Tirza Latimer on “Gender in Translation”

tlatimer-haedTirza True Latimer publishes work from a queer feminist perspective on a range of topics in the fields of visual culture, sexual culture, and criticism. She regularly contributes to SFMOMA’s Open Space blog and is currently Chair and Associate Professor of the Visual and Critical Studies Department at California College of the Arts. CCA will take part in the “Gender in Translation” operation by hosting French visiting critic Elisabeth Lebovici for a series of events from February 22 to February 26 2016, and renowned scholar Judith Butler for a lecture on Febrary 25, 2016.

-> Learn more about the California College of the Arts “Gender in Translation” events.

-> What triggered your interest in Gender Studies?

Judith Butler’s elaboration of “gender performativity” (gestures that enact gender’s prior existence, thus its natural authority, through their repetition) is key. Gender Trouble enabled us to think about gender as an ideologically consequential form of representation, offering feminist and LGBT(Q, I…) activists new tools for dismantling the roadblocks of essentialist identity politics.

-> 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?

Queer theories and their applications have expanded exponentially since the publication in 1990 of Gender Trouble. So much so that Pope Francis, alluding to gay marriage and gender theory during a recent address to the United Nations General Assembly, spoke of “an ideological colonization by the imposition of anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people’s identity and, in the end, irresponsible.”

-> 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?

I am not sufficiently versed in transatlantic debates within academic studies to respond to your question responsibly. But, with that disclaimer, I will respond irresponsibly. The fact that Judith Butler’s paradigm shifting book, which engages so deeply with the legacy of French critical theory and philosophy, was not translated into French until 2005 raises questions about the cultural and historical conditions of possibility for critical thought. This line of thinking/questioning is always relevant.

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

I am a queer feminist activist and scholar of visual culture and performance. I work at the intersection of Gender Studies, Feminist Studies, and Visual Studies.

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

The short answer is “Yes.”

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

Gender demands translation into the actions and statements that make it (appear) real and naturalize its asymmetrical power relations.

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