This essay examines narratives of fundamental change, which portray a break in the continuity between a pre-transition and post-transition transgender subject, in accounts of transgender transitions. Narratives of fundamental change highlight the various changes that occur during transition and its disruptive effects upon a trans subject’s continuous identity. First, this essay considers the historical appearance of fundamental change narratives in the social sciences, the media, and their use by families of trans people, partners of trans people, and trans people themselves. After this is a consideration of Mark Johnson’s account of narrative as a meaning-making activity that occurs in the context of social norms. Johnson’s account is then applied to narratives of fundamental change to explain why these narratives occur, especially in relation to social norms and lived experience. The essay concludes by considering the trajectory of fundamental change narratives, looking at emerging transgender narratives, which stress a more integrated, complex account of transgender lives.
By Amy Billingsley, 2015