Friday, November 27, 2009

Gender Odds 'N Ends

1. My Right Self

Photographer Arthur Robinson Williams exhibit My Right Self was recently on display at a nearby university. The project features five participants who identify as trans or gender-variant. For those seeking to better understand the diversity within the trans community and the experiences of those within it:

"My Right Self includes text from the writings of the participants who have been given time to reflect upon and describe how their identities are related to their bodies, their sex, their gender, their sexuality, and further, how their relationships with others and society reflect back how they are perceived in the world and exist in the eyes of others. Some have also written with regard to their experiences with the healthcare system."

Whether intended or not, I think that many of these stories demonstrate the gray areas with respect to sex and gender. Like many transgender people, some of the participants in this project identify as male or female despite still having genitals that they do not identify with. And, for some who know their own bodies to be "enough," they seek surgery anyway, because "the world is not safe" for, say, a man who is not flat-chested and who does not have a deep voice.

Upon looking at this project, I was reminded that the reality of sex and gender is more complicated and variable than the binary that is offered to us. Much is assumed about each one of us because of how we present, gender-wise, in the world. Thus, the reasons for transitioning seem to be both internal and external.

2. India Recognizes Other Gender

Speaking of moving beyond the gender binary, India has "granted what they called an independent identity to intersex and transsexuals in the country's voter lists." The Intersex Society of North America opposes assigning individuals to a "third gender." Their opposition is based on the idea that assigning someone to a "third gender" would "unnecessarily traumatize" the person, not because they necessarily disagree with the idea that gender is a gradation, rather than two discrete categories.

Nonetheless, hijra activists in India seem pleased with this decision. Hijra is "a catch-all term for South Asia’s eunuch, transgender, transvestite and third gender communities."

Whilst many anti-LGBT folks like to claim that concepts like homosexuality and transgenderism are modern Western constructs, hijras are mentioned in the ancient kama sutra text, and it wasn't until British imperialism that they were strongly stigmatized via the criminal law system.

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