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Art Critique Essay Humanities Nonfiction Social Sciences Theory

Transnormativity: A New Concept and Its Validation through Documentary Film About Transgender Men

By Austin H Johnson, 2016

While prior research has called attention to how medically based, normative understandings of sex and gender place undue restrictions on transgender people’s autonomy, there has yet to be an attempt to consolidate this research into a recognizable concept that is situated within existing theoretical frameworks. This article uses documentary films focused on transgender men as an empirical example to develop the concept of transnormativity. Transnormativity describes the specific framework to which transgender people’s presentations and experiences of gender are held accountable. Drawing on research specific to transgender community groups, medicalization, and legal transition, I argue that transnormativity structures transgender experience, identification, and narratives into a hierarchy of legitimacy that is dependent upon medical standards. This ideology , as I show via a content analysis of documentary films, circulates in media depictions of transgender people in ways that eclipse alternative explanations of gender non-conformity. While medical transition is a central component of many transgender people’s gender trajectory, I argue in this article that the privileging of the medical model over others creates a marginalizing effect for gender non-conforming people who cannot or do not wish to medically transition.

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