Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Queer Identities

I usually don’t comment about media on this blog because I get enough of analyzing and responding to media during the workweek. However, there’s a very interesting Associated Press story that is slowly circulating. A couple in Richmond Virginia has confused all forms of stalwart guardians on the borders of gender and sexuality.

In brief, a couple that were both assigned a male sex at birth got married in Virginia. The individual who registered under “bride” was also having a name change from a traditionally male name to a traditionally female name. However, it’s completely unclear if that name change is corresponding with a sex or gender identity change or if the name change is simply a name change. Given the particulars of the story - that the individual whose gender identity is creating a conundrum has yet to publicly ID (and they shouldn’t be forced to either) – I thought the story was handled with a lot of tact.

The story has begun a small but steady circulation (holding my breath until it appears only to be bashed on FOX) and has of course landed on some prominent queer websites. Some of these sites have chosen to attack the story claiming that the individual in question should be identified as “she”. They go on to say that this individual is clearly a transgender woman and the story is insulting to suggest that the individual is male. Now, it’s true that there are a lot of clues leading towards a female identity (the name change, registering as a bride, dressing in historically female clothes etc.) but none of these necessitate a female identity. Men can dress in historically female clothes and have historically female names. Men can even call themselves brides if that makes them happy. Also, of course this individual could identify as anything else from gender non-conforming to genderqueer, gender variant…or any other number of various identities. Moreover, it is this individual's right to not identify. No one should be forced to continuously out themselves, although this is the paradigm most of the U.S. accepts as normal.

One of the least supportive things we can do as transgender and gender non-conforming allies is to demand an identity, or a compliance with a prescribed identity, based on our personal ideas of how he, or she, or ze should identify. What the AP story did well, and what the entire ambiguity of the situation brings to light, is how precariously balanced the U.S. idea of marriage is. That this marriage is a blight upon the world if it is two men, but that the marriage is legal should the second individual be female is absurd. It also highlighted the intriguing reliance our society has on visual identification clues and the extreme pressure we place on legal and medical recognition of identity.

Part of me almost hopes that this marriage was a demonstration. Two brave Virginians out to make a point about the way we categorize what is and is not legal and moral.


Ruth said...

Thank You for this post, Mik. Your thoughts and comments are insightful and reflective as usual.


Dylan said...

I had not heard of article yet, but will be checking it out right after your blog. Thank you for sharing the information. Your commentary was also really thoughtful and well stated. I couldn't agree more. Whoever they are, and however they chose to identify, I hope they find what they're looking for.

shiva said...

That's an interesting one.

My initial reaction would have been along the same lines of "that person's obviously a trans woman, it's bigoted and insulting to call her "he"..."

But, having said that, ultimately i would like language to change so that there are no gendered pronouns at all, and i'd like to abolish the whole concept of marriage as something that either requires state permission or creates/alters a legal status. So, yeah, a deeper critique is definitely necessary.

They definitely should have just asked the person involved what pronoun ze wanted to be referred to - of course, they might have done, but, being the mainstream press, it's probably unlikely. But i think that, if ze had preferred to be referred to as "he", then the paper ought to have printed that statement, to avoid accusations of transphobia...

Mik Danger said...

Shiva- you're right, asking would have been the easiest thing, and avoiding pronouns would be the way around a lack of reply. Too bad most US presses aren't that clever! And ditto on the wishes for marriage!!

Thank you all for commenting, it means a lot to me to know that my posts are read and valued. said...

For my part every person may read this.