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Humanities Nonfiction

Making whiteness visible: transgender, race and the paradoxes of in/visibility in Orlando (1928), The Passion of New Eve (1977) and Sacred Country (1992)

By Rachel Carroll, 2020

This essay aims to identify and examine a recurring but overlooked motif in twentieth-century literary representations of transgender: namely, the ways in which gender identity is achieved, confirmed or normalised through the construction of ‘others’ whose experiences – mediated through discourses of colonialism, Empire and race – render material for contrast, comparison or analogy. By tracking this motif across a selection of landmark texts, including Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (1928), Angela Carter’s The Passion of New Eve (1977) and Rose Tremain’s Sacred Country (1992), this essay interrogates the ways in which transgender visibility can be implicated in discourses of race: in doing so it endeavours to explore the ways in which in/visibility can both confer and deny identity, and protect and subvert privilege. By demonstrating how the presence of (white) transgender characters in literary fiction across the twentieth century has served to racialise ‘others’ it seeks to draw attention to the politics of in/visibility in relation to race and gender and its implications for transgender visibility in cultural representation.

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