World through eyes of a transwoman

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By 2017-08-16

By Isurinie Mallawaarachchi

Although, in my view, it is time the world goes to a rather extensive discussion on queer literature, focusing on the ways the LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Questioning) community is represented in literature, we have a long way to go until we reach that point in time. Sri Lanka is yet to decriminalize homosexuality, let alone accepting the rights of the LGBTIQ community.

Bhoomi Harendran is the only transgender woman who was able to conquer the mainstream media in the local context, acting in the movie 'Frangipani' and speaking up about her community. The focus of the world was turned to the United States when the US President, Donald Trump, spoke of a trans-ban in the US military, which received backlash from LGBTIQ activists and human rights advocates alike. In this context, the transgender community all over the world is in dire need of correct visibility.

The poet we are discussing today in 'Glorious Margins', Trace Peterson is also a scholar whose research interests are "transgender literature, transfeminism, 20th and 21st century literature, creative writing and poetry and poetics." Being an American transwoman, Trace Peterson's name is one that is frequently uttered in discussions about trans-representation in poetry. Her poetry collection, 'Since I moved in' was published in 2007. She is also an editor of the art journal EOAGH. Main thematic concerns in Peterson's poetry include transgender experiences, gender and identity. The poems strive to speak against the stigma and transphobia in society while positioning transgender individuals in a rather positive setting. I analyze a few of her poems and look at the way the above themes are brought forward.

If one reads theories related to gender and sexuality, they come across a number of viewpoints that explain the ways the concepts of gender and sex have emerged, one being socially constructed and the other being biological. Transgender persons challenge these constructs through their existence, because in addition to performing their gender, they go through medical surgeries with the aim of obtaining the sexuality that they identify with. The poem Exclusively on Venus reads, "Roses are performative/violets are biological/I have very sensitive breasts/and so do your breasts." Despite the surgeries the transgender individuals undergo to correct their gender, their gender identity is constantly questioned and considered an abnormality. The idea that both of the breasts of the addressed and addressee are soft can be a reference to this view, where the poem insists that, that both transgenders and cisgenders (the persons who identify with the gender assigned at birth) are capable of being sensitive, equally.

We generally observe two groups in relation to the theorizations about gender, the group that wholeheartedly embraces the numerous standpoints and theterminology that is being emerged as a result and the group that is rather skeptical and heteronormative. Amidst these contradicting sects, how much one could adhere to these viewpoints and mould their lives accordingly or to which extent one could disregard them is a question; Peterson writes, "Roses have got me/ Up against the wall/ kissing my neck/ which is socially constructed to be a super hot strong feminist neck." The poem has a streak of cynicism that runs through it, when she jumbles ideas of gender with day-to-day activities like kissing and eating. Where one should strike a balance, is it necessary to strike a balance, in which ways one should embrace another's gender identity, Peterson asks through her poem.

'Canyons of Heroines' is a piece written by Trace Peterson which speaks of the struggles of transwomen in society. The writing juxtaposes mundane activities of everyday life with the struggles transwomen; "People I love are at risk of being violently harmed or murdered everyday, or they suffer from suicidal urges because of how the world fails to see us as people in a million sharp pointy little ways." 'Canyons of Heroines' is a lyrical prose piece that one would be forced to read without a stop. The poet depicts her experiences of getting stared at by people and being sexually approached. It also contains her insights into the issues such as how transgender individuals face unemployment and even death threats and suicidal urges as portrayed in the line quoted above.

Discussing Peterson's poem 'After before and after' E. N. Foster says that the poem showcases "how transgender women are often seen as a catalyst for social disintegration and many social issues" and opines that Peterson "tries to put in a new framework, instead describing how transgender women are a loving and wholesome part of society." "What's free about a woman's stubble" Trace Peterson writes in the poem, which indeed brings up a perspective that seldom crosses one's mind.

Peterson's poems create an effect in the reader that urges them to read the poem again and again, and each time, it leaves one with a realization that they didn't experience in the previous reading. The fact that the poet went through the experiences that she depicts is striking. As Sri Lankans, we still have a long way to go in respect of the concerns Trace Peterson tries to address, however, it is indeed eye-opening to see the world through her eyes.

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