Trans Studies: Beyond Hetero/Homo Normativity


Gail Mummert
“Gendered constructions of transnational motherhood and fatherhood: a view from four continents”

In my teaching and research on gender, I have consistently stressed the need to move beyond facile male/female dichotomies in order to explore how men, women and all others claiming a gender identity “that resists those terms” rewrite gendered meanings and reconstruct gendered bodies in their daily interactions.  This position is clearly evident in my research on transnational families and particularly on long-distance parenting practices across borders.  Transnational families face formidable challenges -economic, emotional, legal, and psychological - to remain a family while living apart, not the least of which are fluctuating gender norms and identities forged in the wake of their border crossings and multiple classifications by nation states.  This is particularly true for the most vulnerable migrants: the undocumented. 

I will examine two recent trends. 1) The adoption of children of undocumented migrant parents by a close relative legally residing in the U. S. I have traced the stories of a dozen rural families in order to reconstruct how legal adoption occurred; or alternatively to explore why requests or offers to share one’s legal status were discussed, then denied or stymied. These case studies shed light on how disenfranchised groups contest and circumvent current anti-immigrant legislation in the U. S. by navigating the interstitial space of two nation states. 2) Widespread gender-based violence in Mexico as an explicit or implicit motive for emigration.  A subset of transnational families are being formed by a particular category of Mexicans attempting to enter the U. S. and Canada, one whose numbers have increased dramatically in the past two decades: gay men, lesbian women, wives abandoned by their migrant husbands, and victims of domestic violence (including incest) have sought asylum in the North. Extremely vulnerable groups such as these find themselves on the frontiers of gender normativities, struggling to redefine what it means to be a man, a woman, a husband, a wife, a daughter or a son. 

My overarching goal is to write a book-length manuscript focused on the gendered dynamics of families who carry out their productive and reproductive tasks in transnational social fields, and the challenges they face as they navigate the choppy waters of regulations and policies established by two or more Nation-States.  Expanding on my book chapter that compares transnational motherhood and fatherhood in four countries, I will draw on studies conducted by scholars on four continents: the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe.