Making Ethnography
Late on a Saturday night, I leave Nancy at Karalyn’s bar and go outside to
unlock my bicycle. Even though I know it’s stupid and dangerous (not to
mention illegal), I put on my Walkman headphones, push off into moving
traffic, and head south toward the Meat Market. There are few pleasures
like cycling through New York on a summer’s night, listening to music and
feeling the wind in your face. There’s a song I like to listen to while I ride,
Dire Straits’s ‘‘Skateaway,’’ a song about a Walkman-wearing woman
making movies in her head as she roller skates through the city. She dodges
taxi drivers, just for fun, drawing them into a story which is shaped by the
dj’s choice of music and her route through the traffic. Like her, I’m listen-
ing to my Walkman as I dodge traffic, but I’m not making movies: I’m
making ethnography. I imagine the night ahead of me, thinking how fan-
tastic it is that I traverse these places, that 9th Avenue becomes a direct
route between here and there, the link between two venues so dissimilar,
which are brought together not by a song but by a category, transgender.
Like my trusty bicycle, on these nights transgender is a useful way of
getting around, of going from one thing to another, of framing a set of
diverse moments and social practices in time and space as an entity. At other
times, though, this feeling dissolves into a new story, a fractured sense that I
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