Category Archives: Anthropology

I’m a Freak

* This entry was posted, pulled, and revised. We all make mistakes.

It still hits me over the head sometimes when I have a moment of shock and I think, “I really am a freak.” I’ve got a slew of friends and a paid therapist who consistently tell me how normal I am but hey, they all live in California. I know better; I’m from New York.

I spent my childhood struggling to be seen as normal (read: “like everybody else”) despite feeling trapped in a body and a role I despised. I didn’t look any different from the other girls but still, everyone could see that I was a masculine person in a girl’s body, which was not okay. The boys made fun of me: “To a girl who’s really built — like a Mack truck!” My sixth grade yearbook was littered with these. Even my friends took shots at me, paying the cutest boy in class to sneak up and kiss me on the cheek one day. “Where’s my two bucks?” he demanded, almost before his lips left my face.

Incidents like these aside, I really did and do feel normal most of the time – that is, until someone points out to me that I am not. Formerly, when I identified as a butch lesbian, I had a community and a history to fall back on at such moments. I never felt alone and, once I accepted myself, I never felt odd. There were so many others like me. Now that I identify as a transgender man, I feel utterly alone. There is no comparable community. There is no history. In terms of the medical options available to me, I am a new thing on this earth.

In my last post, I responded to the new North Carolina law that requires transgender people to use the restroom associated with the gender listed on their birth certificates. Some of us look so much like the men or women we identify as that following the law creates its own set of problems. No woman wants to see my mustached face in a ladies room.

The post elicited a strong response from a friend of mine; he’s not wrong in asking me to be realistic about the way politicians think:

“In the eyes of the NC legislators, who are older straight conservatives for the most part, there is a very real fear of perverts emboldened to barge into women’s restrooms AND LOCKER ROOMS [emphasis his] unrestrained. Whether that is a realistic fear or not is neither here nor there. It exists.”

I suppose I have to accept this. No amount of reason can shake an irrational belief. If men who try to look like women are allowed into the ladies room, then men will try to look like women in order to get into the ladies room. It doesn’t matter that it makes no sense; belief rarely does. And it’s strong enough to withstand critiques against its discriminatory effects.

The human psyche makes it acceptable to hurt other humans by dehumanizing them. In the eyes of the NC legislature, I am a freak, and freaks pave the way for rapists. As my friend implicitly reminds me, that’s a fact whether I accept it or not. I don’t want to be a freak.

I don’t want to be transgender. It was hard enough coming to grips with being a lesbian; being transgender is a whole other order of weird. How messed up am I, to be so at odds with my own biology? What went wrong in my head or in my life to detach me so completely from my body? No matter what I do, I can never be a “real” man. It’s crazy to think otherwise. I need to deal with reality.

Reality’s a funny thing, though. It keeps changing. It turns out that being transgender is not the same thing as being a man. It doesn’t try to be. It occupies its own legitimate place along the spectrum of human biology and identity. Whether people understand it or not is neither here nor there. It exists.

Something happened in my brain, in the womb or early on, that created disagreement with my body. And while I laid claim to masculine style and identity a long time ago, the disappointment of a mirror has always been profound. Finally denial was more painful than acceptance. Forty-five years of self-hatred is more than enough for anyone.

If that makes me a freak, then so be it.

Podcast #18: The Truth about Islam

hijab

http://www.babulilmlibrary.com

Based on the 14 years of experience that I have working with Muslim students on campus, I have come to see Islam as a faith like any other. It’s sad and unjust that Americans are conditioned to respond to it as something utterly different. Hijab, in particular, is profoundly misunderstood.

Rachel Dolezal DOES NOT EQUAL Caitlyn Jenner

DolezalJennerNO

Rachel Dolezal DOES NOT EQUAL Caitlyn Jenner.

Here’s why:

The discussion around Rachel Dolezal takes as its starting point the fact that she occupied a job at the NAACP that should have been filled by an African American person. Her appropriation of “blackness” is consequential only in that regard; who cares who she thinks she is? It doesn’t matter until she steps on someone else — in this case, by taking a particular job and making herself the representative of a population of which she may not be part. The question of whether or not she was qualified for the job based upon the sole requirement of her being African American is the legitimate point of concern.

What, then, is the definition of “being African American”? Most people think it’s based on skin color, an incredibly variable and superficial trait. If so, then how dark do you have to be to qualify? At precisely which point in his life did Michael Jackson stop making the cut? He got lighter; Dolezal got darker. If Jackson didn’t make himself into a Caucasian and Dolezal never actually became an African American, then skin color is clearly not the right definition.

I’m an  anthropologist, so let’s talk science: From a biological point of view, “race” is a thoroughly ridiculous idea (see Podcast #13). Don’t let me confuse you; racism is as real as a fist in your face, but “race” has no genetic validity. Despite what you may have seen on Bones, there is no magic combination of genes or skeletal features that instantly reveal an individual as “black” or “white,” in part because these color categories are culturally defined: The line between them moves depending on where you live. Folks who are “black” in America are “white” in Brazil. In America, in fact, there has been so much intermixing between people that many “black” folks have “white” ancestors and there are plenty of “white” folks with “black” great-grandparents.

Being African American is probably best defined as being subjected to racism based on the assumption that you are African American. Think about it. How many “high yellow” celebrities are out there passing as “white” and experiencing no racism at all? The black community is itself conflicted about whether or not these folks are even “black.” That’s because being “black” or “African American” is about your experience, not your genes.

This being the case, the important question becomes: Did Rachel Dolezal have an African American experience of life? Did she grow up black? Does that experience inform her perspective? The obvious answer to this is no; as a light-skinned child, she was not socialized as African American. She was never a black teenager. She never faced any of the challenges that people of color face growing up in America. On these grounds alone then, she was not qualified to hold the job that she occupied.

Okay, that’s fine. There ends the criticism. Because Dolezal’s experience of herself is another matter entirely. I accept that she identifies as African American because her identity is none of my business. Her experience of herself is something I can never understand, me not being her and all.

Perhaps she began passing as African American at a point in her life significant enough to have acculturated and become, for all intents and purposes, “black.” Forgive me a terrible metaphor: Like a young American who moves to France, learns the language, and lives there for the rest of his life; he’s pretty much French. Does anybody care that he was actually born in America? Only if he runs for office.

It’s okay with me if Rachel Dolezal identifies as African American. That’s her life and her experience. What’s not okay is that the she didn’t meet the unspecified, unspoken requirement of the job: she didn’t grow up black.

Lots of people think Dolezal is a faker. A pretender. I think her identity is her own business. I also think we could spend some time questioning the job’s base requirement of her blackness to begin with, but that’s for another time.

The point I’d like to make right now is that THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH BEING TRANSGENDER. Rachel Dolezal has nothing to do with Caitlyn Jenner. I call BULLSHIT! on comparing them.

Being transgender is about recognizing that your gender identity crosses the boundary between the sexes; trans literally means “across.” Trans* people see themselves as some combination of male and female because their physical bodies don’t precisely correspond to their idea of themselves. They struggle to reconcile the incongruities. It’s true that trans* people may pass as the sex other than the one to which they were assigned at birth, but this is usually recognized as a matter of survival rather than choice. Trans* people almost always grow up trans*.

Rachel Dolezal didn’t grow up transracial. She was a white child who claimed, as an adult, that she had always been black. That’s called lying.

Can a person even be transracial? I don’t know. Maybe. Perhaps we should ask Eminem or Marcus Samuelsson? I bet their answers would be interesting. But the idea that Rachel Donezal’s lies can call transgender identity into question is offensive and ignorant.

Caitlyn Jenner told us who she is with courageous honesty. Rachel Dolezal lied her way into a job. How dare you use her to undermine trans* identity!

Back to my future

the author in 1999 in male drag with facial hair

The author, from a brief attempt at drag in 1998.

My 1999 Master’s thesis in cultural anthropology was called Gender Pretenders: A Drag King Ethnography. Focused on a set of women performing in drag as men in NYC, it explored the idea of gender as a set of signs, rather than a fact of biology. My recent personal website update caused me to go back and look at the work again, 16 years later; the first paragraph rang like a bell in my head:

I have never taken gender for granted. As a very young girl, I was convinced that I’d grow up to be a big, strong man; needless to say I was somewhat disappointed when puberty hit and made it quite clear that was not going to happen. As a short-haired, overweight tomboy, I grew used to adults calling me “son” and, “young man,” and as a masculine woman have come to expect the occasional “sir.” But I am not transgendered; I’ve grown to love being a woman, to appreciate my female body, and to value my identity as a lesbian. I do not feel”like a man” and do not want to be one; still, I am often accused of harboring such a desire. I am told that I dress like a man, I talk like a man, and I look like a man; surely I must want to be a man?

I’ve obviously been thinking about my own gender for a long time. What stands out here is the description of my childhood, accurate now as it was then. It’s the first thing I tell people when explaining my recent decision to transition. What follows, however, is a strong statement of denial. I said four things which now require reconsideration:

“I am not transgendered” – The more honest statement at the time would have been, “I don’t want to be transgendered.” I didn’t know for sure that I wasn’t, but I did harbor a suspicion. Why else was I focusing on gender in my graduate studies?

“I’ve grown to love being a woman” – This was and is still true. I believe that women have a more flexible range of cultural expression (for example, in terms of dress) than men do; women are also encouraged to have and communicate emotions more so than men. This worried me until I realized that it’s okay to be an expressive man. And I admit that I grew, over the years, to believe in a sort of female superiority — in a “if women ruled the world, then there wouldn’t be any wars” kind of way.

“…to appreciate my female body” – This is a flat-out lie. I’ve never appreciated anything about my body below my neck. I’ve never really been in my body to begin with. I wrote the statement because I knew it was the most important thing to say if I were to convincingly deny that I was transgendered.

“…to value my identity as a lesbian” – This was and is still true. It’s one of the things I’ll be giving up in my transition. This troubled me for a while until I realized (a) I’m still queer and (b) I’m still a feminist.

There are straight men who claim they are “really just a lesbian in a man’s body.” I will be.

 

No longer anonymous.

http://i0.wp.com/www.laurenhasten.com/headshotc.jpg?w=625

You can follow my FTM (female-to-male) transition on Twitter @LWHasten; I’m also on Instagram.

The blog and podcast will resume after the summer.  While the focus will still be on culture and politics, I’ll certainly be seeing things through a new lens.

The Transgender Anthropologist

Drag King Mo B. Dick, photographed by Del LaGrace Volcano

Drag King Mo B. Dick, photographed by Del LaGrace Volcano

I’ve been away from here for a very long time. My attention was focused elsewhere. Now that everything is sorted, it’s time to unify these multiple identities I’ve been carrying around into one fully integrated person who is free to be exactly who he is. My voice, this website, and the podcast are coming back loud, strong, and fearless.

No more anonymity. No more secrets.  I am L.W. Lucas Hasten, formerly known as Lauren Hasten. I’m an anthropologist, a professor, a writer, a podcaster, a photographer, and an all-around decent human being. I’m also transgendered, and I’m done hiding.

Follow me on Twitter @lwhasten, #theroadtolucas #thetransgenderanthropologist

BRB

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I know it’s been a long time.  I’m sure you understand that life can be like that.  You, too, may have a side project that you love, but no time to dedicate to it.  You, too, may have a dream to pursue that is a borderline fantasy and a job that is real enough to keep you from making it happen.  You, too, may know what it feels like to start something great and get stopped in the middle.

The hiatus is nearly over. I’m two months away from removing the obstacles in my path.  The podcast is returning.  The format may change a bit, but Episode 16 is finally on the way.

If you listened to the show, then please write to me.  Ask me some questions.  Give me some feedback.  Toss out some topics.  It’s been difficult doing the podcast in a vacuum.

My goal, to be clear, is radio.  National distribution, AM or XM, broadcast or podcast. That means I need people to talk to.  There’s a new voice mail line coming soon where you can leave me a message to play and respond to on air.  One day those calls will be live.  Send me an email or tweet for now.

#theanonymousanthropologist

theanonymousanthropologist@gmail.com

Stay tuned.

Occupy Istanbul

TurkishUprising2013

Turkey’s Civil Revolt: Istanbul Rising

Halfway across the world, young people are rising up to tell their government that they expect it to work for them, not against them.  That’s a fundamental principle of democracy somehow embedded in the consciousness of a generation raised under the shadow of authoritarian rule but lit by the light of a million computer screens.  Educated, informed, and techno-savvy, these young Turks are possessed of Western values and American-style expectations.  Watch the video linked above and see it for yourself.  One young woman was absolutely aghast at the oppression of her government. The job of the Prime Minister, she says, his “obvious duty,” is to protect her; she grew up in a free society.  The problem is that the Turkish state defines freedom a bit differently than she does.

In the USA, the Occupy Wall Street movement built tent cities across the country. Young people gathered to demonstrate against the federal government’s propping up of the private sector at the expense of the citizenry (a gross but roughly accurate oversimplification).  In some places, local police forces used pepper spray on the crowds, but the tactic was met with scorn by politicians and the media alike.  Since, according to the Constitution, the people have a right to peaceful assembly, there was no official federal response.  The protests lasted in some cases for months, leaving individual cities to deal with the resulting sanitation and traffic issues, but they were largely nonviolent and of little lasting effect.

In Turkey, young people are today filling the streets to protest the actions of their government in privatizing public assets (another gross oversimplification, but a decent gloss nonetheless).  The Prime Minister has responded with threats and demands and a prodigious amount of street-clearing teargas.  The people, horrified by the brutality of their own elected officials, are driven by greater anger to hold larger demonstrations.  Both the protests and the violence are escalating.  While the Turks themselves believe that they have a right to assembly and freedom of expression, their government disagrees.

The difference, dear readers, is in the document.  As I tell my students, one should use the active, rather than the passive voice.

The most recent iteration of the Turkish Constitution dates to 1982. Yes. That’s right.  The place has been changing quite a lot over the centuries and they believe in regular updates.  Of course they tend to follow military juntas, but in general, updates are not a bad idea.  They’re due for another one.  But for the moment at least, here’s Article 34, circa 1982 — the one that is supposed to guarantee freedom of association:

(1) Everyone has the right to hold unarmed and peaceful meetings and demonstration marches without prior permission. [There should be a giant BUT right here.]
(2) The right to hold meetings and demonstration marches shall only be restricted by law on the grounds of national security, and public order, or prevention of crime commitment, public health and public morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
(3) The formalities, conditions, and procedures governing the exercise of the right to hold meetings and demonstration marches shall be prescribed by law.

Read it carefully.  Note that it guarantees nothing.  Note that it uses the passive voice: “Demonstrations shall be restricted.” That says it all, really, although the active voice would have been so much more clear: “The Government shall restrict demonstrations.”

Now read the First Amendment to the US Constitution, circa 1789:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Now that’s the active voice:  “Congress shall make no law.”  (Passive voice: “No law shall be made.”)  Thus we end up with a list of very specific stuff that the government cannot do.

The Turkish people need a better editor.