Key Term Self-Identity
This semester I ventured into the world of women gender studies but specifically transgender studies. I chose this course not because it was a part of one of the segments, but to gain more knowledge of the LGBTQ community and how individuals of this community self-identify or prefer to self-identify. Little did I know I would become extremely fascinated with the topic enough to open up to others who identify differently from the gender they were assigned at birth to further my knowledge on the subject. I must admit that I always thought of the word self-identity as one being able to freely self-identify themselves in any expression they choose, but I didn’t think there gender would change in the identification. For this blog assignment I chose the key term self-identity and two different articles that related to the key term that furthered my knowledge of what self-identity means to others.
In the article “I Know What I Am” by David Valentine discusses the notion that people who do not identify by their gender assigned at birth can be placed into at least one or two categories. Valentine conducts interviews with the girls in what he describes as the “meat market”. This is an area where many gather for multiple reasons, one major reason being prostitution. He quickly discovers that the girls in the meat market all define themselves differently ranging from fem queen to butch and they prefer not to be categorized. Valentine finds this similar to his previous encounter with Rita he writes “Like Rita (who I quoted in the introduction), Anita claims a number of different identities: gay, drag queen, man. While she did not claim to be a transsexual or a woman, she did not dispute my characterization of her as “living as a woman” (3.1) and noted that she does “everything like a woman” (3.2). In other words, being on hormones and living as a woman did not make her wither transsexual or a woman. But later in the interview, she said: “I don’t wanna go back to a man, you know,” implying that even if she is not a woman, she is no longer a man, despite her earlier assertion that “I know I’m a man” (3.3)(Valentine, 115). Valentine starts to understand that the interviewees cannot be classified into a certain category he goes on to say “In order to reach people you wish to help, you need to understand and use the categories by which they understand themselves” (Valentine, 134). This relates to our transgender studies course in multiple ways. One way is how society sees people who do not conform to the heteronormative norms and are considered being the “others” and not being represented successfully in society.
Self-identity is also mentioned in the article “Romancing the Transgender Native Rethinking the Use of the “Third Gender” concept written by Towle and Morgan. The article discusses the concept of the third gender being used to describe individuals who do not fit into the heteronormative social norms. Towle and Morgan disagree with this concept due to the fact that it is just another social construct to classify those individuals who do not fit into the gender binary and offers more limitability than heteronormativity. This article relates to our transgender studies course by redefining how society has placed numerous gender binaries on society forcing us to conform according to our assigned sex at birth. When in reality we should review our current understandings of personal identity and stop trying to force others into a certain category; the new one being third gender.
Self identification is a term I considered doing for the keyword assignment as well. I have a personal stake in defining this particular phrase. My brother has always been such a kind of… Aspirational north star for me. We are only 14 months apart so we grew up pretty close, but going even deeper than that we both grew up gay and had to cope with that in similar but also different ways. He was able to come to terms with himself a lot sooner than I did so he was really a guiding light for me in a lot of ways. In relation to self identification, he is truly a unique individual. I have often tried to describe him to friends (new or old) and am often coming up short because there is no real word that describes him. I suppose a lot of individuals would, naively, label him as a transvestite. Or perhaps “cross-dresser” is a word they would use; I’ve often times heard “drag queen” thrown around as well, but none of these terms are what he identifies as, indeed those who know him would also disagree with any of those assignations. He is very involved in the fashion industry in New York City, he works for a high end cosmetic company and has built himself quite a name within that business. He does not self-identify with any particular niche community. He is a gay man who is really passionate about and interested in women’s fashion. Occasionally he dresses up, not with the big hair, big makeup, and big outfits like one would typically see on a drag queen. He doesn’t perform at clubs or bars. He doesn’t have a “stage name”. He doesn’t want people to see him and think or mistake him for a woman (indeed what other people think doesn’t cross his mind at all). He simply gets very much into his art, his fashion sense, and his profound and sublime taste that others may begin to put him into some kind of gender norm or compartmentalize him into particular segments of the LGBTQ community. But all of those filters, ideals, standards, stereotypes, and social constructions don’t cross his mind for a second. He doesn’t self identify as anything other than a gay man who really loves the fashion industry. After that, he is just being himself which sometimes involves dressing in ways that may make others uncomfortable or question their understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman; and I have nothing but respect and love for that.