The Manifesto: Harbinger of Truth

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(Calvin and Hobbes strip by Bill Watterson, obtained at http://www.chase3000.com/userpages/calvinhobbes/ny.gif)

Upon reading the manifestos assigned this week, the format and function of the manifesto grew to inspire my thoughts equally as much as the pieces themselves.  Authors go to great pains to establish their manifestos as claims to cohesive truth, often meant to evoke change through their lauding audiences.  But what does this claim to truth as format suggest about transsexual and transfeminist manifestos?  I discovered very different things about the ironically divisive nature of truth itself in the manifestos by Emi Koyama and Sandy Stone.  They each have very different foundations and formats for their respective essays, but each remain self-aware in their attempts to inspire understanding about the broad variety of trans* individuals as Other.  Furthermore, they are aware of the “truths” that have preceded their own.  Much like Calvin and Hobbes’ “Spirit of the New Year” Snowman in Bill Watterson’s comic above, a new manifesto is idealistic hope, grounded in the reality that serves its purpose—with the past calls to “truth” still lingering in that same reality.

Koyama’s near painfully (but admirably) self-aware “The Transfeminist Manifesto” strikes a similar balance in claiming its position of a call to truth for the reader, though with a completely different format.  With no outside narratives cited for the purposes of her declaration, Koyama plainly and directly addresses the issues that feminists have had in reconciling trans* matters with their agendas.  However, this does not keep her from making rather romantic assertions of ideal inclusion:  “Transfeminism is not about taking over existing feminist institutions.  Instead, it extends and advances feminism as a whole through our own liberation and coalition work with all others” (Koyama 2).  Here, she addresses the purpose of her manifesto as improving upon the related but historically not-entirely-reconciled calls to feminist action and calls for legitimate understanding of trans* identities.  However, throughout the rest of her essay she continually and painstakingly tries to broaden her call for transfeminist understanding.  This second-guessing calls to attention the nature of manifestos and “truth” as being far from authoritative dogma—they are often messy proclamations of new understanding that are grounded completely in their times.

Sandy Stone’s “The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto” as a response to an earlier call to feminist “truth” is just as aware of its origin as Koyama’s manifesto.  Stone speaks directly to the reader about the purpose of her paper as “telling the ‘truth’ of gender.  Its informing principle is that ‘technical arts are always imagined to be subordinated by the ruling artistic idea, itself rooted authoritatively in nature’s own life’” (Stone 224).  In saying so, she acknowledges that her truth is one of many claims to an image of transsexual reality, and one that coincides with her section title, “All of reality in late Capitalist culture lusts to become an image for its own security” (Stone 224).  To become a secure and authoritative call to progress, transsexual narratives become images in and of themselves.  Hence, Stone validates the suspicions of transsexual narratives by feminist theorists (Stone 227), and seeks to incorporate these older accounts of transsexual realities—both personal narrative and medical “definitions”—into a new and more dynamic reality, defined through individual experience and leading toward “the next transformation” (Stone 232).

– Marie Kosakowski

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