Bones without Flesh and (Trans)Gender without Bodies: Querying Desires for Trans Historicity

Hypatia 37 (4):601-618 (2022)
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In 2011, a 5,000-year-old “male” skeleton buried in a “female” way was discovered by an archaeological team just outside of modern-day Prague. This article queries the impulse to name such a discovery as evidence of transgender identity, and bodies, in an increasingly ancient past. To do so, it takes up the work of Denise Ferreira da Silva, Sylvia Wynter, and Hortense Spillers as a means to push back against the impetus to name such discoveries “transgender” in order to shore up the legitimacy of contemporary trans identity. Each of these three thinkers offers a different vantage point for rethinking such naming practices that push the reader to consider how desires to name and place “transgender” in a distant past papers over the violence of plantation slavery, global imperialism, and the Enlightenment's shift toward scientific reason. This article argues not that such anthropological discoveries should not be considered transgender, but rather that the desire for them to be, or become, transgender does not legitimate contemporary transgender identity, and may instead treat certain iterations of transness as spatially and temporally universal.

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