I know what I’ am
In the chapter I know what I Am: Gender, Sexuality, and identity Valentine presents his experiences with various interviewees and for the most part expects to be able to classify each individual into some form of a category. What he comes up against is the individual views and understandings of self and the desire not to be categorized. In some instances Valentines view of a group such as Gay is represented by an individual he might have understood previously as Transgendered.
Valentine asks three questions when trying to rationalize the information gathered from his experiences during interviews:
- How is it, then, that Nora or Tara can access strategically, and in different ways- the language of ‘transgender’ while others who are assumed by social service agencies to be transgender often have never heard of the category at all?
- What does it mean that Tara can employ and creatively extend ‘woman of transgender experience’ in this context while using different terms in others, some of which resonate with ‘transgender’ and some of which do not?
- How does her creative assertion of ‘trans African’ modify what ‘transgender experience’ can mean?
The complications that Valentine faces are the different distinctions of identity for each individual. Valentine expects each individual to know who they are based on categories or to at least be able to sum up their identity in ten words.
“For transgender-identified people themselves, identity, whether understand
as internal and external or as socially produced and contingent, is deeply
When even the individuals dismiss categories such as a woman or transgendered Valentine becomes confused as to why some individuals feel they fit into no category offered. It is more important that they know who they are themselves inside even if words cannot explain their identity.
‘‘Meat Market whom I discussed in the previous chapter. Some of the
people I discuss below claim to “know what I am,” and others claim
not to know who or what they are. But, I will argue, none of these people’s
understandings of themselves or their desires are intelligible in political
categories of collective agency, because of the gap between their
understandings of personhood and the political categories of identity
which claim to represent them.(108)’’
Valentine wants to futher prove the idea that transgender as an identity can be located in a distinct domain: “gender” and conversely that identity politics erases the analysis of the well-established discrimination that exists.
“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 transexual 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 either transexual 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). (115)”
Valentine depicts that the interviews were intended to highlight that differences between individuals in terms of sexual relations, age, gender identity would produce reasoning for categorizing and pushing all the different types of individuals involved in to the Transgender box. However Valentine reasons that:
‘In order to reach people you wish to help, you need to understand and use the categories by which they understand themselves. (134)’
and also that by using the categorization of ‘transgender’ we are not recognizing the complexity of self that the heteronormative world would draw attention to when anaylyzing a person that fitted into the heteronormative box. An example that ‘Transgender’ in the heteronormative world is really viewed as ‘other’. There is therefore a need to treat unfamiliar and unknown quantities like anyone else. With the respect that they can be complex too and not easy to classify.
It is important to note that I am not calling for “better representation” of those I discuss above, or the simple elaboration of new categories, but rather a reexamination of a system which, in both practical and theoretical terms, marks Miss Angel, Anita, or Jade as “other.” (137)
The suggestion is that we try to first understand these particular individuals on their level, with their theoretical terms and with their perceptive in order to better understand them and better represent them.