Monday, January 16, 2012

More on the Trans* Umbrella

Biyuti is a Bakla Filipina living on stolen Algonquin land. He works to sustain and increase the biyuti of the world through decolonization and through her explorations of the intersections of race with queerness/gender. He also blogs at The Biyuti Collective.
Over at TransGriot, there has been a very fascinating and educational series of posts about the trans* umbrella. The first part details the origins of the umbrella term and why it was chosen, while part two discusses why an umbrella term is needed.

In the first part the transgender label is described in the following way:
We understood that to be transgender is to have a non-conforming gender expression regardless of one's gender identity. Transgender therefore is a meta-group consisting of many distinct groups, each sharing common causes but each also having unique challenges. Together we are stronger then we are when we are alone.
Which is, of course, how bakla ended up being part of the SF Trans March’s original call out. My first post on Womanist Musings called into question the applicability of such a rubric when removed from its cultural context and put into other contexts. I still think that this argument fails. One reason is couched in another statement, “The real problem is that the labels we have all SUCK.” Maybe all the English words suck, but I’m quite happy with bakla. It expresses everything I need it to about my gender/sexuality.

Of course it is a problem if anglophones/westerners have no words to express or identify their gender in ways that they like. Apparently, the solution to this problem is trans* or transgender. Which, of course, is a good thing. But it isn’t something I need (or want).

Most especially, I don’t need it for the reason part two of this series identifies as a reason for adopting the term: “Transgender was originally intended to be the label used to describe the sociopolitical alignment of interests between multiple groups who face discrimination, harassment & violence due to having non-conforming gender expressions.” While it is true that I belong to a group of people who might face discrimination, harassment, and violence due to my gender expression, I question the coherence and validity of any movement that demands I identify in a specific way in order to participate.

I stand in solidarity with trans* people. I am an ally and, even if I want the *exact* same rights, I still don’t accept the claim that people who “perceives they have been, are being or will be discriminated, harassed or suffer physical harm because of their gender expression” (italics in original) *should* identify as transgender, for political reasons. I’m well aware that I *can* identify as trans, should I desire to. But this imperative command is exactly the undercurrents of imperialism I discussed in my first Womanist Musings post.

To draw an analogy: how often do white feminists make similar arguments when encountering Womanism, Black Feminism, or some other movement for women that isn’t plain old Feminism? They claim every woman should identify as a feminist because feminism is (at least in part) the fight against patriarchy and for women’s rights. Thus, shouldn’t all women who believe in liberation and equality call themselves feminists? I think the fact that I’m posting this on a site called “Womanist Musings” is enough to stand as my answer (and look Renee has made another post about exactly this issue). You do not need a hegemonic identity for solidarity and community building. Indeed, as the history of feminism demonstrates, there is good reason to be wary of this strategy.

I especially resent this notion that I’m somehow failing the trans* community by not subsuming my cultural heritage and race to my gender identity. Because even if they could be so neatly separated, I do not prioritize parts of my identity in that way. Being trans is not more important than my being Filipina.

It is my sincere hope that the trans* community does better than some feminists have done. That it realizes that it is far better to have a looser network of peoples working together in solidarity than a close-knit, hegemonic group that ultimately alienates the very people it purports to help.