Transgender studies is a discourse I have very little knowledge or depth in, and I took this class with the purpose of changing that fact. However, the understanding I had on this topic was even more limited than I had previously thought and thus my decision to enroll was somewhat myopic. When I look at a list of terms to define and relate to the readings and course discussions we have had, I find myself in awe of the axiomatic vastness of this topic. In the end, I chose a word that best relates to me personally in several different ways and I hope I can do it justice in terms of what we have discussed, what the authors have discussed; how this term makes me feel as person, as a human being, and as a man.
Masculinity is an incredibly ambiguous, subjective and evocative term used ubiquitously in almost every culture. Specifically this is a term discussed in Fajardo’s piece, “Transportation: Translating Filipino and Filipino Masculinities Through Global Migration and Seafaring.” As with a large number of our readings, Fajardo discusses the meaning of this term, along with “femininity”, in terms of western definitions. Or perhaps, more appropriately, she discusses the pervasive affects a western dominated definition has influenced global perception on what masculinity implies or means. Because of capitalism, colonialism, and of course imperialism, many Filipino men were misrepresented as feminine, which unfortunately is not a positive connotation. Specifically in Fajardo’s piece, the seamen she discusses are meant to represent, at least in western terms, the paradigmatic “masculine” men. This brings us perfectly into the discussion of “heteronormative gender essentialism,” and the belief that masculinity has a set of characteristics that make it, unequivocally, what it is which is usually dominated by western ideals. One of the strongest messages I got from Fajardo’s piece is the idea of fluidity between perceptions of masculinity. That masculinity is actually redefined by groups of “masculine” men, be they heteronormative men, or tomboys.
Masculinity is also studied in some depth by Clare Sears in her piece titled “All That Glitters: Trans-ing California’s Gold Rush Migrations.” Because of the massive movement to California when gold was discovered on the western coast, there was a massive imbalance between the male and female population. As California is now the most populous state in the union, I think this pivotal time in its history and likely did a lot to legitimize gender definitions and masculinity perceptions. During a time period where the road to success was paved with a lot of typically “blue-collar” work; laborious, sweaty, dirty, this sort of helped to paint the picture of what being a “man” was. I specifically enjoyed the stories in Sears’ article regarding the dances. How men would sort of showcase, or make some kind of statement, regarding their public gender for that night. I liked this because it plays perfectly into the Americanized perception of masculinity. It would have been much more revolutionary if the men had just danced with men, instead of some of them pretending to be women. It also dabbles in the discussion regarding race and how these men would just rather have a room full of men than invite ethnic women to the dances as the Eurocentric public opinion then was to value white “American” women over the indigenous, ethnic population.
On a personal note, speaking as someone who is constantly at odds with how I view myself, how I want the world to view me, and how the world actually views me, masculinity is a constant struggle for me. I am not suggesting it has become this insidious presence in my life that is all consuming and mentally detrimental (as far as confidence and body image is concerned). But speaking as an individual who identifies as a homosexual, one would think that issues of perceived masculinity would be moot. But I think the gay culture, at times, reinforces this masculinity essentialism and that is unfortunate because it is ultimately pernicious and works against the long term goals of most social activists: to deconstruct these heteronormative values and gender definitions and lift the socially constructed filters on how we view the world and how we view other human beings.