April 27, 2014
Recently the term “transgender culture” has became more and more common a term in discourse about LGBT topics. Perhaps alongside “gay culture” or “queer culture,” this new term is seen as recognising the unique lived experiences of transgender individuals. Yet, is this a term with actual substance?
There most certainly are transgender cultures, such as the Hijra in India, the Kathoey in Thailand, the Waria in Indonesia, etc. There are transgender communities within indigenous cultures. This is not what seems to be discussed here. What is a transgender culture in a Western, and especially Americentric, context? This Western, even Americentric, idea of a “transgender culture” seems to have really come up in wider pop culture headlines, in articles, in blog posts, and in comments over the past year.
There’s just one big issue with this concept of a “transgender culture.” I have no idea what it means. And I can’t seem to figure it out in the references to it.
Even Huffington Post’s transgender page references a “culture.” Of course, as Mitch Kellaway says, HuffPo probably isn’t exactly the best source when it comes to learning about trans issues, let alone what might constitute a transgender culture. Kellaway was one of HuffPoGay’s writers until the website’s decision to run Alaska Thunderfuck’s controversial video which many (including myself) felt targeted trans women writers (and perhaps one in particular). That incident was what finally pushed him to end the relationship, but he’d been uncomfortable with the website for some time.
My growing qualms had everything to do with your position as a non-trans-run platform that has real effects, via your editorial choices, on how trans people can expect to be publicly related to…
It’s really important to note that when I have seen “transgender culture” written, it has almost always invariably been in works by cisgender individuals. The works seem more like those of amateur anthropologists discussing some foreign group, rather than descriptions of an actual culture, while others just don’t even describe what it is. Vogue ran a piece on Barney’s use of transgender models which included a title that referenced “transgender culture,” yet then did not go on to explain of what this supposed “transgender culture” actually consisted. Huffington Post, as mentioned earlier, didn’t either. The closest I could find to anyone actually discussing “transgender culture” as an actually identifiable culture was extremist religious groups denouncing “transgender culture” as part of the “gay agenda.” Not exactly reliable.
Honestly, if there is a “transgender culture” of which I am a part, I sure don’t know it. How do I identify this “transgender culture,” anyway? Before answering this question, I think we have to ask ourselves what marks out identifiable transgender communities in these non-Western cultures (India, Thailand, and Indonesia), and perhaps what marks out identifiable “gay” or “queer” subcultures within our own. Is there any real way to compare? And just what is culture anyhow?