Trans/Locatability: Performing Public Appearance in Locative Media

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Wesleigh Gates


The promises and perils of visibility dominate many contemporary conversations about transgender life; this essay considers the ways in which locatability works alongside visibility to regulate the sphere of public appearance, informing who can safely appear and in what spaces they can or cannot do so. The locative performance Appear to Me (2020), written by gender-expansive artist eppchez yo-sí yes for the Philadelphia company Swim Pony, shows how such performance can challenge dominant constructions of location that involve the violent displacement of marginalized populations, as well as locative technologies—such as the Global Positioning System—that help create and sustain these constructions. Through a smartphone app that uses GPS to trigger audio cues, Appear to Me guides listeners along the Delaware River Trail in South Philadelphia, where they encounter the voices of people displaced from the waterfront, including street queens, houseless queers, and the land’s Indigenous Lenape inhabitants. I discuss how the performance both engages the politics of appearance on the textual level and performs new possibilities for appearance through its appropriation of GPS technology. In doing so, it enacts a trans epistemology of location I name trans/locatability: a multiply-emplaced, gender-expansive position of safety and solidarity that asserts the right of all bodies to appear in public without harm.

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