Date of Award

Summer 7-16-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Alessandra Raengo

Second Advisor

Angelo Restivo

Third Advisor

Jennifer Barker

Fourth Advisor

Bishnupriya Ghosh


This dissertation takes its heading from the work of AIDS activists in the 1980s and 1990s who took the abject narratives placed upon people with AIDS and trans and queer people and, instead of running from them into respectability, embraced and extended those narratives to fight back against the violence and scarcity of normativity and, most critically, to produce communities of care. These activists made use of their bodies as transmutable weapons against power. They transformed the ashes of loved ones into a spreading body of trans/queerness that could meld into the earth and commune with the bodies of any who encountered its particulates. “Alchemy of Matter: An Aesthetic Politics of Trans/Queerness” terms this aesthetic politics as matter where trans/queer labor can make things possible and can produce what is needed out of the scarcity of normative violence. This dissertation theorizes matter following the work of cultural theorist Gloria Anzaldúa who describes how bodies come into intimacy and relation with each other via the materiality of the universe. To become matter is to embrace the stuff of the universe and thus the relationality between I and You. To become matter is to become the tool, the energy, and the form that can build relations with another as well as generate who one is for oneself. Second, an aesthetic politics of matter demands a recentering of trans/queerness on the material lives and labors of trans and queer people. The radicality of transness and queerness within theory is only possible because trans and queer people enacted radical labor upon the world. Their bodies, their lives made things possible. A theory of trans/queer matter, therefore, argues for a theory of material life. This dissertation examines the abject, abstract, and relational artistic, archival, political, and theoretical work of trans and queer people to enact a material, communal, and transmutational aesthetic politics of trans/queer matter.


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