In class the other day, we talked about those people who don’t feel they fit into the available social categories. What if, like Tiger Woods, you are both black and white, and choose not to choose one identity over the other? (In contrast, arguably Obama *has* made a choice to identify primarily as African American, even though he acknowledges his mixed identity too. Of course, given the power of phenotypical methods of identification used in the U.S., it is unsurprising to see Obama make that choice.)
When you choose not to choose, you are fighting against the social policing that asks you to choose. (I.e., questions of authenticity from the outside: are you black enough, white enough, feminine enough, etc.). Most of us on borders choose, then. We decide we’ll claim whiteness, or blackness, or straightness, etc. We choose in part because, as Foucault made clear in his work, outside forces of discipline naturally become inner forces of discipline and punishment. As individuals, we become determined to clarify which categories we fall into, because there are consequences when we are unplaced, unmoored from these dominant categories.
In my case, when I realized that I wasn’t being seen as Latina–and it was important to me that people saw me as such–I made sure to use the Spanish version of my name, and to practice my Spanish, and etc. etc. (As I’ve gotten older, I have to admit I have grown less worried and anxious about policing my identity. I feel more comfortable with it–and less frantic about how others see me.)
This postcard offers one of those moments where the author worries about not being seen as a woman, because she is so tall, which is not typically seen as a feminine attribute.
But what I find interesting about this postcard is that her worry is NOT that she’ll be seen as a masculine woman or, in that vein, a lesbian. She’s worried that people will think she’s a transvestite.
I’m not quite sure how to read this person’s anxiety–that she’ll be read as a man masquerading as a woman–except that clearly she is aware of a spectrum of gender… she’s not operating on the binary of male/female. However, she’s also –to me– invoking a set of fears about that spectrum of gender. It reminds me of a recent spate of blog posts I’ve seen recently about transgendered individuals in the media. It seems that transgender is the new frontier of “other” identities that make people question the stability of the social categories we use to organize our lives.