Over the past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural conference of Trans*Studies: An International Transdisciplinary Conference on Gender, Embodiment, and Sexuality, at the University of Arizona, USA. I was thrilled to be invited to present on a linguistics panel (Language, Power and Materiality in Trans Communities, organized by Lal Zimman and Jenny Davis) that sought to showcase the many benefits of employing linguistic analyses in the study of transgender identities. This provided an interesting opportunity to carry linguistic knowledge into a different social domain and present it as valuable for other academic fields.
As a sociolinguist, it was interesting to observe how little the use of language, and even of other semiotic resources, featured in the current trends of the field. Though the field of trans studies does bridge many diverse disciplines, some of which need not necessarily be occupied with human behaviour, it was none the less surprising to find a lack of studies relating to how individuals do gender. Just as within the broader field of gender studies, here too the notion that gender is somehow performative is widely accepted. However, the exploration of how people do such performative iterations is not a focus for much of the field. Despite this rarity, the research presented by our panel was of great interest to attendees, pointing to the possibility that this deficiency relates to the unavailability of such research and not to its inessentiality.
Sociolinguistics, as a field, has a tendency to view interdisciplinary efforts as a means of bringing social theories and methodologies into the field of linguistics. In this sense, we remain at least somewhat au courant with the latest trends in various fields. However, it is not all together common for linguists to cross the arbitrarily constructed discipline boundaries as the propagators of academic knowledge. This experience, then, has reinforced that such crossings can truly facilitate the construction of interdisciplinary bridges and serve to place the field of linguistics at the forefront of the study of human behaviour. It appears that the field of linguistics occupies an important research space capable of examining exactly how individuals are able to do gender, rendering it quite valuable to researchers in other disciplines.