Sandeep Bakshi on “Gender in Translation”

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Sandeep Bakshi received his PhD from the School of English, University of Leicester (UK) in June 2011. His dissertation examined contemporary queer fiction in English from South Asia and its diasporas. It underscored the critical significance of a double-pronged theoretical approach by combining insights from queer and postcolonial scholarship. Building upon recent research that re-maps queer discourses through an encounter with postcolonial theory and narratives, he argued that South Asian queer fiction disputes the Western bias in queer paradigms, and challenges the elision of sexual and gender non-normativity in postcolonial studies in order to make both queer and postcolonial sites truly transformational.

Sandeep Bakshi is currently employed as Lecturer in English at the University of Le Havre, France. His will take part in the conference “Gender in Multiplicities: Intersectionality, Decoloniality, Assemblages, Co-Formations: French and U.S. Conversations” at University of California, Berkeley , on November 18th, 2016.

-> What triggered your interest in Gender Studies?

During my Master’s I undertook courses on feminism and queer studies which initiated me to the complexities of gender studies. The association of being witness to gendered injustice throughout my life with the courses I was studying extended my critical awareness of the hegemonic heteronormative system(s).

-> According to you, has the reflection on Gender Studies evolved over the past years, if we consider the publication of “Gender Trouble” by Judith Butler (1990) a reference point?

We have come a long way since Butler’s publication. Exciting work on decolonial feminism that pre-dated Butler’s theoretical conceptualization has now acquired critical authority and gained rapid circulation. For instance, Maria Lugones’ writings on decolonial feminism and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s formulation of intersectional oppression locate gender and race firmly at the centre of debates on axes of power.

Additionally, proponents of queer of color critique, extending feminism of color, have reworked Butlerian frames in order to (re-)inscribe them in more meaningful transformative alliances.

Reading the figure of drag from Gender Trouble, for instance, appears problematic today since an uncritical assimilation of drag as “radical” or “non-heteronormative” misses the contentious performative of re-producing gender(-ed) hierarchy, i.e. men’s (performative) power over women. Given the availability of a significant body of literature on transfeminism, drag performances and lived realities of transwomen occasionally have opposing and even antagonistic trajectories.

Even though Butler remains an important scholar in gender/queer studies, the numerous developments in the field have inevitably created conditions for the emergence of multiple voices that cannot be subsumed under Butlerian concepts.

-> The operation “Gender in Translation” as it has been conceived originally tries to put into perspective French and American approaches to Gender Studies. Does this distinction still seem relevant to you? Why?

Transnational gender studies is a valid terrain of analyses. Shared critiques of (hetero)patriarchy and (hetero)normative structures, common strategies against oppressive neo-liberal gendered division of labor, and coalitional solidarities against all forms of gender(ed) power systems are key to construct a broad political platform that can stand the repetitive assaults of hegemonic cultural and national codes. Local specificities and local struggles of emancipation establish multiple sites of difference that enhance the reach of transnationalism in changing societies and building alliances. Ideally, neither transnational critiques of gender regimes nor local/national specificities function in isolation, speaking to each other through egalitarian processes of exchange.

Despite the self-evident similarities of all areas of gender studies, pulverizing country-specific distinctions would be a specious critical oversight. Gender Studies, especially the connected field of queer studies, as we know it in France, is still grappling with mainstream academic opposition similar to how postcolonial studies obtain scant consideration from scholars and institutional authorities in France. Gender Studies and queer theory are established fields of critical inquiry in the US. The two countries have often borrowed from each other whilst concurrently departing from common concerns to develop local practices.

White French feminism that has almost always been read as French feminism refuses to acknowledge the contribution of Black feminists without whom the feminist movement re-figures the segregationist and racial violence of society at large. Black feminist critiques in France have been vocal – just like in the US – but have been marginalized in mainstream feminist struggles to a much larger extent than in the US.

-> Could you define the specificity of your approach to Gender Studies?

My critical approach attempts to underscore the significance of a double-pronged frame that associates decolonial theory and gender/queer studies in a mutually transformative bind. In other words, my research projects explore the possibilities of reading decolonial and queer paradigms in conjunction. More specifically, I ask what alternative meanings emerge when racial, cultural and national matrices are made to bear upon queer epistemology. In re-mapping queer discourses in the encounter with decolonial enunciations, I aim to contest the Eurocentric and white-centric bias in queer studies, and challenge the elision of sexual and gender non-normativity in postcolonial theory. In my work, the critiques that materialize from the relational consideration of queer and transnational frameworks implicate queer discourses in re-signified formations that confront other pervasive structures of racial, class or national privilege.

-> Does your research in the field of Gender Studies bear a civic and/or political engagement? Is this an important aspect for you?

As a queer person of color (QPOC), the political valence of my engagement with my field of research cannot be overlooked. Navigating the routes of migration between France and India, and working to undo the systemic hold of dominant systems of oppression makes my research both political and personal. Without the articulations of decolonial feminist and queer of color schools of critical thought, I would not have addressed or will not continue to address over-arching forms of gender(-ed) injustice or heteronormativity. I would not have understood the urgent call to dismantle them. My work results from a decade-long engagement in activism scholarship, which is the most crucial aspect of my academic and private life.

-> As a scholar/artist/thinker/curator/…, what does the title “Gender in Translation” evoke for you?

“Gender in Translation” invokes the immediacy of understanding gender in all its articulations which include cultural, national and racial axes among several others. In this regard, it implies a co-formation of useful critiques in relation to gender(s) in the French and US contexts. The word ‘translation’ is particularly apposite as it signifies both the translation between two languages and the translatability or rather the non-translatability of ‘gender’ as a concept into systems of language that are often insufficent in inscribing/describing multiple expressions of genders, which include/exclude the non-binary.

 

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