Professor shows struggles of transgender people in US

Aizura says identifying as transgender can hurt immigrants

For many transgender people, crossing international borders can come with a lot of hurdles.

These can include anything from delayed paperwork to discriminatory treatment in detention centers, said Aren Aizura, postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Research on Women.

Aizura spoke to a crowd of about 60 yesterday on the topic “Incalculating Transgender Justice (Against the Nation State)” at the Ruth Dill Johnson Crockett Building on Douglass campus.

He said gender-variant people experience pressure to state that they are transgender in their immigration claims, which in turn can hinder their immigration efforts.

“We need to improve the way that trans bodies are recognized by immigration law,” Aizura said.

Aizura cited several excerpts from “Immigration Law and the Transgender Client,” a book co-written by Immigration Law and the Transgender Quality Center for trans immigrants seeking permanent residency.

The book identifies strategies for moving through a residency application process with less difficulty, Aizura said. For example, he said any name changes should be completed before beginning the process.

But he said the journey is far from smooth.

“Immigration law rewards those who have the capacity to be entrepreneurial and decide on a strategy in advance,” Aizura said.

He said immigration offices sometimes deny marriage claims involving a transgender immigrant because of a possible interference with the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Even if the Board of Immigration Appeals approves their request, people might wait up to two years for the appeal to go through, he said.

“Life is generally way more complicated than this makes it sound,” Aizura said.

Aizura showed clips from “Transgression,” a documentary film profiling a trans woman named Norma who was arrested twice in her attempts to cross the Mexican border into the United States before Immigration Equality took on her case.

He said Norma’s situation exemplified some of the indignities of immigration detention.

“It might include getting only a single hour of daylight or exercise every day, less access to legal counsel than the general population, not being able to access the phone,” Aizura said.

He said trans women sometimes have to endure comparatively worse treatment, such as solitary confinement, because many prisons do not allow them to be housed with other women.

Aizura said despite this kind of abuse, the film depicts attitudes toward trans people as being less negative in the United States than in Mexico by including bright shots of the Statue of Liberty and darker tones in close-ups of Norma.

“I’m not disputing that, but I’m interested in the representational scheme of how the United States comes to look like a solution,” Aizura said. “By the end of the film, the narrative of immigration detention has changed to the narrative of Norma being saved by Immigration Equality.”

He said several countries, such as Spain and Argentina, have much less conservative legislation relating to trans people than the United States.

“Activists have been working on creating legislation that lets people change their gender marker without having surgery or hormone therapy,” Aizura said. “But [they] don’t seem to be visible because people don’t expect to find countries outside the global north that have progressive trans rights.”

Aizura said he has been working since 2004 on issues of trans recognition politics.

“The United States has this idealistic understanding of itself as a bastion of freedom,” Aizura said. “But the practical reality belies that.”

Yolanda Martinez-San Miguel, director at the IRW, said this lecture was the second of a series focusing on the IRW annual topic, “Trans Studies: Beyond Hetero/Homo Normatives.”

“Trans studies complicates many debates about the social, biological and cultural constructions of gender and sexuality,” she said.

Yomaira Figueroa, the IRW undergraduate learning community coordinator, said attendees who are interested in sex- and sexuality-based critical theory should consider applying to the 1.5-credit course offered by the IRW in the spring.

“We’re actively recruiting for next semester’s learning community scholars,” Figueroa said.


By Kristin Baresich

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