The Trouble with Transcendence: Is Defying the Gender Binary the New Racial Passing?

Posted in Articles, Gay & Lesbian, Law, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2014-01-25 09:54Z by Steven

The Trouble with Transcendence: Is Defying the Gender Binary the New Racial Passing?

Nursing Clio: Because the Personal is Historical

Mallory Nicole Davis
University of Oregon

In 2010, Thomas Araguz III, a Texas firefighter died on the job, leaving behind his two children and transgender wife, Nikki.[1] The couple was legally married because although the state of Texas only recognizes heterosexual marriages, the state will validate a transgender union if the trans partner’s identification documents dictate that s/he is the opposite legal sex of the spouse.[2] However, when Nikki sought survivor benefits after her husband’s unexpected death, Thomas’ family launched a case against Nikki, stating that Thomas did not know his wife was transgender. The suit argued that Nikki wrongfully deceived her husband, while lobbying for the nullification of their marriage and subsequently, Nikki’s request for spousal benefits. The case was complicated further by the prosecuting attorney’s interrogation of a deposition taken from Thomas in a separate court case—a battle over custody of his two sons with his ex-wife—in which he stated that he did not know that Nikki was transgender.[3] In response to the scrutinizing of her late husband’s statement, Nikki insisted that Thomas lied during his deposition and pretended to be unaware of her transgender status in order maintain custody of his two small children. Nikki stated, “At the time, Thomas and I thought it was in the best interest of our children to lie. They were the center of (our) lives”.[4] Whether Nikki neglected to disclose her trans identity to her husband or that the couple collectively decided to lie to the court during their custody case for the sake of their children, deception surrounding Nikki’s trans status is at the center of this legal case; and undoubtedly, her credibility will be diminished regardless of how the court decides…

Passing is a term typically used to denote a person’s ability to move imperceptibly across racial lines, though the word is equally fitting to describe a trans* person’s ability to transgress the gender binary. Nikki’s perceived deceptions echoes the case of Alice and Leonard Rhinelander, an interracial couple who were married in 1924 who made national headlines because Alice, a light-skinned African-American woman, passed for white and married into the affluent Rhinelander family.[5] When negative press threatened to tarnish the Rhinelander family name, Leonard disappeared without warning and filed for an annulment, claiming that Alice misled him by presenting herself as a white woman. Ultimately, it was proved that Leonard had, in fact, known that Alice was African-American, and Alice counter-sued Leonard for abandonment. Although the Rhinelander family ended up offering Alice a monetary settlement upon her agreement to a divorce, the character attacks launched on Alice and her family, based upon her alleged racial deception were devastating. And like Nikki, Alice’s identity came under fire in a torrential court case only after the transcendent nature of her identity proved threatening to the family of her husband…

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