Transgender’s History, Eyes, and Intersex: Reflections

Transgender and Intersex under Biopolitics1

Over the years, more people identify themselves as nonbinary or trans*. A study at Williams Institute at UCLA discovered that the percentage of trans* adults increased from 0.3 to 0.6 percent (Davis, 2018). The internet and social movements for the trans* community help more people learn and accept trans*gender and/or queer, as getting information and support are crucial aspects of coming out. However, bio-citizenship is an ongoing struggle for marginalized groups, especially for the queer community. 

The intersex community struggles to gain bio-citizenship since pre-birth. In Contesting Intersex (2015), sociologist Georgiann Davis expounds her study on the medicalization of the Intersex community and the issues against the community. The book provides enriching information about social issues relating to people with intersex traits, including (1) conducting surgeries onto infants, (2) the term Disorder of Sex Development versus Intersex, (3) heteronormativity along with cisnormativity, and (4) enforcing simplification onto gender and sex. Gender Structure Theory2 applies to the intersex community by setting stratification and internalizing dualistic traditional gender identities, such as personality traits and practices (Davis, 2015; 8). The classification of disorder onto intersex, just like for the trans*gender, creates a false sense of social reality. The misrepresentation of social reality is getting people to accept a false idea, a lie, preventing them from consent. An example includes medical experts claiming surgical removals on intersex traits minimizes cancer risks without critically explaining why so (91-92). Just like for trans* individuals, the false reality for the intersex community is that they have a disorder without consenting to what is a disorder. When we think of disorder, we think of an undesirable object, like pain. The terminology relates to our cultural acceptance, such as why intersex over Disorder of Sex Development helps people accept how sex is as subjective and complex as gender itself. People who reject the medicalization of intersex embrace another aspect that rejects gender as binary, such as being part of the queer community, as terms like “opposite sex” appeal more to people identifying as DSD (104-105). The meaning of intersex creates acceptance for the community and other communities like trans*gender by understanding the complexity of people’s narratives. A person’s life is a multiplex world, as each person is intersectional by what aspects of our lives are connected, like how gender connects to ethnicity. An example is an acceptance of two spirits in North American Indigenous culture3. Before colonization, American Indians embrace gender nonbinary without setting people into dualistic roles. Another example is how gender was nonexistent for the Yorùbá culture before Western colonization4. Understanding a person’s complex narrative is part of expressing cognitive, emotional, and compassionate empathy. Understanding a person’s narrative is part of subjugated knowledge, to uncover buried knowledge that was covered by ruling forms of knowledge5. The goal of knowledge is to find out more information about our social reality, to enhance aspects of our lives. The irony is that infants cannot consent to optional surgeries that permanently affect their lives, emotionally and physically. At the same time, trans*gender adults financially and emotionally struggle to gain communal, medical, and legal acceptance for their gender.

Trans* people struggle as they must prove their gender identity by subjective notions, like what Christine Jorgensen had said, the “first” American transsexual woman who follow a transnormativity by following the cisgender reality, that it was a biological “failure” (Stryker, 2008; 5). Although Jorgensen help to spread more awareness for the trans* community by her media appearances, transnormativity leads some people to encourage transmedicalism, that an individual must be transgender by experiencing dysphoria and undergoing medical treatments. Transmedicalism’s limitation includes examples like how some people are unable to transition due to financial issues. Social movements that challenge that kind of narrative, like how activist Lou Sullivan, a gay transman, challenge against conditional acceptance and cis-normalcy by advocating that gender identity does not depend on your romantic/sexual attraction, vice versa (115-120). The medicalization and history of terminology relating to gender, sex, and sexuality, like the term homosexual, and how people like endocrinologist Harry Benjamin set cissexist values for transgender people to follow to prove their gender is valid and a “disorder”6. People who are trans*gender struggle for acceptance, internally and outwardly, as an outsider-within (Sumerau & Mathers, 2019; 67). It is by a conditional acceptance that people are accepted by hierarchical social values that leads to homonormativity, the gay and lesbian people that seeks civil rights by appealing the mainstream social norms that include whiteness, upper-middle classes, religious, domesticated and reproductive, endosex, patriotic, normatively bodied, monosexualize and cisgendering reality (54, 64).

Overall, from medical to legal experts, those in power influence the public by setting a narrative that heterosexuality and cisgender are universal, non-deviant while silencing the queer community by casting them into opposite roles as abnormal or deviant through biopower7. The simplification of gender and attractions leads to a misconstruction of gender and relationships, thus further social inequality. People must consider several actions for liberatory transformation, including working with doctors or experts on intersex and trans* community, educating the public, embracing oneself, especially with feminist ideas, social support, recognizing social constructions, and listening to marginalized groups (Davis, 2015; 157-167).

Questions

  1. How does capitalism relate to the trans* and intersex community? 
    • I think about how capitalism affects the trans*community by setting consumerist notions of genders, such as gendered practices, or assimilation to cissexist values, such as beauty standards. I also think about companies that pink-wash or queer-bait their products.
  2. How does whiteness, like Eurocentric values or imperialism, relate to the readings?
    • Scholar C. Riley Snorton’s Black in Both Sides (2018) relates to the readings by the intersection between Blackness and transness.
  3. What practices force upon children parallels with trans*gender and intersex children?
    • I ask this question because I think about how social pressure for children to assimilate. An example includes mental health. Some individuals tend to pressure themselves and their relationships into toxic positivity, to prohibit negative emotions like anger nor sadness. Toxic positivity is a form of psychological abuse since it is to deny reality, to deny the truth. Many children endure toxic positivity at home, socializing them to believe that they must not express or acknowledge their negative emotions.   
  4. What are other examples of objects or people classified as a “disorder”?
    • I think about introverts; I am known for being quiet and reserved, but several people associate with such personality traits as problematic, as the American culture values extravert traits. An example include Schizoid Personality Disorder, that I am “asocial” or people often confuse asocial with antisocial. I desire to socialize and have closer relationships so I believe I cannot have Schizoid Personality Disorder. I think about how the disorder, as a spectrum, makes it difficult for me to confirm that I do not have it. I have needs for solitude but I still crave for positive social interactions.
  1. How do other countries with firmer laws protecting trans*gender and intersex differ from countries like the United States? Examples include countries that legally and culturally recognize trans*gender and intersex before the United States.
  2. What are other examples of exclusion in spaces, within-outsider, that enforce conformity, like “doing cisgender” (Sumerau & Mathers, 2019;136)?
    • I think about how common for trans*exclusive radical feminists to endorse racism through exclusive practices. Scholar Emi Koyama’s Whose Feminism Is It Anyway? The Unspoken Racism of The Trans Inclusion Debate (2020) discusses how the universal concept of womanhood in TERFs spaces is inherently racist and classist by appealing to white middle-class women, ignoring BIPOC and lower classes.

Notes

  1. Biopolitics, coined by philosopher Michel Foucault. See Foucault’s The History of Sexuality: The Will to Knowledge (Vol. 1).
  2. Risman, Barbara J. “Gender As a Social Structure.” Gender & Society 18, no. 4 (2004): 429–50. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243204265349.
  3. Estrada, Gabriel. 2016. Two SpiritsNádleeh, and LGBTQ2 Navajo Gaze. American Indian Culture and Research Journal. 35 (4): 167–190. doi:10.17953/aicr.35.4.x500172017344j30,
  4. Oyewum, Oyeronk. The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016.
  5. Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge. London: Routledge, 2002.
  6. Benjamin, Harry. 1966. The Transsexual Phenomenon. The Julian Press, ISBN 9780446824262
  7. Biopower, another term coined by philosopher Michel Foucault. See Foucault’s The History of Sexuality: The Will to Knowledge (Vol. 1).

References

Davis, Georgiann. 2018. “Sex and Gender Diversity is Growing Across the US.” The

Conversation.

Davis, Georgiann. 2015. Contesting Intersex: The Dubious Diagnosis. New York: NYU Press.

Stryker, Susan. 2017. 2nd Edition. Transgender History: The Roots of Today’s Revolution. Seal

Press.

Sumerau, J.E. and Lain A.B. Mathers. 2019. America through Transgender Eyes. Rowman &

Littlefield.

Love, Money, and HIV: Reflections

Love, Money, and HIV-Biopolitics

Scholar Sanyu Mojola expounds in her book Love, Money, and HIV: Becoming A Modern African Woman in the Age of AIDS (2014) on how young Kenyan women, despite the AIDS epidemic and how much they are aware of it, approach their relationship, financial issues, and education. Mojola notes how young African women with a higher level of education and socioeconomic status have higher rates of HIV/AIDS (36). She explains that there are three forms of explanation as to why women have higher rates than men: (1) biophysiological, (2) proximate, and (3) social and ecological setting (9-22). These women are more likely to have HIV, even if they only one male partner, as it is culturally acceptable for men to have multiple partners. Some women have different types of partners, which includes transactional sex relationship and romantic partners (35). Married men may pursue sexual relationships for sexual relief. Their wives may also have other sexual relationships while their husbands are absent. These women who engage in sexual relationships is out of loneliness or financial struggle. It is by the logic of partner choice that puts women at risk for HIV+. Expression of love codifies through consumerism and gendered practices. Across the world, women follow gendered practices, such as feminine products and shopping, as a way of feeling attractive or authentic, to themselves and other people. They are also buying Western modernity through products.

In chapter 4, Love, Money, and HIV Prevention, Mojola discusses how people’s concept of masculinity and love influences their choices. Young men struggle with their sense of masculinity as they feel they must prove their manhood to their partners by sexuality; thus, abstinence is difficult (83-97). These men also struggle with condoms, as they think they do not have enough time as they persuade their partners, and its gestures the relationship as short-term rather than long term (92). The cultural components determine the outcomes by what ideology people internalize as authentic. The institutions influence the outcomes for the HIV+ epidemic by

Mojola suggests stopping the epidemic includes providing resources for young women to rely on themselves for financial support without dating men. Some successful programs or workshops like IMAGE helps women by learning life skills and running a business. Granting financial independence for these women also gives bargaining power in relationships, thus lowering the risk for HIV. However, programs like TRY or SHAZ! fail to help women by the lack of trust of their mentorship, financial instability, and challenges of running a business, thus worsening the epidemic (190). Changing culture like normalizing HIV testing and condoms also helps to stop the outbreak. Ending the paradox for the HIV epidemic also includes ending the entanglement between love and money in relationships and culture.

Overall, Mojala’s book explains the dilemma of the HIV epidemic by its biopower and biopolitics. People struggle to find ways to empower themselves by systemic oppression. People also find unexpected ways to empower themselves. An example is the biopolitics for Indian sex workers claiming biological and life citizenship as they confront and resist legal regulation that criminalizes and stigmatizes them (Lakkimsetti, 2014; 201-226). Governmentality reflects the tactics and institutions that allow modernity to exercise power beyond its formal structure (205). Ultimately, ending the capitalism between love and money grants freedom for people.  

Questions

  1. How do laws relating to sex workers relate to Mojola’s book? How do laws or culture that either criminalize or decriminalize sex work relate to the book?
  2. How does religion play a role in gender and HIV?
    • I ask this because I think about how religious belief influences people’s actions relating to sexuality, such as condoms. Guilt or shame can also play a role in sexuality, especially since the concept of purity is often associated with sexuality.
  3. How does biopolitics differ for HIV for other marginalized groups, like the queer community, in South Africa?
  4. How does sexual and domestic violence relate to gender attitudes for women with HIV?
    • I ask this because I think about how culture and laws on sexual violence influence risk factors, such as the normalization of violence or myths associating with violence.
  5. How can technology influence the HIV+ epidemic?
    1. I ask this because I think about how social media correlates to social movements, like how virtual content can spread awareness of systemic oppression for women with HIV? 

Resources

Lakkimsetti, Chaitanya. “‘HIV Is Our Friend’: Prostitution, Biopower, and the State in Postcolonial India.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 40, no. 1, 2014, pp. 201–226.

Mojola, Sanyu A. 2014. Love, Money, and HIV: Becoming a Modern African Woman in the Age of AIDS. University of California Press.

Fearing the Black Body: Reflections

Biopolitics in Blackness and Fatness

The relationship between bodies and politics has an essential history of structural violence through biopower and biopolitics. It is necessary here to clarify what is meant by biopower and biopolitics. The term biopower, introduced by Philosopher Michel Foucault (1998), refers to the power relation that institutions have onto people through regulations and social practices (140). Biopolitics refers to an intersectional field between bodies and politics, consisting of biopower. The cultural notion on bodies appears innocuous through societal concerns on obesity, such as normalization of BMI scale and diet trends, without connecting how the cultural belief about fatness associates with racial prejudices.

In Fearing the Black Body (2019), Scholar Sabrina Strings discusses how white supremacy and misogyny are associated with fatphobia through a comparative historical analysis. In Western or colonized culture, the body is subject to Eurocentric values. Without questioning the limitation of Western beliefs, we end up with pseudoscience, particularly scientific racism and eugenics. Black women like Sara Baartman were subjected to dehumanizing gazes by white men and women as Othered through the hyper-focus on subjective differences: the differences between races and ethnicity through pseudoscience and racism. The past outcomes onto the present are that we have notions of what fat is without understanding the ideas’ origins. Even marginalized groups internalize oppression through a collective memory, which the term refers to culture collectively forget historical subjugations, as they also identify themselves through the oppressors’ notion of history (Hist & Manier, 2008; 183-200). People identify with a collective belief that fatness symbolizes moral impurity. The Ascetic aesthetic movement advocates the belief that thinness is a sign of moral purity, just as thinness began to associate with American patriotism. An example is how Elizabeth Bisland, the editor of Cosmopolitan, defined the American Anglo-Saxon beauty with thinness through her work, influencing mainstream media and academia to endorse xenophobia and the eugenic movement, thus becomes doxa (Strings, 154). Another example is Dr. John Kellogg’s influence on health as he advocated for white women’s reproductive health and the eugenic movement (169-186). The biopower of whiteness is by social control through unquestioned bias, such as having a lower chance of dating for men of color and men with HIV. These men have attached stigma that creates distinction by being othered through stereotypes (Smith & Amaro, 2021). Philosopher Julia Kristeva coined abjection to describe the negative human reaction, like revulsion, to threatening breakdown between the loss of distinction between subject and object (cla.purdue.edu). People abject women like Sara Barrtman as they know that their bodies change through weight; they can be like Baartman through changes in power relation. Black women are subject to colonialization by racial and sexual stereotypes in media; examples include Google searches on Black female models versus white female models. The images depict Black women as more hypersexual than white women (Benard, 2016; 1-11). The biopolitics in daily life ensures social control through our approval of it, thus allowing biopower for hegemonic groups.

The biopolitics of bodies is what ideology we internalize. We internalize ideology by our actions, thoughts, and knowledge. Although we are never actually freed from hegemonic ideology as we acquire new beliefs over another. All ideologies have limitations. However, we must determine the consequences of our choices and still resolve what we desire. The sense of liberalism requires consent to decide with the available information we have so far. Knowledge grants us freedom through further comprehension of our social reality.  

Questions

1.         How does capitalism relate to racism and fatness in String’s book? How does capitalism correlate to colonization like Sara Baartman or cultural components like diet fads?

2.         After reading the book, what are the effects of colonialization and racism on mental health itself?

  • I ask this question because I think about how mainstream culture stigmatizes mental illness, as the dehumanizing terms and practices against people with mental illness are similar to fatphobia. An example is self-help books with misleading ideas that depression associates moral weakness without understanding the context of mental illness, like how poverty associates with depression by social inequality, like struggling to get essential resources or overworking.

3.         Strings notes how feminist scholars struggle to find out how fatphobia is prominent in misogyny without understanding how racism overlaps with fatphobia and sexism. What are other examples of white feminism in research similar to Strings’ research?

References

Benard, Akeia A. F. “Colonizing Black Female Bodies Within Patriarchal Capitalism.” Sexualization, Media and Society, vol. 2, no. 4, 2016, p. 237462381668062.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. Vol. 1: The Will to Knowledge. Penguin Books Ltd., 1998.

Hirst, William & Manier, David. 2008. “Towards a psychology of collective memory”, Memory, vol. 16, no. 3, 183-200, DOI: 10.1080/09658210701811912

Introduction to Julia Kristeva, Module on the Abject, cla.purdue.edu/academic/english/theory/psychoanalysis/kristevaabject.html.

Smith, Jesús Gregorio, and Gabriel Amaro . “‘No Fats, No Femmes, and No Blacks or Asians’: The Role of Body-Type, Sex Position, and Race on Condom Use Online.” AIDS and Behavior , 3 Jan. 2021, doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s10461-020-03146-z.

Strings, Sabrina. Fearing the Black Body: the Racial Origins of Fat Phobia. New York University Press, 2019.

The Invention of Women: Reflections

The Invention of Women

Sociologist Oyèrónkẹ́ Oyèwùmí’s The Invention of Women (1997) discusses the Western notion of gender onto the Yorùbá culture, that presupposes the histories of bodies through the catalog of Other, through body-reasoning (5). The body, a person’s body, is already interpreted by people by our given notions, such as passing. Passing, like passing as cisgender and white, is our collective notion that we accept as natural or universal by suppressing ideas that contradict the hegemonic concept and the concept’s origins. Sex and gender, biology and culture, are one subject rather than opposing forces, as they depend on each other as a comparison, what makes them different from one another. Terms like light and dark, good and evil, men and women are examples of binary hierarchal roles through a Eurocentric perspective. It is what we sense, which differs significantly by methods and knowledge, ranging from biological determinism to postmodernism. Whether they are anti-nativist or nativists, African scholars subconsciously presuppose Western notions onto their African studies (17-27). Their colonized world-sense displays in language, values, identity, and practices.

Oyèwùmí discusses aspects of Yorùbá that are colonized compared to what is not colonized, particularly language since language is a social construction by its functionality, such as reinforcing cultural beliefs. The Yorùbá put strong emphasis on age through their language and kinship, as seniority, is a social ranking, granting the person more authority by their experiences, knowledge, and leadership (40-43). The cognatic marriage in the Yorùbá culture did not affect anyone’s social ranking nor property, as the bride’s partner did not have to be biologically related to their children. Children’s survival was the most important aspect in marriage, as procreation was a crucial part of marriage. Polyamory was accepted for procreation, and postpartum abstinence was encouraged (50-55). The terms obínrin and okùnrin, women and men, do not have the same meaning as the English translation, as there is no social status nor similar cultural components (32-34). Scholars created terms like obínrin and okùnrin to fit the Western notion onto people by assigning gender, a social institution, onto them. A person, a woman of color, becomes colonized twice as the Other by their race and gender. An example is a study on the Yorùbá religion, conducted by researcher Ayodele Ogundipe. Despite being a woman of color, Ogundipe uses inappropriate language, such as portraying the religious followers who are what she describes as females less respectfully than followers who are what she describes as males (168-174). Scholars inventing words that refer to Western terms, like king or daughters, to describe Yorùbá, a genderless culture, for Western translation, creates misinterpretation for the Yorùbá’s culture, along with conscious or subconscious bias. For instance, the gender for Èṣù, a deity, portrays as dualistic and switchable through emotions and personality (173). Worse, the masculine pronouns are ungendered, as default in language, while feminine pronouns are gendered, as part of being the Other (172). The distortion of language recreates the history through collective false memory of the past, enabling colonization by erasing Yorùbá history.

Thus, a marginalized group are more marginalized, subalterns, if they cannot speak, as they are written out in history by those in power, even by intellectuals with good intentions, as they objectify the subalterns through mythicization (de Kock, 1992; 29-47). 

Questions

  1. How does societal acknowledgment and acceptance for non-binary relate to The Invention of Women? Does non-binary decolonize gender in Western countries?
  2. Oyèwùmí discusses how African societies are often subject to generalization and Western interpretation; in what other ways has this affected other studies or even policies, such as an imperialistic or Eurocentric analysis and strategy on immigration or beauty?

Resources

Leon de Kock. “Interview with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: New Nation Writers Conference in

South Africa.” Ariel: A Review of International English Literature 23:3 (July 1992): 29-47

Oyèwùmí, Oyèrónkẹ́. The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender

Discourses. University of Minnesota Press, 1997.