Thinking of Transgender as a “Migration”

In casual encounters, “curious” questions, “trying to educate myself” inquiries, and especially in mainstream media, both transgender people’s bodies and narratives are objectified.  This essentialist narrative of the transgender person feeling like they were “born in the wrong body,” “fully transition” with surgery in order to live in a binary heteronormative lifestyle is constantly being promoted as a form of learning what makes a person transgender.  (Katie Couric’s interview with Laverne Cox and Carmen Carrera is a perfect example of this). Much of the focus is on reaching a destination of some sort, achieving a desired “final stage” in order to be seen as transgender and/or accepted into society’s gender binary; however, thinking of transgender as a migration, journey, constant process, is much more accurate to the varying, individual narratives of transgender people.  Furthermore, this perspective allows the conversation to refocus on real issues like transphobia, transmisogyny, cissexism, violence/hate-crimes, oppression, and discrimination amongst the trans community.

A great definition of and inspiration to thinking about transgender identities as a migration is Kale Bantigue Fajardo’s article “Transportation: Translating Filipino and Filipino American Tomboy Masculinities through Global Migration and Seafaring,” where he argues that “The ‘trans’ in transgender and transportation evokes movement between and across culturally constructed racialized and classed masculinities and femininities, as well as movement in/through/between spaces. In other words, transportation as a term and framework highlights the intersections of embodied movement and migration and the fluidity of gender formations” (Fajardo, 530).  The juxtaposition of the terms transgender and transportation create a platform for thinking about transgender identities as a journey rather than a destination and how these spaces of movement–the in-between spaces–are where fluidity forms to challenge heteronormative ways of thinking about gender (how gender moves across spaces and cultures).  Therefore, a more inclusive narrative with this migration-lens could be: a transgender person started at a certain place (assigned a certain gender at birth) but then decides to start moving elsewhere (migrate towards a different gender), though there is no destination since the journey and the in-between spaces are more important to the trans identity.

Similarly, in his graphic novel Sexile, Jaime Cortez illustrates this concept of thinking about transgender as a migration through Adela’s story.  She is conflicted with being in exile and feeling like she is in between Cuba and the U.S. and also feeling like her body is in a constant state of in between.  Adela’s struggle of feeling lost, like she was searching and searching to find a place where she could call home–both physically and emotionally, in terms of gender–haunts her until the end of the graphic novel when she comes to accept herself as a constant movement.  “I was swimming, swimming, swimming / I had the fear like before / Can’t find the shore / And then I knew / All the in between places are my home / This beautiful freak body is home / And every day I love it” (Cortez, 64).

Thinking of transgender as a “migration” is overwhelmingly significant to trans studies because supports the redefining of trans identities.  Moreover, this concept refocuses the objectification of trans bodies and narratives towards challenging and eventually overturning the essentialist transgender narrative that corners and limits many trans people’s realities.


2 thoughts on “Thinking of Transgender as a “Migration”

  1. I like how you said to think of transgender as a constant process. The majority of people seem to only care about what a trans person’s gender was before and after their transition. To truly understand what it is to be transgendered, you cannot only focus on the beginning and the end of the transition, you have to take into account everything that occurred in the middle as well. I feel like most people are so eager to put labels on those who are different so that they can put them in a box. By putting transgendered people in a one size fits all category they are able to make sense of it in their own head. The majority of people are simple minded and it is difficult for them to comprehend complex ideas. Its easier for them to make generalizations about transgender people and push them away than it is to make an effort to dig deeper to better understand what it means to be transgendered. The idea that someone’s identity is set in stone, that it mirrors their physical appearance, and that it can be labeled is too simple and incorrect. What it means to be transgendered is ever evolving and constantly changing with time.

    Advances in technology, science, and medicine have allowed us to better understand what it means to be transgendered. There is more accurate information available today than there ever was. Technology allows that information to be easily dispersed to, and accessed by people all over the world. As a result of all of these advances, transgender by definition has constantly been changing over time, redefined, and better understood. I feel like it is very important to educate everyone about transgendered people using technology, science, and medicine because it is much more effective and accurate than the information available in the media.
    Society has slowly been more and more accepting of the LGBT community and in time people will have a better understanding of trans people and what it really means to be trans.

  2. I agree and think these “curious” questions and “trying to educate myself” inquiries are problematic, as one’s personal transitioning experience is irrelevant to the issues at hand for transgendered communities. By focusing on these inquires issues like the discrimination and harassment transgendered people face are ignored. In the case of Katie Couric’s interview Laverne Cox states “The preoccupation with transitioning with surgery objectifies trans people and then we don’t get to deal with the real lived experiences. The reality of trans peoples lives is so often we’re targets of violence, the unemployment 4 times the national average, the homicide rate is highest amongst trans women. When we focus on the transitioning we don’t get to focus on those things.” What needs addressing is not the biological make-up of a person, but how we must challenge and change dominant mainstream discourses that categorize these communities as deviant, liars and frauds. Violent acts inflected upon transgendered individuals are so often justified through such logic. Having “deceived” the perpetrator of one’s sex, this individual must be punished. Under no circumstances should someone’s own personal identity threaten one’s own or be seen as means for assault.

    By categorizing transgendered individuals into exclusive categories we run the risk of assuming and stereotyping one’s identities that are diverse and complex. Information that has nothing to do with the discrimination that transgendered individual’s face in their day-to-day lives simply for as Laverne Cox puts it, “being who they are”. It could be argued that these positioning’s come from a place of genuine interest, but they come off as interrogative and they are ultimately no one’s business. We need to move away from gender binaries that categorize individuals through one’s given sex. By focusing on transitioning details, we ignore issues that are affecting the wellbeing of transgendered individuals; we ignore the systems of oppression that are constantly at play. We also create categories of legitimacy and illegitimacy, certain trans individuals become more “real” than others, and we ignore intersectional issues of race and class that also play major roles in the accessibility one has to methods of procedure.

    I like your transgender narrative and your comment on how the in-between spaces are more important to the trans identity. Like the example in Sexile, these in-between places don’t need to have a destination and maybe that’s the whole point. Yet there is this constant need to define and categorize one’s sex in mainstream discourse, and I think this is what needs to be challenged. At risk is the notion that transgendered individuals represent either make-believers or deceivers/frauds or liars. It sets into motion that to “deceive” others of one’s sex is to be a liar, when one’s identity should be defined as however one chooses.

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