RL Goldberg, *21

Department of English

I Changed My Sex! Pedagogy and Trans Narrative




From the mid-century onward, United States trans narratives have shared a common linguistic slippage, conflating and sometimes confusing three epistemological registers: feeling, knowing, and certainty. I Changed My Sex! Pedagogy and Trans Narrative, untangles these three categories and points to how these locutionary and epistemological distinctions have shaped phenomenological accounts of trans gender. My dissertation thus asks: what are the stakes of narratively figuring these different ways of self-apprehension as one? How has this conflation endorsed the perception of trans texts as inherently pedagogical? Through these questions, I seek to locate new narrative possibilities for expressing trans gender. The first chapter, “This Baby’s Got the Feel of a Girl,” considers mid-century popular autobiography and the language of feeling as something simultaneously cutaneous and subcutaneous. Considered alongside Emmanuel Levinas’s theorization of rivetedness, the chapter offers Levinasian phenomenology as a valuable theory of corporeality for trans phenomenology. The second chapter, “A Prison of Male Flesh: Trans Gender & Being In,” explores the phenomenological shorthand of being “imprisoned in the wrong body,” and offers a Heideggerian account of in-ness as a heuristic for trans embodiment that moves away from the wrong body narrative and its focus on binary crossing. Chapter three, “Dressing Up Bobby,” reads 1970s-1990s trans feminine print sleaze “campus novels” and the kinds of open pedagogy it offers for white trans embodiment while simultaneously representing Blackness as “organic” and warranting only disciplinary styles of pedagogy. Chapter four, “The Clinic or the University,” tracks the shift from university gender clinic to trans studies as a liberal arts program, arguing that this shift entailed two necessary recalibrations: first, in recognition of who was qualified to teach; and second, a broader, seismic shift in what pedagogy itself might mean. The conclusion, “But On the Other Hand: How Do I Know That it is My Hand,” turns to contemporary “gender critical” writing on irreversibility to argue that certainty, as a metric for determining trans, is profoundly unhelpful. Reading Wittgenstein alongside Torrey Peters’s novel Detransition Baby, the conclusion looks at accounts of uncertainty and unknowing, and the kinds of phenomenological narratives they offer trans writers. 


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