Six departments sponsor lecture about transgenderism in Asia.

Notre Dame’s Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies hosted a lecture titled “Trans Sans Frontières: Transtopia, the Asia Pacific, and the Politics of Historical Difference” on September 7. This lecture was the first of four events in the institute’s Border Crossings in Asian Humanities series.

Howard Chiang, Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Davis, delivered the lecture. Chiang is the author of two books: After Eunuchs: Science, Medicine, and the Transformation of Sex in Modern China and Transtopia in the Sinophone Pacific. He was the Editor-in-Chief of the Global Encyclopedia of LGBTQ History and co-edits the “Global Queer Asias” book series.

In his lecture, Chiang claimed, “One’s sex—maleness or femaleness—is actually mutable,” arguing that the “binary construct of maleness and femaleness is not as stable as we thought.”

Chiang rejected the Western notion that one can be more trans and another can be less trans. He theorized “transness or transgender as a continuous category” and asserted that his neologism “transtopia” is “a way for us to understand or recognize different scales of gender transgression that are not always recognizable due to Western notion of transgender.”

According to Chiang, one may not identify with being transgender, but “may easily identify as a transtopian subject” because “transtopian” “starts to challenge the structural and conceptual issues that continue to be passed as normal in transphobic discourses.”

He urged attendees to think about transgenderism “not as something that applies to only a minority population, but something that’s universal that bears meaning to all of us.”

This lecture was sponsored by the Gender Studies Program, the Department of American Studies, the Department of English, the Department of History, and the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre.

The University of Notre Dame’s Common Proposal establishes guidelines to aid department chairs in planning events: “[They] should aim at ensuring that a forum is provided in which multiple viewpoints and voices on controversial topics can be heard, an appropriate balance among viewpoints is maintained, and, when a significant issue in the Catholic tradition is touched upon, that tradition should be presented.”

This lecture included solely Chiang’s opinion and did not mention Catholic tradition despite the controversial topic.

The Common Proposal elaborates: “The manner in which balance and the representation of the Catholic tradition is achieved will depend on the nature of the event. If the event is a lecture by an individual, these are best achieved by sponsoring other speakers over a period of time.”

Currently, none of this lecture’s sponsors have any events scheduled exploring the Catholic perspective of “transtopia” or transgenderism. The next lecture in the Liu Institute’s Border Crossings in Asian Humanities series is titled “The Irish Buddhist: Transnational Buddhism and Opposition to Empire.”

Additionally, “Departments should act within their disciplinary expertise in sponsoring events,” says the University’s Common Plan. “Inter-disciplinary events are encouraged, but there should be some connection between the sponsoring department’s discipline and the primary subject of the event.” 

When asked by the Rover about the process of choosing events to sponsor, Pamela Wojcik, Department Chair of Film, Television, and Theatre, explained, “We sponsor events that seem to be of intellectual importance, usually directly related to film, TV and/or theatre but sometimes, as is the case with this event, with arguments and debates around issues that seem more broadly relevant and important.” 

The University published her pastoral plan for GLBTQ individuals titled “Beloved Friends and Allies” to “respond to the various expressed needs of members of the student body who identify as GLBTQ and simultaneously to cultivate deeper understanding and support for its Catholic Christian ideals.” 

The pastoral plan includes the implementation of goals, objectives, programing and initiatives that are “consonant with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church” and designed for the “support, holistic development, and formation of GLBTQ and other members of the Notre Dame community.” It instructs, “In all such programs and initiatives, due consideration is to be exercised so as to avoid political or social activities that might compromise Notre Dame’s Roman Catholic allegiance and commitments.”

Tami Schmitz, the Campus Ministry Associate Director of Pastoral Care, declined to answer questions regarding the pastoral plan and its application.

Michel Hockx, Director of the Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies; Barbara Green, Director of the Gender Studies Program; Linnie Caye, Gender Studies Program Coordinator; Laura Knoppers, Department of English Chair; and Jason Ruiz, Department of American Studies Chair did not respond to request to comment.

Pam Butler, Associate Director of the Gender Studies Program; Elisabeth Köll, Department of History Chair; and Notre Dame Campus Ministry declined to comment.

A video recording of the lecture without the subsequent Q&A is available on the Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies website.

 Madeline Murphy is a sophomore studying Vocal Performance and Music Education. In her hometown of Davenport, Iowa, she can be found babysitting her 11 younger siblings. On campus, she can be found taking rosary walks around the lake or procuring her next cup of coffee. Please send questions or comments to

Picture Caption:
Cover of Howard Chiang’s most recent book.