Archives for posts with tag: David Valentine

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

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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

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