chapter  2
21 Pages

Becoming Knowably Gendered: The Production of Transgender Possibilities and Constraints in the Mass and Alternative Press from 1990–2005 in the United States


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The advent and rise of the term ‘transgender’ as both an identity category separate from ‘transsexual’ and ‘transvestite,’ and as an umbrella category representing a wide variety of non-normative gender practices, has been well documented by scholars (Whittle 1998, 2006; Meyerowitz 2002; Denny 2006; Stryker 2006, 2008; Valentine 2007; Currah 2008). Historians and other academics have carefully detailed how, in the early 1990s in the United States, trans people began using the term as a way to fi ght the medical monopoly on classifi cation of trans practices and identities, as well as to unify a diverse population of people whose non-normative gender practices were unaccepted by many members of both straight and gay communities (Denny 2006; Valentine 2007; Spade and Currah 2008). What has not yet been examined is the content of the term ‘transgender’ as its meaning has moved into popular discourse, as well as some of the unintended consequences of the methods used to institutionalise the term both within and outside of trans communities. In this chapter I examine what I call ‘teaching transgender articles’—articles which explicitly try to teach the term ‘transgender’ to readers-that appeared in trans community publications and the mainstream news media in the United States between 1990 and 2005. I analyse these articles in order to explore what possible ways of being gendered the deployment of the term ‘transgender’ has produced, as well as foreclosed. I argue that these teaching transgender articles constructed transgender as a knowable category of personhood and I examine how this production impacted upon understandings of gender in the United States.