Valentine outlines the historical definitions of ‘transgender’ in conversation with and against homonational discourses about gay respectability. According to Valentine, the identity category ‘transgender’ is able to “absorb the gender transgression” associated with homosexuals, especially gay organizations invested in the formal legal equality and liberal rights that seem to follow normative gender performance (64). The dominant legal logic seems to be: If they’re like us, they can be treated like us. Gender-normative gays have made clear that trans* folks are not-us, which raises the question of who us is and can be.
For all Valentine’s spot-on skepticism about exclusionary homonormativity and the gender policing involved in the reproduction of the gay/trans* binary, he doesn’t address the normativizing potential within the trans* community itself (at least not in this intro).
I know Chaz Bono is so 2000-and-late as far as objects of study go, and disastrously token for trans* political discussions, but: He seems like a good representation of bad representation.
Bono got himself in a bit of identity politics hot water for his disorder-ly narrative and transmisogyny. He self-pathologizes his childhood experiences as a birth defect and naturally attributes his misogyny to T. He’s entitled to self-represent his life as fit, but pop media have elected him the trans* representative. Speaking the lived truths of his experience is one thing, speaking publicly on behalf of trans* folks everywhere is another. The danger lies in the seductive accessibility of Bono’s identity (gender-binary-conforming, misogynistic, pathological) to dominant culture.
Fellow celebrity-offspring Stephen Ira wrote out against Bono’s status as the premiere trans* spokesperson in U.S. mass culture. Ira addresses points raised by Valentine’s hypothetical: “[W]ho is included in ‘transgender’?” (37). Thanks to language similar to Bono’s, many gender-non-conforming and anti-normative trans* individuals “assumed that transgender could never refer to them.”
It’s especially important in pop representations of trans* folks to articulate intracategorical differences and the insecurity of gender identities. Otherwise, normative and exclusive language by transgender individuals about ‘transgender’ could redefine trans* to create space only for the assimilationist-minded.
Ps Please forgive my transgressively belated post. I can’t write before the witching hour.