When discussing the medical emphasis on genitalia among trans* bodies, it is also important to note the accessibility of such surgeries and what effects this availability may have on an individual’s gender identity.  The western notion that one’s gender should be represented through their genitalia has led to a demand that “incongruent” sex and gender must be “matched” through surgery.  With this, one must consider those who have no access whatsoever to transsexual medical technologies and those who do not identify with western definitions of trans*, but choose to carry out similar practices.  As Katrina Roen argues in “Transgender Theory and Embodiment: The Risk of Racial Marginalization,” trans* theory is a construction of whiteness without attention to race and cultural understandings.  Inserting theories of race and trans* identity after a body of work has already been created only allows for a problematic attempt to infuse ideas of race into a system that has already been fixed to compliment white ideals of gender and embodiment.  On main issue with this attempt is that perhaps individuals of marginalized racial categories identify first with their race rather than with their gendered or trans* identity.  In this sense, trans* theory must be challenged to understand racial categorization as a part of the trans identity rather than determining factor, telling whether a person has a proper claim to the trans identity.  With the racial character taking precedence over the trans character, the medicalization of race in regards to gender becomes a horrifying realty.

The theme of racial categorization and trans* theory is particularly important when it comes to cross-cultural identities.  In the same way that embodiment of gender and embodiment of race work against each other in trans* theory, the western perspective works to invalidate different cultural embodiments of gender that cannot be understood through the trans* identity.  Roen outlines the ways in which western ideas of gender and trans bodies have been overlaid and applied to cultures that do not fit these ideals.  The colonization of gender liminal individuals throughout the world has worked to diminish gender variability and eradicate significant differences among cultures.  These expressions of gender identity that choose not to subscribe to medical involvement or comply to a system of gender dichotomization challenge the western notion of corporeality and cannot be understood through such a lens.  On this, Roen writes, “through the processes of westernisation (via colonisation), it is now not un- common for gender liminal persons to seek sex reassignment surgery even though they live within a cultural context where their gender liminality might formerly have been understood in terms of a gender role for which bodily change was not considered an issue.”  The medicalization of not only gender in the western world, but cross-culturally poses a problem for the cultural traditions and preservation of gender liminality.  Due to the colonization of gender expression and the surgical standard of “matching” sex with “internal” gender, the genitals have become an extremely important part of an individual’s gender.

In addition to this, Towle and Morgan point out the ways in which western scholars also lump ideas of “third gender” into a simple category for those that do not exactly fit the trans* narrative ideals.  As if adopting other cultures’ gender non-comforming individuals into trans* theory is not enough, those who further push gender dichotomization, are then forced into a category of “third,” which does not properly allude to any difference in characteristics and identity among each culture. As many of us are in the same G215 class, most can probably recall the documentary we watched called Middle Sexes. With the purpose of informing the public about “middles sexes” all over the world, I believe this film is a prime example of the language, tone, and lack of variability used when the western perspective is reflected onto those living in very different cultures. Although we do see numerous accounts an interviews about the ways gender is experienced among individuals, there is little discussion about the effect trans* theory and gender colonization has had on these people. Many of these case studies live in a “gray area” when it comes to gender and western notions of “third gender,” but the impact of lumping these numerous categories and personal accounts together to create an anonymous “middle sex” within the classroom and educational field brings about the very problems that Roen, Towle and Morgan discuss. It seems that if we are not creating a category with exponential expectations with a very distinct understanding of “matching” and leave very little room for variation, then we are creating a category that brings all variations together, allowing for no personal understanding and identity that can be translated throughout cultures.

-Elizabeth Nash


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