Radical Epistemologies in Twenty-First Century Trans* Life Narratives
Rondot, Sarah Ray
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Rondot, Sarah Ray
This dissertation explores how life narratives created by trans*-identified people (transsexual, transgender, genderqueer, and other non-binary identities included in the term’s asterisk) imagine new categories by re-working familiar stories; trans* life narratives are thus indispensable for comprehending how gender, identity, and self shape each other across social contexts in relation to dominant cultural narratives and embedded epistemologies. Prevailing U.S. ideologies (created and maintained through medical and media discourses) conceive of trans* identity through a binary formation, reinforce trans* people as objects who exist for nontrans* consumers, and rationalize trans* people as trapped within improper bodies or liberated within surgically constructed new ones. In opposition, twenty-first century narratives by filmmakers Jules Rosskam and Gwen Tara Haworth, autobiographers Jennifer Finley Boylan and Alex Drummond and YouTube digital storytellers Ky Ford and Skylar Kergil imagine trans* identity as productive – the goal is not to explain or justify gender diversity but to embrace it and to continue to widen its collective scope. The twenty-first century narratives I analyze reconceptualize trans* identity as viable with or without medical intervention and articulate a whole, continuous subject rather than a subject split between pre- and post-transition. Evoking a new historical moment, these life writers and media producers celebrate their identity in spite of or even because of the transphobia they experience. In so doing, radical trans* life narratives exemplify how medical models and popular media fail those who they purport to protect and represent. Gender is an identity as well as a social and historical process, which is constantly open to investigation. If laying claim to an identity makes subjects, as Michel Foucault argues, the process also occurs bi-directionally: identities come into existence through the act of naming and narrating them. As more individuals articulate what it means to be trans*, personal and collective knowledges will expand to include a range of diverse subjectivities, some of which have yet to be narrated into existence.