UPDATE, 12/3/2015: Paper was accepted for presentation.
Below is my abstract for the 2016 Society for Cinema and Media Studies Annual Conference, which I discovered thanks to Ramzi Fawaz.
A Once and Future Queer: Trans Narrative and DC Comics’ Camelot 3000 (1982-1985)
What is a “trans narrative”? What does it mean for a narrative to be “trans” at a time when news media and the public are ever more interested in the lives of transgender and transsexual individuals? Because public awareness of transgenderism and transsexuality is integral to the trans struggle for greater rights and equality of economic, political, and social conditions, a hermeneutics of trans narratives is desperately needed to capture, in the words of Alexander Eastwood, “the lived temporality of transsexuality, its literary representations and theoretical implications.” Such a recovery goes beyond redressing the historical exclusion of trans people from literary, cultural, and media history and questions the fetishization of trans people’s mobility and figural deployment in queer theory.
In seeking what a hermeneutics of “trans narrative” might look like, this paper recovers, describes, and contextualizes Mike W. Barr and Brian Bolland’s obscure comic-book series Camelot 3000 (DC, 1982-1985), focusing on the figure of Sir Tristan, a formerly male/socially man character (and Knight of the Round Table) reborn in a female/socially woman’s body in the 31st century. Tristan’s personal journey and interactions with other characters decenter the heteronormative narrative that denies the existence of trans people and that insists on the uniformity of sex/gender identities and experiences. Though narratively convoluted and at times problematic, Barr problematizes the social and institutional barriers that confront trans people by focusing Tristan’s narrative on questions of marriage, romance, transphobia, homophobia, gender and sexual identity (their intersections and departures), and the possibility of physically transitioning from one sex-gender to another.
Critically, Tristan’s story appears during what transgender historian Susan Stryker describes as one of the most dismal decades in the history of the trans social justice movement, the 1980s. Far from simply introducing (one of) the first queer character(s) in mainstream comics, Camelot 3000 utilizes the generic versatility of SF to create a complex character psychology that challenges concepts of sex, gender, sexuality, romance, marriage, and access to healthcare. I show that Tristan is more than an object of transgression, but a subject of historical and medium-specific circumstances who offers insight into the interstitial problematics of trans portrayal, fetishization, and narrativizing.
- Alexander, Jonathan. “Transgender Rhetorics: (Re)Composing Narratives of the Gendered Body.” College Composition and Communication, 57.1 (Sep 2005): 45-82.
- Eastwood, Alexander. “How, Then, Might the Transsexual Read?: Notes toward a Trans Literary History.” TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly, 1.4 (Nov 2014): 590-604.
- Meyerowitz, Joanne. How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States.
- Prosser, Jay. Second Skins: The Body Narratives of Transsexuality. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
- Stryker, Susan. “My Words to Victor Frankenstein above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 1 (1994): 237-254.
- Stryker, Susan. Transgender History. Berkeley: Seal Press, 2008.