Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Humans, Horses, and Hormones: (Trans) Gendering Cross-Species Relationships

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Humans, Horses, and Hormones: (Trans) Gendering Cross-Species Relationships

Article excerpt

In this essay I discuss a brief autobiographical text from Dean Kotula's The Phallus Palace, a collection of narratives on aspects of female-to-male transsexual transition (Ken 2002). ' This essay is part of a larger project that engages animal studies to examine how species difference is deployed in demarcating boundaries between humans and other animals and in understanding species difference in the context of long histories of human dominion over, and perhaps longer histories of human intimacy with, animals. The project is equally invested in feminist and queer critiques of normative gender relations and in conventional psychoanalytic narratives of female development, with particular attention paid to cross-species and cross-gender identifications. Animal studies and feminist and queer analyses partner productively in thinking about material and semiotic relations across differences and about related questions of embodiment, subjectivity, and agency.

In "Ken," the narrative that I analyze here, the author, Ken, tells a story of how his relationship with his horse was transformed during and by the former's hormonal transition. Ken's story speaks of the experience of transsexual embodiment and also of the experience of cross-species identification and relationality. The narrative combines an exploration of human-equine social relations with the experience of gender crossing, as relayed through Ken's experience of transition and its personal and social ramifications.

Ken's reading of his horse's understanding of him as a sexed body locates the horse as representing instinctual and transparent responses. In Ken's reading, his horse, unnamed and decontextualized, acknowledges Ken as a natural being, a man, as marked by Ken's smell, over and above the technological mediation of the transition itself. In his story of transition, Ken is saying that nature, read as biology, determines culture (how bodies are socially gendered), while acknowledging the use of technology to alter nature/biology to make his body legible to both self and society. Through a cross-species relationship, Ken enlists his horse as a participant in the confirmation, and therefore maintenance, of hegemonic economies of difference, in a humanist employment of animality to confirm humanity, and in the phallocentric employment of woman to define man. How to make sense of this complicated tangle of reasoning?

To begin, I identify key points in Ken's narrative of his relationship with his horse and how they relate to his experience of hormonal transition. Ken's horse proves instrumental in helping Ken to understand the embodied changes of transition and how these changes are perceived and received by human and nonhuman animals. The narrative plots questions of species difference by applying cross-species biological essentialism as a way of foregrounding the imperative of transsexual transition. The writing is framed by Ken's own trans-species and transsexual experiences, and, while functioning to affirm the personal and social validity of Ken's transition, it reduces the intersectional histories and materialities that engender this particular cross-species relationship and simplifies the questions of ethical responsibility that necessarily arise within the relationship. I then go on to suggest other ways in which the cross-species relationship might be translated to better account for the agential participation of both man and horse. The emphasis is on how narratives of relationality, with the self and others, can translate into lived relations and the concrete material consequences of these relations as they validate the subjective and agential participation of both human and nonhuman interactants. In asking how bodies become articulate within and across species difference through mutually transformative processes of domestication, I consider how nonhuman agency and subjectivity can be represented to more fully honor the diversity and specificity of bodies, identities, and beings that constitute the various worlds we inhabit as social, political, and cultural actors. …

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