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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The relationship between truth, power, and the subject : the speech activity of the trans* child as parrhesia Johansen, Astrid Christine


In the past ten years we have experienced a mainstreaming of trans politics through the rapid circulation of images of trans people and especially trans children on the Internet in digital communities on social media circling out into traditional media, and in political discourse. This saturation of trans* has led to a regulation of political discourse, new laws (putting “X” in passports as a third gender marker), changing spaces (bathrooms, changing rooms) etc. In this thesis I discuss the figure of the trans* child and what its emergence in the mainstream in the West means socio-culturally and politically in our current moment in the light of the historicity of “the child” as metaphor within medical discourse and its ties to the invention of the sex/gender binary, and sex as a racial phenotype (Gill-Peterson 2018). I further look at the speech activity of trans* children online on the social media platform YouTube and consider what makes the trans* child audible in the mainstream in our current moment? I consider this by thinking with and applying Michel Foucault’s thought on the relationship between truth, power, and the subject in the Western critical tradition in his engagement with parrhesia (truth-telling). Foucault argued in his last lecture series in Berkeley in 1983 that parrhesia did no longer function within the western critical tradition. What I posit in this thesis is that the Internet enables parrhesia to function again through digital communities and social media as a platform to speak truth to power. I argue that the trans* child functions as parrhesiastes in our current moment both enabled by the Internet and by the specificity of the history of “the child” as metaphor within western medical discourse. The trans* child resides between metaphor and materiality in our current moment and it is this ambiguity that allow them to speak truth to power as a parrhesiastes.

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