Author Archives: Rachael

MY Politics of Location

Each person grows up learning from his or her environment and experiences, and therefore, the place and time in which they live are essential to their understanding of the world. Everything we learn is affected by the context in which we live. I grew up in a fairly small, very liberal, college town in upstate New York and am constantly reminded of how my upbringing in that particular place has shaped what I know and the way I see things. I then moved to Bloomington, IN for college, still small college town, not quite as liberal as Ithaca, NY but much more so than most of Indiana. I have grown up around many middle to upper-middle class educated people with quite similar political and social ideals. In learning about trans and gender variant people from around the world in this course, and in general, I have to keep in mind where I come from and how living where I have and currently do has affected my ability to learn about these people and cultures.

Growing up in Ithaca, with the parents that I have, and going to an alternative community school, I was taught to appreciate and celebrate diversity. I was given opportunities in high school to learn about variance in sexualities and genders through our local Planned Parenthood and now go to a school with a great Gender Studies program, which has enhanced that knowledge and understanding.

My parents have always encouraged me to keep an open mind and supported my studies and interests in sexuality and gender. They have also introduced me to different cultures and taught me the value in learning about and embracing cultural variance. My mother is an archeologist and has taken me to live in various parts of Latin America and always insisted I look outside the box of what I was being taught in my social studies text books. These experiences are all related to where I come from, and affect the way I understand and learn about gender variance across the globe.

Studying here in Bloomington, I have been fortunate to take classes, such as this one, that have given me more information about gender variance in other cultures, and even in our own, than just about anyone else I know has. Although in many ways I have been set up quite well for learning about people different from myself, I have to be aware about my own biases and general social and political understandings when I am trying to understand other cultures and ways of thinking and living. I have realized in this class that as an American I am prone to thinking about concepts in certain ways.

For instance leaving the house and family at a certain age and making it on my own has always been assumed in my future, and the futures of most other people in this country. It is what we consider a normal rite of passage and way of living in society, independent and individualized. Not all other countries and cultures have this norm. Understanding that for some people it is more normal to stay connected and close to your family and continue to help each other’s needs and be responsible for one and another is important for understanding individuals in that society. The way gender variant people live and behave in a society will be closely tied to what is socially normal in their culture.

Living in the United States alone influences the way I will perceive gender variance in other countries, and growing up the way I have in this country adds on to that. Without keeping my own experiences and perspective in mind while trying to understand and learn about others, I will miss the ways in which each individual has different experiences and perspectives and run the risk of generalizing too broadly and misunderstanding the various kinds of people that make up this world.

“Coming Out” vs. “Feeling Out”

One big difference between the bakla and gay identity that Manalansan explores is “coming out” vs. “feeling out.”

For most gay men in the United States and the rest of the Global North, the coming out process is important to their identity as an individual and a gay man. Manalansan describes it as, “a liberation from the closet… separate from familial and kin bonds and obligations.” This idea fits right in with American society’s focus on individualism, separation, and leaving home. Coming out has been described as a rebirth and transformation and is associated with publicly and verbally identifying as a gay man.

Some Filipino men have come out to their families and had positive reactions, although many others didn’t feel they needed to. One of Manalansan’s informants said he thought it was necessary for his mother to talk about his homosexuality in order to show that she thinks it’s okay, and her silence makes him feel she has not accepted it. Another said the silence was a sign of neither denial nor complete acceptance and is, “indicative of a kind of dignified acquiescence.”

Many Filipino men have an issue with the notion of coming out. One of Manalansan’s informants said, talking about the Americans, “Coming out is their drama.” Informants said that they felt their families knew without having to be told and that, “the ‘feeling out’… of situations and truths is very important.” Quite dignity is valued in the Philippines and therefore many Filipino homosexual men prefer not to verbally express pride or distinctiveness. When discussing the Gay Pride parades in New York City, one of Manalansan’s informants said, “Too many people and quite chaotic.” He said that he wasn’t an activist like many of the white gay men he knew and that he was not particularly interested in speaking to the public. Two other informants say they would not participate in the parade either. One says that, “It isn’t the drag part that is awful, it is the spectacle.” He says there’s a difference between going to the clubs in drag and parading downtown for an audience. He said, “You lose your mystique, you mystery.”

These homosexual Filipino men, even though they are living in NYC, feel that coming out is foreign to them and an American thing. The quiet dignity that Filipino men speak of is part of their Filipino culture but also associated with their status as immigrants. Before the late 1980s, being openly gay could pose an issue for being accepted into the United States. Because of this, many gay men continued to be wary about expressing a public gay identity years later. For these men, having success living in the US was more important than coming out. Although in the US we may define these Filipino men as “gay” because they are men having sex with men, this label leaves out their cultural differences in behavior and way of defining their own sexual and gender identities.

 

The Borders between Bakla and Gay

Martin F. Manalansan’s article “The Borders between Bakla and Gay” discusses the ways in which the identities of bakla and gay are usually defined and their relation of immigration and modernity. The dialogue around these identities and labels shows how the Global North turns ideas of queerness in other parts of the world into Western ideas and ways of thinking about queerness.

When thinking about migration we often think about modern vs. traditional, especially in the Global North. We tend to consider immigrants from outside the GN to be more traditional and backwards, and that they’d be better off transitioning to a life of modernity, as we believe we live. This immigrant narrative is tied into the progressive narrative, thinking that being modern involves progressing to a certain point, improving our way of life. Manalansan suggests that the bakla in the Philippines may be part of an alternate modernity that we have disregarded through our tendency to see the way of the GN as the most correct and progressive way of seeing things.

Bakla is a word used in the Philippines that may describe someone who is effeminate, a cross-dresser, a transvestite, queer, or homosexual. Although homosexuality is a part of the bakla identity, the word is highly tied with gender identity and performance. The word gay is used in the United States, and now in many places around the world, to mean a man who has sex with other men. The word has a white and more masculine association and is not only a category of sexuality but also a cultural and political category, which the bakla are not.

Some people see the bakla identity as less desirable than the gay identity, connecting the bakla with backwards tradition and gay with civilized modernity. They think there should be a move in queer Filipino identity from bakla to gay, seeing this through the progressive narrative. Traditional people are seen to have many barriers in the modern world, and therefore the bakla are thought to have barriers because of their identity.One of these barriers is effeminacy, rather than masculinity. This is yet another example of the feminine being rejected and devalued while masculinity is considered more superior. It also implies that our way of seeing gender and sexuality as completely separate from one another is a better perspective than seeing them as intrinsically connected and interacting.

Manalansan discusses Perez’s writing on the issue. He says that Perez “provides a kind of call-to-arms to eradicate the stereotypical notion of the bakla…” and “transform the image of the bakla into the gay man.” Because this stereotype portrays the bakla as gossips, unambitious, bitchy, and effeminate queens, he believes this must be changed in order for them to attain any rights. Although I can see why this stereotype is a negative one and might hinder the bakla when it comes to legal rights, I do not think that taking on a different identity and way of living is the answer. I think social change is necessary but to replace a culturally specific identity with another would hide their differences and create a racialized hierarchy. Looking at the bakla through this lens of modern progression in the Global North promotes a colonial idea of tradition and modernity and sets up hierarchies instead of allowing diversity.

ilga.org – LGBTI information around the world

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) provides information about GLBT rights in various parts of the world. The information is limited but helps give a feel for the status of transgendered and queer people in the area by reporting on laws, news, moods, movements, campaigns, and personal stories.

This site has been helpful in getting a better understanding of laws in various countries for my research paper, and also just interesting to explore. You can choose a statement or question about LGBT rights and statuses and the map on the home page will become color coded to show you what each country’s general position is on that subject. They may tell you if a country has certain policies or not, or if they are only in some parts of the country.

Although this type of information is very generalized and lacks context, you can also click on a country to try and get more information on it and begin investigating it further. The laws section shows the information ILGA has gathered on various laws concerning gay and trans people and sometimes gives the name of the law or even a summary of what it states. The news tab shows latest news stories about LGBT issues, which may show positivity or negativity. The mood section is there to give a feel for the social climate as well as a tab on the movement and one for people to post personal stories from their country.

One issue with the site, although not entirely surprising, is the lack of data for most of the world and even in several tabs of a better-researched country. At first I was disappointed about this but I realized I’ve been spoiled, being able to find almost anything on the Internet. Studying transgender issues is not easy, considering that the study is still fairly new and much of the data hasn’t been collected yet and the articles not written yet.

I explored the Argentina site, because it is a country I will be discussing in my research paper. Compared to many other countries, Argentina has a good amount of data. For laws, they list subjects such as male to male relationships, female to female relationships, age of consent, LGBTI families/parenting, gender identity, marriage and substitute for marriage, anti-discrimination laws, freedom of association, of expression, armed forces, blood donation, and asylum and immigration. Here you can find out that male to male sexual relationships are not illegal and same sex marriages are recognized on a national level. There are only anti-discrimination laws based on sexual orientation in some areas. They also tell you that there is a clear legal difference in Argentina between homosexuality and transgenderism and that there are, again, only laws in some areas banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity and there are no laws banning this descrimination in employment. Transgenderism is not seen as an illness and sex reassignment treatment and/or surgery is under legal control. It is possible to get legal documents changed to include your current gender identity and name.

This site can be helpful in getting an overview and general idea of the status of LGBT people in various parts of the world, but I think it is important to dig deeper and think critically when looking at the information. As I have learned, in cases such as Argentina, although the rights for transgendered people might look fairly good, comparatively, as listed, the reality of freedom and safety for many trans people living the in country is different. I think if the personal stories, “Your Stories,” sections were successful this might help remedy this disconnect.

ilga.org

Transgenderism in Iran

The situation for transgender people in Iran is a complex one, in which laws, religion, and family come together to dictate the terms in which transgender people are able to transition and live out their lives. Although legislation is in place to assist people with physical transitioning, the rules and regulations about being able to transition legally are stringent and depending on the person, can liberate them or limit their freedom greatly.

On the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association website (ilga.org) legal regulations around transsexuality and queerness are listed. For Iran, although the information is limited, they go into some detail about the laws against male same-sex sexual relationships. In Iran this type of relationship is against Islamic law, made illegal and punishable by death. Although they don’t discuss trans rights specifically, this law means that in order for a MtF trans woman to legally have sex with her male partner, she would need to have a sex change operation.

Although some MtF transgered individuals in Iran might want to have this operation, others may not. The operation is painful and may come with complications. Also many people who get the operation are doing so against their family’s wishes, so they are forced to go through traveling and reconvery on their own, not to mention they might be ostracized from the family completely after going through with the operation. This, as Najmabadi explains in her article “Transing and Transpassing Across Sex-Gender Walls in Iran,” can lead to great emotional hardship, homelessness, loss of an education, and loss of job opportunities. For Askar, a MtF transsexual followed and interviewed in the documentary Be Like Others directed by Tanaz Eshaghian, the disconnect from her family dictated her whole life after her surgery. She came from a small poor village, coming to Tehran for her surgery with very little money. Her family severed all ties from her when she went through with her surgery and she began working as a sex worker to make money to continue to live on her own. She says her work as “killed [her] ability to love” and if she’d known she would be so shunned from her family she would never have had the surgery.

This predicament creates a very conflicting situation for transgendered individuals in Iran. If they don’t have the surgery they are stigmatized by their government and society for being considered homosexuals and have a hard time being in relationships because of the legal status of their sexual relationships. On the other hand if they get the surgery they may risk the such stigma in their family that they lose them completely and, as in Askar’s case, feel forced into going into a line of work that may keep them from experiencing love as they had desired it before the surgery.

It is important to mention that not all people who transition in Iran have this kind of negative experience. Another featured person in the documentary was Anahita who was able to be with her boyfriend more freely and felt less harassed on the streets and tension in her home with her mother. Some people’s lives are greatly enhanced by their ability to get the sex reassignment surgery and change their gender status legally, but it still is done in a manner in which individual freedom and choice are extremely limited and many are excluded from the ability to live more safe and fulfilling lives.

ilga.org - Iran
Article on Be Like Others documentary

Dislocation – Miranda

The Spanish attempts to ride the Indian communities of joyas left the joyas who survived the massacres feeling lost and confused. As Miranda describes, because of the stigma behind joyas their presence in communities was often a danger to the other community members. Some normative Indians rounded up joyas and handed them over to the Spanish for slaughter, driven by fear for the rest of their community. Others simply drove the joya out of the community.

This treatment, after a lifetime of playing important roles in the community and being revered with respect and high esteem, was a huge blow to the joya and as Miranda hypothesizes, must have had a painful impact of them both physically and emotionally.

As the Spanish saw the joya as disobeying their natural gender roles by dressing and living as a woman, they were often forced to live as men inside the missions. After living as a woman, and working and socializing along side other women for their entire life, being thrust into the men’s world would probably have been a frightening and embarrassing experience. With such gender separated work and social areas in native communities, the joya would have no idea how to work and live as a man and among men.

Miranda also discusses the way in which this must have been confusing and difficult for the normative men and women in the communities as well. The men would then have a joya among them who had always been with the women and didn’t know how to work with them, and the women would be missing a part of their group. These men and women would also see a once respected and revered community member being ridiculed, disrespected, and embarrassed in front of the entire community as they are forced to fill a different role.

The joyas were then unable to perform the important ceremonies of the native people of California, which often involved being the undertaker after a death. Since these Indians believed that the afterlife was filled with “both male and female supernatural entities,” the joyas were usually the only people in the community able to handle the dead and the burial. This ceremony was essential for safe travel into the underworld and spiritual safety in the community. Without the joya to perform such duties, the native communities experienced panic and many turned to the Catholic Church out of desperation.

The removal of the joyas from native communities pulled apart their traditions and spiritual ways of life in a way that left them vulnerable to manipulation and domination by the Spanish invaders. As Miranda discusses, because some native people did survive this genocide, the spirit of the joya can never really have died out, and today there is still hope in their reemergence as two-sprit people.

Renaming – Miranda

One theme Miranda talks about that I found particularly interesting was the act of renaming. As the Europeans invaded the Americas one of the many things they did to undermined the native people and assert their authority was renaming. As Miranda says, “Renaming both human beings and their own names for people or objects in their world is a political act of dominance.”

I completely agree with this statement. Each name has a meaning and significance behind it, especially for American Indians. Names are chosen carefully and may even involve ceremonies. While I was visiting the Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation I learned that no two Mohawk people have the same name at the same time. A name can only be passed on once the person holding it has passed away. Many of the children had both Mohawk and English names, but for some of the children it was very important that we call them by their Mohawk names and not their English ones. One reason for this is probably because of the European efforts to erase the Mohawk language and traditions through boarding schools and assimilation.

Miranda discusses Christopher Columbus’s renaming of indigenous lands with Christian names as “a ‘gift’ that cannot be refused, and perhaps more properly called an ‘imposition.’” Not only did the Spanish rename the lands, but also the people as a way of “exercising power over the land and inhabitants…” One of the first groups of people they renamed were the “third-gendered” individuals consisting of men dressing and acting as woman, who often performed important ceremonial duties in the community. The word they used for these people was joya.

Interestingly enough, the Spanish seemed to think of the joya as homosexuals, but didn’t choose to use their own derogatory names for homosexuals in Spain. Instead they created a new word, which implies they may have recognized them as “an indefinable gender role, a ‘new’ class of people.”

Although those who wrote about the joya wrote as if this was the word the Indians used to describe the third-gender in their communities, this was plainly not true. Each tribe had their own language and therefore had their own names for the joya in that language. Because their histories and education was done primarily orally, the documentation of the joya is primarily by Europeans and, in California, using this terminology.

The Spanish words joya has many possible meanings, but none of the ones Miranda explores are ones that hold the respect or spirituality the joya were believed to posses by many Indian communities, and actually had a ridiculed or sexual connotation. In this way the Spanish took power over these people and their communities by renaming and attempting to redefine their roles in the community.