Archives for posts with tag: 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

When we read and discussed Donna Haraway’s The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropraite/d Others and discussed it I was very much interested in the idea of inappropriated others.  It is very clear how this term relates to gender because a not being heterosexual or dis-identifying with the gender they are “supposed” to identify with makes some people uncomfortable.  Therefore, people who are not seen as “normal” are considered others who cannot fit into society.  This lack of acceptance is incredibly common and is something that it seems we all must deal with because that is how people are.  But as I thought about it more I realized that if people are taught at a young age to be more accepting than this idea of an “inapropriated other” would be less prominent.


            When I was in middle school my parents had me attend a tiny private Quaker school in the middle of nowhere in North Carolina.  I didn’t enjoy this school when I went there, but looking back on my time there I realize that there were a few amazing things about this school that other schools just didn’t have. 


Let me explain.


            During my 6th grade year a boy named Spencer visited the school for a day to see if he would like to attend the next year.  This at first seemed to have no meaning because several kids visited our school each year, and most were eventually forgotten about.  Spencer was one of these kids.  For my 7th grade year a few new students came to the school, including a 6th grade girl named Spencer.  Because my middle school was so small, everyone knew everyone, and everyone noticed when someone was not there.  One day Spencer did not show up to school, and on that same day the entire school was called for a meeting.  The teacher sat the students in a large room and told us that Spencer was not at school that day because she wanted the teachers to tell us something.  She wanted us to know that she was transgendered.  The teachers reminded us of the boy Spencer that visited the school the previous year and how she told her parents that she was a girl trapped in a boy’s body.  One student asked why Spencer wanted the teachers to tell us this, and one responded by saying that Spencer didn’t want to lie and did not want someone to find out and be surprised.  Another teacher responded to that by saying “and I think that’s very cool.”  We were then told that we should try to make Spencer as comfortable as possible, and that some changes would be made in order to do so.  One of the boy’s bathrooms at school was changed to a unisex bathroom and the teachers asked everyone to try to use that restroom sometimes to make Spencer more comfortable.


            Based on how cruel I’ve seen people be about others being transgendered, I would have thought that the kids in my school would have shown Spencer the same cruelty, but we all immediately accepted her just like our teachers had hoped me would.  Almost all of the students used the unisex bathroom, people started calling Spencer “Spencie” because she thought it sounded more like a girl’s name, and the girls in her grade always invited her to all girls sleepovers.  Spencie was one of the girls despite her genitalia.


            This story makes me realized that intolerance is something we are taught by people that have already been taught to be intolerant themselves.  As people we really can be quite accepting.  We just need to start early.


Megan Taub

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

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

After discussing Valentine’s issue with categorizing “transgender” folks, we discussed ways to explain “transgender” and “Gender Studies” to outsiders . This made me begin to think as to why this was so difficult; I started to rack my brain to find a cookie-cutter solution to this issue. However, every explanation required my use of Gender Studies’s jargon or entailed a long-winded response. This made me think: Who are we, really? Yes, we have the jargon, the feeling of community, and the willingness to explore others who are different from us, but what does that really mean if it cannot be applied? Are we so inclusive that our ideas, beliefs, and knowledge can only related to by each other and others who can understand the terms which we discuss? This only seems to be a portion of the battle for a structure which allows equality, understanding, and change. This brings me back to one of my original questions: Where can Gender Studies actually be applied? Especially to those individuals who Valentine encountered. Are we also guilty of creating a structure and culture which speaks in terms of the categorical? Can we relate successfully with people from other cultures, classes, and society? I don’t really know, but in this blog I will seek to create a solution to the question, “Who are we?”. This, however, is only my interpretation.


For one, we are department which speaks to “society” in defense of the “Queer”. The queer who needs to be recognized in this one-track minded society in order to gain equal status and legitimacy. Equality and acceptance are at the top of the agenda which makes our target the “big, bad wolf”, society. A society which gives unearned privileges to some and discriminates against others. We swear that those who have these unearned privileges are to blame, yet within our logic, we grant privilege to the most queer and leave those who can fend for themselves, to do exactly that. Now, this is not to say that we queer folks have no agency, that would be a sin to imply. But, is our way to counteract society by asserting our knowledges to be truth any better? Now, take a deep breath, we must remind ourselves that we are “the good guy”. Even though we have good intentions, will our knowledge ever help those who need it most? Will it really make things better in our society? I think its too soon to tell. This may seem like a pessimistic approach to a subject which we all love and identify with, but I am only attempting to be critical of our approaches.

I think that we are even we are obsessed with power, even though, we try to balance it out, it’s really one of the main subjects we explore in Gender Studies. At this point, are we any better than the big bad wolf? In this search, I am constantly thinking about Foucault’s revelation that “we are the Victorian prude”. Just as people during the Sexual Revolution thought that they were freed from the Victorian prude sexuality, are we Gender Studies folk freed from a society which is obsessed with power? Now, I dont mean to be offensive by any means, I just wonder if an education, which denotes power, is even necessary to be considered a Gender Studies major? If we believe what I think most of us do, why do we consider ourselves the masters, the innovators, the activists? Really, I think Gender Studies needs to be from the ground up; it’s everywhere and this is why it is so difficult to describe. Experience and “street smarts” need to be incorporated into Gender Studies. The transgendered identity has offered us a starting place to see experience equal to knowledge, but in the world I’m imagining, Gender Studies needs to be more like a lab, where we are constantly in touch with those who may have different knowledge to offer us and our understandings. We cannot isolate them from the classroom, we must bring the classroom to them and let each body of knowledge  be incorporated into a flow chart of understanding, for if we only take our knowledge from what is on the paper we read, we are no better than the “power prude” of modern society.

Now, this is all to be taken with a grain of salt, for I cannot speak for everyone and their experiences and knowledge; some may even consider themselves to be doing what I have described. But, all I am saying is that who we are, is not just a funded program at a university who answers to an institution; we are people who have the potential to exceed the education we receive, if only we truly acknowledged those who are not “us”, queer or not, educated or not.

This is more of a call to begin a conversation than a well thought out solution, I must add; to me it makes sense, but I may be getting ahead of myself. I just wonder what will become of us in years to come. Will we be looked at as people within society who were obsessed with identity and power? I certainly hope not…. Now, I have to go wash my mouth out.

-Katie Schaffer

David Valentine goes through his book talking about different experiences that many individuals have throughout their lifetime. For some, he discusses how they identify themselves in the world and the society that they live in while for others, he just gets to know and understand them and their life to his best abilities. In chapter three titled “I know what I am,” Valentine talks to multiple individuals and asks them how they identify themselves and also how they come to understand the terms transgender and transsexual. Mind you, these aren’t random people he found at the mall or grocery store who could know a little bit of information to a lot of information about trans identities; these are people who choose to embody and/or interact with individuals who identify as trans. Cherry is one of the people that he talks to that really caught my eye and I found myself thinking about her story after I finished reading. Cherry identifies herself as “female. I mean just because I have this penis doesn’t mean that I consider myself a man. I don’t even consider myself being born male, like I mean, I was just born with a penis, that’s the way I look at it. And I consider the penis a clitoris” (117).

I think that the way that Cherry has chosen to identify herself is so interesting because she has taken what she has been born with, a penis, and made it into what she needs it to be, a clitoris. I think that this way of thinking of yourself is so interesting and novel because she has made her body what she wants her body to be. She has not let gender stereotypes or any stereotypes for that matter determine her view of her own body. Isn’t that a great way of thinking of things? Letting your body be and represent what YOU want it to be, not letting what anyone else wants it to be influence you I can imagine is a very freeing way of thinking. She believes that just because she was born with male anatomy, this does not determine whether or not she is a man or a woman. She accepts that she has been born with a penis, even though she identifies as a female who ordinarily would lack this organ, and takes it and uses it to her advantage, sexual pleasure.

Valentine also talks about how because Cherry has participated with and been in contact with formalized contexts of community “which employ the understandings of ‘gay’ and ‘transgender'” she has been given the tools to see her identity in a different light than those who are not given or do not take advantage of these opportunities (118). Valentine talks about how Cherry uses her own life experiences to frame her transgender discourse as a “my process” (118). By using what she has learned through these different resources, she has been able to come to know her identity in a different way than others. Maybe by making more support groups, social service agencies, and clinics more available or more accepted as resources; more people may be able to come to know their identities in similar ways.


-Jenna Wise

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