Fitting in Race and Ethnicity to Gender Theorizing

When examining transgender theory, Katrina Roen challenges her audience to view certain theories in a more critical view. Roen writes about the lack of focus on race and ethnicity when it comes to theorizing transgender. By interviewing three different gender liminal people, Roen writes about their beliefs and thoughts the three have on politics and their own identities as transgender (or third gender) people. (Excuse me if I misuse the term third gender with transgender, I am still a bit unclear on the differences between the two.) By purposefully choosing participates with diverse cultural backgrounds, her participants Don, Tania, and Pat all give varying opinions on transgender theories. As said in the text, “Don provides an example of reclaiming a traditional sexuality/gender specific position which is very distinct from, but in some respects resembles, transgenderism” (659). I really enjoyed reading what he had to say about the difference between being identified as fa’afafine compared to other Palagi (English) terms like gay and queer. “[Those terms] actually tell you how that society views that person. My culture just views it ‘like a woman’” (660). His cultural identity is what he wants others to view him first as, which is Samoan. But yet, the two do not relate without the other.

Moving on to Tania, her interview is focused on her critical views of western conceptions of the medicalization of transsexuality. When we discover that she is opting for sex reassignment surgery, her reasoning is “partly to the current legal situation of non-operative transpeople in Aotearoa/New Zealand” (662). But again, her race (Maaori) is brought into view and the importance it holds over her identity. She does not wish to lose her transsexual identity, for doing so would “denigrate her entire ancestral line” (662). The last interviewee, Pat thinks uncritically of the medical discourses on transsexuality. But Pat also found a way to maintain his Maaori and transgender identity through the kapa haka group he belongs to. Here, both identities are respected and acknowledged. I was moved by this group that he spoke of. When speaking about his transgender identity, Roen said that Pat talked about it “as something to be held in high esteem when he talked about it in conjunction with his Maaori identity in the context of the kapa haka group” (663). In conclusion to her writing, Roen focuses on this very thing. She suggests that it “provides an illustration of how transgender and racial politics do not need to be approached in an either/or fashion, but can be worked together” (664). I also liked that she ended her writing with a numerous amount of questions, showing that she herself still does not have the answer to correct views on transgender people and gender liminal ways of being.

After reading Roen, I decided to look into people who identify as fa’afafine. I found this video on Youtube (!) where a fa’afafine woman from New Zealand tells the interviewer how she identifies herself and how others view her. I was very happy to see that a support group called I.N.E was developed for all fa’afafine girls to find there voice and support each other.


– Colleen Griffin


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