The Spaces Between: Non-Binary Representations of Gender in Twentieth-Century American Film
AuthorPawlak, Wendy Sue
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThis dissertation examines the intersections among discourses of feminism, transgender studies, queer theory, film studies, and social activist practice. I address the question of how transphobia as a set of beliefs and behaviors is illustrated in four late-twentieth-century films, three produced in America and one originally released in Australia but later acquiring a significant following in this country. I define transphobia as the "fear of a transgendered person and the hatred, discrimination, intolerance, and prejudice that this fear brings" (Laframboise 2002) and transgender as a broad term that can apply to persons, behaviors, and filmic images, a "self-conscious politicization of identity that activates an investigation of gender relations within different s socio-spatial regimes" (Brooks 1) and "clearly disrupt[s] hegemonic notions of a stable trinity between sex, gender and sexuality" (Jennings and Lomine 146).I provide brief histories of feminist and queer theories to illustrate these fields' insufficiency in accounting for transgender experience and trace the establishment of transgender studies as an explicit field of study. Then, I examine works by transgender studies theorists and activists to explain the progression of thought that led to these writers' call for abolition of the binary gender system. In the following chapter, I trace the theoretical moves from a feminist theory of film to a queer theory approach to film, again pointing out the limited perspective that explicitly feminist analysis of film has frequently offered. Finally, I demonstrate the ways in which each film conforms to and/or defies heteronormative ideals of gender and sexuality and upholds the binary gender system. I suggest that ongoing efforts in transgender and other kinds of social activism might eventually bring about a postgenderist society wherein gender "roles" are no longer forced upon individuals, but may be adopted (or refused) by choice. To this end, I outline six criteria of what I term a positive film portrayal of transgender and explain how each film either meets or fails to meet these criteria, which generally focus on the degree to which the films allow their protagonists to maintain a gender identity that violates binary norms on a continual basis.
Degree ProgramGraduate College