Archives for category: Transgender

Earlier this semester I spoke with a friend back home in Virginia who was working in the field with a Transgender activist. During the interview my friend accidentally slipped up and called her by the wrong pronoun: he.   Immediately he knew he messed up and was prepared to apologize when she “blew up” and began slinging a slew of curses about his disrespect to her personhood.  The interview stopped to allow everyone to return to a calm enough state to continue, with my friend taking a less active role for a teammate to continue the main questions.

Immediately I thought, should this be the proper response for such a situation?  This person who is transgendered has probably spent her entire life being called by the wrong gender and I’m sure it’s very traumatic as all the past events have built up.  As such I don’t feel she was in the wrong to be this upset, especially when she was supposed to be a in a situation where something like this shouldn’t happen: an interview about the perspective of being transgendered.  In these “safe spaces,” like our academic gender studies class, there is a certain decorum to learning how to say and do things to be respectful to everyone across the gender spectrum.

However, we have to remember this is not how “the real world” behaves or reacts.  People are taught to see the world as a gender binary and realize the personal characteristics that make someone look like a male or a female.  While a trained person will recognize an transgender women, the rest of the world sees a man in a dress.  While we can educate each other to learn to see otherwise, we have to be patient and realize that most people aren’t used to it yet.  It hasn’t developed in the vocabulary.  It’ll take time.  When someone starts to yell it immediately puts people in defensive mode and emotions will flare.  While my friend is respectful, many will not be and it can only put them off to be yelled at.  This doesn’t make the community look good and people unlike my friend will come away from the experience remembering that he was chastised for his ignorance and maybe nothing else.  Perhaps a calmer, but still stern comment is all it should take to set someone “straight?”  Education is key.

–Brian Falatko

I dont know what everyone else was taught in school, but I was given several basic principles. First off, I was taught that there were boys and girls, they each had their own bathrooms, and there was no crossover between those two titles. Obviously that was wrong. Not only was it wrong but it assumes that gender is an easily assigned attribute to a body. Even biological sex is sometimes ambiguous and I was never taught to be sensitive to these issues. I was taught all people fall under one of two categories, boy or girl.

While this may be a generic understanding of people, it completely ignores the many ambiguities that bodies offer up as “sex” or “gender”. What is the point of seperating the biological sexes of children that are all gay for example? While this scenerio seems unlikely, the point that spereation is an odd concept remains.

Beyond the myth of only two genders or body types there was another lie I was taught in school, the XX and XY lie. While it is true that the XX and XY chromosomes seem to have a strong correlation with the biological sex of a person, it is also true that they are not the only factors. I was given the understanding that biological sex was purely based upon these two choromosomes, and until recently I believed that to be true. Now I have learned that the 11th chromosome may be responsible for the development of a penis. Also, the SRY gene seems to be responsible for many gendered characteristics. Obviously there is more to the body of a person than their XX or XY gene.

Finally, in lies I was told, I was taught that attraction is innate and caused by an evolutionary process that requires boys to be attracted to girls and girls to be attracted to boys. Attraction is the result of the evolutionary drive to propagate and promote the survival of thier genes. As a self identifying gay man I can tell every person that this is not true. I am attrated to members of my own biological sex and realize that there is no “natural” way for me and another man to have a child together but that does not meant that my attraction is a “choice”. If anything it shows that my attraction is not a choice. If biology told me to like girls, would I really have a choice? obviously not because my body would respond regardless of my wishes.

While this blog post touches on the issue of boy vs. girl, I haven’t yet writtne about the transgendered issue. With all of the people who identify as sexualities and genders outside of the typical binary norm, it is remarkable that people are still able to convince themselves that the binary understanding of sexuality and gender is accurate.


We have discussed the danger of focusing excessively on a single facet of personal or social identity, whether such a marker is one’s own or that of someone else. Audre Lorde touched on this–how she was frequently “encouraged to pluck out some one aspect of [herself] and present this as the meaningful whole–among other authors we’ve encountered so far in the course of the semester’s classwork (Lorde 120). This often gives us the false pretense of power at the expense of another. Or, sometimes it just feels necessary for survival.

The once mutually beneficial relationship between suffragettes and abolitionists is said to have seriously degraded after the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment. (This 1869 amendment gave African American men the right to vote, although this right was often blocked in actuality by other political maneuvers. Women did not receive the right to vote until 1920, although the actual uptake of this law went more smoothly for this group.) Many Second Wave feminists did not want to be associated with lesbians or any sort of pro-gay movements in the spirit for taking care of one’s own needs first. And, in David Valentine’s book Imagining Transgender, the author mentions the proposed Employment Non Discrimination Act’s exclusion of “‘gender identity or expression’ as a category of protection” (Valentine 9). (Such language was later incorporated in act, but the act was also dropped.) At any rate, it seems that a person can mount an [insert almost any social justice movement] campaign while still remaining entrenched in [insert almost any form of repression or hate], often simultaneously.

What Valentine pushed me to realize is that not only is identity multi-faceted, and not only can those multiple facets of identity be used against each other, but individual facets or markers, themselves, are multiplicitious. One aspect of such a facet or marker should not be privileged over another. No one version of being trans–being pre- or post-op, wanting to fully complete a re-assignment surgery–or wanting one at all–wanting a same sex partner or a partner of the opposite sex, being MTF or FTM, appearing “hard” or “soft”… the list goes on.

This is one way in which categorization is restrictive, instead of enabling. If we try to consolidate such a multiplicitous human experience into one category, people might begin holding themselves up to that experience comparatively. In the same way that people are judged–or judge themselves–for not measuring up to heteronormativity, for example, it would be harmful for people to hold themselves to a single, imagined, ahistorical, and ultimately impossible standard of being transgendered.

P.S. Check out this lovely creature:

In conclusion–don’t pluck, just fuck!


Lynn Beavin

After our discussion on David Valentine’s book on the category of transgender and the complicated, and sometimes contradictory, identities people claim, I continued to think about our obsession with categorization. It’s as if we have to place every aspect of the corporeal experience into a special identified place where anyone can read the definition and understand all the complexities of a given individual.

I instantly thought of baby Storm, the genderless child in Canada.

Looking at this new clip, I can’t help but grow utterly annoyed with people. I’m aware the idea of a genderless child can be hard to handle in a society where the first comment made about a newborn’s body is it’s gender (“It’s a boy/girl!”), but that what’s her name from The View would claim keeping a child’s gender a secret is selfish, the  apparent expert psychologist arguing the child could be emotionally scarred by choosing his/her gender, and the overall demand to know which of the binary genders the baby had to be… oh damn damn damn

The Gender Studies Isopod is so wise

It irritates me that people have this urge to categorize each other even when the situation affects them in no way. So many people are throwing a tizzy because they don’t know the gender of a baby they’ll probably never meet, and even if they were to meet Storm they would still be unaffected. As Storm grows, he/she will learn gender from the world around him/her and Storm will have a gender that suits him/her the best. I couldn’t imagine this child growing up into an adult who’s emotionally damaged because their parents allowed him/her to decide what was best for him/herself.

This goes back to transgender and how Valentine, for example, described his confusion at a male bodied individual who identified as a man, lived as a woman, and claimed to be gay could embody all these contradictory identities simultaneously. Identity is a complex combination of so many experiences, inclinations, and desires that to believe binaristic categories are enough to explain one’s corporeality is farfetched to say the least.

-Lucas Z

In David Valentine’s book, “Imagining Transgender, an ethnography of a category”, his initial description of what ballroom was as well as the visits that Valentine made to the different balls peaked my interest most. I was introduced to ballroom by Dr. Marlon Bailey in G215 this semester. I did not understand the complexity of ballroom culture, nor the breadth of people that participate in ballroom.

The analysis that Valentine gave of the three different balls; The Clubhouse, Crossdressers International (CDI) Debutante Ball, and Night of  a Thousand Gowns enlightened me to the intricacies that ballroom has to offer. Like in the movie Paris is Burning balls are an outlet for people;  cisgendered, bisexual, homosexual, transsexual or transgender to achieve status or to just have plain fun (75). Most balls that Valentine talks about are attended by black and Latino gay men, though there are also balls where cisgendered women can also participate. Houses are groups of people that participate in balls that can fulfill the same category during competition, or are of the same general embodied gender. Houses also serve as alternative families and support networks for their member (75).

In Dr. Bailey’s article Gender/Racial Realness: Theorizing the Gender System in Ballroom Culture, readers are  introduced to all of the categories of gender embodiment as well as what Bailey calls the six-part gender system. Butch queens, femme queens, butch queens up in drags, butches, women, and men can all find a place in ballroom culture. “The gender system in ballroom culture is always about sexuality and reflects the pervasive conflation of sex, gender, and sexuality in broader society” (371, Bailey). I find it intriguing the criteria for someone to participate in a certain category, and that judgement is passed on your “realness” over all else. We watched a video in class where a cisgendered woman walked in the wrong category. The criticism of her honest mistake and the lewd comments from the judges showed me that even though ballroom has it’s own culture it is still policed by societal standards. One of the judges put a hand on her vagina to feel for its “realness”. Even in subcultures of the most deviate categories what society deems as male/female or masculine/feminine ends up being the law.

Here are two videos for your viewing pleasure.


-Sarah Klapperich

The biggest part of our discussion in class about David Valentine that stuck out to me most was when he spoke about his conversation with the meat girls regarding transgender. Specifically Anita who claimed to be a man, a woman, and  gay. Yes she is male bodied, yet she is a transgender and is considered a queer all at the same time. What got me most, is that David Valentine could not really understand the way she chose to identify herself. How can one identify themselves as both sexes, and gay? When he asked her if she is a woman she did not hesitate when she said yes. But she also explained that she is also a man and she is also gay. Isn’t it difficult to be a woman AND a gay man? But the real question is, why can’t she choose to identify with all three?

This conversation that David Valentine shared with Anita is one that can be had with many people actually. One of my second cousins recently had a sex change. He changed from a guy to a girl. He was always on his own wavelength and chose to live his life however he felt.  It was almost kind of random when he made the announcement, but he never showed any signs of wanting to change, and his love life was always kept very hush hush. But since that sex change, my cousin has been seen with men on an intimate level.  Technically, he was born with a man’s body, but now he has a women’s body and expresses interest in men freely. So, if we look at this from David Valentine’s point-of-view, is my cousin considered a man? Or a woman? And if he is considered a man, doesn’ t that make him gay? And if he’s considered a woman, then doesn’t that make him heterosexual?

Actually, there really is no right answer. My cousin chooses to take the role of a female. But, since he chose to make the change and now is intimate with males, I guess you can say at one point and time he was a gay man. However, what he once was and what he is now are two different things. Society puts so much pressure on being one or the other, and not both. And apparently, it is not normal nor is it accepted to change at some point and time in your life. What we have here, is a perfect example of society as David Valentine cannot seem to think and comprehend Anita classifying herself with more than one sex. He demonstrates the confusion and resistance towards the ambiguity of sex and identity of which most in our world do. We are so used to black and white, that when a gray situation arises people become closed to this concept and do not accept the changes and choices of our world.  Technically, Anita is all three if you really think about it. So yes, you can be a man, a female and gay all at the same time, after all the choice is yours, not society’s.

-C. Praljak

During David Valentine’s research and work with a social services agency, he was considered to be on the “inside” because of his personal standing within the “GLBT community.” At the time though, he had little real-life understand of the differences between him and the transgender community he was trying to serve with safe-sex information and condoms. The agency that Valentine worked for was committed to only serving transgender individuals. When Valentine asked others about their identity, transgender wasn’t a term that resonated with each individual. Despite transgender people being included in the family of GLBT, the transgender people he talked to felt connected to other identities.

In a recent conversation with a transgender peer, I realized that maybe this disassociation from the identities available occurs regularly. After all, we only have so many identities to choose from (though more may come into existence in the future), and there is bound to be disagreement on the meanings of some. My friend explained she thought the “GLBT group on campus had reached a critical mass, and now there were enough people and there was enough room to be catty, to disagree with one another.” When she first explained her thinking, I thought that she meant that because of the growth of the community, there was no longer a need to work closely together, to support one another in events and gatherings. (I am referring to groups and organization that make up the GLBT community, not individual people). Initially, I thought that her idea and conclusion were very bad things. What I realized, is that through disagreement, with an organizations behavior or the definition of an identity, comes change and growth.

A great example of this would be conflict surround Miss Gay IU. In recent years (maybe longer, I don’t know), Miss Gay IU has received criticism for its lack of inclusivity of gender queer and gender fuck individuals. Because of this, a new drag show came about which supported the ideals of the more gender ambiguous. (The show was very interesting, by the way!) What I can say is that disagreement created dialogue, which led to further recognition of less understood identity. Disagreement worked out well for both groups and the GLBT community at large.

-Jenna Graham

I’ll admit that this week’s blog post from me has little to do with David Valentine’s examination of the category “transgender.”  His examination of this category is very  interesting, it complicates our own understanding of gender and sexuality from gender studies classes, as well as how we interact and communicate our understandings with people who do/don’t share this same background. However, what interests me is what is missing. I couldn’t help but notice that there were very little drag kings, butches, or FTM individuals in this ethnography. While Valentine does address that this is missing in the book multiple times, I still kind of think it was a cop out. Valentine’s writes

while I talked to, interviewed, and spent time with FTMs and female-bodied masculine people, the vast majority of my research was conducted with MTF transsexual-and transgender-identified people and male-bodied feminine people (24).

One of the reasons he offers is because there was not a social space where FTM’s  or female-bodied masculine people organized or congregated as a group (260). This is in contrast with the balls that he visited where male-bodied fem queens and butch queens were able to congregate as a group. However, he admits there were female-bodied butches at these venues, but it was much more centered around male-bodied fem queens and butch queens (260). While this is true, it still would have been interesting if Valentine could have either searched harder for different venues or just interviewed  more female-bodied masculine people. It would have also been interesting he had spent time trying to understand why there are more spaces that are centered around male-bodied feminine people.

While he does pose the question

if it is true that the broader cultural models of ‘transgender ‘ are being formulated around the experiences of those who were born male, what does this say about the category itself? (24)

However, this feels like an empty question posed to the reader to examine, but not really examined  by Valentine. This question is fascinating though. It highlights how the term ‘transgender’ is centered around the experiences and knowledge of individuals that were born male, not female. What does this say about the term? Is it suggesting the experiences of individuals born female are not as important? Is this just another instance of inequality in a patriarchal hierarchy? I just wish Valentine would have integrated this question and similar ones more into the text and investigated them more, rather than simply glossing over them and female-bodied masculine individuals and FTMs.


By Kristy Wilson

Throughout his book, “Imagining Transgender,” David Valentine takes the reader on his journey to find the meaning of the word “transgender.” Whether one enjoys his style of doing so, his attempt to understand a category is interesting. While it makes sense to further explore a category such as “transgender” because there are various institutional benefits and implications, it would nonetheless be just as fruitful a pursuit to begin to “imagine heterosexuality.”

Of course, the “heterosexual culture” is, in a way, being constantly studied since it almost exclusively appears in the media and in pop culture. But, using Valentine’s lens on this phenomenon too could be informative, and is certain to be entertaining.

As soon as he realizes that “transgender” needs to be examined as a category, Valentine goes to various queer-populated places. Now, where could one go to do the same research on straight people? Hmmm… anywhere really. But I guess people don’t really do this research since it’s too easy; they’re not riding their bike all over the sketchy parts of NYC.

While talking to some of the women Valentine feels would fit the category “transgender,” they quickly make it clear to him that his own status as a gay man doesn’t automatically make him fit in with them even though they identify as gay too. If there ever were such a thing as an official heterosexual support group (keeping in mind that most of the U.S. is one big hetero support group in itself), I doubt anyone who had been divorced, was single, or had children out of wedlock would be denied participation. That’s not to say that everyone would have everything in common, but nobody would be shunned because their sexual orientation manifested itself in variant ways.

One of Valentine’s underlying missions is to better understand the category “transgender” so that he (and in turn the social services agencies with which he is affiliated) can provide better support for them. In essence, he’s trying to come up with ways to alleviate the problems they face. So, what heterosexual problems could we fix if we thought about things a little differently? (Now, I know this is hard to think about since being straight, married, and living in the burbs is of course everyone’s ideal existence, but just work with me here.)

Maybe we could do something about the 50+% divorce rate in the U.S. Or, what if millions of children didn’t go hungry every night because their single working class mother couldn’t feed them adequately? Wouldn’t it be nice if all men took responsibility for the children they fathered?

Obviously heterosexuality isn’t the sole culprit in any of these problems, but phenomena like these just make one wonder how different things would be if we didn’t just study the categories on the fringes of society and took a closer look at the ones in the center.

-Mika Baugh

As a pre-med student at IU, it sometimes stings to see what harm medicine has done in the past. The effects of medicalization have helped and harmed communities for centuries. Historically, lepers were locked away from civilization until medicine found a way to treat them. When HIV was first discovered, the same kind of confinement was proposed. I think the initial thought is that medicalizing something different at least gives people an excuse for why others don’t fit in to the status quo. I feel like humans fear what they don’t know, but medicalizing some peoples’ lifestyles lead to more acceptance because these folks have medical issues instead of deviant intentions. But instead of making excuses, we should just realize there will never be a wrong and right way as people. The billions of us share billions of differences though on the inside we look almost the same.  As soon as people come to terms with the fact that it is all right to be different, we will begin to see changes in society.

Even though this class has pointed out a lot of trouble with medicine and the LGBTQ community, it drives me to be a doctor even more. Demedicalization of some “disorders” is necessary and can likely only be accomplished if people deeply connected to the medical community can open eyes and make changes. want to provide services to as many people as possible. I have always wanted to be an OBGYN, so with the knowledge I have, I hope to be able to serve all female bodied patients, whether surgically so or not, and learn about how to work with different sorts of people. Doctors are allowed to decide who they want to take on as a patient, and I think very few doctors have been trained in trans medicine and most do not know how to treat a trans patient, even just as a general health physician. We need to recognize the growing need for trans-medicine and enable doctors to seek training in that field.  I think there are positive and negative consequences to demedicalizing the identity of trans. On one hand, fitting into this category may help provide people with social and medical services that they would not qualify for if they did not have a “condition”.  On the other hand, if I were a trans person, I would not want to be diagnosed with a disorder when I was completely healthy and happy, as well as confident in knowing who I am. The current viewpoints towards the trans community in our nation needs to be refigured, but I can see the trouble with restructuring our system as it seems that either way, some will lose access to healthcare. Instead of a few people taking on this responsibility, it would be amazing for more doctors to take on the responsibility to learn about a group of people that need medical attention.

This blog shows one person’s feelings about the medical community deeming them as having a disorder for being trans. They view the medicalization as being hurtful and harmful. While their points are valid, it would seem like many arguments can be made for the positive aspects of medicalization as well, making this topic complicated and also necessary to discuss.

Parisa Mansoori