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Transing the narrative: transgender identities in Britain, 1870-1940s

Austin, A. L. C. (2024) Transing the narrative: transgender identities in Britain, 1870-1940s. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00115173


This thesis provides a multi-faceted historical discussion of transgender identities in Britain in the period c.1870-1950. In doing so, it develops a distinct approach. Much of the extant historical research on transgender identities has either focused primarily on the United States, or treated Britain as but one example in a broader European transgender history. Much good work has resulted, but at the cost of losing elements of a specifically British cultural context, and subsuming the British experience within a very medicalised European discourse. This, combined with a tendency, when British sources are studied, to treat individuals in isolation, has encouraged a preoccupation with ‘reclaiming’ and categorising individuals as ‘either/or’, and privileging a ‘wrong body’ narrative. By moving the focus away from European medical discourse we are able to argue that British transgender identities, in all their diversity, can only be fully understood by supplementing medical discourse with nation-specific cultural sources. This thesis combines a re-examination through a transgender lens of key medical and cultural sources that have received academic attention as well as introducing previously overlooked sources of critical relevance to British discourse on gender non-conformity. The result is a richer, more robustly historical account. Building on Jack Halberstam’s and Kit Heyam’s work, the more fluid, inclusive approach taken here reveals a theoretical hierarchy and privileging of certain transgender identities within British representations of gender non-conformity. More respect and validation were accorded those assigned female at birth (AFAB) and those following a linear, medical transition narrative than those assigned male at birth (AMAB) and those whose gender identity was fluid. Non-binary identities meanwhile were almost erased. This thesis provides a small representation of the legacy of diverse, disruptive gender identities and that there is not and has never been one way to be trans.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Stack, D.
Thesis/Report Department:School of Humanities
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > History
ID Code:115173
Date on Title Page:September 2023

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