Mirrors, Monsters, Metaphors: Transgender Rhetorics and Dysphoric Knowledge Open Access

Koch-Rein, Anson (2014)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/0v838098q?locale=en


This dissertation locates marginalized forms of knowledge in recurrent metaphors circulating in the rhetorics of transgender experience. A gendered identification that is not naturalized generates an intensified pressure to speak (about) gender in the absence of sanctioned vocabulary. This proliferation makes transgender discourse a particularly useful object for studying how gendered meaning is made. Investigating the rhetorical, cultural, and political work of a persistent set of transgender tropes, my project introduces the category of 'dysphoric knowledge' to turn gender dysphoria from a diagnosis into a conceptual tool to theorize minoritized and pathologized claims to knowledge and embodiment of gender.

The project begins by tracing the medical history of the term Gender Dysphoria and its role in Transgender Studies debates about the trope of the "wrong body," making the case for dysphoric knowledge as a way of rethinking the field through a lens of transgender rhetorics and knowledge production. Chapter two offers a reading of shame and disgust in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein through Silvan Tomkins' affect theory to argue that the monster trope in transgender discourse negotiates non-normative embodiment and its perceptions in the social world. Chapter three argues that ghosts and hauntings in transgender autobiography appear as figures of disrupted temporal and pronominal narrative coherence, historical loss, and disembodiment, while mirrors such as in The Well of Loneliness stage scenes of dysphoric experiences of gender that find no reflection in mirror models of knowledge. Chapter four discusses the skin suits of violent transsexual movie tropes (The Skin I Live In, Silence of the Lambs) and the cloth skins of a transgender novel (Stone Butch Blues) to bring out the different logics of skin and clothing as rhetorically gender-identity-laden surfaces: Clothing operates according to a metaphorical logic, while skin operates metonymically - in turn allowing for epistemological and ontological claims, respectively. The final chapter uses the examples of Peter Pan and the figure of the transgender "boi"/boy and of transgender women performing and re-writing Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues to argue that such gender-specific tropes negotiate the place of transfemininity and transmasculinity in feminism and can help articulate an inclusive vision of feminism.

Table of Contents

I. Introduction 1
Previous Literature 3
Gender Dysphoria 14
Dysphoric Knowledge 20
Dysphoric Knowledge and Transgender Rhetorics 23
(a word on) Method 28
Interdisciplinary Locations 34
Chapter Roadmap 38
II. Monsters & Doctors 41
The Transphobic Monster 48
The Transgender Monster 56
Lessons from the Monster:
Reading Affect in Frankenstein Through a Transgender Lens 75
III. Splitting Figures: Mirrors & Ghosts 99
Thinking (and) the Subject: Philosophical and Lacanian Mirrors 99
Mirrors in Memoirs 108
Mirroring Dysphoria:
Queer Negativity and Transgender Affect in The Well of Loneliness 113
Transgender Ghosts 135
IV. Skin & Clothes 155
Skin Suits, or The (Transgender) Skin I Live In 157
Cloth Skins: The Fabrics of Gender in Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues 171
Reading Metaphorical Clothing and Metonymical Skin 189
V. Feminist Subjects: Peter Pan & the (Neo-)Vagina Monologues 197
The Vagina Monologues:
Trans women and the speculum of empowerment 202
Peter Pan and Feminist Boihood 221
Coda: Gender Metaphoria 247
Bibliography 252

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