First Comes Cultural Context…

The essay “Transgender Theory and Embodiment” by Katrina Roen takes a look at the “Risk of Racial Marginalization” facing trans* people transnationally. Specifically, Roen chooses to discuss trans* people of different races and cultural identities who live in New Zealand.

In the case of Don, a 45-year-old Samoan fa’afafine, culture precedes sexuality. By positioning his Samoan identity before his sexuality, Don point out the importance of cultural context and its effects on subject hood. Approaching identity and subject hood this way, scholars, academics and anyone studying trans* individuals can avoid the western/nonwestern binaristic thinking that does not necessarily or accurately asses one’s subjectivity. 

The summer after my freshman year I lived in New Zealand and can say from experience that these same sentiments are shared by many of the people who live there. Upon a trip to parliament, I realized how freeing it must be to live in a country where your cultural identity surpasses the other aspects of identity, created a shared sense of unity.  This is not to say that the intricacies and differences that create subjectivity are over looked. Oppositionally, they are simply not treated as a determining factor in one’s ability to live, work, and run the country of New Zealand. Members of parliament include gay men and women, trans* individuals as well as individuals with religious and spiritual beliefs that could be considered on the fringe, including a Rastafarian member of parliament. Just as well, a certain number of office and parliament positions are reserved for Maoris.

It is the cultural familiarity of the members of New Zealand’s parliament that allow them to negate discriminatory office policies, just as Don’s hopeful narrative insists. In attempting to remove one’s own cultural bias (which, essentially can never fully be eradicated), and position oneself at a cross sectioning of relative culture, gender, sex, and sexuality, one might be able to address theories pertaining to transnational, trans* embodied folks with less western/nonwestern undertones.

-Sally Stempler

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