Becoming Culturally (Un)Intelligible: Exploring the Terrain of Trans Life Writing
MetadataShow full item record
This paper offers a theoretical exploration of the discourses that are produced through trans life writing, as well as the convergences and dissonances that occur between the genre of trans life writing, transgender theory, and feminist theory. Drawing from prominent trans autobiographies and memoirs published between 1967 and 2014—from Christine Jorgensen’s (1967) self-titled autobiography to Janet Mock’s (2014) Redefining Realness—I trace the theoretical and ideological trends and deviations in trans life writing that produce and reproduce trans subjectivities and embodiment. Extending Judith Butler’s (1990, 1997) conception of cultural intelligibility, I argue that trans life writers make themselves culturally intelligible through adhering to, subverting, and rejecting previously established narratives and dominant tropes, such as childhood cross-gender identification and being ‘born in the wrong body.’ In constructing a coherent narrative, trans authors come into being as culturally intelligible gendered subjects. However, becoming culturally intelligible may require glossing over the complexities and slippages of realizing one’s gender. In rejecting coherence and constructing counter-narratives, some trans life writers reject cultural intelligibility in favor of a more nuanced account of their gender identity, embodiment, and transition. In doing so, new knowledges are produced that disrupt the bigender system and linear narratives of transition, and challenge the assumption that gender identity is definitive and unchanging.