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Critique Humanities Nonfiction Social Sciences Theory

Trans People’s Linguistic Self-Determination and the Dialogic Nature of Identity

By Lal Zimman, 2017

Language plays a central role in trans experience. In the United States and many other parts of the English-speaking world, gendered terminology and other linguistic concerns have long been highlighted in the work of trans activists. In a sense, transgender identity is not only a matter of how one presents one’s gender or what kinds of spaces one is licensed to occupy, but also a matter of linguistic agency – about who determines the meanings of words and how those words are linked up to different types of persons. Trans activists have developed a particular understanding of linguistic agency, which is best understood as a form of linguistic self-determination (building on Stanley 2014) that centres the desires of individuals regarding how others should refer to them. This essay focuses on a set of practices through which linguistic self-determination is realised and the particular sociocultural context that has enabled the emergence of this individualistic understanding of identity.

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