Diego Semerene

Embarrassing Subjects, Undisplayable Objects

Embarrassing Subjects, Undisplayable Objects: Of Impossible Encounters Between Trans and Cis That Have Nonetheless Taken Place

The photographs are low-resolution because they were taken carelessly. The ambition to capture the objects was quickly deflated by how embarrassing they were, by the certainty that no one else would find them meaningful. And that, in any case, to justify their display would necessitate the telling of too intimate a story. A T-girl’s story.

A what? A T-girl’s story.

The photographs were taken on the fly, right before the objects were disposed of, either because a house was to be made vacant, or because one’s parents were about to visit.

Hide every sign that could point to the T-girl.

Parents snoop. They rummage through. Like lovers. Parents are the only lovers we actually know.

The photographs are grainy, ugly, and badly lit, because the photographer could not be completely convinced it was worth taking them. All she knew is that they incarnated an intimacy that she would like to believe actually took place. Even though no one other than the ones involved – the T-girl and her lover – would ever learn about it.

[...] To read the full essay see PDF below.

We publish these articles as the museums consolidate into one nominal entity, het Wereldmuseum: since the articles were written between 2020 and 2023, they do not yet reflect the March 2023 name change. 

All contributors called into the Un/Engendering research project were asked to think outside their respective specializations. Without their courage, openness, humility, and without the peer reviewers’ generous attention, such an interdisciplinary project could have never taken place.

Introduction and initial inquiries.

Author | Diego Semerene

Diego Semerene is Assistant Professor of Queer and Transgender Media at the University of Amsterdam and co-founder of the Queer Analysis Research Group of the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis (ASCA). Not unlike the subject matter of this article, finding a proper pronoun to refer to the author is impossible. Yet the conventions of a biographical account accompanying such a text demand that a pronoun eventually be used in order to avoid the endless repetition of the author’s name throughout the text. This makes for an embarrassing situation for the author, which also mirrors, or incarnates, the thesis of the text itself. If the author uses “he,” readers may quickly accept that premise –or sentence, or symptom – perhaps not without questioning the author’s authority or lived experience to speak on trans-ness. Or so the author fears. If the author uses “she,” readers may question such a self-entitlement on the grounds that they wouldn’t recognize sufficient visual signs in the author’s photographic portrait, or the author’s first name, to substantiate the claim. If the author uses “they,” or some neologism of a pronoun, this may pass as a good compromise, sparing the author from sharing the embarrassment so akin to the objects at the center of the article. But the neutrality of such terms would be a lie for the author does not, at the level of self-identification, reject these binaries. The author is a product of these binaries, of their hyperbolic Latin American demands in specific, and has come to, in the most psychoanalytic sense of the term, enjoy them – despite everything. Which is also embarrassing, politically. The author will thus replace the utilization of a pronoun with this problematization in order to mark the impossibility of the situation, and of language writ large, and in the hopes that the speaking subject might neuter some of the embarrassment derived from embarrassing situations and embarrassing objects by writing them out. Or by displaying them.

Photo by Abdellah Taïa

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