Symposium Introduction

Marquis Bey’s Black Trans Feminism is an invitation to see the world anew. It is a book that many of us who work in black studies, black feminist theory, and gender and sexuality studies waited for because it provides us with a toolkit for dreaming, a grammar for forging new futures. In many ways, it is a book that travels alongside a set of keywords that have become central to contemporary black studies, including abolition, fugitivity, and refusal. But Bey’s work is not didactic. Indeed, the book manifests a generous and patient willingness to sit with all that we do not yet know. 

For Bey, black trans feminism is an “aim for the creative dimension of abolition” and a wish for the “worlds that arise because of the undermined hegemonic categories” (5). And abolition, for Bey, is a broad term that is a project of anti-captivity, a “thorough-going conception of freeness” (4) that is underpinned by a commitment to collective care. In its vision of abolition, black trans feminism insists that “we cannot import some of the violent things into the world we are trying to create and cultivate in the rubble of the old, in the same form, for we would belie the world we are creating” (5). Here is where Bey’s work most interests me—in its fundamental sense that the vision of the world they offer is one that requires work, and even requires us to give up some things. As Bey notes, “we cannot half-ass abolition, holding on to some of the things we didn’t think we would be called to task for giving up” (4). To be clear, Bey continues, we might have to give up the things we like. Or the things that feel good, or at least that we think feel good. I am interested in this vision of the work and even the messy feelings that can attend to getting free. If “we do not need to know for certain the parameters of what comes after this hell,” Bey insists that we can dream and imagine, care and tend to each other (23). The conversation that unfolds in this symposium (with thanks to all of its contributors) engage Bey’s world-making project from a variety of theoretical, political, and ethical perspectives.

Cameron Awkward-Rich


Hanging Together In Between

With thanks to WGSS 492E/692E, Spring 2022

Dear Marquis,

From the outset, I have to admit that I do not exactly speak your language, though I have been endeavoring to learn it. The world of contemporary black studies/theory is a world that I eavesdrop on, wallflower-like, whose chatter and conflicts and (para)institutional life I am deeply interested in and engaged with, but I often don’t have much to say about the goings-on—though, again, I endeavor to. I am, nonetheless, quite regularly called on to respond to your work, in no small part (I cannot help but think) because of the very grids of legibility that black trans feminism, as you describe it, steadfastly calls on us—that motley us—to abscond from, to “let go” (Bey 6). Mostly, not knowing what I would say or how, I say no. But now here I am. Trying to speak to you. 

This spring, I led a seminar on trans/queer of color thought for the first time, a seminar which—despite or because of the general terribleness of the semester—gave me a glimpse of what a classroom might be for, how we might think together in and through the mess of things. Given my tendency to be interested in, more than anything else, “the stories we tell” (Hemmings 2), the course was much less about some content called “trans/queer of color thought” and much more about how trans/queer of color thought in and around the US university has been narrated, how these narrations do and don’t live up to the work that has affiliated itself with (or been hailed as) trans and/or queer of color, what makes it nonetheless a field that more or less coheres. 

At the end of the semester, one of my students, Terrell James, offered an answer to this latter question that I was and am quite taken with. He said, to paraphrase, that trans and queer of color thought is concerned with what we do in the in-between (alternatively: the mess (Manalansan), the interregnum (Malatino), and so on). What I like so much about James’s answer is that it accounts for many of the various modes and postures of tqoc thought; it is a project that is at once descriptive (what is it that we do, what is the texture of our living?), questioning and given to polemic (what ought we do, given the given?), and a collective critical practice (tqoc critique is what we do) aimed at “simultaneously negating society as a given and imagining what more liberatory possibilities are being blocked by that given state of affairs” (Hames-García 20). It’s no surprise that James came to offer this answer during or just after our discussion of Black Trans Feminism, a book that, on my read, is primarily concerned with what we do in the in-between and beautifully enacts each of these modes of trans/queer of color thought. 

Most basically, Black Trans Feminism is a moving and motivated meditation on each of its animating terms: black, trans, feminism. I say that it is motivated in part because you insist on particular inflections of each: blackness as fugitivity, “as mutinous relation to imposed ontology”; transness as unfixation, “as a departure-from without the presumption of a stable destination, or indeed a departure that itself destabilizes destinational desires”; feminism as undoing and unraveling, “as the reiterative un/gendered quotidian process of how not to be governed and given from without” (Bey 3). You insist, that is, on inflections that index not identity or closed ontological forms (what is) but, instead, paraontological forces that might animate what/how one does. Put another way, blackness, transness, and feminism are each “not replaceable…not substitutable” names for how we know (or sense? or live as though?) what is is not all there is (Tsang and Moten 344). Consequently, black trans feminism, as you describe it, is a kind of “abolitionist gender radicality,” a critical posture against closures of all kinds (Bey 13). In this way, Black Trans Feminism (and black trans feminism) is a critique of identitarianism in general. In particular, though, it is a critique of how identitarianism so often structures our sense of what black feminism, trans feminism, black trans feminism is about at the expense of its radicality, where radicality, for you, means turning not to the root of things but to what has yet to be, “an imaginative will to engage life unbounded” (Bey 12). But, also, at the expense of the necessarily coalitional spirit of black trans feminism, the need for everyone to get in on it in order for otherwise to be other than a nonperformative gesture, for it to be something we daily do and endeavor to cultivate within/below/beside the world. 

Though, again, I do not exactly speak your language, all of this is very familiar, which is, I think, the point. Or, part of it anyway. At the very least, I wonder if this point accounts for the poetics of Black Trans Feminism, especially its cento-like citational style. Of course, citation simply is one of the tools of the genre of academic prose, but I think you do something very particular and interesting with that tool, which is to enact, in the very form of your writing, a “coalitional subjectivity” (Bey 195). As a reader, I could not help but notice that though you often say “I” you do not exactly speak with one voice, nor exactly with many. Instead, your way of writing, of assembling and writing with and through a black trans feminist we, makes the text feel like the voice of “the multitude” (Bey 138), “more than one yet singularly together” (Bey 179). Most obvious in the conclusion, the citationality of the text creates a density that is not the same as what we ordinarily mean by “density of thought.” I think it is more like the density of a crowd at a protest, everyone occasionally saying the same thing (with more and less conviction and precision); occasionally lapsing into other chatter, breaking off; occasionally unsure of how we got there or where we are going; all, generally, moving in the same direction nonetheless. This sheer density arrives as a reminder—during this moment of intensifying general threat that leads to fracture perhaps more often than it leads to general resistance—that there is and has long been a black trans feminism (though it goes by many names) “that lets us feel that this world is not enough,” that insists on more, that there is more, for all of us (Muñoz 1). I, for one, am grateful for and enlivened by the reminder.

And yet, perhaps due to differences in disposition, in tendencies in the in-between, I left Black Trans Feminism equally enlivened and vexed—which is, for the record, a good thing. Also for the record, I think that you have anticipated many of my vexations, my sticking points that I have not yet fully thought through. Still, in the spirit of conversation I’ll offer, briefly, two, both of which have to do, loosely, with the effortfulness and difficulty of coalition. 

First, as I have said, I found the style of Black Trans Feminism effective and affecting, a real pleasure. In addition to the multitude gathered by your practice of citation, I appreciated how, even when you were engaged in real arguments with individual scholars or intellectual traditions, that conflict was (mostly) sidestepped and/or acknowledged and set aside so as to foreground the creative work of thought. However, I do wonder about the ethics (for lack of a better word) of this dual propensity to, simultaneously, elide conflict and gather everyone into a textual coalitional subjectivity. Indeed, there is a long moment in the text where, in the process of theorizing coalition, you let Judith Butler riff at length on the matter. Among other things, they insist that within coalition “there can be—perhaps must be—active antagonisms” over the aims and methods that bring together coalitions in the first place (Butler 147; quoted in Bey 208). Given this, I am curious about the way that you tend to sidestep the antagonisms—the, as you say, “mutual exclusivit[ies]” (Bey 145)—within your textual gathering. For example, although you twice direct readers to Jules Gill-Peterson’s Histories of the Transgender Child, it is nowhere remarked that that book is, in many ways, a sustained account of the dangers of insisting on an inflection of trans that, as you risk doing, makes it synonymous with plasticity, mutability, indeterminacy: “I argue that plasticity is too combustible a concept to animate trans children in any way that does not also do them harm” (Gill-Peterson 202). Also, it is hard not to notice that the poet KOKUMO is staging a small protest about her appearance in Black Trans Feminism on its Goodreads page, a protest that—on my read—is demanding a different way of being held. Also, it is hard for me in particular not to notice a moment where you voice an essay of mine to nearly the opposite effect of what I understood myself to be saying, which is, I hope you’ll believe me, perfectly fine. I’m happy to be of the coalition and to disagree with myself—I do it all the time—but all of this makes it seem like so much is animated by a desire, perhaps your desire, for coalition without conflict, disagreement, or, indeed, antagonism. And I wonder about whether this desire might actually sit in vexed relation to “radical openness” (Bey 106). About what has to be disavowed in order to offer the appearance of “unification” (Bey 48). Again, and truly, this is not meant as shade or complaint but as a sincere and hazy question about writing and its limits, about how to hang together in the in-between, about “how we hold each other” (Bey 5).  

I’ve struggled with how to say this second thing because, to some extent, it seems unfair.  Still, it gets to the heart of a matter that I have been trying to work out for myself, which I, incidentally, wrote a book trying to work out. So, let me put it this way. Through your engagement with Venus Selenite, you briefly incorporate disability—“even disability” (Bey 178)—into your accounting of what it might mean to live and think black trans feminism, though in a conflicted way. On one hand, Selenite quite explicitly presents xyr mother’s deafness as a nonnormativity that “allows her to coordinate life / on her own terms” (Selenite; quoted in Bey183); indeed it is deafness that enables (requires?) the feminism of Selenite’s mother, of xyr childhood, a feminism that you describe as “self-determinative and further outside the bounds of normative discourse” (Bey 184). And this admission of deafness-as-generative-nonnormativity echoes your earlier call to La Mar Jurelle Bruce’s account of madness as of a piece with black creativity, “the madness engendered in the underlife” (Bey 99). 

But, on another hand, disability by other names shows up in Black Trans Feminism as fundamentally what indexes the violence of the given that black trans feminism strives to exceed: “Black trans feminism cannot be circumscribed simply by trauma,” “we are various shades of brokenness and lack…We need to be healed and do not wish to remain writhing in our broken pieces,” “what has been pathologized in us” (Bey 181, 14, 227). Basically, and given the deeply abolitionist impulses of mad liberation and deinstitutionalization and the deeply coalitional impulses of much critical disability theory and culture, I am interested in your insistence (and it does feel like an insistence) on life as what happens in excess of “trauma, anxiety, and depression,” in “excess of these hardships of disability” (Bey 176, 182). To my mind—and, I would wager, to Selenite’s mind, though of course I don’t know—disabled life is, in fact, “not nonlife but life lived otherwise and life stolen” (Bey 135) back from eugenic regimes, capitalist ideologies of life-as-work, “ableist reasoning” (Kim 87), and the “cultural devaluation of life with a disability (and life with pain)” (Patsavas 208). 

Of course, there is a way in which you have already offered an answer: just as “blackness…will outlast ‘race’; transness will outlast ‘gender’; feminism will outlast ‘women,’” crip radicality (a collective contestation of imposed norms of capacity, configuration, modes of cognition and affectivity…) or what Robert McCruer might call “severe disability,” will outlast ‘disability’ as it is predicated on/imposed by the violence of normativity (Bey 14; McRuer 32). And yes. Yes. But for what it’s worth, I’m stuck on this because, at bottom, I simply do not believe that disability and/or pain are (only) antagonistic to life, certainly not to transformation. Indeed, one of the axioms of disability studies might be, in brief, things change. Given this, I cannot help but wonder how the coalitional subjectivity called Black Trans Feminism might change if it were to be open to disability (which is, in some ways, an openness to limit, though not only that) as yet one more name for what compels us otherwise. But maybe this is the wrong question. I’ll think on it. Thanks, as always, for the occasion to think beyond myself. 




Works Cited

Bey, Marquis. Black Trans Feminism. Durham: Duke University Press, 2022. 

Butler, Judith. Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? New York: Verso, 2016.

Hames-García, Michael. “Queer Theory Revisited.” In Gay Latino Studies: A Critical Reader, edited by Michael Hames-García and Ernesto Javier Martínez, 19-45. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011. 

Hemmings, Clare. Why Stories Matter: The Political Grammar of Feminist Theory. Durham: Duke University Press, 2011.

Gill-Peterson, Jules. Histories of the Transgender Child. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018. 

Kim, Jina B. “Cripping the Welfare Queen: The Radical Potential of Disability Politics.” Social Text 39.3 (2021): 79-101. 

Malatino, Hil. “Future Fatigue: Trans Intimacies and Trans Presents (or How to Survive the Interregnum).” TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly 6.4 (2019): 635–58. 

Manalansan, Martin. “Messing Up Sex: The Promises and Possibilities of Queer of Color Critique.” Sexualities 28.1 (2018): 1287–90. 

McRuer, Robert. Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability. New York: NYU Press, 2006. 

Moten, Fred, and Wu Tsang. “All Terror, All Beauty: Wu Tsang and Fred Moten in Conversation.” In Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibilty, edited by Reina Gossett, Eric A. Stanley, and Johanna Burton, 339–48. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2017.

Muñoz, José Esteban. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York: NYU Press, 2009.  

Patsavas, Alyson. “Recovering a Cripistemology of Pain: Leaky Bodies, Connective Tissue, and Feeling Discourse.” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 8.2 (2014), 203–18.

Selenite, Venus. trigger: poems. CreateSpace, 2016.

  • Marquis Bey

    Marquis Bey


    Bey Response to Awkward-Rich

    Dear Cam,

    I want to begin at the very end of your response, if I may. You thank me—and to be thanked by you, I hope it is known, is a gift in itself, it truly is—for providing the occasion to think beyond yourself. I want to cast my response to you under this banner as well: thank you for cultivating such loving, yet tough, space to think beyond myself. In many ways, that is what I continue to try to do: thinking, feeling, wondering beyond my own limits, my own purview, while fundamentally disagreeing with the very notion of “my” purview. You’ve invited me, graciously so, radically so, to continue to move in ways that are uncomfortable yet generative and necessary, difficult yet glimpsed in what I—and I might even say we—am trying to do.

    I’ll try my best to respond to your two points of tension, but before I do I think it is imperative for me to say something about, as is often mentioned in a very different context for black folks especially, your tone. On my reading, I felt very much like we were sitting together, talking, feeling with one another. There is a way that academic discourse can have the air of coarseness, of takedowns and hot takes, and that is, I suppose, kind of okay. But what I felt in what you’ve shared is, in no uncertain terms, care. I felt invitation and precision. “Again, and truly, this is not meant as shade or complaint but as a sincere and hazy question about writing and its limits” you say—you anticipate, as you note I have, how another might respond to you, and you try to care for that response, hold it. And I feel held. I felt, and feel, still, coalition. Perhaps, then, there is something about how I do this work that continues to emphasize, to prefer, to draw out that even when there is disagreement. Which, we can guess, brings us to one of your tensions.

    I recall, in fact, being at the TRANS(form)ing Queer symposium at University of Maryland, College Park. You were also there, though our sessions were at the same time, so I couldn’t get to yours. And I recall emailing you afterward, apologizing for not being able to be present for your remarks, and thanking you for your work. And you, of course, were gracious. But also during that Friday afternoon I spoke with another scholar of trans studies about the recent book of someone else in the field. This person, with whom I spoke, noted that in a conversation between the author of this recent book and another colleague, the colleague said, after seeing various thinkers cited together, something to the effect of, “You know they have some deep disagreements, right?” And the author said, again, something to the affect of, “I know that. But they are all united on their assumption of whiteness.” Surely this is not what we are talking about here, but I bring this up to share a similar kind of response: that I know, and I think you know I know, at least in part, that I, Judith Butler, Jack Halberstam, C. Riley Snorton, Sylvia Wynter, you, and a host of others all have various disagreements. There is so much disagreement in the circles I traverse, to the chagrin of a certain author of a 2019 TSQ conversation. So much, and we are trained in so many ways to amplify those disagreements. One must show their departure from this or that thinker to demonstrate “original” thinking. One of my professors in graduate school clung dearly to the notion that one should not receive their PhD unless they managed to showcase a significant disagreement with a thinker they loved. So much disagreement, so much discursive turmoil, and I get it and, ultimately, am not looking to eliminate it. I just want something different.

    And indeed, I have been in difficult conversations with some of the very people who’s work I think with in the book, conversations where they express to me deep disagreements, as you’ve named, and tough invitations to be held (or not held) differently. That is very real, I know. I know viscerally. And I am so very sorry—though apology is not “proper” to the realm of academics, I share my contrition nonetheless—that I’ve both catalyzed those disagreements and also have implied their unimportance. I try to listen, to facilitate healing, to receive these things with love. Sometimes that is not enough, and I accept that. Most times it is, though. And that to me feels like the part of these kinds of stories that goes off-the-record: when two or three or however many thinkers have such a disagreement, that is not the end. What happens when they see each other at a conference, are on a panel together, have had time to sit and think and mull? I want that story, because I wonder quite seriously, as non-romantically as possible for me—which, I’ll admit, isn’t much—if those folks end up coming to something like a friendship, not despite but because of that disagreement. Much of what I write deemphasizes disagreement. That is true. It is, though, a deemphasis in service of, hopeful for, the emphasizing of more generous, enlivening ways to relate to one another. Which, of course, does not mean that disagreement can’t do that. It can and has. I simply prefer a different route.

    So I suppose all I wish to say, not in my “defense” but as some kind of reason for why this is the case, is: part of my work is to shift the tone and emphases of discourse. Surely, many disagree, and many of us know those disagreements. I want more points of convergence, and I amplify that as a result. And yet, I want to hold folks better. So I imagine I will have to shift too.

    The other point of tension you raised is that of disability, and I must admit, I lowered my gaze from the page in slight embarrassment. The kind of embarrassment one feels when something not-so-positive about them is witnessed and made known. Because what you’ve shared is right: disabled life, life with disability, is life lived otherwise, another node in the constellation of otherwise, fugitive movements and dispositions. Even with the ways I and some of my students neuro-diverge, even with my own diagnosed, medicalized atypical modes of relating—namely, as it relates to spaces with other people, which engendered physiological responses (making it all the more necessary, I’ll say too, that what I can do, i.e. writing, attempts to express a coalition and movement, for my affective aversion to such gatherings does not mean that I cannot create gatherings of a different sort)—I still, to put it lightly, drop the ball. (And I want to be clear that the ways I neuro-diverge are not equivalent to or on level ground with how others neuro-diverge.) To quote you, “And yes. Yes.” You are right “that disability and/or pain are [not] (only) antagonistic to life, certainly not to transformation.” And you are right that, with how I oriented myself away from trauma and violence and pain, the implication was that these things are not generative, not sources and sites of otherwise. On this, I need to be more precise with how I think and move and feel. And for that, I thank you.

    I’ve said on a number of occasions that I am someone who very much prefers to stay in my lane, at least intellectually. I’ve also had to clarify this, noting that it is not intended to yield intellectual apathy but to know when and what I know, when I might contribute, and also when I might sit and listen—when, in other words, to shut up. And “Disability Studies” felt, and still feels, out of my lane. And while I had the best intentions with this, it seems to have had a detrimental effect: I have assumed that such a discourse and livelihood and way of inhabiting the world was only forged through negativity, and that liberation meant to move away from that. I am still one who prefers positivity, joy, hope, life. That will likely not change. What does need to change, and what you’ve shared with me on this front, Cam, is that disability and pain are also part of such a project. And I look immensely forward to growing in that work alongside you.

    And yours too,


Andrew Cutrone


What Happens to Life When It Is Stolen?

  1. Thief, Radical

I’ve had the great privilege to sit with this text for quite a while and I have been taken by, well, its radicality; its penchant to radicalize blackness, transness, and feminism beyond their commonly accepted radicality precisely by taking seriously their paraontological possibilities and pushing them as far as they can go. That is, by its taking of blackness beyond (one of) its formulation(s) as that which is formed by way of the harming predilections of normative violences bestowed to it by race. By its analysis of transness as an entropic and insurgent force animating transgender, though not exclusive to it. And by its movement with (black) feminism as a project of anticaptivity that engenders the abolition of normative racialized gender (enclosures). For these reasons and many others, Black Trans Feminism is a special text.

I began an early draft of a still unpublished paper by saying that “I am a thief.” It was meant to signal my attempt to theorize a fugitive subjectivity that subverts power and refuses the normativity of things ordered by whiteness as well as cisgender and heterosexist logics. And it was also an attempt at declaring an abolitionist posture by attending to the inadequacies bound up in the politics of white allyship, whose logic requires, at least from my point of view, self-imposed limits—limits that are predicated on the correctness of categorical distinctions of race and gender and their ostensibly immutable properties. Further, it was an attempt to contribute to an open genealogy in the space of the abolition of whiteness as someone who is read as and understands himself as white, taking Moten’s idea that “it’s fucked up for us”1 to a higher level of abstraction, that being the problematic of the world and of normative ways of being, to which allyship so willingly assents. As I will try to explicate, thievery, or thief work, is a formulation deeply indebted to Black Trans Feminism, and to Bey’s body of work more generally.

“I am a thief” was articulated as such to (1) critique so many of the pitfalls I see with those who insufferably declare ally subjectivity, which sees to it to change precisely nothing, and to (2) induce a philosophical program for thinking otherwise about (what might be understood as) the white radical disposition. To illuminate allyship’s inert politicality at the level of syntax, my partner quipped, brilliantly: “That’s some allyshit!” I then modified it to read as “allyshi*,” suggesting that it is immaterial whether a “p” or a “t” completes the word. The kind of radical white subject that thief work might engender, I concede, remains difficult to envisage in theories of the Subject, because that subjective expression would defy the normative assumptions of subjectivation formed in the crucibles of whiteness and coloniality, articulated as such as ontologically anti-black. Yet, despite philosophical, political, and historical delimitations, we can still think about the “white” abolitionists whom Section 7 of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 sought to punish; the Wide Awakes; and the race traitors at work in the 2020 uprisings as anti-normative exemplars of subversive thievery: those who—insofar as they joined in coalition with black people to not only resist slavery and subjection, but unfix themselves from whiteness—stole themselves away from the Subject. A thief is, for my purposes and under my pen, one who steals, who plots the theft(s) in advance; one who dwells in the premeditation of acts of thievery and who relishes in its spoils. A thief is someone who denies the law the capacity to exercise its ontological mandate—to overdetermine life chances and sanction anti-blackness.2 And though I have a clean sheet, it’s unfair to say I’ve never committed a crime. I’ve just never been caught. The law, it might be said, cannot keep up with me, even and especially if it claims to know my exact intentions.3 

But just as I came to this understanding of the thief, it got uncomfortable and complicated. It always is and should be, but not for typical or expected reasons. Instead, I came to understand that being a thief was an imprecise and ethically inadequate posture of abolition. Its inadequacy lays not in the notion of thievery, which is cool and critical and necessary, but in the reduction of thievery to an identity that can be anticipated by “already given ontologies.”4 In saying “I am a thief,” I inadvertently assented to identity as a hegemonic system of governmentality even though I did not want to conceptualize thievery under the rubric of identity or expose it to logics of governance. I wanted to understand and proliferate thievery and theft as fugitive actions available to anyone willing to take up their task, and that requires dispensing with the quintessential ontological statement, “I am,” preferring “I do” as the operative statement of a radical politicality. Simply put, I learned (from Black Trans Feminism) that we must shape our politics around “radical actions” not “radical actors.”5

Similar (and undeniably indebted) to Marquis Bey’s conceptualization of black trans feminism, my aim when articulating a thief posture is to “think about how we might rally around a subversive politics.” So instead of grounding politics in a sort of identity—thief—I want to rally around thievery as a quotidian praxis; thievery not as spectacular performance, but as a modality of living by way of blackness, transness, and feminism, which are, according to Bey, “inflections of mutinous subjectivities” (9) that “describe the process by which…different modes of being and becoming are glimpses of life unfettered by normative violence moving through us by way of white and cis male supremacy” (43). And more, they are open subjectivities—“open to being understood by any and every one and non-one” (18). Bey’s black trans feminist theorizing is my work’s condition of possibility. We both explore the paraontological distinction, and in the vitality of this distinction, Bey and I do work on two sides of the same coin. Though they might have something to say about that, which I eagerly anticipate.

2. Endnote 86

…(ethically necessary because of my own identificatory positionality, which reads a certain way but is, I wholeheartedly submit, inaccurate [curious minds will want to read this endnote]).8

Read the endnote. Then read it again. I can’t be the only curious mind…

Endnote 8 is affixed to this section’s epigraph, which is written Black Trans Feminism’s the introductory chapter, “Abolition, Gender Radicality.” This section is a (loving and undefined) response to it. Endnote 8 exemplifies and (I think) amplifies the book’s ethical bent. The endnotes, Marquis (if I may at this point direct my writing to you)! Oh, how I sometimes wished they weren’t footnotes, so that folks would not have to leave the page to sip the proverbial tea! I suspect that you knew I was going talk about them because you know I have a strange obsession with them. Specifically, for me, citations and their indexation in foot/endnotes are and can be many things. Foot/endnotes are powerful. They are sites of remembrance as much as they are sites of accreditation. They let me speak to and with formulations that inspire me; they are where I choose to represent the ideas that condition my work, though they are necessarily incomplete representations of those conditions because countless, unmappable dialogues also did that conditioning. I wonder how you would characterize (or represent the meaning behind) your intentions in endnote 8. 

With all of that prefacing my understanding of notes, as an analyst, it’s tricky approaching an endnote such as this, which is both intellectually rich and unequivocally personal. Personal in that it is clear you are being intensely vulnerable. What is the effect of authorial vulnerability in black queer studies? Perhaps lacking a concrete answer, endnote 8’s vulnerability structures its ethicality. It is nothing but ethically grounded and felt. Indeed, I hear the high-pitched inflection in your voice—which you often use for emphasis and when you veer toward the admittedly controversial—come through in your writing when you write, for example, the following: “I have come to find a comfortable kind of home in ‘queer,’ though many would say that my sexual history (which is not to say, at least for me, that queerness is only concerned with sexuality) does not qualify me for queerness. My queerness comes from a commitment to gender self-determination and the axiom that gender cannot be determined simply by looking at the body.” This formulation “sends me,” if I may use that phrase the way Sam Cooke used it to great effect. In other words, I am enamored by and fixed on it. It is a posture with which I feel a great deal of affinity. And, incidentally, it was this part of endnote 8 that sent me running to my bookshelf to recall, reference, and cite McKittrick’s incredible chapter on footnotes and their ethico-political necessity and vitality. She notes there: “This note, all notes, are vulgar.”7 Yes, Marquis (and you already know this…), endnote 8 is, indeed, vulgar, uncouth, heretical. “Yes, and?” you might say.

But I do not mean to call you out, or make a spectacle about something you placed in an endnote in order to avoid a spectacle the likes of which you feel ambivalent toward. And, truly, I get why you put all 2025 words of endnote 8 in an endnote. But—and you’ll have to let me know if I am off-track—I disagree with the notion that cordoning off an idea to an endnote “de-spectacularizes” it. Especially this one, which to my mind is analytically spectacular. (At this point, I hope the reader will notice that my uses of spectacle/spectacular are multiple and unique.) More to the point, (foot/end)notes are not sites of minor thoughts, articulations, or feelings. As I noted above, they are sites for writers to—I suppose by default, since there is no other place in academic books—cite their inspirations, re-member the thinking that they (necessarily) did in concert with others, and say the candid things that do not conform to the linguistic registers of the radical theoretician’s main text. To boot, as you admit, it is precisely this thinking-with that is the book’s raison d’être. So if we are to take seriously the idea that no idea is truly ours for us to own—which is to say that if we refuse to subsume our intellectual work to the individuated logics of propriety and property which black trans feminism critiques by way of its black feminist interventions—we must also not fall into the trap of minimizing the importance of what we say in the notes, or relegating something to the notes in order to lessen its impact on the analysis. There is an entangled and muddied relationship between the politics of citation and the structuration of property, and the notes, at least from my point of view, are where we untangle and clarify this relationship…

So, what does thief work—the kind to which you and I are committed—have to do with endnote 8 and the idea of the spectacle? Well, endnote 8 indexes the very kind of (physical and political) work you espouse as black trans feminism—to understand the ways corporeality, identity, and normativity, perhaps incorrectly, prefigure the political and the ethical. Given my argument that notes are not minor, I nonetheless appreciated the note’s candidness. And despite black trans feminism being asserted here as a methodology of “subjectless critique” (7), you still found it ethically necessary to say something about identity and subjectivity: something that attends to the thorny contradictions bound up in identity; something that, at the same time “locates” yourself and pushes back against standpoint theory and positionality (which, by the way, predominate sociology), the very strains of thought that seek to invalidate black trans feminism as subjectless critique. One might say that you are “positionality-hesitant.”

Last: “I am black, or more accurately, I do blackness, a kind of categorical irreverence unwilling to abide normative impositions; I am not straight, though neither am I gay or bi or pan, but perhaps I do queerness, which is to say, I have a queer relationship to sexuality; and I am not trans per se but enact subjectivity in ways that seek a trans and transed engendering of sociality, or inter- and intra-personality, which is to say I have a trans relationship to gender.” Again, there is an abundance of vulnerability in this kind of statement, and not one that is without cause. Because to be read as and understand one’s self as black in a categorical sense is to succumb to the positionality impulse. In essence, I think this endnote is about you situating yourself in relation to black trans feminism, all while unsettling the logics of “situating,” “locating,” and “positioning.” I believe this is so because you locate blackness, transness, and feminism elsewhere, outside of the bounds of identity. You locate them as insurgencies—unlocatable practices—fugitive forces that act upon and exceed subjectivity; things that do things rather are some-or-any-things. Thief work’s indebtedness to black trans feminism lies here, insofar as it provides the intellectual conditions for thievery to be taken up by any one, which is to say that abolition, the total rupture and rearticulation of the social that has rid itself of Worldly strictures, is: stolen life; an open call; a loving embrace; a riotous assemblage; a theoretical-applied project; a Clearing; liberation. Black Trans Feminism is all of this.

  1. Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study, 141.

  2. “The question of breaking the law is immediately disrupted by an incapacity for law, an inability both to intend the law and intend its transgression and the one who is defined by this double inability is, in a double sense, an outlaw” (Moten, Stolen Life, 15).

  3. “[W]e cannot and can never distinguish between who or what is within or without the ostensible boundaries of the very thing we mark as possessing a transparent definition or essence. Hence, the criteria for inclusion and exclusion dissolve into nothingness, thus making the work of paraontology the recognition of this dissolution and, from there, joyfully conceding that there are no criteria for subjective verification, no ontological ground on which to stand in order to be viable, and indeed a no-groundedness that invites subjects into it as a place to stand, para- and non- and nega-ontologically… (Bey 2020, qtd. in Bey 2021, 17).

  4. Moten 2008, qtd. in Bey 2021, p. 10.

  5. Paul Torino and Adrian Wohlleben, “Memes With Force: Lessons from the Yellow Vests,” Mute, 2019.

  6. All italicized phrases in this section are from Black Trans Feminism’s 8th endnote from chapter 1 (230-234).

  7. McKittrick, Dear Science and Other Stories, 15, note 5.

  • Marquis Bey

    Marquis Bey


    Bey Response to Cutrone


    I’ll begin with a disagreement, but I trust you will not feel a type of way about it (though, others might): I have gradually, in our numerous conversations over the, what, four and a half years we’ve known each other, started to think that you saying, “…as someone who understands himself as white” is—and this will shock some—untrue. Untrue not because you are lying; you are not. Untrue because I am understanding you, in flits and flickers over time, as someone who is disavowing whiteness and thus perhaps cannot say that he “is” “white” (or, maybe even, a “himself,” but that’s another conversation for another day). I do not mean, as you know, to absolve you of the poorly named “privileges” you might accrue, and I am also not saying that you “are,” say, black. As Nevada says in Abolition of Law, a book we both find exquisite, it is not “to deny the material benefits of whiteness we call privilege. Instead what I want to argue is that these benefits can only exist within a certain order of the world, and this order is defined by this ontological abuse.” What I’m saying,  , is that it seems to me that you are attempting to live the otherwise, to live and enact the possibilities of the paraontological. You are trying to live that now. And that means you are, in a sense, not living in this world. And I love that.

    But on to the larger task at hand: thievery. Yes, stealing things. I think you are absolutely right that to say, in that earlier draft of the unpublished paper, which I have read, that you “are” a thief doesn’t quite do it. It’s not quite right, and it emphasizes, as you say, too much the ontological, the status and identity of being a thief when the aim is thievery. And I do have something to say about that—and how dare you call me “Bey”; you know damn well that we have long been on a first name basis, but I understand, I’m just messing with you, friend. But perhaps I want to instead ask something here: What is it that you are stealing? I know you are stealing many things, thieving many things (and I wonder, now that I pen these words, if there is any significant distinction between thieving and stealing? Something we will surely discuss in our next Facetime conversation). But tell me more about the things you thieve. Tell me about what that does to you; I find that wondrously interesting. I think I can see and feel it, and I think I am moved by it, affectively and intellectually and ethically, but I want you to share more—which is to say, I want you thieve more by sharing more.

    Because one of the things I tried to do was create a bit of a theoretical archive, or perhaps to act as an intellectual curator of ideas, in Black Trans Feminism. The book and its ideas, and your notion of thievery, are, yes, two sides of the same coin. Because if I am saying, as I do in Chapter Two, that I’ve written and cited and thought with certain kinds of people in service of the antiepidermalization and antigendering that is the radical alternative, which is to say abolition and gender radicality, then it seems to me that you have taken that up. It seems to me that, specifically, the radical alternative that is antiepidermalization engenders a seriousness in you: that is, you are stealing, thieving, pilfering whiteness and throwing that shit in the trash. Look at that, Black Trans Feminism emboldening, if I may be so bold, a thievin’-ass motherfucker. Keep on thieving.

    And lastly, endnote 8. I knew, I knew you would say something about this. We both geeked out over that McKittrick book when it came out, its luminous and glossy ideas, and even more luminous and glossy pages. She discusses, as you note, citations, footnotes. And I think you are right: endnotes are not where things go to become unspectacularized, nor are they less important or powerful as endnotes, as not “properly” the main text. They are not “minor,” as you’ve said. And you are also right that I tried to demonstrate a vulnerability in that note. It is a vulnerability that tried to hide itself by assuming—or, attempting to construct—the minorness of the endnote, a way to say the thing without being center stage saying the thing. Being center stage is to be brutally, spectacularly placed, positioned, and I am very much “positionality-hesitant,” as you coolly put it. Positionality hesitant because I do not want to be positioned, do not think I can or should be positioned; do not think black trans feminism as analytic and method and theory and modality can be positioned, or simply venerates certain positions. How indeed do we unsettle the logics of position, of situatedness and location? “What would it be,” writes Fred Moten, for whom we Stan though he—and we—would not invite that anyone Stan for anyone else, “deeper still, what is it, to think from no standpoint; to think outside the desire for a  ?” One way, for sure, is being unenthused with allyshi* (love that!). Another way is thieving, not “being a thief” but doing thievery. I “situate” myself in relation to black trans feminism by, precisely, refusing my situatedness. And I think you “situate” yourself to whiteness by refusing, gradually and sometimes illegibly, to be situated as white.

    .    .    .

    Full transparency, I just got off the phone with you. And we ended up talking about, of all things, math. You have a small obsession with astronomy and physics, you said, and then you mentioned this TikTok you saw asking the question “Why isn’t 1/0 infinity?” You shared this with me after I told you that I, in an independent study with two brilliant students on trans immaterialities, was talking to them about how there are different sizes of infinity. The TikTok you shared with me concluded with how, if we look at a graph of the equation y=1/x, as x approaches 0 from the positive direction y approaches infinity; if x approaches 0 from the negative direction, y approaches negative infinity. So, “1 over 0,” the TikToker says, “is trying to approach negative infinity and positive infinity at the same time.” And my mind was blown.

    You texted me after I expressed the aforementioned blown mind. “This is also the reason I talk about asymptotes in my writing. Incredible closeness, approaching something, but not quite. But basically so close as to resemble relation, but not sameness. Consent not to be one.” And this is where I wish to end: black trans feminism and Black Trans Feminism approach thief work and thievery, so close, incredible closeness, but not sameness. The flip side of the same coin, perhaps; but perhaps also the graphic I quadrant to the III quadrant. Black trans feminism and thievery approach infinity together.



Poetic Resistance and Radical Theory

Navigating Gender Abolition and Political Hope

Black Trans Feminism (BTF) pulls together fugitive hope, spaces for living otherwise, trans/figurative Blackness, and gender abolition as part of a grand theoretical project designed to celebrate Black poetic excess and to refuse pessimistic articulations of Black nihilism. The book is divided into two parts—the theoretical elaboration of Black trans feminist thought and the engagement with an archive of Black feminist trans poetics. The book confirms Marquis Bey’s emergence as a major theorist of contemporary race and gender politics.

Like other work by Bey, BTF is passionate and bold, dense and complicated, inspiring and difficult. This book, furthermore, in a manner that doubles down on his citational practice in earlier work, records and announces its indebtedness to other thinkers. Indeed, as part of its collective ethos, the book echoes with the phrasings, syntax, and arguments of a range of fellow thinkers. As someone who also weaves my own thoughts through the writings of other scholars, I recognize the technique, I applaud it, but I also see some of its limitations. The most obvious problem with deeply citational work can arise when the author builds a scaffolding for themselves from work that might actually be at odds with one another. Then those contradictions become part of the warp and woof of the book, sometimes for better (polyvocality) and sometimes for worse (glossing over difference). In this book then, Bey pulls together ideas from a range of thinkers who have influenced him, and whose work has compelled him to write this compendium of political outrage and love. Among the most obvious of his interlocutors, Fred Moten and Jennifer Nash stand out. Moten (often Moten and Harney) provides Bey with the language of fugitivity, mutiny, brokenness, paraontology, and ritual practice. But Bey also borrows a certain syntax from Moten—“this book urges abolition in a broad sense: the making impossible—and creation of a sociality indexed to the impossibility—of carcerality, any form of captivity, which can include categorical taxonomies, agential circumscription, and the like” (BTF, 22). Moten and Harney write: “What is, so to speak, the object of abolition? Not so much the abolition of prisons but the abolition of a society that could have prisons, that could have slavery, that could have the wage, and therefore not abolition as the elimination of anything but abolition as the founding of a new society.” Like Moten and Harney, Bey understands abolition as a multi-pronged event in which the target is not this or that institution but the structure that allows such an institution (the prison, for profit healthcare, tuition-bound universities) to seem right and inevitable, good and functional. And from Nash, Bey borrows a critique of intersectionality as the main language of Black feminism and a commitment to another kind of Black feminism that does not center solely upon Black women but that proceeds by way of radical acts of “anti-territoriality.” When I say that Bey borrows these concepts, I mean that he thoroughly absorbs the lessons from Moten and Nash into his own text, and then generously and capaciously uses these seeds to grow new work. His text, indeed, is a web of intertextual references and in the footnotes alone, stories emerge, some personal, about identification, disidentification, community, communality, and queer modes of “categorical irreverence.” 

This method of weaving together citations and inhabiting the syntaxes of the scholars with whom he thinks joins in Bey’s work with a theoretical commitment to thinking through transness, through movement, through a utopian and collective reaching for other worlds and towards other articulations of world, being and life. By making trans* bodies and theories the basis for all other kinds of thought, Bey turns a theory of the unfixing of identities, bodies and classifications into an anti-foundational basis for life otherwise. For example, Bey has said about transness and Blackness that they meet in a space of para-ontology: “Trans* and black thus denote poetic, para-ontological forces that are only tangentially, and ultimately arbitrarily, related to bodies said to be black or transgender” (“The Trans*-Ness of Blackness, the Blackness of Trans*-Ness.” TSQ, 2017). Both categories—Black and trans*—in other words, sit alongside understandings of ontology that run through Western philosophy and they function outside of conventional systems precisely because they have been excluded from and by those same systems. Indeed, the exclusion of trans* and Black bodies creates the possibility of articulating the fixity and purity of other bodies. Rather than merging, marrying, joining, and combining Blackness and transness then, and using this conjoined term to put pressure on ontology, Bey’s work issues a refusal. Bey’s work eschews endeavors to join and marry and he proposes, succinctly, that “Blackness says no.” This no, a refusal of “I do” or “I will” or of the additive rhetoric of this and also that, is a key to the kinds of Black anarchism he invests in and the forms of Black trans feminism outlined by his new book. This method of refusing simple connections and instead detailing how para-ontological formations have developed in excess of conventional systems leads to insightful readings of Black poetic writing by Alexis Pauline Gumbs and others.

The main claims of Black Trans Feminism hold that: (1) “A radical feminism must center the needs, experiences, and material concerns of trans women, trans femmes and nonbinary femmes.” This claim depends, furthermore, not on any clear identitarian classification of who occupies such categories but on a set of practices that emerges out of political commitments (to decolonizing, anti-capitalist feminism for example) that would benefit those groups. (2) Black trans feminism denotes an unfixity in relation to bodily identity, and a rethinking of ontology and paraontology in relation to the futures that Black trans feminism imagines for itself. 

(3) Blackness and transness are both predicated upon relations to “being and becoming otherwise-than.” This movement away from normative orientations of racial identity and gender identity activates Blackness and transness on behalf of an abolitionist project under the heading of “feminism.” (4) Ungendering the body allows for a “tranifestation” of modes of being that normativity has erased and, to use a Foucaultian term, “disqualified.” “Black trans feminism,” writes Bey, “commits to the nonnormative because nonnormativity references the world of abolition” (BTF, 40). In other words, that which appears as nonnormative within a bio-politically managed world, does not simply represent the result of prior acts of rebellion or subversion (although such acts may well have produced and sustained gender nonconforming bodies). The nonnormative can be understood, according to Bey, as evidence of “what gender might be and become were it not for Gender” (40). (5) Finally, Bey, in the lyrical second half of the book, finds evidence of these non-identitarian, non-normative and excessive forms of being in the poetry and archival work of Black queer and trans poets and writers.

Black Trans Feminism will be much read, oft-cited, and widely circulated in the years to come. But it is not without certain weaknesses or structural quirks. The book is deeply indebted, for example, to the work of Judith Butler and Butler is cited throughout particularly in relation to questions of subjectivity and subjectification. Butler, as most readers will know, crafted the concept of “performativity” in order to challenge a volitional theory of identity that sprang from a misreading of the operations of power. Butler’s work, at present, circulates widely in trans studies, often as an object of critique, but mostly as an uncited basis for claims about ontology and recognition. Some critics, like Kadji Amin, have crafted entire theories of the fallacy of self-determination indebted to Butler while barely crediting Butler at all. Bey does not make this mistake—he credits Butler for the “metaphysics of gender” that operates in his work but he depends upon Butler’s anti-foundationalist critiques while still holding out the possibility of “self-determination.” He writes: “Black trans feminism is also committed to gender self-determination in a way that slightly departs from the term’s popular conception….The gender self-determination affixed to black trans feminism is a social dance, but a sociality not really here; black trans feminist gender self-determination avows a subjective cultivation of ways to do illegible genders, genders that abolish the bestowal of gender, genders that allow us all to be and become expansively outside of the very desire to have to bestow onto ourselves gender” (23–24). I do understand that this passage is saying that Black feminist self-determination is a potential to be differently bodied under different regimes of visibility, recognition, transformation and classification. But since we do not fully know what would bring these different regimes into being, it is hard to credit this specific understanding of “self-determination” as operation outside of the agentic notions of rebellion and self-naming that Bey has eschewed. 

Another critique that Bey pulls into his work from elsewhere concerns intersectionality. Intersectionality, he believes, following Jennifer Nash, “conflates black women with the wholly oppressed and thus evacuates them of the possibility of privilege and the ability to do harm” (58). Of course, intersectionality is by no means a one-size-fits-all kind of project. It described a very specific failure of the legal system when confronted by subjects who were not representative of the groups covered by protective legislation. All too often, Kimberle Crenshaw pointed out, a discrimination case could not move forward when a Black woman was the plaintiff because the company would be able to show that it was not discriminating on the basis of race because it had hired Black men, nor on the basis of gender, because it had hired white women. As far as the law was concerned, Crenshaw proposes, intersectional analysis is not simply advisable, it is necessary. Of course, intersectionality, over time has been applied across multiple social and political projects to point to blind-spots, to think about overlapping forms of discrimination and exclusion and to mark the inadequacy of an identity politics committed to single-issue projects. I guess I do not see how Bey’s project is at odds with this earlier refusal of identitarian models of theory and practice and I am not at all sure what the book gains from the critique. Bey proposes that trans feminism must link to Blackness rather than intersectional feminism in order to highlight the specificity of its gender politics. While Black feminism remains mobile and unfixed for him, “intersectional feminism has the potential to always reify the limits of the still-discrete identities that converge,” he writes (59). Well, unfortunately, all claims to feminism have that potential and what prevents the ossification of feminism into this or that statement of identity is a clear program of political praxis rather than a preference for this term over that. Veronica Gago’s recent work, for example, in Feminist International has made feminism the basis for a general strike that unites Black, queer, trans, poor, homeless women and sex workers on behalf of an abolitionist desire to “change everything.” Gago brings together the situatedness of specific struggles with the shared goals of “massiveness” and “radicality.” Her work, like Bey’s, wants to use the term feminism for an insurgent force of abolition. But her book works through specific movements, battles and activist episodes. Bey’s archive is more speculative and theoretical. Which does not make Bey’s work any the less powerful. But it does make the quibbling with intersectionality seem beside the point.

The other major target in BTF is Afro-Pessimist thought. This school of thought is not really named as such in the book but Bey insists, without targeting any thinker in particular, that “my responsibility is not nihilism or its obverse, optimistic zeal, but, rather, life” (201). And more than this, life is “the aim of black trans feminism.” His point is that anti-Blackness cannot and has not defined Blackness in its totality: “Are there not modes of being black, and, more pointedly, doing blackness that are about liberation?” This is a passionate argument for seeing how and where and when Black life and art exceeds the representational regimes that seek to hold it and control it. Bey’s argument here, according to the footnote, is with Calvin Warren and his refusal of hope within an elaboration of Black nihilism. But I wonder if there is not more that unites Warren and Bey than Bey proposes. Like Warren, Bey sees ontology as part of the machinery of white supremacy—Bey speaks therefore of para-ontologies in relation to Blackness, ontologies that emerge alongside the authorized forms of being. Like Warren, Bey uses refusal as a tool to push back on the imposition of the hegemonic—“we do not say “Yes” to any and all genders…it means we advocate for the ethical requisite to say “No”—or better to decline to state—with regard to the imposition of gender.” Like Warren, Bey says “no” a lot, to great effect and, like Warren, he does so while fully aware of the resonance that this “no” has across whole systems of thought that insist we say yes!

But, ultimately, these objections, are quibbles. I admire the depth and rigor of the theoretical half of the book and the lyricism and inventiveness of the second part. I think that merging the two sections could have been helpful in as much as the first part of the book sometimes feels as if it lacks an archive, and the second part feels as if it lacks theoretical compass; but the splitting of the book into these two parts makes sense too. I am by now an avid reader of Bey’s work, a dedicated commentator on his ideas and I am very influenced by his formulations of Black trans feminist thought. I know this book, already worn and creased from multiple readings, will sit on my shelf alongside Negative Ontologies and Wayward Lives and The Undercommons and Feminist International as part of a library of insurgency that is trying to find a way through the thickets of contemporary political life to the other side. Whether the way forward is dark or light, up or down, multidirectional or lost, wild or turbulent, this book suggests, the joy is in the loud, mutinous, hopeful struggle. 

  • Marquis Bey

    Marquis Bey


    Bey Respnse to Halberstam


    I first need to begin, as is, ideally, my wont, with gratitude. Jack, I remember we met a number of years ago, in a small coffee shop in NYC. It had mad queer vibes, I recall. You were so gracious, so generous with your time, so crisp and concise and incisive with your analysis and feedback on ideas and theories. And, too, you were so…chill. Such intellectual and sociopolitical rigor yet in the demeanor of a breeze.

    I open with this because your words carry that same, or a similar, tenor. You have shared what is perhaps the best, most generous, and close reading of the book as one could ever hope. You offer it as something that is lived with, more than simply—though you do this too, and marvelously—giving an account of its themes, arguments, and implications. I find in your response something like love, like coalition, like sitting-with, as we have sat with one another in that coffee shop, on panels, in Zoom rooms. In other words, you have sat with the book, which is to say you have sat with me. And what a delight it is to continue to sit with you, Jack.

    I do not think I or anyone can argue much with your reading of Black Trans Feminism. It is apt and clear, faithful and acute; the five claims you lay out as characterizing the primary argumentative movements of the book are pristine. And, you are not arguing with me. That is clear. Your understanding that there are moments when I gloss over differences in the chorus of thinkers I weave into my analysis or that my critique of intersectionality is perhaps beside the point—“quibbles,” as you call them. And what a word: there is to me such a generosity in that word. It marks a departure of some sort, a departure we should all be granted even when in coalition and relation with others, but a departure that is shrouded, absolutely shrouded, in wanting to signal a kind of “Even though there are things about your thoughts with which I disagree, that will never mean that I do not wish to continue living with your you, your words.”

    I suppose, then, what I wish to do here briefly is offer not a “defense” of what I attempt to say on certain subjects but a humbled insistence. Because I do not think we are arguing at all, and I apologize for my penchant to elide the combative, I want to offer this insistence as just a conversational third act, as it were, if Black Trans Feminism is the first and your response the second. And I make these insistences knowing very well that we will be in another room, whether physical or virtual or, one can hope, in a room after the abolition of this world, and we will continue this ongoing conversation.

    My first of only two insistences regards the intersectional and identitarian. Absolutely, intersectionality is theorized by Crenshaw in substantive part to critique the very identitarian ways the law obliterated the possibility of understanding the multiply marginality of black women by virtue of its single-issue frameworks unable to hold black women’s race and gender. On the one hand, which might be the hand, this is indispensable: if this were not a framework, intersectionality that is, then we would not have made the strides we have, even if there is so much more work to do (and that has been done!). On the other hand, however, I think I wanted, and still want, to insist that present still within the logics of intersectionality is an assumption that the law can and should see and account for, quantify, legibilize, black women into its fold so that it can more readily and seamlessly subjugate such a being via its logics. It seems to me that intersectionality continues to urge that the law, and more broadly frameworks of recognition and accounting, categorize all subjects into demographics that can be accounted for and thus, the implication plays out for me, quell any breach from the logics of accounting, of demography, of categoricality. When for me the project, ultimately, is abolition, such logics are rendered null. Which is to say, if the law does not and cannot account for such and such a subject, all the better.

    The second insistence I wish to make before concluding concerns afropessimism (AP). If one were to make the absolutely terrible decision to read my dissertation, from which Black Trans Feminism stems yet in many ways drastically departs, one would see just how much my relationship not to AP has changed, but my relationship to talking about my relationship to AP has changed. Not once do I say the word “afropessimism” in the book, and yet in the dissertation it was “Here’s all the ways I think Wilderson and Sexton and Warren are off the mark.” I was shouting in the dissertation, trying to bring a bullhorn to my disagreements with AP’s discourse. I no longer wish to shout. I have grown so uninterested in fighting, even with those from whom I intellectually differ. I do not wish to talk much about AP; it is not the modality through which I think or relate to others. It is a fine, and maybe even necessary modality. I don’t want to say otherwise, and never really have. But for me, my interests and thus commitments lie elsewhere. And I want to talk about those things. To be sure, that sometimes means I respond to a general ethos that demands answers to certain concerns—namely, pervasive death and the question of hope. But in addressing those things, I am not so interested in using AP as a punching bag, which would be more like a brick wall considering its force and gravitas in the field.

    Yes, I do say “no” a lot, and yes many of the positions I hold align with someone like Warren—indeed, the book of mine that came out after Black Trans FeminismCistem Failure: Essays on Blackness and Cisgender—takes a line by Warren precisely as its point of departure. I don’t doubt at all my affinities with Warren; I have broken bread with him, engaged in conversation with him, sat with an incredibly robust chunk of his proliferative corpus. I have learned and grown because of him. But I cannot, at least at this juncture, consign how I think about blackness to a nihilistic, which is to say a meaninglessness, position; I cannot give primacy to death in my analysis; I cannot see only a totalizing, seemingly tyrannical, omnipresent whiteness (or, antiblackness) as definitional of the world. These to me mark hallmarks in afropessimistic and, if I may collapse knowing full well that these things differ in certain respects, black nihilistic thought. For me, black trans feminism’s paraontology, its abolition, and its radicality are always practices of invention that generate, in their very course, a kind of quotidian meaning that might be meaning as such. It also bears a lengthy tradition given toward a life that is so deemphasized and eclipsed in AP and black nihilism that I have long preferred, impacting my inability to ride the AP train. And I cannot not see all the fractures and interstices of the world, all the ways that no system or regime encapsulates all, making it quite impossible for me to think, as one friend of mine given to AP said around a dinner table on a beautifully warm evening with a dozen friends, that “everything is antiblack.” Yes, Warren and others and I have many alignments. That is true, and we all know that. Yet, we might pay homage to different links in the lineage, and perhaps hope for different avenues toward another (kind of) world (that is not the world) that, even via abolition, will look radically different depending on who you envision there.

    But maybe, Jack, as you allude to, we are all just struggling our way there. And that is what matters. In which case, I very humbly, joyfully concede your point.

    And here we are again, like in that coffee shop, just chilling. Thank you, my friend.

M. Shadee Malaklou


dancing in dehiscence

“What, then, if rhythm is not time, or, even, space? What if rather, it may be understood to mark or remark the very opening of temporality for sense, or to announce duration as the reciprocity of space in its eruption and the concomitant organization of all that we might place under the heading of time – that, if at all, spacing gives temporality; perhaps we can say […] simply, in one word…dance?”

—Nahum Chandler (2018)

Marquis Bey invites us to juke and jive and groove and vibe, to move with “perennial openness” (Bey 2021, 99) from the grammar of ontological capture to the anagrammaticality (Sharpe 2016, 76–77) of a “before beginning” where the black/trans/femme(inist) who “consents-not-to-be-a-single-being” (Moten 2018) lives, on the run from existence.

She moves not where she shouldn’t but when she shouldn’t, with a wilding imagination that is out of time, in no-time, in any time. Her improvisational getaway is “‘[a] dance of body,’” “‘[a] waltz of hips’” (Bey 2021, 196). Not an identity (arrival) but a praxis (departure), the black/trans/femme(inist) “‘turns/And… turns/And…turns’” (Bey 2021, 195), unfixing “all that we might place under the heading of time” (Chandler 2018). 

Positivism and progress—the promise of a “beyond”—are not hers to claim (they never were). Her unsanctioned movements built this “time of the now” (Benjamin 1968, 261 [XIV]), “danc[ing] the beginning of humanity and the genesis of creativity” (Bey 2021, 198), and she’s “still fucking here” (Bey 2021, 32), threading Man’s timeline, skipping rocks across the coordinates of his longue durée.

Not anti-historical but ante-historical; not (just) paraontological but paralogical. Lawless. Mutinous. Insurgent. The black/trans/femme(inist) does not wait for “cessation or interruption of historical flow” (Sexton 2011, 6) to “[move] ‘to music not yet written’” (Bey 2021, 33). She goes mad and loses her mind to this song. 

Her movements are “mad black,” “mad queer,” mad free, mad mad (Bey 2021, 173). Not doubly conscious (pace Du Bois) but cognitively dissonant (pace Fanon), the black/trans/femme(inist) is “out of possession of [her] mind” (Brand 2011, 29). She “dance[s] to ‘the music of the madness’” (Sexton 2011, 6) because it’s the only tune that’s playing. 

Her “threatening mobility” (Bey 2021, 7) is a “no, not, naught, nonbeing, emptiness, nothingness, nothing, no thing” (Moten 2013, 750) to the life of a mind that “law-likely function[s] to semantically-neurochemically induce the performative enactment of our ensemble of always already role-allocated individual and collective behaviors” (Wynter 2015, 32–33, original emphasis). Rationality and reason were never hers to begin with.

The track skips a beat, but the song keeps playing. 

Madness and delirium. Madness qua delirium. Madness-cum-delirium. “THERE IS MADNESS IN ME AND THAT MADNESS SETS ME FREE” (Sexton 2011, 6, original emphasis).

She dances to a “racialized gender cacophony” (Bey 2021, 115) made not by afropessimism, but by the wor(l)d, “and maybe even the whole possibility of and desire for a wor[l]d” (Sexton 2011, 31). 

The song is like a drum in her head. Not “a healing genre” (Bey 2021, 195), not genre-making, but a healing vibration—a frequency responsive not to the white-cum-phallic gaze that claims to know her, but to the sonic and, perhaps, haptic registers that make her “freer than [she] want[s] to be” (Bey 2021, 227)—this rhyme without reason is the soundtrack to her flight. 

She travels not in search of a new or different or under-wor(l)ding. She spins and spools and (t)werks “the wor[l]d that the wor[l]d lives in” (Sexton 2011, 28) on its axis, alchemizing its big bang. Her romp across time is the sine qua non of wor(l)d-making “at every scale of abstraction” (Wilderson 2020, 218). She’s mad and she’s magic.

Her chronopolitical coup “lead[s] everywhere” (Sexton 2011, 9) but lands nowhere, “opening temporality for sense” (Chandler 2018). She jumps—“leaps” (Fanon, Markmann 1986, 229)—with fugitive hope and blind (bad) faith, refusing “the cartographical maps that have been imposed not simply on but as our bodies” (Bey 2021, 27, original emphasis) and which sediment us in the “territorializing projects” (Bey 2021, 9) of historical arrival. 

She is “not a prisoner of history” (Fanon, Markman 1986 229). Her “‘being is older than time’” (Bey 2021, 197). She “existed before [her] name” (Bey 2021, 191), unmarked “by the power of chronology” (Wilderson 2010, 280), under the sign of “the mutinous lawlessness that blackness anoriginally names” (Bey 2021, 154). She wasn’t born in the hold of the slave ship. She was born in the heart of darkness, “outside of time and the quantum logics of civilization’” (Bey 2021, 216). 

She arrives at civilization “too soon”—as creator and captive of Man’s historicity, in an African somewhere—and “too late” (Fanon, Markmann 1986, 9), dancing in circles, losing her mind, “endlessly creating” herself (Fanon, Markmann 1986, 229), going nowhere. Her “flesh that doesn’t sit still” (Bey 2021, 195) is the seed and antecedent against which everyone else’s “beyond” is measured. 

“‘There was no gender’ in this before-beginning, and ‘there was no pronoun’” (Bey 2021, 197). There was only the “ontologizing process of gender through the irruptive figuration of blackness” (Bey 2021, 77, original emphasis). There was only “the work of blackness and its inherent transness” (Bey 2021, 29). There was only blackness and blackness’s gender trouble (Bey 2021, 233).

The black/trans/femme(inist) stays with this trouble (Haraway 2016). Not with “otherwise ontological schemas” (Bey 2021, 99) that “parameterize life through the metric of time” (Bey 2021, 216), but with the “indeterminate, non-fixed space” (Bey 2021, 27) of not-knowing, with the “awesome [of] nothingness” (Bey 2021, 192), “breaking free of the hold of the optic and breaching the realm of the sonic” (Bey 2021, 195), dancing like no one’s watching to the momentum of “critically fabulated memories” (Bey 2021, 216), willfully “‘forget[ing] what [she] look[s] like through Western eyes’” (Bey 2021, 216). 

The “perpetual and involuntary openness” (Sexton 2008, 149) of her gratuitous invagination is not a fact of her gender but the fact of her blackness (Gordon 1995, Ziyad 2017). Reluctantly, resentfully, she gravitates towards the only dance partner who can hold up this mirror. (Or maybe it’s the other way around.) The pessimism of afropessimism finds home in the black/trans/femme(inist)’s optimism and opulence. Though estranged, they move contrapuntally—not in “second time” (Chandler 2018), but in this time, in this now, “posing [the] question…of being” (Sexton 2011, 9) that outs afropessimism’s best kept secret: that the problem of blackness is also the problem of those who are not black. 

They dance in dehiscence, in “moments of asynchrony, anachronism, anastrophe, belatedness, compression, delay, ellipses, flashback, hysteron-proteron, pause, prolepsis, repetition, reversal, surprise” (Freeman 210, xxii) that open blackness for thought, as “critical thought qua thought” (Bey 2021, 201). Their “agreement […] takes shape in (between) meconnaissance and (dis)belief” (Sexton 2011, 28), in “the excess where becoming occurs” (Bey 2021, 95).

Her “radically open claimable [posture]” (Bey 2021, 28) is “not an identity, not a history, not a location on the map of desire” (Bey 2021, 154), but “the nonidentitarian ethos of blackness, transness, and feminism” (Bey 2021, 28)—of un/gendered (trani)flesh—that afropessimism says is “the signal for everything to be called into question” (Fanon 1963, 227). 

“Rather than imitation of a form of being” (Sexton 2011, 9), she “introduc[es] invention into existence” (Fanon, Markman 1986, 229). The universality-of-her-singularity is “the interrogation of how we become we” (Bey 2021, 195). She moves not with the phallic agency of knowing but with the invaginated possibility of a critical opening. Her ontological zero “teaches us all how we might better inhabit multiplicity under general conditions at the global scale” (Sexton 2011, 8). 

Afropessimism warns the black/trans/femme(inist) that her “etcetera” (Bey 2021, 102) cannot “proliferat[e] [the] possibility of other genres” (Bey 2021, 195) if it is to remain “the terrain upon which we come to ask questions” (Bey 2021, 200); in other words, if it is to remain black. 

The “‘irruption within the fabric of existence’” (Bey 2021, 150) that her blackness anoriginally names cuts the “stalled,” “slow time of captivity” (Sexton 2011, 4, 5) that afropessimism bemoans as the tape of social death. She reminds afropessimism that what it calls ‘captivity’—by its own definition, “an unsettled condition, open to an outside about which it will not know anything and about which it cannot stop thinking, a nervous system always in pursuit of the fugitive movement it cannot afford to lose and cannot live without” (Sexton 2011, 9-10, my emphases)—is not a death, social or otherwise, but the “occult instability” (Fanon 1963, 227) of “a mad freedom […] where there is none” (Sexton 2011, 6). 

If “cognitive schema is captivity” (Brand 2011, 29), a nervous system trapped in “the eternal time of the unconscious” (Sexton 2011, 5), sociogenically engineered to “hate you” (Marriott 2000, 90) “without break or interval or punctuation” (Sexton 2011, 5); then “it is held here that a certain mania could serve us well, a mania coughed up when we are constantly choking, relieving us of our tracheal constriction” (Bey 2021, 202), freeing us from the chokehold of Man’s timeline. 

“There is freedom and freedom is there” (Sexton 2011, 6), in the convulsions of the black/trans/femme(inist)’s crazy; in the untrackable movements of her “mobile flesh” (Bey 2021, 195); in her unanticipated flight “outside of history, logos, and telos” (Gossett 2015). 

Her dance dance revolution in the “before beginning” that she made, without gender or pronoun, “cannot be contained by or abide [the] description” (Bey 2021, 151) of “‘earlier revolutions [that] relied on memories out of wor[l]d history’” to make their “‘contents’” known (Fanon, Markmann 1986, 223). The sonic and haptic freedom of her fits and starts “‘exceeds the expression’” (Fanon, Markmann 1986, 223) of social death’s distress signal. Her “boundless movement outside the tendrils of History” (Bey 2021, 29) is “the condition of possibility and the condition of impossibility for any thought about being whatsoever” (Sexton 2011, 7). 

On this much, the black/trans/femme(inist) and afropessimism agree, locking step to polemicize blackness as a problem for time that makes us all “freer than we want to be” (Bey 2021, 227). The mirrored funhouse of sound and color where they waltz is “not a place you enter but a groove that enters you” (Bey 2019). We-who-are-the-universality-of-her-singularity, invited by Marquis to claim our freedom, too, assemble there “in a riotous manner” (Hartman 2018), as soldiers in the black/trans/femme(inist)’s rhythm nation, twirling through the time that she put in order. 


Works Cited

Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books, 1968.

Brand, Dionne. A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging. New York: Penguin Random House, 2011.

Bey, Marquis. Black Trans Feminism. Black Outdoors: Innovations in the Poetics of Study. Durham: Duke University Press, 2021. 

Bey, Marquis. Critical Praxis Toward No “End.” Critique & Praxis 13/13 (February 25, 2019).

Chandler, Nahum. “The Coming of the Second-Time.” The A-Line: A Journal of Progressive Thought, Vol. 1 No. 3-4 (2018).

Du Bois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk. Chicago: A.G. McClurg, 1903.

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann. London: Pluto Press, 1986.

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington. New York: Grove Press, 1963.

Freeman, Elizabeth. Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories. Perverse Modernities. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010. 

Gordon, Lewis. “Effeminacy: The Quality of Black Beings,” Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1995.

Gossett, Che. “Blackness, Animality, and the Unsovereign.” Verso Books (September 8, 2015).

Haraway, Donna J. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kim in the Chthulucene. Experimental Futures. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016.

Hartman, Saidiya. “The Anarchy of Colored Girls Assembled in a Riotous Manner.” South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 117, No. 3 (2018) 465–90. 

Marriott, David. On Black Men. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.

Moten, Fred. “Blackness and Nothingness (Mysticism in the Flesh).” The South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 112, No. 4 (Fall 2013) 737–80. 

Moten, Fred. The Universal Machine (consent not to be a single being). Durham: Duke University Press, 2018.

Sexton, Jared. Amalgamation Schemes: Antiblackness and the Critique of Multiracialism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. 

Sexton, Jared. “The Social Life of Social Death: On Afro-pessimism and Black Optimism.” InTensions Journal, Vol. 5 (Fall/Winter 2011).

Sharpe, Christina. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016.

Wilderson III, Frank B. Afropessimism. London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2020.

Wilderson, Red, White & Black: Cinema and the Structure of U.S. Antagonisms. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.

Wynter, Sylvia and Katherine McKittrick. “Unparalleled Catastrophe for Our Species? Or, to Give Humanness a Different Future: Conversations.” Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis, ed. Katherine McKittrick. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015. 

Ziyad, Hari. “My Gender is Black.” Afropunk (July 12, 2017).


  • Marquis Bey

    Marquis Bey


    Bey Response to Malaklou


    I read the title of this beautifully experimental and poetic meditation and was like “Damn, that’s good.” It is funny to me what happens to one’s work—my work—in the hands of others. I’ve long felt there was something quite true about the Barthesian discourse surrounding the death of the author, that “I” as “author” cease to exist or matter or hold sway over the work once it is published. Now, I don’t quite think that. And more immediately, I think it’s not so much that the author dies but that, as you’ve shown, the author now gets to be invited to the conversation over and over, that conversation turning and swaying and swirling. The author, in my experience with you and your words, gets to be caressed by hands so loving, so, as Moten might say, philosophonic.

    There are two things I want to say in response to you, Shadee. Both of which are an extended and elaborated bowing of my head, closing of my eyes, hands kissing in deep genuflecting gratitude for how you’ve read me, how you’ve invited me into conversation with folks we know in different ways. The first is that I wonder how you do it—how do you manage to bring so many voices together in a kind of symphonic chorus that could not have come together were it not for your keeping of the, not tempo, but “chronopolitical coup”? There is a way others might say something to the effect of “How dare you put Bey and Sexton and Chandler and Marriott together in the same meditation?!” This assumption that we cannot sit together in the same room, making music together pervades such outbursts. But you bring us together in a way that others would presume to sound cacophonous but that, when actualized, sing mellifluously.

    My question is how? My question is how do you sit with all of us in such a sustained, beautiful way that seems to maintain such a loving capacity for how we converge? It takes, it seems to me, a deft awareness of the texture and tonal registers of ideas. As theorists, I think we must recognize the tenor of our ideas, not just the meanings of their contents. You recognize those tones, and you recognize the moments in which they jar with one another—and still manage to make the keys sounds musical. What’s that Miles Davis quote? “It’s not the note you play that’s the wrong note—it’s the note you play afterwards that makes it right or wrong.” My goodness, even when the notes between me and Sexton sound wrong, you play something rhythmic after.

    And still, we both know that you and I, and some of the folks you name, have intellectual and political differences—ones that many foreground and use as the crux of intellectual discourse—but nevertheless you allow us to be in mutual, grounded conversation. I say some shit, Sexton says some shit, Sharpe and Chandler say some shit, and what do you know, we, via you, have created a masterpiece I almost didn’t think was possible. How ‘bout that.

    And the second thing I wish to say in response: There is deep reading here. I was trained, as you know, as a literary scholar. There was a premium placed on close reading and deep textual analysis. I’ve strayed a bit from that path, but I can recognize it in a heartbeat: you have read closely. The deep cuts from multiple chapters into the book, the ways those cuts are sutured to various other thinkers and ideas, is a marvel to observe. I say this not merely as praise—although it is surely that—but to express the ways you’ve taken up one of the primary invitations of Black Trans Feminism. I wrote the book because I wanted to invite people to sit with it, to consider what I understand as genuine radicality and the seriousness of abolition. I wanted to invite people to, as my mentor C. Riley Snorton has long encouraged me, take the ideas, the thoughts, as seriously as I could and as deeply as they’ll go. The book is a profound invitation. And you’ve RSVP’d. You read not just the words but the implications of those words, the ways those words sound like other words and put in work with and alongside other words. You care for the words I use.

    And that is quite meaningful to this logophilic theorist. So all this is to say, thank you, Shadee. We met in person for the first time in September of 2019, over there in Kentucky. You invited me to be in conversation and community; invited me, as I’ve tried to do, into this “We-who-are-the-universality-of-her-singularity,” assembling riotously. And you invited me to share ideas with you and your students. To share words—words of radicality, words of the black and trans and “femme(inist).” But words nonetheless. And with this book, I invited you into it. And like I did back then, you kindly, compassionately agreed to the invitation. And now look what we have. Look where we are. 

    Appreciate you, always.

    • M. Shadee Malaklou

      M. Shadee Malaklou


      Reply to Marquis

      Dearest Marquis, you are consummately generous. Thank you for receiving my muddled musings as the love letter I intended them to be. I read your beauty-full manuscript voraciously, compulsively—madly—filling an entire notebook (and the book’s margins) with deep thoughts and feels about the many threads you weave. On the page and in person, your full hands are lessons in how we get free. Rather than waste time bickering over semantics, you are doing the work, shoveling the shit, dreaming the portal—humbly, with integrity. And I do mean integrity. You are a person of your politics: a sizzling interlocutor, sharply radical, arriving with loving kindness to remind us why we are here, in the elsewhere of our theories: to hold each other close, unapologetically, with reckless abandon, as if our lives depend on it (because they do). I wrote my reflections as a dance, as an invitation—not to the black/trans/femme(inist) who has been twirling all along, but to those who might dismiss her optimism and opulence, forgetting in their pessimism that abolition is (as bell wrote) ‘all about love.’ Thank you for loving us, Marquis.