UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Crossing out : transgender (in)visibility in twentieth-century culture Saunders, Mary Ann


Spanning the period from the early years of the Cold War to the early twenty-first century, Crossing Out argues that medical theories of gender variance which emerge in the middle of the twentieth century are bound by the Cold-War–era discursive limits within which they were articulated, and that the ideological content of those theories persists into late-century research and treatment protocols. I parallel these analyses with interrogations of literary representations of transgendered subjects. What emerges most powerfully from this analysis of literary works is their tendency to signify in excess of the medical foreclosures, even when they seem consistent with medical discourse. By reading these two discursive systems against each other, the dissertation demonstrates the ability of literary discourse to accommodate multifaceted subject positions which medical discourse is unable to articulate. Literature thus complicates the stories that medical culture tells, revealing complex and multivariate possibilities for transgendered identification absent from traditional medical accounts. In tracing these discursive intersections the dissertation draws on and extends Michel Foucault’s theory of subjugated knowledges and Judith Butler’s writings on the formation of gendered subjects. Chapter One establishes the Cold War context, and argues that there are significant continuities between 1950s theories of intersexuality and Cold War ideology. Chapter Two extends this analysis to take in theories of transsexualism that emerged in the same years, and analyzes the discursive excesses of a 1950s pulp novel representation of a transsexual. Chapter Three establishes that the ideological content of the medical theories remained virtually unchanged by the 1990s, and argues that multivalent literary representations of transgenderism from the same decade promise the emergence of unanticipated forms of gender identity that exceed medical norms. Chapter Four is concerned with transgendered children, as they are represented in medical writing and in young adult and children’s literature. Interrogating fiction which negotiates between established medical discourse and an emergent transgender discourse, the chapter argues that these works at once invite and subvert a pathologizing understanding of gender-variant children while simultaneously providing data that demands to be read through the lens of an emergent affirmative notion of trans-childhood.

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