Author Archives: lbrooner

Final Thoughts

Throughout this semester, I have learned about so many types of people and identities that I didn’t know existed. At Indiana University, I am a Gender Studies minor and through this minor, I have been exposed to all types of gender and sexuality issues. From feminist debates to the differences between sex and gender to now transgender rights/issues, my understanding of what falls under the term of human sexuality has broadened considerably. I have been exposed to the problems that categorization provides and now know that our old female and male gender binary is definitely not working for all types of people, societies, gender variances, and sexual expressions that exist. This class in particular has taught me not to focus on categorizing people who don’t fit into this binary into a huge umbrella term that really doesn’t solve the issue of classification; it has taught me instead to embrace differences in gender and sexuality and to identify a person by what they choose to self-identify as.

Besides learning about how sexuality and gender variance is expressed in the western world, I have learned about how it is expressed in the non-western world. The documentaries we watched about the trans sex workers in Paris from the one about Iranians struggling to gain equality through sexual reassignment, really opened my eyes to the struggles that people in the non-western world have to go through. I have also learned that the terms and categorization that the west has created definitely does not always work in a non-western setting; in some cases, non-western settings are more accepting of trans people than we are.

By examining the way in which the west vs the non west treats gender variance, I have been forced to realize that the United States isn’t as progressive as it thinks it is. We as Americans have a duty to open up the country’s eyes and realize that many laws discriminate against not only race and gender, but also sexuality. We should feel more outraged and concerned over these discrepancies in the law and I hope that one day, more and more people will feel the desire to study these issues in university just like we do and that more universities will offer courses on them.  Although this class may not have made me turn into an activist, it has made me more aware and more concerned over the plight of inequalities that exist for trans individuals and that much more needs to be done; I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to take it and have had my eyes opened to more possibilities.


Christmas Discrimination

Around the holidays, it is always a good time to reflect on how fortunate we are to have our health, families, and basic necessities. Many times to show our appreciation and holiday spirit, we participate in food or toys drives and some of us donate time to soup kitchens in order to feed the homeless. Being homeless is hard enough as a heterosexual person living on the streets, but how about a trans individual who is trying to survive? reports that very few shelters are safe places for America’s trans population and that many of them have nowhere to go. It reports that 19% of trans people have been homeless at one point and that a staggering 42% are only allowed to stay in shelters if they “live with people of their born gender.” In other words, shelters do not want to recognize the legitimacy of a trans person’s wishes and to regard them in the gender that they self identify with.

The magazine reports that there could be several factors in why 19% of all trans people have been homeless at one point in their lives. A huge factor is family support. Much like “coming out” as a homosexual, coming out to parents and family as a transgendered person is a very hard and often painful thing to do. Many families reject their son/daughter, granddaughter/grandson, etc after this announcement is made. Thus, trans people could be teens when they tell their parents and when they are kicked out for being “embarrassments” to their families, they often have nowhere to go but the streets. Thus, it is sad that homeless shelters feel the need to discriminate against trans people when all homeless need help, a place to sleep, and some food. Another factor can be the workplace. This could be especially hard if a person has worked in a place as one gender and then decides he or she cannot live without expressing their true nature/gender anymore. It can also be hard if someone at work ousts them as a trans person when they felt that they were adjusting well to their rightful gender. There is much discrimination against trans people in the workplace and the inability to get a job or the frustration at not being treated fairly, can cause a trans person to either be fired, never hired, or give up completely. Thus, the only option without money is to try and survive on the streets.

In conclusion the lack of care and concern over trans people in yet another situation is disheartening. No one who needs help should be discriminated against and it should be up to us to take a stand against this.

Trans Immigration: Christina Madrazo

When the American public thinks about immigration, it usually views it in terms of different ethnicities, not sexualities. This is why the case of Christina Madrazo is particularly important when examining all types of groups and problems that can occur when government officials decide who to let into our borders. Christina Madrazo is a female trans woman who tried to apply for political asylum in order to escape persecution and ridicule in Mexico for her transsexuality. Instead of protecting her and welcoming her in the way that everyone expects the world’s “melting pot” to, she was raped not once, but twice. Instead of keeping silent about these rapes, Madrazo filed charges against the officer that raped her and went on to sue the United States’ government. Alisa Solomon in her article applauds Madrazo for her decision and questions why and how this situation was allowed to happen.

The concern over immigration and the application for asylum is great. The U.S. has always been viewed as a sort of refuge and place to start over and live the American dream. However, even within our own country, we still have a lot of work within laws and legislation in order to define terms such as transgendered and transsexuality and protect those individuals who identify within these categories concerning gender and sexuality. Thus, it is even harder when our own country has not identified treatment for its own citizens under these terminologies, how we should protect and handle transgendered immigrants who wish to seek refuge here. The fact that Christina Madrazo was raped in her quest for protection shows that we as Americans need to be concerned and outraged for better treatment for immigrants with different sexualities and backgrounds.

Madrazo was raped and beaten in an immigration detention center called Krome in Miami, Florida. According to alarming research and statistics, Solomon found out that many times the guards at the center beat and bully immigrants in order to assert their power over them. This behavior crosses the line of minor aggression to blatant violence. America has an obsession with prison, and this detention center is proof of that. The center is only supposed to house immigrants who have been convicted of felonies. However, Madrazo had two minor charges in Mexico and was for some reason taken there. Apparently prisoners can sit for months and even years before anyone hears their cases.

It was here, in this prison, that Madrazo was raped by her security guard. After she reported him once, she was so distraught that she could barely speak about the incident. However, he was still allowed to be her guard and thus had opportunity to rape her a second time. This time Madrazo was so upset, that they offered to either deport her to Mexico or admit her to a psych ward. Yet, when it came time for the rape trial, the guard’s attorney tried to get the charge reduced to “sex with a ward” which meant that the sex was consensual when in reality it was far from it.

In conclusion, the case of Madrazo is still continued to be fought. Her guard was offered a plea and received a minor sentence. She was granted temporary asylum, but does not know if she will be allowed to stay permanently. Her lawsuit of 15 million dollars is also in the process of being debated on. However, the fact that she had enough courage to fight is commendable and brave and hopefully through her, we can prevent atrocities like this from occurring again.

Hijras of India

When I was in GNDR-G 101 back in 2007, my professor at the time showed us a documentary about the Hijras of India. What fascinated me about the hijras is that it is a different perspective on transsexualism that differs from what we have studied in class this year. Hijras have been considered a third sex that has always existed. It is predominantly thought of as a Hindu practice, but it also recognized in Islam as well. Thus hijras mainly become transsexuals for a religious reason that is, “they are particularly associated with the worship of Bahuchara Mata, a version of the Mother Goddess, for whose sake they undergo emasculation. In return, the Goddess gives them the power to bless people with fertility.” Thus, hijras could be considered a eunuch because they are born men who do not undergo a full sexual reassignment just castration. After their castration, they live as women and most of them take husbands. In my class, we were able to follow the story of a man, his decision to become a hijra, and his subsequent castration and initiation into the society.

Although the hijras aren’t exalted in Indian culture, for the most part they exist fairly peacefully continuing to practice their old ways and rituals. Hijras have been prominently featured in many myths and stories that exist in Hinduism and Islam today. The well-known god, Shiva was recorded in legend as being half man half woman and contains “the female creative power.” Another god is portrayed as becoming a eunuch so that he could hide amongst the ladies of the court and carry out hijra rituals.

However, although hijras are more accepted in society, they still are followed around by hardships and prejudices. Like several other transsexual groups we have studied in depth, the hijras often work as prostitutes and sell their bodies to men for very little money. This leads some people to believe that some men who become hijras don’t just do it to worship the goddess, they also do it so that they can freely express their homosexuality. Thus, this brings up the whole question of just because hijras haven’t had a full sexual reassignment, why are they not considered women by all the people living in India. My opinion is that hijras are mythologized and sexualized all at the same time. That is, they are viewed as these legendary creatures, but are also subjugated by men and not thought of as “true women.”

Hijras are an extremely interesting part of Indian culture and another fascinating example of how different forms of transsexuality and gender variance can be expressed.

The Politics of My Location

Growing up in a small town located in southern Indiana, I really wasn’t given the opportunity to experience or question anything outside of hegemony or heteronormative living (not that most people asked in my town would actually know what any of those terms meant, they just follow the philosophy of them). Although my town has a low crime rate and a good school, I felt and still feel suffocated there. The people of my town have a provincial way of looking at the world; many of them have never even ventured outside of the state of Indiana or even to our state capital, Indianapolis. The members of my town are proud of their caucasion, catholic, German heritage and if anyone comes to live there who doesn’t fit any of these criteria, life for them is made extremely difficult. There was only one African American student who attended school with me, and if it weren’t for the fact that he was adopted by a caucasion family, he would never have lived in out town. There is a small hispanic population that is growing, but the racism they face on a daily basis by realtors, store owners, etc is sickening. As far as sexuality goes, kids who identified as homosexual usually didn’t come out until their senior years so that they would only have to suffer a year or so of ridicule instead of a much longer time. Differences aren’t really cherished or discussed by the members of my town; the “undesirable” ones are swept under the rug in hopes to never be heard from again.  Thus, my exposure to the differences of others and culture by my teachers, peers, and friends was limited.

Thankfully, I have extremely cool parents who have always taught my little sister and I to embrace differences and explore not only our country and culture, but the country and cultures of others. They always made sure that we traveled around the country on vacations and really discussed the new things that we discovered there. I have studied abroad in Spain and England and both times my parents have been very supportive and have encouraged me to follow my dreams even when their friends in town have advised against it.

Yet, when it comes to discussion about sexuality within American society and other societies across the globe, my parents have remained kind of silent. They both have said to me on a few occasions that they’re tolerant of others’ sexualities and how they choose to express them. However, I often get the sense that my parents are comfortable discussing homosexuality or transsexuality with me because they don’t fully understand them.

Thus, when I came to Bloomington to go to IU, I was so excited at the openness of culture and sexualities that I have found here. For being in the middle of Indiana, a very conservative state, I have found Bloomington very open and accepting. Location in this sense is everything because I have heard other students complaining that they wished that Bloomington was more tolerant at times. I’m not saying that Bloomington couldn’t improve its policies or awareness towards other cultures and other sexualities. However, considered where it’s located, Bloomington is progressive to me. We have the Kinsey Institute that IU sponsors and is proud of and we have a Gender Studies department that many universities lack. I am so excited that I have the opportunity to be exposed to different cultures and their views on sexuality.

In conclusion, I ‘ve used the tools and knowledge I’ve gained through taking Gender Studies courses to have discussions with my parents and friends from my hometown in order to raise awareness to them. For the most part, they’ve been pretty open to hearing what I have to say. Although living in a small, ignorant town isn’t always easy, I know one day I won’t have to live here. Yet, if I can educate even just one person on transsexuality and gender variance, I’ll consider it a victory. I just always remember that I have Bloomington to go back to.

Transsexual Citizenship in Argentina

Throughout the semester, we have been studying petitions, decisions, and fights concerning the law and how it defines and protects individuals under it. In the article, “Transsexual Citizenship in Contemporary Argentina,” by Mauro Cabral and Paula Viturro, the authors discuss ethical-political issues about sexual citizenships of trans people living in Argentina. First of all, to understand what Cabral and Viturro are saying, one needs to define sexual citizenship. Sexual citizenship is “that which enunciates, facilitates, defends, and promotes the effective access of citizens to the exercise of both sexual and reproductive rights and to a political subjectivity that has not been diminished by inequalities based on characteristics associated with sex, gender, and reproductive capacity.” Thus, the point that Cabral and Viturro are making in their article is that they can take a term such as sexual citizenship and apply it to the struggles of the transgender community in Argentina. As they both prove in their argument, transgendered sexual citizenship under the current Argentinean laws is a “diminished” or lesser way of living because those in power in that country do not view transgendered people as equals. However, in 2005 for the first time, a man was granted a legal name and sex change in his official documents after he also was granted permission for sexual reassignment surgery. Yet, this decision was tainted by the fact that 10 days before the decision, travesti activist, Alejandro Galicio was murdered in cold blood. As we have learned during the semester, the travesties are a large trans community in Argentina and are probably one of the most vulnerable and most discriminated against.

However, Cabral and Viturro are not applauding this decision as a step in the right direction by any means nor am I. The Argentinean courts order that if a person is going to legally changed documentation or and be legally recognized under the law as their new and true identity, than three major steps must be taken “morphological resemblance, sterility, and the irreversibility of the modifications.” Along with these extreme measures, the courts also want the guarantee that once the surgeries and changes are complete, that the person will lead a heteronormative lifestyle. Thus, homosexuality is expressly forbidden unless the surgery is “correcting” this. However, even if travesties were willing to follow these instructions, as of right now it is unlikely that all or even the majority of gender reassignment surgeries or legal document changes will even be allowed. There are groups that are fighting for travesti rights under the laws; however, many lawmakers view them as not even human and really refuse to even fairly examine their cases. Although one case was allowed through, in the end, the Argentina’s own Supreme Court doesn’t support a permanent law change. It stated in its decision,

“No one would doubt to grant legal recognition to an association whose object was promoting scientific investigations into cancer treatment and prevention or cardiovascular affiictions. Because unfortunately we are all exposed to be reached at any moment by such illnesses. No “common good” provision-an essential condition for such a “blessing”-has, or can have, consistently, the acceptance of such beings on behalf of society, as if they were normal men and women …. these are individuals whose customs, activities and modus vivendi in general, present, without any pejorative intention, deviations.”

In conclusion, Cabral and Viturro make a sad final point. Travestis are not treated as equal citizens at all and must fight to make their voices heard almost as if they were foreigners within their own country.

James Franco Pushes the Envelope

This week in the current issue of Candy magazine (who deems itself a “transversal style magazine”) actor James Franco once again shows his fans and critics that he’s not afraid to push the envelope. On the front cover, Franco is shown with slicked back hair, slouchy leather gloves, a gold choker, red lipstick, and blue eye shadow. “From playing Harvey Milk’s lover in Milk to portraying the gay activist and poet Allen Ginsberg in Howl,” James Franco is known for playing some controversial and out-of-the box characters. Thus, his decision to appear in a form of drag isn’t that far of a stretch for the open-minded actor. However, the website she knows, one place where I found this story seemed confused on why the actor made a decision to pose in such a way. The website isn’t convinced that this isn’t just another publicity stunt to promote his upcoming movie, and perhaps it has something to do with that. However, I applaud the actor for being secure enough with himself to show that all people from all walks of life should be proud to express who they are.

Franco was quoted in the magazine as saying, “Everyone thinks I’m a stoner, and some people think I’m gay because I’ve played these gay roles. That’s what people think, but it’s not true. I don’t smoke pot. I’m not gay. But on another level, there’s something in me that is able to play roles like that in a way that’s convincing.” He also goes on to say mention that he doesn’t like being stereotyped and by posing in drag, he is definitely showing another side to his personality. I think his message of not wanting to be stereotyped fits in perfectly with what Candy stands for. On its website it states that it is, “the first fashion magazine ever completely dedicated to celebrating transvestism, transsexuality, cross dressing and androgyny, in all its manifestations….Candy is a magazine for everybody. A space for individual freedom, and a publication that pushes people to take on the persona of what they always wanted to be.” By dressing a heterosexual man who happens to be a famous actor up in drag, the magazine is trying to stick by its mission statement of celebrating human beings in whatever form they feel comfortable.

So is this cover helpful to the trans population or hurtful? Well, I definitely think that it helps by giving publicity to trans issues and showing that even heterosexuals can embrace different sides of themselves; thus, that being different can be beautiful. Yet, I feel that the magazine could try to use actual members of the trans community in order to help make all audiences understand that being transsexual or transgendered isn’t a thing to fear or hate. However, I just hope that the Franco cover won’t turn into a circus and make a mockery out of the message that Candy wants to portray to the world: inclusion for all.