Deborah Lynn Steinberg

Trans in Popular Representation


  • To 3rd seminar of the series The Emergence of ‘Trans’: Retheorising Gender and Sexuality
  • Seminar title ‘Trans in Popular Representation
  • Warm welcome to our speakers


The seminar series aims to promote a cross-disciplinary exploration of gender and sexuality in the wake of ‘trans’.

Key questions

  • To what degree does ‘trans’ reconfigure everyday lives, herald new normativities, suggest a ‘post-closet’ epistemology?
  • How does the emergence of ‘trans’ challenge, develop or extend dominant understandings of gender and sexuality?
  • How do ‘trans’ lives and new discourses of ‘trans’ articulate with issues of rights, discrimination and citizenship, health and welfare, education and popular commonsense?
  • What challenges do ‘Trans’ identities present for clinical and therapeutic practice, for gender and sexuality theory and for everyday articulations of identity and intersubjective and communal connection.

The argument of this series is that the emergence of ‘trans’ has challenged not only the dominant, but indeed also key counter-discursive understandings of gender and sexuality – and has does so in two key ways:

  • A rupture of identity led understandings of gender and sexuality in favour of ‘feeling’ led understandings
  • A rupture of the presumption that there is or must be a suture between gender (gender identity or gendered feelings) and sexuality (sexuality identities or sexuality feelings)
  • A growing popular repertoire of ‘trans’ representation,  language and debate

Our explorations in the first tow seminars:

  1. In ‘Trans Genealogies’ we considered trans repertoires and identifications in clinical and therapeutic contexts.

Themes included:

  • narratives of  ‘authenticity’  that guide clinical protocols, psychotherapeutic approaches and patient self-identifications;
  • ‘pathways of care’ surrounding interventions and management of ‘trans’ bodies;  professional discourses (educational,  diagnostic) and clinical and practice protocols vis a vis patient or client experience;
  • and ‘alternative’ therapeutic discourses and the ‘trans’ self-help context.
  1. Seminar 2: ‘Trans as Everyday Culture’ focused on social networks, social movements and everyday social practices.

Themes included:

  • everyday languages
  • web-mediated socialities
  • rights and citizenship issues
  • paradoxical articulations of and between gender queer and gender-orientated trans discourses and sensibilities
  1. This third seminar turns to the question of Trans in popular representation

Key Questions

  • What is the popular culture of trans and how can we trace its emergence?
  • How important has media been to the emergence of the multi-stranded social movement of trans and in what ways?
  • What are the political and aesthetic dimensions of trans in popular representation
  • Where do we find trans representations and what are the emergent conventions of ‘trans’ narrative, genre and signification?

 Trans in the media ecology

  • Media ecology is a particular interest of mine – both in terms of my teaching and also in my research
  • Media immersion (cancer, genes, gender culture and popular media, politics, melancholia)
  • While I have not done a rigorous analysis of ‘trans’, I have a developing exposure to trans as a point of articulation and convergence across media
  • Trans as an articulation of micro-ecologies: including, but not limited to, art and photography, television, film (including a proliferating upload culture of trans related visual media), web-activism, reportage

A growing repertoire of Trans across media and genres

Trans in popular representation is part of a widening media spectrum of LGBTQ representations, as well as an increasingly prominent strand in its own right

  • Photographic and artistic media
  • Dedicated strands of reportage – much of this on the terrain of rights, from an anti-bullying standpoint, concerned with young trans people in school
  • Trans in film and television –narrative genres (across comedy/drama) and documentary
  • Upload trans filmmaking (youtube, first person)
  • Trans blog and web communities

Trans media and trans representations within the larger media culture articulate with trans lives in material ways

  • As modes as well as representations of social connection, community building, and social movement
  • As constituents of the cultural imaginary
  • As a reflection of and catalyst for changing public discourses concerning gender and sexuality more widely
  • All with material effects on lives, laws and social policies (this has been evident in reportage about trans rights in schools, on birth certificates, a recent prom queen in the USA)

The emergence of Trans is part of and has also catalysed a wider trend in the public domain – which might be generalised as a social liberalisation of sexualities.

  • Not just the conventional liberalisation arguably emblematised in liberalised laws on civil partnerships and gay marriage,
  • But a corollary trend toward a paradigm of ‘sexual fluidity’ (as was reported in the Guardian yesterday)
  • If the Kinsey revolution suggested that sexual identities were complex, on a continuum of possible resolutions, the emergence of ‘trans’ possibly heralds a post-kinsey revolution:
    – one in which ‘fluidity’ replaces linearity;
    – in which gender and sexuality represent intersecting spectra of possibilities,
    – in which feeling does not necessarily resolve into identities;
    – and in which the subjective alignments of body and feeling play out on a field of
    expectation that is defined by what may be termed a ‘productive uncertainty’.

1 thought on “Deborah Lynn Steinberg

  1. Pingback: Of memory and mourning: the hidden origins of an academic editorial – Dr Ruth Pearce

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