Friday, January 23, 2015

It Is Hard…

…To apply modern concepts and labels in historic settings. There are so many people in history that we wonder if they are trans, but we can never know. Mollies and Tommies we look back at and think they were trans but we can never be certain.

There is a 2013 article in “The Other Sociologist” about “Two Spirit” people that recently caught my attention,
Rethinking Gender and Sexuality: Case Study of the Native American “Two Spirit” People
By Dr Zuleyka Zevallos
Monday, 9 September, 2013

Sociology and anthropology have long used the experiences of “third sex” cultures, such as the Native American Two Spirit people, to teach students about the social construction of sex and gender. In many cultures around the world, people are allowed to live their lives beyond conventional binaries; they need not adhere to the biological sex they were born into. These people are usually revered and there are special circumstances where individuals are allowed to shift their gender position. These groups, including the Two Spirit people, are used as examples in the sociology of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersexual (LGBTQI) issues. Recent scholarship, however, has questioned this practice, demonstrating that social scientists are applying Western concepts to misappropriate the Two Spirit phenomena.
My post today is expanded from my post on Science on Google+. The initial post was inspired by Sean Kinney. Sean is an American teacher with a keen interest on science and alternative modes of thinking. Sean posted a meme on Google+ (right) about the Two Spirit Native Americans. The meme depicts an unnamed elderly Native American person, with text advocating same-sex marriage. The text reads as if from the perspective of this Indigenous person, saying that “gay marriage” has been sanctioned in “our soil […] for hundreds of years […] Your ‘homosexual’ was our Two Spirit people… and we considered them sacred.”
Can we really say that “Two Spirit” people were trans? All we have to go by is a description of what someone interpreted from a culture that was foreign to them.

We can look at people like Dr. Alan Hart or George Sand or Albert Nobbs and label them today as transgender, but were they really trans? We can never know for sure, they might have crossdressed to survive; women in those days had a hard time living on their own. Taking on a male persona might have been the only way to make a living.

The Advocate said this about Nobbs,
The nuances of gender and sex frequently get lost in our narrow concepts and limited language. The widely accepted definition of “crossdresser” is an individual who wears garments traditionally reserved for the opposite sex as a means of personal or sexual fulfillment; they do not typically identify as the opposite sex and do not wish to transition or live out the rest of their lives as the opposite sex. On the other hand, a transgender man or “trans man,” is an individual born with female anatomy, yet has a male gender identity, and will typically take steps to transition their social identity and/or physical body to male. This may include assuming a male name, taking testosterone, or seeking surgery such as chest masculinization. In the case of Nobbs, neither of these labels and their respective definitions seems to match his motives for passing as a man.
Enter Albert Nobbs. He does not fit within our emerging concepts of transgender men or crossdressers. There is no neat and tidy box for us to place him in. He actually still identifies as a woman, yet somehow we find ourselves referring to him with masculine pronouns. He is a bit of threat too, since he is truly a woman posing as a man, and mainstream society sees transgender people as posers too, as if they went through all the pains of transition and live with all the discrimination simply to trick the rest of the world, hence all the bad jokes we see in mainstream media of transgender women with a deep voice, implying that they are men dressed as women and therefore the butt of jokes. Transgender activists have been working long and hard to educate people and break down the misconceptions that we are deceivers, and Albert can easily set us back. Still, Albert has the right to exist and identify however he wants, just like everyone else, without fear of harm or discrimination.
And that is what makes it hard for us to go back in time and put labels on someone or some concept. Also do we have a right to use terms that we don't fully understand? When we use "Two Spirit" we do not understand what it truly means to native Americans and we are applying our interpretation to the meaning.

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