The Afterlife of Gender: Transgender Deaths and Familial, Religious and Political Belonging in Contemporary Turkey

Lecture | March 7 | 12-2 p.m. | 602 Barrows Hall

 Asli Zengin, Research Associate and Visiting Professor in the Women’s Studies in Religion Program, Harvard Divinity School

 Department of Gender and Women's Studies, Center for Race and Gender

Part of the Feminist Studies and Decolonial Epistemologies Lecture Series

Associations between death, sovereignty, and gendered belonging have received little scholarly attention in social sciences and humanities. Professor Zengin's talk explores this intricate and intimate relationship by focusing on Sunni Muslim transgender people’s deaths, their funeral ceremonies and burial and mourning practices in Turkey. Specifically, she asks the following question: How do transgender deaths mark the gendered and sexual limits of belonging in regimes of family, kinship, religion and citizenship, and in practices of mourning and grief? Family and gender/sexual difference play a significant role in the organization of Muslim rituals of death, practices of mourning, and discourses of grief in Turkey. In these ritual practices, members of kin and family hold the obligations and rights to the deceased, such as washing, shrouding, burying and praying for the body. These funeral practices represent the dead body in strictly gendered ways. For instance, the coffin design, the prayers at the mosque, the washing ritual prior to burial, and the rites of inhumation are different for women and men. However, when the deceased is a transgender person, their/her/his body can open a social field for negotiation and contestation of sexual and gender difference between religious, familial, LGBTQ and forensic actors. Addressing the multiplicity of such struggles and sovereign claims over deceased transgender persons, Zengin's talk conceptualizes sex/gender ambiguity as embedded in a wider world of sociality within which specific values and norms around religion, family, kinship, citizenship, gender and sexuality are simultaneously produced, negotiated, and contested.

Short Bio:
Asli Zengin is a Research Associate and Visiting Professor in the Women’s Studies in Religion Program at Harvard Divinity School. Her first book, Iktidarın Mahremiyeti: İstanbul’da Hayat Kadınları, Seks İşçiliği ve Şiddet (Intimacy of Power: Women Prostitutes, Sex Work and Violence in İstanbul), was published in Turkish. In this book, she examines the regulation of licensed and unlicensed sex work at the intersection of state power, law, medicine and violence. Currently Zengin is completing her second book manuscript Sovereigns of Sex: The State, Islam, Family, and Transgender Embodiment in Contemporary Turkey. Zengin has widely published in edited volumes and peer-review journals, including Anthropologica, Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies and Transgender Studies Quarterly. Her research lies at the intersection of ethnography of gender non-conforming lives and deaths; Islamic and medico-legal regimes of sex, gender and sexuality; critical studies of violence and sovereignty; as well as transnational aspects of LGBTQ movements in the Middle East with a special focus on Turkey.

Funding provided by: The Chau Hoi Shuen Foundation Fund for Gender & Women's Studies