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.