Feature: Investigating LGBTQ+ Issues in Translation by Michela Baldo, Jonathan Evans and Ting Guo

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 14/12/2018 - 1:37am in

Ahead of their special issue of Translation and Interpreting Studies on the theme of Translation and LGBT+/Queer Activism – Call for Papers available hereMichela Baldo, Jonathan Evans and Ting Guo discuss the interconnections between LGBTQ+ issues and translation. In the essay, they reflect on the translation of queer vernaculars, the relationship between queer theory and international LGBTQ+ cultures and the future directions of the study of translation and LGBTQ+ activism.

This essay is part of the LSE RB Translation and Multilingualism Week, running between 10 and 14 December 2018. If you are interested in this topic, all posts published as part of the week can be accessed here. If you would like to contribute on this topic in the future, please contact us at

Investigating LGBTQ+ Issues in Translation

Image Credit: (anokarina CC BY SA 2.0)

Translation, as the process of writing a text in one language that recreates a text in another language, doesn’t instantly seem to be a fertile ground for discussing LGBTQ+ issues: it might seem like it’s just a process of rewriting or of transferring information. Yet we know that this process is itself never simple and can be influenced by a number of factors, from external pressure in the form of censorship to translators’ own subjectivities and interpretations.

As translation studies has developed, it has expanded conceptualisations of translation: while the early discipline in the 1960s and 1970s focused on the linguistic and literary aspects of texts, from the 1980s onwards scholars have been analysing the cultural, social and political aspects of translation. It is as part of this understanding of translation as a social practice that LGBTQ+ questions come in, as aspects of sexuality and gender can affect how and what translations are produced, can influence translators’ practices and subject formation and can intersect with other analyses of power, such as class and race, in the cultural sphere. LGBTQ+ studies have recently bloomed within translation studies, with recent collections – for example, Translating Transgender from 2016 and two collections from 2017, Queer in Translation and Queering Translation, Translating the Queer – helping set an agenda for future work.

In this post, we will discuss the translation of LGBTQ+ texts and queer vernaculars, the spread of queer theory and its impact in international LGBTQ+ cultures, and gesture towards future developments of the connections between translation and LGBTQ+ activism.

The translation of texts dealing with LGBTQ+ characters and issues poses a number of difficulties. Homosexuality remains illegal in some countries, and in others, despite the legality of homosexuality, media that includes homosexual or trans characters continue to be censored. Keith Harvey’s work on gay writing from the 1990s (e.g. ‘Gay community, gay identity and the translated text’) already asked questions of what would happen if texts were translated into languages and cultures where the topic was taboo. In many cases, texts are simply not translated, or if they are translated, they are not published as it would be too dangerous for the translators and the publishers. Alternatively, as BJ Epstein argues in relation to children’s literature, queer aspects of texts can be erased to make them palatable to audiences in the host culture.

This leads to the situation where a lot of openly LGBTQ+ texts, either written or cinematic, are produced only in those countries and languages where such topics are not taboo. As a result, the texts that are translated and circulating tend to only represent LGBTQ+ cultures from those places, and indeed only certain aspects of those queer cultures: American New Queer Cinema, for instance, tends to focus (although not exclusively) on white gay men or lesbians, leaving out large swathes of the LGBTQ+ population in the USA, let alone the rest of the world. Despite the censorship of LGBTQ+ media in some parts of the world and the consequent lack of official translations, there exists a number of networks of fan translators who translate this material without pay and often with some risk to themselves. Such fan translations may be placed on YouTube or they may only be available behind passwords, depending on how strict the censorship is in a specific country.

Even when there is not censorship, there are still difficulties for the translator. As Harvey noted in this article from 1998, much American gay cultural production uses various forms of camp, due to the historical illegality of homosexuality and the need for gay men to code their interactions in such a way that third parties were not able to understand exactly what was meant. The use of camp and irony render texts difficult for translators as similar resources may not be available in other languages, or may not have the same pragmatic effect.

While Harvey was writing about fiction, queer theory also presents a number of difficulties for translation, not least because of the proliferation of terms within it, but also because of the way that queer theory questions and historicises the meaning of terms like homosexual and queer (e.g. Eve Sedgwick’s The Epistemology of the Closet, among many others). The complexity of queer theory, from writers such as Judith Butler or Lee Edelman, can also prove difficult to translate into other languages due to differences in academic cultures and expectations of scholarly writing. Importantly, the translation of queer theory remains problematic as queer cultures are not the same all over the world and ideas that have been generated in the USA do not always apply elsewhere, as Héctor Domínguez Ruvalcalba explores in his book, Translating the Queer, in relation to the concept of ‘queer’ in Latin America. In addition, in some cultures there is resistance towards engaging with the translation of the term ‘queer’ as it is perceived as an imperialistic imposition from the Anglophone world. Local conditions have a tremendous effect on the reception of texts and ideas, and this remains an area which has been under-researched in relation to LGBTQ+ translation.

There is also a smaller but growing area of work on transgender issues in translation studies. The focus has been on texts such as the memoirs of Herculine Barbin and the way in which the English translation of the text removes or reduces the gender ambiguity in the text, or with linguistic issues, such as the problems of translating transgender terminology given the linguistic gender binary of many languages. An area which is currently attracting interest, especially in Latin America and Southern Europe, is the role of translation in transfeminism: that is, feminism informed by transgender politics.

There remains much more work to do on the connection between LGBTQ+ issues and translation. Within queer theory, intercultural approaches have been coming to the fore, especially through notions of queer migrations and queer diasporas. Translation studies approaches, which have developed tools for discussing how ideas and texts travel beyond their cultures of origin, can contribute here to further understanding queer and LGBT+ worlds and how Anglophone terminology may be limited in use when discussing non-Anglophone situations. Drawing from LGBT+ and queer studies also offers approaches to translation that can help question normative approaches and binary understandings of the relationship between texts and languages.

We also think there is a need to better understand the role of translation in LGBT+ and queer activism, which can allow not only more contact between activists in different locations but more sensitivity to minority populations in the same location who may speak different languages or have different heritage cultures. As such, we are editing a special issue of Translation and Interpreting Studies where contributors will explore these complex relationships and further our understanding of them. We hope this will lead the way for more intersectional work on translation and LGBTQ+ issues in both queer theory and translation studies.

Michela Baldo is an honorary fellow in Translation Studies at the University of Hull. She is the author of Italian-Canadian Narratives of Return: Analysing Cultural Translation in Diasporic Writing (forthcoming 2019) and co-editor of a book on the Italian drag king phenomenon, Il re Nudo. Per un archivio drag king in Italia (2014). Her main topic of research is the role of translation in queer feminist activism in Italy.

Jonathan Evans is Senior Lecturer in Translation Studies at the University of Portsmouth. He is the author of The Many Voices of Lydia Davis (2016) and co-editor of The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Politics (2018).

Ting Guo is Senior Lecturer in Translation and Chinese Studies at the University of Exeter. She is the author of Surviving in Violent Conflicts (2017) and PI on the AHRC-funded project ‘Translating for Change’.

Note: This feature essay gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. 

Justice Through Science: The Life of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 05/12/2018 - 7:00pm in

The often-forgotten scientist behind the world’s first LGBTQ+ rights organization saw his life’s work destroyed by the Nazis. But his legacy lives on.

The Trans Discourse Minefield

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 27/11/2018 - 7:00pm in

There’s a lot of dangerous and unhelpful information out there! There’s only one expert on what’s right for you.

Being Trans in Bolsonaro’s Brazil

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/11/2018 - 7:00pm in

The far-right politician won the Presidency amidst a wave of anti-LGBT hatred, violence, and misinformation. Sound familiar?

University Disciplines Philosophy Professor for Treatment of Transgender Student; Professor Sues

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/11/2018 - 6:55pm in

Nicholas Meriwether, a professor of philosophy at Shawnee State University, a public university in Ohio, is suing the school for allegedly violating his freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and rights to due process when it disciplined him for alleged mistreatment of a transgender student in one of his courses.

The Cincinnati Enquirer (CE) reports that after a class meeting in January, a transgender student approached Meriwether—who says he refers to all his students using “sir,” “ma’am,” “mister” or “miss”(!)— “to request that he use female gender words to refer to her.”

According to court documents, Meriwether said he wasn’t sure if he could do that. The student said he began debating with her and would not give her a straight answer. Meriwether said the student circled him threateningly and compared his refusal to someone calling him a “c—.” At the end of the conversation, Meriwether said he would refer to the student by her last name.

The student filed a complaint and Meriwhether was “informally warned” by the acting dean, Roberta Milliken, about violating the school’s anti-discrimination policy, which prohibits discrimination and harassment against individuals because of various characteristics, including gender identity. Milliken advised Meriwether to either stop using titles and pronouns to address his students, or to use their preferred pronouns and titles to do so.

According to the CE,

The student later complained again stating that while Meriwether attempted to use her last name, he would put “mister” in front of it. Meriwether said this was accidental.

The university then conducted a Title IX investigation which resulted in “a written warning being placed in Meriwether’s personnel file stating he violated the school’s nondiscrimination policy,” according to the CE.

Meriwether, an evangelical Christian, cited his religious beliefs as an explanation for his behavior. The CE reports him saying: “I am a Christian. As such, it is my sincerely held religious belief, based on the Bible’s teachings, that God created human beings as either male or female, that this gender is fixed in each person from the moment of conception, and that it cannot be changed.”

Shawnee State University Provost Jeffrey Bauer, replying to the lawsuit, wrote, “When provided with options to avoid discrimination and opposition to his religious beliefs, Dr. Meriwether chose to continue his disparate treatment of the student.”

Meriwether is receiving legal assistance from the controversial Alliance Defending Freedom.

Further details on the case, with predictably differing emphases, can be found at LGBTQ Nation and Christian Headlines.

Giotto, “Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet”



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It’s Time to Put More Trans People in Power

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 01/11/2018 - 9:00pm in

More transgender candidates are running for office this year than ever before. And they know their struggle best.

Just Another Day At the Newspaper

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 24/10/2018 - 6:00pm in

Trump’s leaked anti-trans memo is an egregious blow to civil rights. How could this have happened?

The BBC and transgender children

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 19/09/2018 - 4:00am in

by Sarah Cooksley, via Liverpool Resisters, August 16, 2018 Over the past few years, many parents have begun to take note that the BBC is becoming ever more blatant with publicising and encouraging the transgender ideology amongst children. Where has this come from, and why? In January 2012, the BBC funded a Trans Camp, directed by All About Trans. There was considerable input from the CEO of Mermaids, Susie Green. In 2013, All About Trans met with the BBC Editorial Policy Department.  These meetings were described as “interactions” and the result has been several programmes specifically geared towards young people. All About Trans has several aims as a professional media organisation, but the first and foremost is to increase the public’s awareness of the existence of trans children. A year after these “interactions”, CBBC produced a TV series entitled “My Life: I am Leo”. Leo, aged 13, “always knew I was really a boy” because girls wear dresses and have long hair, whereas boys wear different things and have short hair. CBBC is a BBC …

Questions for left-wing people who support self-definition as a woman

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 15/09/2018 - 4:36am in

by Helen Ilitha, January 15, 2018 It appears that the Labour Party in the UK have unofficially and undemocratically decided, without consulting party members or having any sort of vote, that anyone can self-define as a woman (note: not as men) and therefore apply for all-women shortlists, at least in under-25 categories so far – despite this actually contravening the 2010 Equality Act, which states that sex (NOT GENDER) is a quality protected by law until 2030, when it is up for renewal. While most party members and the wider public are completely in the dark about this, and most who do know are up in arms about it, a small number of people, predominantly involved in the Momentum movement, hail this as progressive, and any other view as antiquated bigotry. So, in light of this, I have a few very obvious and easy-to-explain questions that left-wing progressives need to ask themselves, on both a personal and political level. After all, one is not a socialist without class analysis and women are historically and currently …

Sign For Our Times

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 10/09/2018 - 5:00pm in

I’m trans, and I’d like a quick and easy way to say “Hi, I’m like you, and I’ve got your back.”