NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—On March 27, the Tyler Clementi Center hosted a lecture entitled “Transforming Transgender Beyond American Borders: Cultures, Categories, Communities,” in the Alexander Library’s Teleconference Lecture Hall on College Avenue.
The talk explored sexual and gender identification outside of the United States and featured Professor Martin F. Manalansan IV, a University of Illinois associate professor of Asian American Studies, Anthropology, and Gender and Women’s Studies.
The Center’s presentation marked the third and final event by Professor Manalansan, who was invited by the Tyler Clementi Center to discuss his research on Filipino gender and sexual identification across the globe.
The director of the Tyler Clementi Center, Professor Jeff Longhofer, began the event by discussing the need for reinterpreting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (or, LGBT) identities outside of Western borders.
According to Professor Longhofer, an overarching theme of Professor Manalansan’s work is the “messy” aspects of gender and sexual identification across cultures: particularly, in regards to the intersection of queer identification within racial, colonial, and cultural histories.
Professor Manalansan focused particularly on the concept of “bakla,” a Filipino identity linked to homosexual attraction, feminine characteristics, and female transgender identification.
In particular, he noted how “bakla” combined sexual and gender identification in ways that the “transgender” and “gay” Western labels failed to convey.
Noting the importance of the “lived embodied experience” of queer individuals, Professor Manalansan also connected the “bakla” identity to the experiences of an undocumented Filipino immigrant named Imelda.
As a former resident of Jackson Heights in Queens, NY, Imedla faced several obstacles in the United States – including transphobia, sharing low-income housing, hiding from American immigration officials, and, eventually, the contemporary gentrification of the neighborhood.
However, Professor Manalansan noted how Imelda’s gender and sexual identifications were fluid, and were often based on the cultural and social contexts she found herself in.
According to Professor Manalansan, this represented how gender and sexual identities are often “contingent and situational identifications,” which are not linear conclusions, but rather, a plethora of identities which can be navigated based on social and cultural contexts.
Likewise, the Professor also noted how American-Filipino relations are an overarching theme within the lives of Filipino and American-Filipino sexual and gender minorities.
In particular, Professor Manalansan focused on a LGBT public-service announcement sponsored by the United States government, in which a “bakla” youth named Jayvhy introduces lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender terminology.
Despite the piece’s positive representation of Western LGBT identities, Professor Manalansan notes how the announcement compounds Filipino gender and sexual identities under the LGBT label.
Professor Manalansan asked the audience to critically consider the LGBT umbrella’s Western bias, which stems from a white, male, and gay interpretation of gender and sexual identification.
Manalansan noted how the PSA “pinkwashes” gender and sexual identification, by implying the United States-sponsored project creates an image of sexual and gender equality from the West.
This contrasts sharply with the United States’s institutional discrimination against such immigrants as Imelda, however, and works to ignore the long-standing presence of “bakla” identities within Filipino culture.
In conclusion, however, Professor Manalansan noted how gender and sexual identification must be understood in regards to separate cultural identities.
Challenging the American narrative of Western LGBT groups as bastions of gender and sexual equality, Professor Manalansan concluded that gender and sexual identities existed outside of Western cultures well before the onset of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer movements in the West.
Although his discussions covered issues “about, beyond, and around transgender” representation, the Professor noted that sexual and gender identities outside of the West must be understood in relation to their own local cultures.
After the lecture, Professor Manalansan opened the floor to questions regarding his presentation and academic research.
Attendees were also invited to join a dinner reception outside of the Hall, where visitors were welcome to meet with the Center’s staff and talk to Professor Manalansan.
Founded in 2013, the Tyler Clementi Center is a joint-collaborative interdisciplinary academic effort between Rutgers University and the Tyler Clementi Foundation.
The Center fosters discourse on youth issues of queer, sexual, and gender identification and engages in interdisciplinary research, lectures, and public discussions.