In David Valentine’s book Imagining Transgender, the author discusses his encounters with the girls of the Meat Market while doing field work on Transgender individuals.  Valentine interviews some of the girls, who are male-bodied and perform and do sex work as women.  Due to his academic background, Valentine’s understanding of transgender identity was one that was completely separate from sexual identity.  Therefore, when Valentine interviews Anita he is unable to comprehend Anita’s insistence that she sees herself as a woman, a man, and gay all at the same time.  Valentine asks Anita if she considers herself to be a woman to which she replies, “yes, yes.”  But soon after Anita asserts, “I know I’m gay and I know I’m a man” (115).  Valentine is at first confused by Anita’s assertions because she seems to be taking on seemingly conflicting identities.  After all, how can she be both a woman and a gay man simultaneously?  In my opinion, the answer lies in our society’s common sense understanding of man and woman as polar opposites.  If one identifies as a woman, then one is thought not to be able to also embody woman’s polar opposite, man.  The fact that Anita throws sexuality into the mix also complicates the hetero/homo binary opposition.  What I want to know is, why can’t Anita choose to situate her identity among two or more seemingly conflicting categories?  Why must she choose one or the other?  Why is it that Anita is seen as not understanding her true identity as transgender, when that term is illegible in Anita’s culture?

Anita dresses as a woman, “treats” herself as a woman, and considers herself to be a woman.  But she also knows she is a man.  After all, before she started performing as a woman, I bet she probably identified as a (gay) man too.  Why is it that she is expected to drop that identity in order to appropriately maintain a new identity as a woman?  Why can’t she keep her gay male identity and add another one?  I’m 24 years old.  I know I am an adult.  I look like an adult, treat myself like an adult.  But I also have not entirely let go of my identity as a child.  I am my mother’s child.  I am an adult to my peers and boyfriend.  But I am still a child.  And an adult.  All at the same time!  Speaking of my mother, there’s a woman who has a history of embodying seemingly conflicting identities.  My mother is a lesbian.  She undoubtedly fully identifies as such.  However, my mom married my  former step-father in 1998 after 4 years in a lesbian relationship.  She was married to him for 8 years, during which they engaged in heterosexual sex (ew!).  But my mom always still identified as a lesbian.  She was both a wife in a heterosexual, monogamous marriage and a lesbian.  All at the same time!  Ask her today (she’s in a lesbian relationship with another woman now)  and she will tell you that she was always a lesbian in those 8 years as a wife.  She loved my step-father at the time and enjoyed the sex, but she was a lesbian.

So, who cares if Anita is a woman, a man, and gay?  It’s her identity, not yours.  She doesn’t need to be enlightened by academic discourse in order to show her who she really is.  She knows what she is.  If you don’t, that’s your problem.

-Stephanie Halsted