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.
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About this Dissertation
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