Self-Identification

In the article “I Know What I Am”, the author, David Valentine, explains us his fieldworks and researches at the meat market in New York City. I thought the key concept of this article is “Sex Workers”. In the dialogues with Valentine, sex works gives us the idea of how they identify themselves, how they find who they are. This is very important because we are living in a world of category, where everyone tries to find a certain group, place, or space, seeking to belong to somewhere to understand who they are, and how they are supposed to live.

I’d never imagined transsexual people working as prostitutes before. I used to have this stereotyped thoughts on prostitution, that only young girls with certain problems such as being sold by their family, kidnapped, are forced to work and earn money by selling their bodies. Their cases are not really the same. Basically, sex workers that Valentine meets in his fieldworks were born to have a male body. But they identify themselves in many different ways. Aside from the fact that prostitution is a sever problem overall, it is not only the matter of girls with unfortunate environment, but includes more complex issues such as sense of belonging and self-identification. Anita, one of the sex workers at the meat market, identifies herself as a drag queen, says that she lives her life as a woman. However, when valentine asked her if she is a transgender, she answers “No”, saying that she recognizes herself as a man, and gay as well. Even though she treats herself as a woman, acts like a woman, and behaves like a woman, she doesn’t take the word “transgender” as her identification. My understanding of “transgender” is to indicate people whose body doesn’t match with the gender they identify. So it was sort of confusing for me. She lives her life as the opposite gender from her body, but at the same she identifies herself as the matched gender with her body. It gives me a question whether I should use she or he for her gender pronoun. Even Valentine gets confused with the responses come up from sex workers during the interview. Mona, who explains herself as a butch queen, lives her life as a woman. However she states what it means to be gay through her own perspective of living as gay. She says “It’s not just only having feelings for someone of the same gender but also being turned on by the same gender.” In this answer, it is obvious that she takes herself as a man. Valentine notes that she is exactly a woman, exactly transgender, and exactly gay. Technically she is living three different lives. Sometimes she is just a woman, but sometimes she is gay and transgender and identifies herself as a butch queen. In short, she has several identifications at the same time. There are couple more transsexual sex workers that Valentine had interviewed, and the answers were all complicated and hard to figure out. But the point is, they know who they are. Words are not enough to explain their complicated, delicate identity. Words can’t hold all the meanings of their lives, which they are living as they are. For them, how society identifies them doesn’t really matter. They know who they are and that’s what they need in terms of self-identification.

When we see someone, we automatically judge him or her by nationality looks, behaving, the way of speaking, dressing, and so on. We categorize others and try to understand their general information. This article on the other hand, made me realize that there are people who don’t belong to the normal categories provided by the society, but are trying to find out where they belong by their own way. Sometimes they belong to “not belonging”. Those sex workers in the meat market know what they are, and understand their own self-identification.

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One thought on “Self-Identification

  1. Valentines article was a great example of house labels and categories only mean so much to the individuals who use them for others or themselves. I thought an excerpt from the reading “Perverse Citizenship” by Marcia Ochoa, when she is describing trans taxonomies, and explains why the transformistas are not transexual woman. The final example she gives is (3) ( in regards to surgery) “may or may not have access to the medical or psychiatric care necessary to produce this category in Venezuela.” This adds a whole new dimension with the obsession with being able to label individuals and communities globally, when ( as we have discussed heavily in class) different social, medical, historical situations have or haven’t taken place making the terms or categories “not translatable”. In Valentines article I recall a lot of the individuals interviewed had not heard the term transgender before, thus were unable to identify as that term. Trying to label something as vast as gender and sexuality seems in many ways, unachievable, and that I feel is to be respected.

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