An oral history of American trans lives from the 1950s to present

  • Lorna Barton

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This is the first oral history thesis which investigates and complicates the established historical representation of trans individuals as portrayed in pop culture within the heteronormative and gendernormative historiography of America from the 1950s to present. From a cohort of 22 narrators of differing age and gender variance, I analyse 15 life history interviews conducted with members of the Gender Identity Center of Colorado-a place of refuge, support, friendship and understanding. The resulting oral history of trans American lives offers a historically-informed examination of gender variant individuals' lived experiences of growing up in a country that has long upheld gender normative binary roles of male and female, creating a discourse of gender variance as something deviant, monstrous, mentally unwell and therefore, warranting social condemnation. The original oral histories featured throughout this thesis strongly refutes this gender binary and America's need to uphold it and its ideals, creating rich individual and collective narratives of struggle and triumph over them.An oral history methodology, and theoretical grounding in transgender and liminality theory are central to the lived experience of each narrator featured for gauging their emotions, exclusion from normative gender society and making sense of their present from their pasts. I argue that America's binary ideals have a powerful influence over all trans lives, gender variant identities and lived experiences. Essentially, living under a gender binary is dangerous and damaging on multiple levels. Moreover, prior to embracing their gender variant identity, many trans Americans internalised forms of top-down gender policing observed in their communities and families, experiencing shame and guilt in 'transgressing' these ideals via cross-dressing and other gender variant behaviours. They had to reach a point where they felt comfortable challenging these binary norms to live on the gender spectrum as their 'authentic' selves. As such, this thesis enhances current scholarship on trans lives, and begins to address their relative absence in the historiography on modern America.
Date of Award24 Jan 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SupervisorArthur McIvor (Supervisor) & Richard Finlay (Supervisor)

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