On Friday night, Kai M. Green ’07 put on a performance entitled “Tranifesting a New World Order.” Green graduated from the College with a B.A. in American studies and a minor in Africana studies and is now in a Ph.D program in the department of American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California. Also a spoken word poet and documentary filmmaker, he has just completed a documentary film called It Gets Messy in Here. The recent film, which is currently available in Sawyer, both chronicles and examines the experiences of masculine of center women and transgender men of color in using the bathroom.
Green’s presentation took on many dimensions; it included a screening of portions of Green’s film and a speech about what it is to live in ambiguity of this sort. More generally, it established the notion of “tranifestation”; the word, as Green explained, is an abbreviation for “transformative manifesting – a meeting between transgender studies and black feminist praxis.” It offers a solution to the ways in which gender binaries “restrict the way we move.”
During the course of Friday’s event, Green screened an extended trailer of It Gets Messy in Here. The clip focused on a collection of interviews – including a testimonial from Green himself – and revealed the ways in which everyday situations can aggravate issues of sexual or gender identity. Assumptions aren’t just made based on looks or according to gender or sex; rather, multiple assumptions are compounded in a moment, based on class, race, nationality, language and more societal groupings. In response, one of the interviewees asked the question: “How am I supposed to unwrap myself around all those things?”
Green made it very clear that he respected how each of his interviewees identified themselves, but described how at the same time he felt as though “identifying oneself” may just be a continuation of the limits already placed upon us. In other words, Green’s work asked the question, instead of increasing the number of “boxes” people can check, why not just eliminate the notion of identity boxes altogether? That idea brought him to the conclusion that an individual can only obtain a certain amount of satisfaction when it comes to self-identification; at some point or another, they have to leave their homes, their physical and their emotion “identity boxes” and be a part of society.
An interesting recurring theme was relative discomfort that arose from situations involving young children. Generally, children of a young age aren’t aware of political correctness, so they are more likely to speak their mind. Green shared a story about a boy who stared at him for a while before finally approaching him and asking “Are you a boy or a girl?” “Both,” Green replied simply, to which the boy responded, “Well, can I see?” Green was stunned. Though after a short moment, the boy clarified, “No, no, what’s under your hat.” Green removed his hat, revealing short hair, to which the boy said, “Okay, you’re a boy,” and then walked away. Green talked about how this moment, like many others, was enlightening because it reflected so clearly the ideas that parents and society instill in their children. Some stories, however, were not so easily told or received; more somber anecdotes gave the audience an honest look at the difficulties presented to a transgender person in today’s society.
The time Green spent with the audience was deeply informative. He touched on every corner of tranifestation, including historical issues, contemporary problems, advances and difficulties associated with such advancements, in addition to possibilities in the future. In the Q-and-A session that followed, Green sat and talked with the audience about these many facets, and audience members even shared their philosophies with Green and the rest of the audience, highlighting problems that they see regularly. Green also pointed out that while the number of transgender people is on the rise, so is the number of murders of transgender individuals – especially transgender women.
Transgender rights issues are not new, but their prominent place in recent dialogues is. It is easy for students at the College to take time to look into this issue: Googling what “transgender” means or even reading about transgender rights or recent crimes involving transgender people is a good jump-off point. The idea of transgender identity is something that should be at least understood – and borrowing Green’s documentary from Sawyer is a great place to start.