Identity Hierarchies

A few questions posed in Katrina Rosen’s Transgender Theory and Embodiment: The Risk of Racial Marginalization are “How might queer be theorized to better take into account Don’s perspective of putting culture first and gender/sexuality second?” and “Must there be such a prioritizing for issues of racism, homophobia, and transphobia to be effectively combated?” These questions are really striking to me in that they deal with making a sort of hierarchy of self-identification. While these questions are very specific to trans* theory, they could easily be expanded to a greater understanding of intersectional identities in a more generalized sense.

A 45-year-old Samoan fa’afafine named Don is one of the examples that Rosen uses in her essay. It is Don that causes Rosen to ask the questions previously stated. This is because he wants people to view him as Samoan before they view him as anything else, including fa’afafine. His prioritization of his identity in such a manner is interesting because people often ignore issues of race or ethnicity when talking about sexuality, making the assumption that one’s sexuality is of greater personal importance and effectively ranking another person’s identity without knowing much about them at all. This could work in the opposition as well, where one would assume that race informs a person’s identity more than their sexuality when the person in question feels the opposite. However, it’s more interesting to think of how sexuality overshadows race because race is a more easily identifiable trait visually than sexuality.

Don believes that “cultural identity precedes gender/sexuality identity in political importance,” but it also important to note that he acknowledges that the two are linked and inform one another in relation to his identity (Roen 660). Rosen notes that Don’s reclaiming of fa’afaine as an identity that does not need to be medicalized is similar to “queer and transgendered critiques of psycho-medical discourses on transsexuality.”

This video is titled “What is a Fa’afafine” and in this video a fa’fafine named Phylesha discusses how they interpret their identity in relation to how other view them. Phylesha says, “I don’t identify as a man. I don’t identify as a woman. I identify as who I am, who I know to be and that is a human being.” When asked if there is a space between a man and a woman, Phylesha says, “That’s up for you to decide.” It is that line that really spoke to me and that I think really relates back to Don’s prioritization of his identity. Don has actively formed a hierarchy of identity, where he is Samoan and then fa’afine. Phylesha has formed a hierarchy as well, where they are first and for most a human being and a fa’afine second. Both are similar approaches to taking control of one’s self-identification, but how they would interact with the world on a social and political level would be very different.

 

– Kris Krumb

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