Communication Transgender Media Studies
by
matthew heinz
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0233

Introduction

Transgender media studies is a fairly recent area of scholarship emerging at the intersections of communication studies, cultural studies, digital media studies, film studies, gender studies, media studies, television studies, and transgender studies. The earliest scholarship in this field primarily consisted of analyses of portrayals of transsexual characters on the screen. With the gradual broadening of LGBTQ scholarship facilitating coverage of trans issues, the growing global visibility of trans, transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people, and the intermittent expansion of trans legal and human rights, transgender media studies began to develop as a vibrant area of study of its own. Transgender media scholarship moved from pathologizing approaches to victimizing approaches to resilience-focused approaches while keeping the empirically documented and often legally enshrined marginalization and discrimination of transgender people in public consciousness. At this moment, transgender media scholarship continues to examine the portrayals of transgender characters on screen, but the methodological and epistemological approaches to transgender media have greatly expanded to include, for example, how transgender people use media to organize, how print and digital media influence transgender identity development, how media can be used to educate publics and provide support, how cisgender people respond to transgender portrayals in digital, print, and broadcast media; and how researchers can help challenge normativity, pay attention to intersectionality, and surface marginalization. Early dominant portrayals of transgender people consisted of white, middle-class, middle-aged heteronormative transgender women, and scholarship reflected these dominant portrayals. In the 21st century, transgender media discourse has mostly broadened to include transgender men and gender non-conforming people, people of color and Two-Spirit people, people of a range of sexual orientations and gender identities, young people and seniors. Arguably, much of the increased diversity in transgender media research is attributable to the fact that transgender and gender non-conforming researchers came out publicly and/or entered the academy and brought forth research agendas informed by lived experience. This bibliography is not exhaustive. It seeks to reflect the range of transgender media scholarship at this point in time, acknowledging that “transgender media” as a conceptual category captures a particular moment in time only. As social and biological understandings of “gender” and “sex” begin to shift and loosen, it is likely that media scholarship will present a more holistic approach to the complex relationships between (trans)gender and media.

Foundational Texts

A number of key texts that significantly contributed to the development of a field of study dedicated to transgender media studies were not written by media scholars. However, they provided theoretical and applied frameworks that informed the practice and analysis of transgender media and transgender communication. These texts are provided here because without them, transgender media studies would not exist as they do today. Bornstein 1994 and Feinberg 1996 bring the experiences of gender nonconforming people into public consciousness before the term “transgender” had grown part of contemporary vocabularies. Salamon 2010 emphasizes the corporeal aspects of transgender being; Beemyn and Rankin 2011, Ekins and King 2006, and Stryker and Aizura 2013 document the lived experiences and political struggles of transgender people. Namaste 2000 demonstrates institutional erasure of transgender people’s experiences, and Halberstam 2005 approaches trans corporeality from a critical queer perspective. Meyerowitz 2004 and Stryker 2008 provide a historical assessment of the cultural, political, and social changes in sex, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Spencer and Capuzza 2015 is the first book on transgender communication studies, which includes five chapters on media. The launch of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly by Duke University Press in 2014 marked the arrival of the first high-profile journal approaching transgender studies from a non-medical perspective.

  • Beemyn B. G., and S. Rankin. 2011. The lives of transgender people. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Survey of nearly 3,500 US participants, complemented by more than four hundred follow-up interviews.

  • Bornstein, K. 1994. Gender outlaw: On men, women, and the rest of us. New York: Routledge.

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    Autobiographical narrative exploring gender nonconformity and nonbinary ways of being.

  • Currah, P., S. Stryker, and F. J. Galarte, eds. TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly.

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    Launched in 2014, this journal publishes critical, cultural, media, and political analyses of transgender topics from a global perspective.

  • Ekins, R., and D. King. 2006. The transgender phenomenon. London: SAGE.

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    Interdisciplinary review of sociology, history, psychology, and law trends from the 1970s on with a focus on Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

  • Feinberg, L. 1996. Transgender warriors: Making history from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman. Boston: Beacon Press.

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    One of the earliest historical overviews of transgender experience; popularized the concept “transgender.”

  • Halberstam, J. 2005. In a queer time and place: Transgender bodies, subcultural lives. New York: New York Univ. Press.

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    Study of transgender representations and the transgender gaze in the context of queer counterpublics.

  • Meyerowitz, J. 2004. How sex changed: A history of transsexuality in the United States. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    History of transgender and transsexual people with focus on Europe and the United States. Contains discussion of media coverage of Christine Jorgensen.

  • Namaste, V. 2000. Invisible lives: The erasure of transsexual and transgendered people. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    Empirical study of the lives of transgender people suggesting that their experiences are made invisible by institutions and cultural processes.

  • Salamon, G. 2010. Assuming a body: Transgender and rhetorics of materiality. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Combines phenomenology, psychoanalysis and queer theory in discussion of gender embodiment.

  • Spencer, L., and J. C. Capuzza, eds. 2015. Transgender communication studies: Histories, trends, and trajectories. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

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    First book in communication studies to foreground transgender studies and gender identity analyses from a communication perspective. Contains chapters on human communication, media, and public and rhetorical communication.

  • Stryker, S. 2008. Transgender history. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.

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    Review of US transgender history after the Second World War.

  • Stryker, S., and A. Z. Aizura, eds. 2013. The transgender studies reader 2. New York: Routledge.

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    Follow-up to the first interdisciplinary Transgender Studies Reader (2006) edited by Stryker and Stephen Whittle containing fifty essays presenting new areas of inquiry.

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