initial thoughts on trans*nationalism

People will notice that I’m using the asterisk in this title and this is on purpose, despite my fairly well-known criticism of the asterisk. ‘Transnationalism’ is already a term that exists with a set of meanings and this isn’t what I want to evoke when talking about trans*nationalism. As many people know that asterisk in ‘trans*’ is supposed to represent the notion of an umbrella of identity, of overlapping communities that have something important in common. Others might be familiar with the idea of homonationalism (or the place where Gay Inc (or the gay and lesbian movements) intersection with nationalism. ‘Trans*nationalism’, thus, is meant to reference the intersection of trans* movements and politics with nationalism.

As such, the asterisk is actually an important indicator for demarcating trans movements and methods of organizing from trans(asterisk) movements and methods, such that — as in my previous criticisms — the asterisk, as wildcard, not only can represent things like ‘transgender’ or ‘transsexual’ but also necessarily must allow for ‘transmisogyny’ as one its proper permutations. First and foremost, what demarcates and indicates that a trans related movement is a trans*nationalist one is transmisogyny as its proper foundation. This isn’t to say that just because an organization, movement, or term is transmisogynist it is also trans*nationalist, but rather to say that trans*nationalism _requires_ transmisogyny for its coherence and articulation.

In this, we see an important commonality between homonationalism and trans*nationalism, as both depend on transmisogyny for their articulation. Gay Inc and homonationalism distinguished itself in its early days by the swift and deliberate expulsion of trans women of colour from the movement we started. The (racialized) transmisogyny of trans*nationalism, however, is somewhat more subtle but still just as exclusionary. Rather than attempting to claim that twoc are not trans (which not even trans*nationalism can claim with a straight face), instead twoc (and other racialized ppl who experience transmisogyny) are only included as ghosts and statistics. Our lives, deaths, and everything in between are kept at a distance and only used when they legitimize trans*nationalist claims and goals.

Indeed, this is the first and most important characteristic of trans*nationalism: that it exploits the deaths and lives of twoc (and other iaopoc who experience transmisogyny) while never actually and meaningfully including us. Our entry into the movement is a body bag or a faceless number via statistics.

And in this way, we see how trans*nationalism is already aligned with the (settler) state and its imperial goals.

Of course, the relationship between various trans* movements and organizations and the state is key to how/why they are nationalist. We can see that many of these movements and organizations not only collude with the state, but seek to strengthen it and expand its territory.

What does trans*nationalism look like in practice?

  • it is inviting the police to attend trans marches
  • it is reifying and supporting the medical model of transness (via transsexual separatists, True Transsexuals(tm), or Truscum(tm).
  • it is doing little to nothing to support incarcerated trans ppl (much less getting involved with prison abolitionism itself)
  • it is hyperfocusing on (the very real problem) of state recognized identify via documentation
  • it is the general disregard and ignorance surrounding the issues of sex work
  • it is the ignorance and lack of concern for trans refugees and immigrants
  • Etc and so on

Anyway. As noted in the title, this is mean to be just initial thoughts on trans*nationalism, rather than a comprehensive list, since it occurred to me the other day that I don’t think I’ve seen much or anything specifically framing current trans* organizations and movements in this way.

on social constructionism as a white hegemonic framework

After elluding to wanting to talk about social constructionism as a white hegemonic discursive framework on twitter, I figure I should make good on that claim/discussion.

The problems and ills with biological essentialism as a discursive framework are generally well-known and mostly opposed within most anti-oppressive discourse1. And this post isn’t about that. Instead, it is about what usually supplants biological essentialism within our discourse — social constructionism. Broadly speaking, social constructionism asserts that human properties like race, gender, disability, etc aren’t inherent to specific kinds of bodies. Rather, the perception of a racialized body depends on the context (society, in other words) in which that body is viewed. That things like race, gender, disability, are socially mediated rather than inherent qualities to individuals. Note, this isn’t an ontological discussion about whether or not these properties exist but an explanation for why/how these properties exist. It is a description.

There is great liberatory value in understanding human properties in this way. Chief amongst them is the idea that if these properties aren’t inherent to the person but rather about contextual perceptions, these perceptions are significantly easier to change than something inherent. For example, much easier to change with the social construction of race than attempt to rewrite a person’s DNA to change the amount of melanin they have. Basically, if it is human society/culture that assigns value to certain properties and oppresses people with different properties, this is something that can be changed (and, in fact, is almost always already changing). The changeability of the valuation of human properties seemsto confirm how we understand history and the ways that meanings assigned to properties aren’t constant over time, as is suggested by a biologically essentialist model.

At present, all I’m really asserting is that social constructionism is also a white created theory for explaining how things work and that this whiteness — like all whiteness — comes with dangers and problems. Chief of amongst them is the hegemonic nature of the theory and the continual expansion of its territory within discourse.

The question, to a certain extent, is “is everything socially constructed?”. It often seems, at times, that many people’s response (if they are familiar with the theory) is ‘yes’. But the answer cannot be and should not be ‘yes’. If they answer is ‘no’, however, where are all the discussions about the limits and boundaries of social constructionism? What are the boundaries?

One problem is that it is far too easy to assert ‘yes’ and talk about how all things are socially constructed, even when the people holding the beliefs do not believe this is so. Perhaps the easiest limit to social constructionism is religion or spirituality. Social constructionism is a secular system of thought. Fundamentally, it cannot really allow entities like gods, spirits, ancestors, etc to actually exist. Such beings must also be socially constructed (even if this is only asserted by people outside of the tradition). Why? Because socially constructionism doesn’t only oppose biological essentialism but other kinds as well.

I come from a people with strong roots in Catholicism. And it is common enough for some bakla people to think that we are this way because God made us this way. This is an essentialist belief. But it is an essentialist belief not based on biology. It is what could be called ‘theological essentialism’. Most people would assert that you cannot believe both that gender is a social construction AND that God created you to have a specific gender at the same time. Within white discourse such a position is untenable. And part of the problem lies within social constructionism itself, since most of its adherents strictly oppose all essentialist frameworks.

Of course, this example might not be convincing for a lot of people, since who cares if a colonial religion’s perspective on gender is incommesurable with constructionism? Well…

This was just an easy example that didn’t require me to reference any indigenous belief systems. But I also come from a people where my gender has a spiritual dimension within the indigenous worldview (something I’m also not getting into bc it is besides the point). And while I can, within my own worldview, reconcile a general commitment to constructionism and theologically essentialist aspects of my own gender the only way this is possible, as far as I’ve been able to tell, is to understand that there are limits to social constructionism. But also understanding it as a white created theory that also seeks to dislocate my Tagalog worldview because it is still a white created explanatory system. It has no more vested interest in affirming my worldview (or even allowing it to exist) than the medical or scientific strains of biological essentialism favoured by many.

Moreover, you can percieve the whiteness within the theory when you look at its expansionist tendencies. Social constructionism (and its strongest adherents) rarely sketch out any limits to its territory, rather seeking only to furter expand with an aim to bring all phenomena within its borders. It is this prescriptive angle I find most troubling and the way that, in many spaces, there isn’t any room for someone like me to articulate an essentialist/spiritual dimension to my gender without being branded a heretic or reactionary.

(and i have no real idea how to conclude this but i think i’m done writing on this topic for now…)

asians and visibility

It isn’t uncommon to see Asian diaspora discourse focus on ‘visibility’. Recently, this was the apparently the impetus behind #asian invasion on tumblr…. a selfie movement feeding off of #blackout. There are many things wrong with this…

I’m not going to talk too much about the anti-Blackness inherent in yet again co-opting Black leadership and creativity by doing something like asian invasion with little thought. There is already great critiques of this on tumblr.

I will talk, however, about the notion of visibility. And the inherent anti-Blackness of Asians either misconstruing the #blackout movement as being about visibility OR in asserting the need for Asian visibility at this precise moment…

From all indications, #blackout was not about visibility. To say that Black people aren’t ‘seen’ is to misunderstand and erase the ways that they are hyper_visible. The problem isn’t whether or not Blackness is _seen but how it is seen (and by whom). In one sense, #blackout was a great way for non-Black people to see Black ppl how they (might) see themselves: as a group of diverse, complex individuals with each their own stories and lives1.

So what does it mean that Asians would create a parasitic movement based on #blackout that is about visibility? To me, it sounds like more of the (seemingly endless) Asian whining that racial politics (esp. in America) exist on a primarily Black-White binary, the exclusion of all other races. Now… this binary is not only false and non-existent, but organising around the belief that it is real is anti-Black. It ends up asserting that Black people ought not to be centered in movements for racial justice/decolonization/dismantling white supremacy. Or it ends up asserting that Black ppl take up too much space in these movements or discourse. Or something to that effect. Thus… we end up with the endless worry of (some) Asians about ~visibility~.

But visibility is such a nebulous term…. Who do we want to see us, exactly? And who are we erasing in this quest for visibility?

I ask this because if you are a non-Black Asian and during #blackout you either did not see or did not notice the fact that BLACK ASIANS were participating and, thus, ‘visible’, you are either following the wrong people OR operating with the notion that there are no Black Asians. Either is anti-Black. If visibility is truly your concern, then it should begin with us seeing all the peoples and Asians who tend to get erased and forgotten whenever we talk about ‘Asians’. Chief amongst this group would be… Black Asians. See also Indigenous Asians. But also disabled Asians, Fat Asians, etc. and so on. Again… I saw all the above during #blackout. Bc. You know. Asians (of any kind) are not mutually exclusive with Blackness.

But I also have to say that if ‘visibility’ is the greatest issue you think Asians face, then you are 1) wrong and 2) probably in the group of relatively privileged Asians2.

One note: asking for ‘visibility’ is not the same as critiqueing or discussing erasure.

femme resistance and compliance

I don’t often touch this topic since I find that there are many twoc who already aptly discuss the politics of femme resistance (like Morgan — labrujamorgan). But I’m finding rubato’s experiences and comments on femme intriguing and frustrating (not rubato’s writing but the ideas it is responding to).

The notion that femininity and such is reactionary and compliance to partriarchy is a thorn in everyone side pretty much placed there by radfems (who’ve taken to whining endlessly about ‘butch flight’ and the disappearance of the masculinity they love to worship in their own communities). Honestly, I do blame radfems for the popular notion that femmes are necessarily counter-revolutionary bc we uphold the patriarchy…

For me. Remembering this important bit of historical context for where the figure of the counter-revolutionary femme helps a lot in just not really feeling like I have to pay attention to most people’s critiques of femmes or the (stereotypical) accroutements of being femme. Ppl want to buy into bullshit radfem ideas about femininity and shit? They get put on my ‘dupes of radfems and probably transmisogynists’ list.

So many discussions of the problems with being femme fail to take into account race (something I know that many femmes of colour have talked about). They fail to take into account any number of overlapping and non-trivial oppressions (weight, class, etc and so on).

What interests me more is this… desire (and this def. comes from radfems) to frame femmes as necessarily conservative/reactionary/counter-revolutionary to the radical/revolutionary/subversive butch. Now. Of course on the surface this just seems like more patriarchy vis a vis the worship and adulation of masculinity and all things related to men. And, sure, this is an important factor (I mean, we all know that radfems fucking suck at patriarchy’s tit right?).

But it is this notion, which sadly Julia Serano has also noted in her book, that for whatever reason some identities are inherently more radical than others that interests me because… really? REALLY?

Like beyond the fact that I’ve had my FILL of white impossed binaries re: gender and shit, ppl really need to move beyond this really fucking simplistic idea that identity in and of itself is somehow ~radical~.

Look.

My dad is a SE Asian man. He is super duper anti-Black, fat-phobic, anti-Semetic, and literally votes conservative (I’m not joking. He votes conservative).

Are you telling me that just because he is an SE Asian man, that he is more radical than my white bf?

(Yeah, my bf is white and all that implies. Meaning, at the very least, that he is racist. But unlike my dad, at least he tries to do something about his position of power and privilege. At the very very least, he doesn’t vote for the party that is literally trying to prevent me from having equal rights. But my dad is more radical just for being Asian? NOPE.)

Radical is shit you do not what you are. Compliance and resistance are what you do not what you are by dint of simply existing in a certain way.

And don’t get at me about internalized whatever the fuck. We all internalize shit that we have to unlearn. ALL OF US.

This, in part, why it is so irritating when white ppl on tumblr will list ‘anarchist’ in their bios but not ‘white’. You are white but you aren’t ‘anarchism’ however much you believe in and subscribe to the ideology. One of those is an identity and the other is just a word to describe you.

But I expect to see yet another thing castigating femmes for wearing makeup (like each and everyone of us does, of course).

Anyway. Fuck ur frameworks.

the parallels and intersections between anti-Black misogyny and transmisogyny

This post won’t leave me be to play Super Mario RPG, so I’m writing it and moving on.

Not too long ago, on tumblr, I saw that someone described the denial of a cis Black woman’s womanhood as ‘transmisogyny’ (could’ve even been ‘misdirected transmisogyny’). If memory serves, it was in the context of saying that some cis Black woman looked like or appeared to be ‘a man’. I can see why someone would make this error given that many ppl on tumblr and around will say that whenever you say a cis woman looks manly (like a man) you are being transmisogynist. And in casses where we aren’t talking about Black women, I’d maybe agree…

However, when we are talking about Black women, it isn’t ‘transmisogyny’ that enforces a regular, systemic denial of Black womanhood. It is anti-Black misogyny. And saying that a cis Black woman being denied her womanhood is ‘transmisogynist’ (misdirected or otherwise) manages to be both anti-Black misogynist and transmisogynist at the same time.

It might seem, on the surface, confusing to assert that there exists two subsets of women who are regularly and systematically denied womanhood but whose experience of this denial is not the same despite the impact being the same (ie, ‘being denied womanhood’).

And yet… here we are. The reality is, is that while both trans women and Black women (cis and trans) are regularly and systematically denied womanhood, the source and cause of this denial are distinct.

Trans woman are denied womanhood bc of transmisogyny.

All Black women are denied womanhood bc of anti-Black misogyny.1

To assert that it is transmisogynist to say a cis Black woman looks like a man is to completely erase the individuals who exist at this intersection: trans Black women. Who are denied womanhood based on both anti-Black misogyny and transmisogyny at the same time.

Indeed, since the denial of womanhood is an act of violence, that Black trans women exist at an intersection of two different kinds of violent denial of womanhood (or personhood) is precisely why Black trans women are the targets of so much material violence in the world.

People wanting to see how this plays out in discourse, should look to Monica Roberts’ Transgriot blog. Especially interesting is her discussions of the Williams sisters and how they are treated in the media.

Denial of womanhood is a defining feature of anti-Black misogyny and it is anti-Black misogynist to suggest otherwise.

Denial of womanhood is a defining feature of transmisogyny and it is transmisogynist to suggest otherwise.

And no one else experiences the unique denial of womanhood that Black trans women do but Black trans women.


  1. I could get into why I think this is, but Black women have aptly spoken about anti-Black misogyny and you can read their writing on it. 

the performative disappearance of trans women

I find myself still troubled and irritated by this series of tweets on Canada’s (failed) Bill C279.

The first tweet says that the bill would ‘protect trans folks from hate crimes’ which is… a lie. Laws will not protect trans women from anything, but especially not from hate crimes. At best, this law would apply only after a crime has been committed against a trans woman and the Crown decides to designate it a hate crime. This? Isn’t all that useful when we live in a violently transmisogynist culture. Morover, looking for laws and the state to protect any marginalized person from violence when it is the state that is often a source of violence itself is rather futile.

Canada is a illegitimate white supremacist settler state. It does not care about marginalized women. Look at how unfeeling the state is towards the MASSIVE problem with missing and murdered Indigenous women. While, yes, there is a clear disanalogy here since Canada must participate in the genocide of Indigenous peoples in order to sustain itself, it demonstrates that expecting protection from a state whose existence is grounded in genocide is rather… misguided.

Anyway, not that I’d have expected either of the two people whose tweets are quoted in the post to comment on this.

Of interest is the ways that both of them participate in transmisogyny by erasing the specific targets of senator plett. BOTH OF THEM keep saying things like ‘trans folks’, ‘trans people’, and so on. While BOTH also quote or paraphrase plett by noting how many of his examples of the possible harms that the bill would bring are all focused on trans women.

Trans women in bathrooms. Trans women in change rooms. Trans women in rape crisis centres1. Trans women in public. Trans women alive. Trans women breathing.

But in these tweets and in most of the commentary around this bill, trans women are erased and generalized into ‘trans ppl’. But this is about trans/misogyny (not transphobia). Literally all of the rhetoric used to block this bill has been focused on trans women.

This is what fake allyship looks like. You aren’t helping. This doesn’t help.

wait. what’s so bad about being a snowflake again?

like. i know where this phrase originates and why and how it is used…

but it is that sort of perverse d00dbr0 logic that puts marginalized people in a bind:

reddit trash constantly berates SJWs for being ‘speshul snowflakes’ while insisting that many of us also uncritically and unthinkingly are just parrots for tumblr SJ ideology

we are, at once, both monolith and too individualistic.

which of course is the special kind of nonsense that anti-sj ppl love to push.

now.

‘speshul snowflake’

has taken a life of its own within teh trans community, in large part thanks to the this generation’s True Transsexuals(tm), the (omg. i actually am too fucking tired to remember what their fucking name is, but u know who i’m talking about. that group of largely white transbr0s who assert that body dysphoria is necessary and defining of the trans experience).

these white transbr0s do like to get at nonbinary ppl for having special snowflake genders and all i can think is…

so?

why shouldn’t we understand gender (and the embodied experiences of gender) to be as unique as the people who embody them?

like. i’m not talking about conceiving of trans/gender identities around a sense of white individualism

but um…

surely we can recognize that everyone’s relationship to gender is structured by a nexus of unique relationships that only they are capable of embodying (because even if we just consider environmental factors, no two ppl share exactly the same context — we share the cultural broadstrokes, but only i am me).

cis ppl articulate ‘speshul snowflake’ feelings about their relationships to their genders ALL THE TIME

(see any given masc4masc white cisgay doing mental gymnastics to prove they aren’t flaming homos)

a plurality of embodied gender experiences is only a bad thing in a cisnormative world that insists that gender can only be experienced and embodied in a very few different ways.

y u asking for my receipts like the IRS?

Yesterday’s thing with the whole odofemi shit coming up and getting triggered by the situation all over again makes me think that there is a principle I’ve been living by for the past year or two that is worth repeating:

I don’t provide receipts for calling my oppressors, oppressors anymore

That one response to the odofemi thing by a person saying that it is a serious claim, slanderous no less, to call a white woman racist is exactly why I don’t bother anymore. My personal interaction with her is documented on this blog. So. Like. I know what happened to me. If she remembers me at all, she knows what happened too.

She didn’t care then and I doubt she cares now about the harm she did to me.

What I don’t care about now, and in the future, is whether or not people believe tha a white woman did a fucked up white supremacist thing that actively harmed me. Not when calling a white woman racist is, apparently, now slander. Despite endless discussions about how racism is institutional and, by being so, all white people are complicit. Apparently… we are fine with this in the abstract (as long as it remains cold, bloodless theory) but not when it comes to interpersonal relationships. When it comes down to me (transpinay) and her (white). On this level? I’m fucking slandering her good name and ruining her professional reputation.1

But whatever, none of that matters. What matters is that she made me cry, and I don’t cry easily. Why? Because I’ve learned to be tough. Or rather, I learned long ago — first from my parents and then the entire fucking world — that no one gives a flying fuck when I cry. My tears are futile and useless. They accomplish nothing. So I don’t cry. Likewise, I don’t expect my tears to convince anyone, which is why I don’t bother linking to the blog post.

Moreover: I’m not having a fucking discussion about this. I made a rule a while back that I refuse to discuss my humanity. This includes with odofemi (who seemed to want to discuss this) and with her stans. You think that the harm I experienced is irrelevant or just a personal grudge? Fine. I’m not discussing my humanity with you. Literally the end of the fucking story.

Also?

I’ve literally said for years that I’m a petty, bitter bitch and some ppl don’t take that seriously. Or think I’m just trying to be ‘cute’. I’m not.

I’m a petty. bitter. bitch. Ok? You got that?

So. Yeah. Part of my issue with odofemi is deeply personal and totally a grudge.

What the fuck is your point?

What does that have to do with anything?

Why does me, after experiencing harm bc of her white supremacy/racism, calling her a racist have anything to do with you?

This is my wound. My pain. My utter lack of forgiveness and forgetfulness.

I fucking remember.

I will never forgive.

This does mean I’ll mention how she is a racist bitch every so often, bc I’m petty like that.

But notice how I don’t stalk her? I don’t repeatedly try to engage her? How I avoid her at all costs? How I’m not running a smear campaign to get everyone I know to stop interacting with her? NOTICE ALL THESE THINGS?

This is what separates my petty self from the people like alostbird/savannah. And it is a distinction ppl would do well to remember since talking about the harm that odofemi did to me is NOT a greater offense that the harm she caused.

You fucking assholes.


  1. Ppl get that defamation (slander/libel) laws are about professional reputations? Is me calling odofemi a racist hurting her job? Impacting her career? No. This isn’t about her as a professional whatsit but about her as a human being. 

models that erase nonbinary ppl

One sleep later, I still find myself vaguely annoyed by this response to my tweet collection on the history of the sexuality/gender distinction. Here is the comment reproduced in full:

I had no idea about the transmisogyny/transmisogynoir in the history of the concept of separation between sex and gender (and orientation for that matter). That definitely problemetizes Butler’s work. Gender/sex is very clearly different from sexual orientation though, so I wonder what a non-transmisogynist model of the gender/sex spectrum would look like since interpretations from 50 years ago didn’t make that distinction. I also wouldn’t want to go back to models that erase non-binary people… this is all very interesting though.

Beyond how irritating it was for this person to say, after I demonstrated the non-neutrality of the sex-gender distinction (and likewise the resulting sexual orientation-gender identity distinction), ‘Gender/sex is very clearly different from sexual orientation though’ as if it were a simple matter of fact. But it isn’t a matter of fact.

However, because this ‘fact’ is received wisdom, this person has no need to ground the claim in anything other than the assertion of its truth, which isn’t an argument by anyone’s consideration. Gender/sex is NOT ~very clearly different~ from sexual orientation. I could go into the reasons why, but that isn’t actually what I want to focus on for this post. Rather…

I’m interested and curious about this part of the comment: “I also wouldn’t want to go back to models that erase non-binary people”.

For the sake of people who didn’t click links for context, one of the things I mentioned is that prior to Stonewall and the mobilization by cis gays and cis lesbians of a sex-gender distinction to separate gender identity and sexuality (see how this works?) as a way to push twoc out of the very movement we started, models like Freud’s psychoanalasis tended to treat gender and sexuality as linked in fundamental ways.

Omg. Okay. So I was all set to quote from my copy of Homosexual Desire by Guy Hocquenghem, which is a classic book about psychoanalysis and being gay male sexuality… and in doing research am lead to this on wikipedia:

Some writers suggest that a third gender emerged around 1700 AD in England: the male sodomite…People described themselves as members of a third sex in Europe from at least the 1860s…These writers described themselves and those like them as being of an “inverted” or “intermediate” sex and experiencing homosexual desire, and their writing argued for social acceptance of such sexual intermediates. Many cited precedents from classical Greek and Sanskrit literature…Throughout much of the twentieth century, the term “third sex” was a popular descriptor for homosexuals and gender nonconformists, but after Gay Liberation of the 1970s and a growing separation of the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity, the term fell out of favor among LGBT communities and the wider public. With the renewed exploration of gender that feminism, the modern transgender movement and queer theory has fostered, some in the contemporary West have begun to describe themselves as a third sex again.

Like. Okay…

I’ve LITERALLY BEEN MAKING THE EXACT SAME CLAIMS FOR FUCKING YEARS NOW.

I also recall, now, that one cis white german person who was all ‘white ppl using third gender isn’t appropriation’ based on this history of it being used in German shit. BUT. Like. Given that this is post contact with indigenous gender systems………. and thus, the identification and interaction with real third gender ppl. Like. What.

Look. This shit is in fucking wikipedia but ppl act like i’m fucking stupid for saying this same thing over and over again.

I’m so mad rn.

Anyway. Note how, despite what this person claims about pre-Stonewall theories excluding nonbinary people, we were, in actual fact very much present and accounted for in pre-Stonewall theories.

Indeed, based on these timelines, you can probably attribute the recent erasure of nonbinary people to the very same cis gays and cis lesbians who pushed twoc out of our own movement in the first place. I know of at least one Stonewall veteran who has an indigenous gender/sexuality. We also can’t just assume that, given that the sexuality/gender identity distinction didn’t clearly exist at the very moment of the Stonewall riot, that the participants were either gay men or trans women but not both. Or not some other kind of mix. At the very least, people for whom their gender identities and expressions were not neatly separated from their sexuality.

Jesus fuck. Can ppl at least read wikipedia articles before making historical claims?

Like for fuck’s sake. I’m reading through this wiki article on third gender and I don’t even think I’ve read it all through before but I’ve been saying similar/same shit for years. Just with a more critical and theoretical perspective but, gasp, few citations becuase fuck citations.

batok and filipinx appropriation

I would’ve reblogged this post by ‘this is not pilipinx’ on non-Kalinga ppl getting Kalinga tattoos. Their basic answer was:

if you are of F/Pilipinx descent and thinking of getting tattooed in [the Kalinga] style, I feel that there’s no harm in it

I have to disagree… there can be a great deal of harm in non-Kalinga ppl getting Kalinga tattoos.

The first is appropriation. And this is something that applies to pilipin@s who aren’t Kalinga, as well as any non-pilipin@. The Kalinga are, currently, one of the Indigenous groups in the PH. While, yes, one can make the argument that all pilipinx ethnicities are indigenous and you’d be correct, to a degree, you’d also be wrong in other important ways.

The current construction of ‘Indigenous’ (yes, notice the capitalization) as identity/distinction is rather new and is somewhat race neutral. Overall, the way that most people use it is to refer to minority (in the numerical and the socio-political sense) ethnic groups who still practice many of their traditional (in most cases pre-colonial) cultural practices. It is also usually defined in relation to specific land bases, but doesn’t exclude those living in diaspora communities.

I’ve talked about these issues before. As a tagalog, I think it would be hugely disrespectful and awful of me to identify myself as capital ‘I’ Indigenous. Given the closeness of traditional tagalog territory to the capital of the colonizers and that the capital still is still firmly within our territory and the ways that tagalogs try to pass off our language (and cultural aspects) as the default, universalized ‘filipin@’ culture, it seems a step too far for me to also say, “hey, I’m Indigenous too, so I can get all the Kalinga tattoos I want!”. I’m not Kalinga. And. Acting entitled to their culture is colonizer shit.

That said, this is also me borderline speaking for Kalinga people which is shitty in its own way. Like, I’m analyzing this shit from my own perspective and feelings, but I know that when I went to a talk about Kalinga Batok and someone asked a similar question about appropriation and such, the presenter (who has had talks with Apo Whang-ud), said that she is happy to see the revival. And, certainly, she makes her living from giving these tattoos to ppl (including white ppl). And this interest and revival also helps support other people in the village and areas. Like. I def. don’t want to sit here and say “don’t get any of these tattoos” only to end up making Apo Whang-ud poor in her old age. If she is happy and willing to do this, then that is her (and other Kalinga ppl’s) perogative.

So, part of my answer is: I think if you get a specific Kalinga tattoo, you should probably get it from a Kalinga person and no one else. This way, you are supporting the people who have get this tradition alive directly. It also gives them the opportunity to decide which motifs are okay for outsiders and which are not. Like, the patterns aren’t free-for-alls. You shouldn’t be getting warrior tattoos, if you aren’t a warrior (and like, I think that Apo Whang-ud doesn’t do whatever people ask and that their are secrets and motifs that aren’t shared with just anyone). But this allows them to set the boundaries for engagement while you support them directly.

But how does this help those of us in the diaspora who want tattoos and can’t afford to return to the PH and make the trip into the mountains?

For me, since I’m currently working on a traditional inspired tattoo, this is what I do: get a traditional inspired tattoo from a filipina artist. Don’t get a traditional (inspired) tattoo from anyone who isn’t filipin@. I think the Four Waves ppl have non-filipin@ ppl as approved artists on their list. I don’t agree with this. If you’re getting a traditional motif, keep it within the community. Support our own artists.

I also, when discussing the tattoo design with my artist, really emphasized that I wanted an ‘inspired’ tattoo, rather than a recreation. So there are some traditional elements fused with other stuff. I also told her that I wanted only motifs (often Kalinga, since it is the best preserved tradition) that are ok for outsiders to have. Because, while they all have meaning, some are more general and, yeah, some are aesthetic too. I’m fine with getting that stuff from non-Kalinga artists. Also, people can look into shared Pacific Islander motifs, since if you have Lane Wilkins’ book, there is a section doing Pacific comparisons and noting stuff that is common to the various islands. This stuff seems to be not-ethnically bounded but rather geographically. Thus, reducing the chances that you are appropriating motifs that you shouldn’t have.

One of the things I notice that seems to be troubling to me about filipin@s wanting ~traditional~ tattoos is that a lot of us forget that culture is a living thing. Just because something has been used by the Kalinga for hundreds of years, it doesn’t make it more authentically filipin@ than anything else. We can revive our tattooing tradition by also creating new traditions. An example is all of the ppl who get the sun from the flag tattooed. This isn’t a ‘traditional’ tattoo, but it is becoming a modern tradition and a way to mark ingroup membership and ethnicity. This is just as authentic as Kalinga motifs. But, like, when working with a Filipin@ artist, you can also consider the location of the tattoo as being how you mark authenticiy. Example: I started on mt left arm as a way to mark my coming of age as a woman, since arm tattoos are traditionally something that women get when they come of age as a way to mark fertility (rather than men).

Or you can get modern representations of traditional motifs. Like. Snakes and centipedes are a big deal in Kalinga tattooing. So instead of getting a traditional Kalinga one, why not get a ‘modern’ version of a snake as interpreted by your specific artist? Like, literally let them make the art they want and get that. It is ‘traditional’ without being appropriative.

Essentially, what I’m saying is: be creative and don’t act entitled to get whatever you want just because you want it.