Trans/migrant is an important key concept that defines an individual who crosses over national borders to leave or escape from their homeland to a new homeland. The term trans/migrant can simply mean “to move or pass from one place to another”, as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Trans/migrant has been first developed by Nina Glick Schiller, who is the Director of the Cosmopolitan Cultures Institute and Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester and Professor. Schiller explained trans/migrants as “mobile subjects” that are created and has sustained multiple social relations that are connected together with the societies of their origin. More about Schiller’s research on transnational migration can be found from her article “From Immigrant to Transmigrant: Theorizing Transnational Migration”. (Anthropological Quarterly 1995) The works from Sexile by Jaime Cortez and All that Glitters: Trans-ing California’s Gold Rush Migrations by Clare Sears can be used to explain why “trans/migrant” is important, especially to trans studies.
From Sexile, Adela Vazquez is the culmination of everything trans: “transnational, transgendered, transformative, and fully transfixing.” (p. vii) Adela knows her own sense of risk, exile, and home in relation to her self-identity. Thanks to the created spaces of possibility, Adela can reinvent herself through the transition as a trans/migrant from Cuba to the U.S. Adela described the hope for her new self, “Beautiful like everything I ever wanted to but never thought I would have. You gonna be beautiful, girl. Like revolution in the flesh. Like hope.” (p.35) This shows that to transmigrate is not only a physical process for Adela, but also an emotional and internal change to her new sexual and gender identity in relation to the nation she lived in. To transmigrate means the need to adapt to the new environment and culture with its own customs and rules. Gender relates to national belonging. From her good friend Rolando, Adela learned about the “six commandments of living in the U.S.A”, such as the first commandment, “Stare not at the crotches of menfolk. It’s bad manners.” (p.45) The six commandments informs on the rules and behaviors that Adela has to abide by, in order to belong to her new nation of residence. By the end of the story, Adela realized that she cannot separate her origin from resident. One’s origin is part of the self, no matter what. Part of being a trans/migrant is connecting the social relations from the societies of origin and residence. There is the difficult process of assimilation and incorporation into the foreign culture and society, but it doesn’t mean to left go the ways of one’s origins entirely. These social relations with sexual and gender identity encompasses the path to becoming Adela’s “home”, no longer exiled, “All the in-between places are my home. This beautiful freak body is home. And everyday I love it…” (p.64)
From All That Glitters, 95% of young men migrated to the U.S. during California’s gold rush. As a consequence of transmigration, the created spaces of possibility and opportunity are paved to start a new life. Another consequence of transmigration is emphasized greatly from the lack or absence of women. Women are seen as the “humanizing” and “civilizing” force. The phenomenon of cross-gender practices emerged, especially cross-dressing. There’s also the discussion on masculinity and femininity in relation to gender identity, which is found to be blurred because it’s difficult to tell if an individual is a man or woman from appearance only. First, an example is seen from the representation of Chinese men as feminine and Chinese gender as illegible or indistinct from political discourses. This shows how cross-gender discourses are used in racialization and politics of exclusion in relation to transmigration and national movement. This discourse resulted in policing of new racial boundaries, along with having the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. From anti-Chinese politics, the nation concentrated on the “stereotypical figure of the feminized Chinese male domestic.” Due to the supposed lack of masculinity, Chinese men can mostly perform the domestic work, such as “[lacing] Madam’s corsets” or “[setting] the table for breakfast.” (p.394) Second, gender practices produced heteronormative white “American” masculinity. An example is seen at the dances, where it facilitated the appearance heteronormative relations. Some men would temporarily transform themselves to become women by dressing up as one. Wearing a handkerchief would also be indication of being a temporary woman. (p.387)
Trans/migrants is significant to trans studies because it contextualized the relationship between sex, gender, and nation, especially from the experiences of trans folks. Gender boundaries shift and have different cultural meanings.