The concept of gender had been constructed by the society and “reconstructed through reform movements, moral codes, normative values, education and literature to meet certain social requisites of the times” throughout time (Bal, 2006). Consequently, concept of gender is no longer between the basic distinction of male and female as the concept of gender binary been contested through the occurrence of people changing their sex.
“I am a transgender/transsexual person meaning I was born in the wrong body and it is not mental illness like some people may think. In my case, I was born male and lived 22 years of my life as one but then made a transition to become who I really am, a female.”
Autumn Asphodel (2013)
Autumn Asphodel is a Youtuber who is actively shares her stories on the site as she began her process of transitioning from male to female. She talks about how being a male, she avoided looking at the mirror or take pictures because she hated the way she looked. Despite getting compliments for her handsome features as a man, it made her hate herself even more. In fact, every night before she goes to bed, she would pray that when she wakes up in the morning, she will be a girl. This is the classic example of a transgender. Transgender people always claimed that their outer appearance does not reflect the internal sense of femininity or masculinity they are feeling. Some might not understand the struggle these transgender people experienced in regards to their gender identification because it is something foreign to them but to the transgender community, the struggle is real. Imagine being born as girl but then one day you wake up as a man. You cannot wear your favorite dresses anymore or put any make-up on your face with hairs growing all over your body and you had to deal with this for the rest of your life. It must be agonizing to look into the mirror and see the person that you are not.
It is true that we are born with the sense of identity and sexual characteristics of either male or female. The problem is, sometimes, the sense of identity does not always match the equipment we are given. According to National Centre for Transgender Equality (2009) there are people who are aware that they are transgender from their earliest memories. In the case of Miss Asphodel, she began identifying herself as a female at the early phase of her childhood. She would watch movies about cross-dressing men and realize that is what she wanted to do. The feeling became stronger during her teenage year especially after puberty hits. She described her puberty as “an awful experience” and that “my body was changing not the way I wanted to and I hated myself for that”. Based on her statements, we can see how much she hated being identified as a man. However, after her gender reassignment surgery, instead of seeing herself as a complete woman, she claimed to be a hybrid of sorts (Asphodel, 2013). Now, a hybrid in this context is not like the vampire-slash-werewolf-kinda-hybrid but according to Miss Asphodel, she identifies herself as “60% female, 40% male”. This is because, despite the reassignment surgery, she still sees a man as part of her identity.
According Banens (2009) self-identification is a conscious act and that it came from the inside. Meanwhile, according to Fearon (1999) “identity” is used in two linked senses which may be termed as “social” and “personal”. It refers at the same time to social categories and to the sources of an individual’s self-respect or dignity (p.2). However, there is no linkage between these two things. One can use “identity” to refer to personal characteristics that cannot naturally be expressed in terms of social category and in some contexts certain categories can be described as “identities” even though no one sees them as central to their personal identity. Based on these definitions it is clear that Miss Asphodel belongs in the “personal identity” group. She identifies herself as a woman despite not being able to express that characteristic physically.
On the other hand, identity according to Foucault is a way to manifest an individual’s unique characteristics through their lifestyle. Foucault stated that identity is constructed through practices and these practices are called “technologies of self” (Kelly, 2013). He described “technologies of self” as ways individuals act upon themselves to produce particular modes of identity and sexuality. These technologies include self-contemplation, self-disclosure and self-discipline. This can be seen clearly on Miss Asphodel. She identifies herself as a woman in the early age and the feeling gets stronger as she grew up to the point that she could not hide her true self anymore. So she came out to her family, starting to see a therapist and began her hormones treatment to become a woman. She also began dressing like a woman full-time and in the end undergone the sex reassignment surgery. According to Miss Asphodel, her journey to become a woman was painful and scary but she is finally able to be her true self and starting to love herself.
Discussion about transgender identity can be seen from many perspectives such as religion (Bal, 2006) or feminism (Przybylowicz, Hartsock & McCallum, 1990). We choose to see this issue from the perspective of globalization as one of the contemporary theorist, Giddens (cited in Hermannsdóttir, 2011:14) believes that there is “ever increasing amount of mediated experience, since with the increasing globalization of media a diverse number of milieu are made visible to anyone who cares to gather the relevant information”. There are no longer boundaries in between curiosity and information. The process of gathering information is easier than ever. Through available blogs and websites, issues on Transgender is spreading and it provides the platform for the Transgender to come out of the closet with their new identity and to be more comfortable talking about it and some has gradually gain virtual society acceptance as they understand more on the life of the Transgender.
There has been growing number of attempt to create awareness and to approach the public as to educate them regarding Transgender. One of the ways to approach bigger audience is through websites. We have decided to compare and contrast the official Transgender Community Center websites and individual Transgender blog on how they approach their crowd as well as how they deal with them.
1. LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland (http://www.lgbtcleveland.org/)
Not-for-profit social service agency; The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center of Greater Cleveland focus on the needs of the stated group and also HIV/AIDS populations of Northeastern Ohio. Apart from their physical center, they run down their official website to inform and share updates on related events, programs, services and reports or readings on the research done for those who are interested. Along with that, the public or anyone who are concern could also donate through an allocated section.
One special section provided in the website was “Research & Requests” where the center fulfills the request of many to publicize various research opportunities to their guests. Apart from that, the center work together with various organizations who are interested to approach the LGBT community and providing the platform to express themselves.
Besides that, counseling sessions (discussion groups) are also available to provide mental and health counseling services to cater youth and adults, aged 14-24. This blog also includes free health and wellness (HIV test). The Centre has a full schedule of regular weekly and monthly events, ranging from Martial Arts Classes, Youth Groups, Health Clinics, senior drop-in Lunches and volunteer nights, to book forums and a Gay Dads discussion group.
There were no comment section or Q&A section allocated in their official website but they have provided their contact information; address, phone number and email address of the center. Not just focusing on their official website, the community center also approach wider crowd through social networks sites namely Facebook and Twitter. Through the social media, people are free to comment, provide suggestions, and share their reviews or opinion on how the website approach could be improved.
2. National Center for Transgender Equality (http://transequality.org)
The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) aims to provide information and relevant resources to assist advocates, policy members and members of the media to create culture change and attempt to increase acceptance and to improve the lives of the Transgender. However, the center should not be confused as legal or social service energy as they are not entitled to provide legal, medical or social services referrals.
This website has almost the same features as the previous website who also gives opportunity for people to donate to their center. As compared to the first website, this one is more interactive with its virtual audience as they provide space for the Transgender individual to share their story and experiences on discrimination. Apart from giving platform for them to express themselves, the story will be able to assist the website to advocate with policymakers in alteration of laws and policies in their attempt to fight for equality provided that the website gain permission to share the story without exposing his or her personal details.
There is also a blog section on the website to discuss related issue and comment section is enabled to receive feedbacks from the readers. As we scroll down the comment section, we noticed some comments have been deleted as the website will leave a mark stating “This comment has been deleted”. This shows that although the website allows people to comment, they have someone in charge of monitoring the activities at the comment section and to ‘clean’ any possibly offensive remarks to maintain a positive environments for the blog. Other commentators are allowed to interact with each other and create their chain of discussion but there are no replies or interaction from the website itself. There are also some restrictions to comment as one is required to log in using either their Facebook, Twiter or Gmail account (or sign up for one If they have none) before being able to submit their comments.
Through both official website, we have noticed that they use their social network platform to inform and spread information instead of direct interaction with their audience through comments but they are more comfortable to use email as their main medium to respond to any inquiry perhaps this is due to the formality of email.
As for the individual blogs, we have decided to go for:
1. Neutrois Nonsense (http://neutrois.me/)
This blog is run down by Micah, who have became a vocal transgender advocate and educator within the transgender community over his three years of active blogging on his transition. In his blog, he shared his journey through his transition, his experiences with embracing his new identity as well as how he copes with people. Through his blog post, he has been sharing and educating people on what is non-binary gender (all gender other than male or female) or which he coined as Neutrois.
Apart from his own experiences, he also sparred a section for relevant readings resources on gender, transition, the transgender youth and guides for those who are interested to understand more on Transgender. Apart from the comment section and email, he has created a FAQ section specially for any enquiries as he teased the readers.
The obvious difference between the official community center website with individual blog is direct interaction with the audience probably because blog is more personal and less corporate-like. Although he has his own section to ask questions, he still gives advices and recommendation to those in need in his comments section. Most of the comments are from those who are going through transition, trying to fit in their new identity and using his post as a guideline, inspiration (to embrace their differences) and moral support, relieved that they can finally found someone whom they can relate to and learn more on adaptation and process through the blog. There are also some who are heterosexual following his blog showing their support to equality. Throughout our survey in the comments section, we could not find any negative comments. Unlikethe official website’s comment features which inform the audience that the comment has been deleted, blog does not leave any traces of deleted comments. Overall, the comment section is all filled with story, gratitude, experiences, inquiry and also positive encouragements for those going through the process.
2. Transgender Mental Health (http://tgmentalhealth.com/about/)
The Transgender Mental Health Blog is run by New York City Psychotherapist and Psychoanalsyt Ami B. Kaplan uses her experience on working with Transgender and Transsexual individual to mainly discuss on Mental Health Issues for Gender Variant and Transgender Individuals, Friends and Family mainly from the aspect of mental health, psychotherapy and support. Her interest is on helping individuals to find comfort with their transition and help those having problem growing up with gender variance to cope with it. Different from the previous blog, this blog does not focus on transgenderism issues (medical breakthroughs, transgender rights, political issues) unless related to mental health. On top of that, she helps to clarify some gender and clinical terms in a simpler way for the readers understand easier.
In terms of interaction with audience, Kaplan prefers to be contacted through email and updates her Facebook. She responds to the comments and even helps those who are interested to do research on it by providing links to reliable sources and readings. Kaplan even reminded the audience that comments are monitored and spams will be removed.
Throughout the examples of websites and blogs given, we could sum up that although they do allow participation from their audience, they still maintain their power on which information they would share and what they should filter before publishing it online. Participation through comments are also monitored and filtered from the blogs and some websites does not even provide comment section but they all have one thing in common, which is using email as their main medium of interaction with their audience.
This could be explained through the concept of gatekeeping which explains how billions of messages are filtered into hundreds of messages before sent or reaching a particular person (Soroka, n.d.). This process depends on the social system of gatekeeper who decides what should be cut out and what should be forwarded to the last resort. Another important part of gatekeeping is that the process is controlled and ensured by the gatekeeper to not be known by the publics and even control who could be part of it and single out those who are not relevant (Soroka, n.d.).
Asphodel, A. (2013, July 23). My transition from male to female (with pictures). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHsK_K-IZQI
Bal, G. (2006). Construction of Gender and Religious Identities in the First Punjabi Novel “Sundari”. Economic and Political Weekly, 41(32), pp. 3528-3534. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/4418570
Banens, M. (2009, Mac 23). Sexual identities, what are they made of? Retrieved from http://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-00369324
Fearon, J. (1999). What is identity (As we now use the word)?. Retrieved from https://web.stanford.edu/group/fearon-research/cgi-bin/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/What-is-Identity-as-we-now-use-the-word-.pdf
Kelly, M.G.E. (2013). Foucault, subjectivity, and technologies of the self. In C. Falzon, T. O’Leary and J. Sawicki (Eds.), A companion to Foucaulti. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/4267297/Foucault_Subjectivity_and_Technologies_of_the_Self
Micah. (2014). Things I’ve learn from being a transgender that aren’t about being transgender. Retrieved from http://neutrois.me/2014/09/08/things-ive-learned-from-being-transgender/
National Center for Transgender Equality. (n.d.). Retrieved April 22, 2015, from http://transequality.org
National Centre for Transgender Equality (2009). Understanding transgender people FAQ. Retrieved from http://www.transequality.org/issues/resources/understanding-transgender-people-faq
Soroka, S. N. (n.d.). The Gatekeeping Function: Distributions of Information in Media and The Real World. McGill University.
The Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Community Center of Greater Cleveland. (n.d.). Retrieved April 22, 2015, from http://www.lgbtcleveland.org/