying,


Lee Okay. This has been such an exciting conversation. I’ve learned so much from you today and we’ll continue to learn and then think besides us, I was naming, um, I’m very appreciative of you taking time out of your day to like, talk to me about your forthcoming monograph. Um, your brilliance that you have been blessing the world with. Um, but lines of thought that you’ve been given early monitoring studies and some temporary trends, thoughts, um, your love for poetics. Um, you’re just Dane, um, for, um, the, all right. In terms of that you fully agree with, um, and, um, your love for thinking trans possibility


Gordon And it was such a total delight to talk to you. And I hope that we have many more companies.


Lee Me too. And I, yeah, I, I, I look forward to a professor. I do.


Gordon I’m gonna stop the recording now. Yes. Perfect.

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