Title

Trans Gender Embodied States of Recognition: Fragmented Citizenship and Agency

Date of Award

May 2016

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

Advisor(s)

Andrew S. London

Keywords

agency, citizenship, identification documents, identity, transgender

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences

Abstract

At the heart of this project is an analysis of how people who gender transition, broadly known by, and through, the term “transgender,” determine and achieve recognition and belonging – two fundamental aspects of personhood and citizenship. Gender transition processes uniquely unfold along the gender binary, in some cases reinforcing and/or resisting it. One’s gender transition ultimately influences their decisions to legally amendment aspects of their identity. Currently, the United States does not have a unified policy across federal, state, and local governance that enables name and sex designation changes on identification documents (IDs) and personal records. Given this multi-scalar character of U.S. ID governance and the use of binary sex designations, amending IDs and records to achieve (trans)recognition and (trans)belonging is neither singular nor permanent processes. Rather, they involve ongoing articulations and encounters that require navigating a multitude of social and structural factors.

This dissertation project uses an online survey (N=882) and semi-structured interviews (N=50) to investigate three broad research questions: (1) Do individual ID/record amendment decisions vary among transpeople? (2) In what ways do multi-scalar U.S. policies produce fragmented citizenship recognition? (3) How do transpeople navigate and manage these policies and the fragmentation they create? This project concerns the overall experience of transgender people, and also engages in a comparative analysis of two groups of transpeople. The analytic categories I create include, TransNormative, which represents participants who identify within the gender binary (e.g., man or woman), and TransQueer, which represents participants who identify outside of, or in resistance to, the binary (e.g., genderqueer or part-time in either gender). These distinct categories illuminate the uniqueness and similarities among and between transpeople according to their attitudes, experiences, and the outcomes of managing the assemblage of IDs.

Results demonstrate that transgender people, overall, are invested in practices that enable recognition and belonging, especially via pronouns, names, sex categorization, and photographs. Yet, there are multiple pathways in which recognition and belonging are achieved. Broadly, the TransNormative group invests in the notion, and institutional processes, of alignment – aligning their gender embodiment, pronouns, names, and sex designations to most often reflect the gender binary. The TransQueer group invests in practices of authentic representation that purposefully challenge the binary, and also point out the impossibility as state designations do not offer options beyond “m” or “f.”

My work engages the concept of fragmented citizenship by focusing on how inconsistencies across federal, state, and local jurisdictions disrupt linked technologies of recognition – particularly through identification documents. Fragmented citizenship is also created through social interactions within and across spaces. (Trans)Recognition and (trans) belonging are dependent on agents’ interpretation of the in/congruence between gender embodied identity and identity markers on IDs. The experience of fragmented citizenship leads transpeople to practice distinctive navigation and management strategies. For example, the TransNormative group use IDs that portray most up-to-date photographs, carry cash instead of credit cards, and de-gender IDs, while the TransQueer group intentionally seek to disrupt gender attribution and categorization processes.

I argue that the effect of multi-scalar and multi-spatial fragmented citizenship produces a kind of precarious citizenship, which temporarily or more permanently suspends or expels one from citizenship practices (e.g., education, employment, travel, consumption, etc.). Particular dimensions of precarity are shaped, in part, by one’s orientation toward or away from the gender binary. One’s orientation influences transition-related decisions and the types of amendments desired and made, as well as prioritizing the specific IDs to amend. Despite the haunting effects of both fragmented and precarious citizenship, transgender people are not passive, but rather actively pursue recognition and forms of belonging given their social positions and contexts. This research contributes to the fields of sociology, citizenship studies, and critical trans studies by situating individual, agentic desires of recognition and belonging in relation to social processes and institutional power.

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