Language and transgender youth

I’m interested in the discourses associated with transgender identity, and in particular the impact that these have on young people who are questioning their gender identity or who identify as trans*. In 2014, I conducted a focus group with members of a transgender youth group, who I worked with on the Applying Linguistics project; I asked them for their views on how transgender people are represented in the media and the impact these depictions have had on them. The young people talked about a relative lack of positive representation in the mainstream media, but spoke enthusiastically about other young people who independently chart their own gender transitions on YouTube. My first paper on this topic, forthcoming in the International Journal of the Sociology of Language, reveals key messages that are produced by some of these YouTubers; in particular, I have found that ideologies of heteronormative desire and binary gender  are reproduced in these videos. I have referred to this discourse as ‘transnormativity’, and am keen to explore whether similar ideologies are salient in the construction of transgender identities elsewhere.

I am also currently working on an article focused on data emerging from the focus group. This shows the young people erasing differences between them in terms of their gender, age, and experience, and instead constructing a joint identity whereby they foreground their relative expertise in, and experience of, transgender issues. I argue that they do this in order to actively challenge and resist the transphobia and ignorance of others, which they present as an attempt to ‘other’ them; they ascribe themselves agency and legitimacy by subverting the heteronormative ideologies which inform these experiences of transphobia and ridiculing those who are ignorant and (explicitly or implicitly) produce transphobic discourse. The young people thus construct an active, resistant, and validated mutual identity rather than a victimised, submissive, or othered one.

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