The nation is an imagined community or space that is often tied to the physical (such as land), emotional and historical. Many political, social and cultural factors produce the nation. In this paper I will focus on how representations of gender deviance and gender non-conformity in immigrant communities work to racialize and “other” them and reproduce heteronormative, white, American masculinity.
In “All that Glitters: Trans-ing California’s Gold Rush Migrations,” by Clare Sears, the author focuses on the cross-dressing practices during the mid 1800’s in California during the gold rush that “represented Chinese men as feminine and Chinese gender as illegible or indistinct” (383). She argues that these depictions permitted the passage of racist laws such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Because of the recent U.S. conquest of Mexican California and the mass male migration into California for gold, ideas of the nation that included gender, sexual and political markers were not stable and thus, allowed for “spaces of possibility.” In spaces such as gold-rush dances, the production of the Euro-centric nation was visible when Euro-American men danced with each other, refusing to humanize indigenous women. When they danced with Chinese men (who often were feminized), they reproduced ideas of heteronormativity because gender markers were clearly visible through their clothing. Additionally, Chinese men were further feminized because they were linked to domestic work since jobs in gold mining started to disappear. As Sears states, “Consequently, for Euro-American men, the boundaries between normative and nonnormative gender became a key rhetorical device for producing and policing the racialized borders of the nation-state, while anti-Chinese politics became central to reformulating dominant gender norms” (393). In cartoons that depicted Chinese men as feminine, they were depicted as racialized “others” that were not capable of producing normative masculinity—thus, not capable of fitting into the nation.
In, “Trans/Migrant: Christina Madrazo’s All-American Story,” Alisa Solomon explains the story of a Mexican trans woman, Christina Madrazo who while seeking asylum in the United States, is raped multiple times by state wards and discriminated against by immigration services. Throughout the article, Solomon explains the immigration and asylum system briefly in order to highlight how these systems work to exclude the “undesirable” and “how gendered and sexualized discourses of American nationalism legitimate and render extreme forms of gender and sexual violence” (4). Immigration law in general is set-up to exclude many communities of color because it is the basis of how the nation imagines itself. As Solomon states, “Immigration laws can be manipulated to circumvent the Constitution” (17). Thus, it can be understood as a form of control. This is visible in asylum law during the 1980’s when the United States permitted many refugees from the Soviet Union but stopped letting refugees in when the Mariel Boatlift brought Cubans who were “deviant” and “criminal” (otherwise known as homosexual/queer Cubans seeking asylum.) Additionally, detainees in detention centers are not guaranteed attorneys, forced to perform favors for wards, threatened with deportation and experience high rates of violence. Detention centers are often not in visible view of the public and are not as supervised as much as other state prisons. Imprisoned trans* people are further criminalized by being forced into the wrong prisons or bathrooms or through identification documents. Christina Madrazo holds many intersecting oppressions as an undocumented, Mexican trans woman in the prison system –all of which makes her illegible to the nation. The nation did not recognize her as a victim of a third-world country once she exposed her identity as transgender and instead labeled her a “gender deviant” from “which America itself required rescue through her deporation” (22).
The concept of the nation is significant for trans studies because by analyzing what makes the imagined community that we live in, we analyze the gender, sexual and racial politics of migrations and borders. If trans studies seeks to include state violence, then trans migrants must be included. Because immigration law is the basis of how the nation is produced and because the nation makes up how we understand gender, gender normativity/non-normativity, then the lived experiences of trans migrants are important. Additionally, because trans studies often seeks to have a transnational, intersectional feminist lens, it is vital to look at gender non-conforming immigrant communities and how they are depicted as binary opposites of white, heteronormative, male masculinity.