Brace Fellow Avivit Ashman ’22 Presents “The New Transsexual Empire”

In the final Brace Fellow presentation of the 2021-22 academic year, Avivit Ashman ’22 explored the intersecting themes of transnationalism, the military, and different disparities surrounding the transgender subject. Avivit began her presentation by giving the audience historical context and key terms, then analyzing her three different subject cases.

The first, a documentary by Logo entitled ‘TransMilitary,’ depicts soldiers who feel more at home in the military, where their transgender identity is not known and they can be their authentic self. Ashman then discussed the arrest of Chelsea Manning and the concept of diversity and inclusion through transphobic news sources. Finally Ashman discussed the murder of Jennifer Laude, who was killed by U.S. marine Joseph Pemberton in 2014, highlighting the disparities between trans people in the military. Concluding her presentation, Ashman summarized how the military is foundationally oppressive and spoke on its abolition.

“Abolition is about building an alternative world to this world that is in perpetual war. The military targets vulnerable populations in this country because it provides them with needs like surgery, education, and belonging that they don’t feel they can receive elsewhere. People need to know they are in communities that do not tie us to the imperial state, places where they can get healthcare, education, employment and love outside of the military and outside of the false emotional security that the state promises,” said Ashman.

Ashman continued, “This is the community building that we can view as young people, as queer people, building communities that are resilient to this environment and its complicity. We need to build different emotional realities for trans people so we are not losing people to recruitment by the state. Only then can we deactivate our bodies as weapons and only then can we unite ourselves around the division of collective liberation that prioritizes the survival and flourishing of all trans people.”

Attendee Jorge Briones Sausa ’25 appreciated learning more about trans representation in the US and the glorification of Trans*nationalism. Specifically, Briones Sausa valued Ashman’s definitions at the beginning of her presentation.

“It was really nice to hear more about trans representation and how transnationalism can be glorified, americanized, and white-washed. My favorite part was when Avivit showed the difference between trans*nationalism and homonationalism because I feel like a lot of people get those two things confused, because they can easily be bundled up as they’re really similar, but I think the distinction is really important. I really hope that people are able to learn more from this. The presentation was incredible,” said Briones Sausa.

Over the past summer, Ashman developed her research with assistance from faculty advisor Emily Raymundo, Instructor in English. When deciding to start the process, the Brace Fellow primarily wanted to help others question the socially instilled assumptions on trans people in the military.

“I applied last spring and I worked over the summer with [Raymundo], who was really helpful. [The project] was a really hard process to research and write. I was trying to get more into reading trans theory and I came across Jaspir Puar’s work and I was floored by her book ‘Terrorist Assemblages,’ which talked about homonationalism. It talks a lot about the incorporation of queer populations into empire, but didn’t really talk about trans people, so I really wanted to question and think about how trans people fit into this framework. My main goal was to help people see this narrative in their everyday lives and in the media and have the tools to deconstruct it, becoming resilient to these narratives on their own,” said Ashman.

Sophie Glaser ’22 added that Ashman displayed an intellectual analysis of her research. Glaser was impressed by the intersection of the U.S. military industrial complex and queer theory.

“I was blown away by her very thoughtful analysis of the U.S. military industrial complex and how she applied queer theory and gender studies to a topic that has not had a lot of research done to it before. This is very new and ground-breaking work. It was just amazing to watch theory being created. I really liked the individual deep-dive she did on the different documentaries, books, and especially talking about Chelsea Manning, like the specific individuals. I thought it was a really great way of looking at this more abstract theory and bringing it to understandable context,” said Glaser.

In agreement with Glaser, Karsten Rynearson ’22 commended the innovativeness of Ashman’s project. Rynearson called on the audience to question the assumptions that have been instilled in society about trans people in the military.

Rynearson said, “As one of [Ashman’s] closest friends, I had the unique honor of getting to view this project from the moment of its proposal all the way to this presentation. I am so beyond proud of [Ashman] for creating a project that really leads us to question a lot of the assumptions that have been instilled in us, coming from an American perspective, instilled in us from the beginning and she leads us to unseat our assumptions about what it possible and to think and imagine justice more radically. I think that [Ashman’s] presentation was as innovative, brilliant, and cutting-edge as she is. She is a star.”