The Trans Nineteenth Century

When:  Friday, April 28, 2023, 10:00am

Where:  Rutgers Academic Building West, Room 6051

Category:  Symposium

Contact  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Join top scholars in historical queer and trans studies for a full-day symposium, “The Trans Nineteenth Century,” on April 28th, 2023, 10am-5pm (time is tentative). This symposium brings together six scholars in historical trans studies in the U.S. and beyond to discuss their ongoing and new work in the field. The event, featuring Kadji Amin, Jules Gill-Peterson, Emma Heaney, Greta LaFleur, Jen Manion, and Mark Rifkin investigates the deeper history of trans ways of being in through the lens of the long nineteenth century in America, as well as interrogating queer and trans stances toward historicity and genealogy. Please join us for a series of three panels, conversation, and refreshments.

pdfSymposium Flyer

Portions of the symposium will be broadcast on Zoom. Contact Eagan Dean at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.


10-10:30 a.m. Coffee and Snacks 

10:30-12 p.m. Session One

“Gender Identity: Not a Useful Category of Historical Analysis”

Kadji Amin

This talk argues that gender identity, a term increasingly used as synonymous with transgender, is not a useful category of historical analysis. It surveys trans historical scholarship to argue that, prior to the 1960s, trans people transitioned on the basis of labor, gender roles, and sexual practices, not gender identity.

“Who Defines Trans Femininity and How: 1890-1945”

Emma Heaney

This paper delineates the dual meaning of trans femininity around the fin-de-siècle along classed and racialized lines in order to argue that recognition of these two distinct genealogies clarifies subsequent conceptual scholarly and political imprecisions.

Followed by Q&A

12-1 p.m. Lunch

1-2:30 p.m. Session Two

“Trans Womanhood and the Antebellum Service Economy”

Jules Gill-Peterson

This paper investigates the historicity of trans womanhood in the advent of the modern service economy. In antebellum New York City, sex work offered a pragmatic mean to living life as a full-time woman when women’s two prevailing contracts—marriage, or poorly paid piece work—were out of reach or inadequate. The antebellum era sketches the outlines of transition as the management of downward mobility in the advent of the wage labor form.

"Trans Feminine Histories, Piece by Piece: or, Vernacular Print and the Histories of Gender"

Greta LaFleur

This talk focuses on a small, eclectic collection of very short reports of self-castrations that appear-- printed or reprinted-- in North American newspapers between the beginning of the eighteenth century and the end of the nineteenth. The brevity of these reports renders them a fascinating but at times frustrating archive for those of us working on the histories of gender, as they betray an interest in and awareness of the effect of castration in humans, and, furthermore, tend to represent the satisfaction of the person who so transformed their body. One such article, published in Connecticut in 1721, for example, reports that the person who castrated themselves "is very much swell’d, but seems rejoyc’d at what [t]he[y] ha[ve] done." This talk takes this collection of small articles as a point of departure for thinking about the archives and methods most generative for crafting trans histories, asking what types of reading, and what approaches to historical analysis, might allow us the widest view of trans pasts.

Followed by Q&A

2:30-3 p.m. Break

3-4:30 p.m. Session Three

“Queer Temporalities & Trans Historicism”

Jen Manion

Transing as a method of historical inquiry has made it possible for scholars to examine trans practices and expressions without asserting modern identity categories. How do we navigate the temporal bounds of archival and contemporary terms while attempting to write a relatively coherent account of the past?

“When Did Indians Become Cis?: Primitivity, Allotment, and Gendered Detribalization”

Mark Rifkin

Engaging with allotment policy and Indian boarding school discourses, this paper seeks to reconsider gendering as a technology of colonial interpellation and dispossession. Drawing on C. Riley Snorton’s work, it will consider how settler constructions of Indian primitivity are crucial in shaping white gender norms and making Indigenous persons and places available for settler projects of self- and nation-making.

Followed by Q&A

4:30 p.m. Reception