Self-Identity

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.

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White Supremacy

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Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality carries incredible weight in the field of Trans(gender) Studies, as it should in all sociological fields, if for no other reason than the majority of the trans people murdered every year are trans women of color, who are lower class and, in many cases, sex workers. The intersections of their oppressions, and of the oppressions faced by all trans people, all ultimately come down to one unifying factor present in every aspect of society here in the United States: White Supremacy. White Supremacy is the notion that the actions and cultural standards of white people and western (euro-centric) societies are inherently better than those of any others, which encourages racism, xenophobia, and systematic reinforcement of these views due to the fact that here in the US the majority of our infrastructure and system of government is run by people who benefit from — if not wholeheartedly subscribe to — the ideals of White Supremacy.

What does this have to do with trans studies and intersectionality? asks the person who didn’t read the first two sentences of that previous paragraph. Well, I answer, after telling them to do so, we can start with the fact that the Male/Female Sex/Gender Binary that we know and our system subscribes to here in the US (and in most — if not all — of the Western World) is a product of White Supremacy, as many other cultures from around the world have concepts of genders that fall outside of this concept. Unfortunately, White Supremacy has taken this fact and twisted it to suit its needs by forming the anthropological category of “Third Gender”, which Towle and Morgan assert “[accords these societies] a primordial, foundational location in our thinking, as though they underlay or predated Western gender formulations”, “lumps all nonnormative gender variations into one category, limiting our understandings of the range and diversity of gender ideologies and practices”, and “may isolate the West… thereby reinforcing our ethnocentric assumptions; and inducing us to focus on diversity between cultures while ignoring diversity, or the complexities of social change, within them” (Towle & Morgan, 477). Anthropology has always seemed to me like a very White Supremacist field of study (looking at people who are living today with almost the same level of respect as they would look at ancient, long dead societies, or animals), and this category of “Third Gender”, applied like a blanket to all non-Western-Binary identities in non-Western societies only serves to reinforce that.

This isn’t only apparent in anthropological studies Towle & Morgan’s essay, however. Western trans people/activists themselves will project White Supremacy onto people who are placed into such a category in order to use them like a prop to justify their own existence, completely disregarding cultural relativity, as is evidenced by Nancy Nangeroni’s article in the magazine Transgender Tapestry, about māhū on the Molokai, in Hawaii (Towle & Morgan, 479-80) in which she conveniently and purposefully disregards cultural context in favor of a more simple and pleasant take on the situation of her source, Moana, and the material’s relevance to trans identified people in the United States. Similar is the story of Anne Ogborn, a trans woman from the States who went to India and ‘adopted the identity of a hijra’ (Towle & Morgan, 480-481, 484-485, 487-489), and even though entirely immersed in the culture for (I assume) months, she remained willfully ignorant of the cultural significance and complications of her ‘assumed identity’ for and to people actually members of that particular culture. For Ogborn, her time in India as a ‘hijra’ was an example of “Eat, Pray, Love” syndrome, in which a white person (which I am assuming about Ogborn as I cannot find anything reliable from a cursory googling about her race) travels to an impoverished nation, spends time among the ‘unwashed masses’ and find spiritual awakening, so that they can return to their privileged lives in their home country enriched and better for the experience, while offering nothing whatsoever to the place they found this enlightenment except perhaps some white saviorism (so certainly nothing of value).

Even if we don’t take travel into other cultures into account, White Supremacy is still present in trans studies and ‘trans histories’ focused on the United States, as can be found in Clare Sears’ essay “All that Glitters: Trans-ing California’s Gold Rush Migrations”. The myriad of gender-variant actions and presentations (or, as some would say, gender-fuckery) found during the Gold Rush era here in San Francisco offers plenty of interest to trans-focused historians, and plenty of evidence of my focus in this post. The pervasive cross-dressing at dances and the like were used to reinforce the exclusion of Mexican and Native-American women who were present during this period but viewed as “un-marry-able” and thus invisible to the white settlers, and since they couldn’t fulfill the only purpose of women during that era (bear legitimate children in wedlock), their dehumanization was that much further reinforced (Sears, 385, 391). Additionally, the cross-dressing practices were interrelated with racist blackface “minstrel” performances (Sears, 391-2) and managed to “consolidate white working-class masculinity” (Sears, 392) and thus reinforce White Supremacy even to the extent of enabling these men to ignore their own then-socially-normalized “deviances” and dehumanize Chinese workers & miners for being “too feminine” for working “female jobs” too well, leading to institutional repercussions like the Chinese Exclusion Acts (Sears, 393-7) and stereotypes of Asian men that persist to this day.

It is crucially important for Trans Studies as a field to constantly keep White Supremacy in mind when conducting research in order to make sure that our writings (especially when done by white people like myself) and research do not perpetuate it and so that we do not ignore its impact on people around the world or here in the United States and how it combines with other modes of oppression for individuals in our field of study and in our communities.

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.

Gender

As I made my way through Target’s isles today I came across the children’s section, and I noticed the distinction between children’s clothes, toys, diapers, and the list can literally go on.  I began to wonder wether parents were reinforcing gender roles onto their children and began to question why parents are so obsessed with dressing their daughters in pink onesies and their sons in blue?  What is it about the color pink that automatically makes people associate it with femininity and blue onesies with masculinity?  And I wanted to know what I could do in order to provide my child with an environment free of gender expectations.

I began to remember Susan Stryker’s article and the definition she associated with gender which is; considered to be cultural, and sex, biological.  I began reflecting on the discussions we’ve had in class, thus far, and the readings we have been assigned.  I couldn’t help but revisit Clare Sears and Jaime Cortez pieces.

Clare Sears article All that Glitters: Trans-ing California’s Gold Rush Migrations, did an amazing job of describing the distinction between men’s labor and what was considered to be women’s work.  The history given in the text regarding the migration of miners and the clear gender imbalance during the gold rush meant gender roles were being practiced by men primarly.  To my surprise the number of men compared to women during the gold rush, women were 2% of the population, meant that men were washing  their own clothes, cooking their own dinner, and doing “women’s work”.  There were plenty of women but instead of counting indigenous women as acceptable women they would rather wear dresses and indicate themselves as being female for the day.  “The problem of “‘too few women”‘ in gold rush California, then, was more accurately a problem of “‘too few women acceptable for marriage to Euro-American men”‘ and it had several causes that predated midcentury mass migration (page 385).

Jaime Cortez’s article Sexile, describes Adela’s journey from being Cuban inhabitant to being exiled from his birth home and eventually transforming into a woman.  My favorite page has to be page 25 because she demonstrates how no matter how much people hate who she is, she will continue to be who she feels she is. The people that Adela meets are individuals that found themselves rejected from their birthplace because they defied the social construction of gender roles.  She was able to find a community and developed a culture that best supported her through her changes.

So why is it important to discuss this issue in trans-studies?  Well these conversations are hard to come by, and although these issues affect us all; these conversations are not happening nearly enough.  I think of the countries or states that have recently made it illegal to be gay, lesbian, transgender otherwise you can serve time in prison and even supporters are facing sentences.  I hear this news and it makes me question how far our humanity has come? Where people can’t be with the one they love because its now illegal to love who and how you love. If we don’t speak up concerning the rights of others we are allowing ourselves to be one day silenced by higher powers as well.

Bakla

As we have moved through readings and articles, we have learned of various relationships cultures share with the transgender community. Although the terms and definitions often times may overlap, they still maintain distinct details. In this way, we can look at what is regarded as filipino queerness, known as the “Bakla”. This term has particular perceived meanings, depending on what culture’s scope you are looking through.  The term “Bakla” is born from the marriage of two Tagalog words. The first, “babae” translated to english as “woman”, joins together with “lakaki”, translated as “man” to create “Bakla”. Filipino lore claims a bakla is one who posses both a male body and female heart. There are similar categories bakla spreads through and slightly different definitions of the word like hermaphrodite, transvestite, and homosexual but at the center of each variation are feminine-characteristics within a male and cross-dressing. The word represents a social category for Filipino’s. At times, some have used “Bakla” to represent Filipino “queerness” and “gay” to represent white queerness but by translating to homosexual, we loose the social implications the word bakla forces upon those who fall into its category. By being a bakla, the filipino culture places you into a specific social and economic rankings. Baklas are perceived to desire the macho man, and to do whatever it takes to get the desired subject. In this way, they have predispositions placed upon them. Their desires are dictated to them by people around them, not realized by one’s self. The Philippines have a booming prostitution industry and it is estimated that 80 percent of the population of working and lower class men have participated in sexual acts with a bakla. This caters directly to the bakla, and as a result, the bakla will prosper economically above the majority who live in poverty. Manalansan suggests “This is the social script of the bakla. In order to fulfill his inscribed roll, a bakla has to slave away at work in order to survive and get what he is told he should desire- the ‘straight’ macho man.” (Manalansan, 26) He goes on to claim the bakla, being woman must suffer  and “pseudo-woman”, their male identity, must pay.

The culture that is the bakla is just one of the many relationships a culture shares with their trans community. The bakla sheds light on a more public, yet less controversial trans community. In Manalansan’s article, he describes listening to a discussion between Ron and Rodel in which they make a point that I believe encompass’s the basis of the bakla. When Rodel asks Ron if he were going to attend the gay rights parade in New York, Ron simply replies “Why would I do that? Besides, why do people do that? What do they (these gay men) have to prove?” (Manalansan 31) The United States gay men are looked at as loud, obnoxious, referred to as a “carnival”. For the most part, the bakla community is more modest, they aren’t trying to “prove” anything. In the Philippines, they do not have to “come-out” to their friends and family as the queer community is accustomed to in the U.S. They refer to it more as an unveiling, they have been this way their whole life, they have known it, the people in their lives know it and for the most part accept it as well. Rather than feeling trapped until they voice exactly who they are, who they have been hiding they are in the United States, the bakla almost grows into their true selves. The lack of social criticism that is placed on being trans in the filipino culture emphasizes the way other cultures interact, respect and support the transgender population in their own cultures.

Fajardo’s essay further supports the acceptance and tolerance for transgender filipino’s. As she converses with male shipmates, she learns of their relationships with filipino “tomboys” and the love and respect the men feel for them. They were viewed simply as friends and loved ones, regardless of their trans identity. After reading these articles, I realized there are so many ways cultures deal with the population that lie outside of the “norm”,really any norm, whether it be gender, sexual orientation, or simply the way in which you decide to dress yourself, it fascinates me to see how one population can group people together and completely accept and respect them while another populations group the same people together and criticize their choices and preferences.

Trans/migrant

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.

Im-migrant

I will be defining a word that can slightly change its definition by adding two letters in front of it.
It is interesting how there are several different synonyms for the term im-migrant? There’s refugee, traveler, wanderer, drifter, incomer, emigrant, mover, settler etc. It is fascinating how we never stop and think about what these words can mean and how easily they can be interchanged. According to our history books immigration has always been a fundamental part of American history because im-migrants have been coming to the United States (U.S) ever since it was discovered, since the Spanish conquest in 1769 (Sears 385). That is how we know that most “Americans” were not born here, most immigrated and migrated towards the United States; therefor our nation is created by im-migrants.

I would like to define the term migrant; this definition comes from Merriam-Webster:

  • One that moves from one region to another by chance, instinct, or plan.
  • An itinerant worker who travels from one area to another in search of work.

Now for the term immigrant; Merriam- Webster:

  • A person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.

The connections that we can make from the readings of Kale Bantigue Fajardo in Translating Filipino and Filipino american Tomboy Masculinities through Global Migration and seafaring and Clare Sears in All that Glitters; is creating a theory of immigration that differentiates between the Push and Pull factors. When I use the term Push factor, I am primarily referring to the motive for which the individual is emigrating from their country of origin. Sears, states that many men immigrated towards the port of San Francisco during the Gold Rush for mining. In Fajardo’s article she states that they ‘migrated to work’ (403), making a large amount of money (404). We can understand that in both cases of im-migration it was a form of economic movement, giving a better value of the new country or place than in their native country. When I use the term Pull factor I am referring to the pull of the availability of jobs that is created and the pull away from their native home.

The term im-migration relates to transgender because in the articles written by Fajardo and Sears correlates on how the individual is being represented and/or is representing one’s self in the place they had migrated and immigrated too. In Sears All that Glitters, the article explores the multilayered relationship between the cross-gender phenomena and the migration politics of the gold rush in California. Due to the amount of young men migrating towards the ports of San Francisco, overnight they had transformed it into a city. In the year of 1849 there was only 2% of woman and by the year 1859 it had raised to 15%. Due to the lack of women in the city this created a gender imbalanced (385). Generating a new form of ‘ladies’ “several men became women for the night, wearing a sackcloth patch to indicate their new gender” (387). This gender of imbalanced opened a window for men to dress like woman in full form, now “female-bodied men were so common” (389) throughout the gold rush in California. Allowing a transformation of transgendered men to appear and be seen.

The article by Kale Bantigue Fajardo Translating Filipino and Filipino American Tomboy Masculinities through Global Migration and seafaring, is different than the article by Sears, but it relates to transgender because Fajardo writes about global migration trough transportation and how it has been feminized. Allowing a safe place for these tomboys to be who they want to be in a safe environment. Trough the article Fajardo, defines several terms for the Filipino seamen how they are “largely heterosexual, geographically and sexually mobile, and heroically nationalistic, while simultaneously being family oriented and usually “macho” (405). The migrants working in these ships are a close family creating a new way of living. Each one supporting each other throughout there travels, having a safe place to be who they are.