ENGL459A - Trans Lit

“Transgender phenomena haunt the entire project of European culture,” Susan Stryker declares in her introduction to The Transgender Studies Reader (2006). “They are simultaneously everywhere and elsewhere. Their multiple and contradictory statuses of visibility and erasure, of presence and absence, are intimately related to the operations of social power that create norms, impart consequence to difference, and construct the space of a dominant culture.” This course will explore transgender phenomena in theory, critique, literature, and film. We will consider a broad range of gender variance and ambiguity, from gender queerness and transitivity to chemically and surgically defined transsexualism. We’ll engage the theoretical work of Stryker, Judith Butler, Judith Halberstam, Jay Prosser, and others and primary texts from Herculine Barbin (the memoir of a 19th-century French “hermaphrodite” discovered in an archive by Foucault) and Virginia Woolf’s Orlando to Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues and Jackie Kay’s Trumpet. We will also look at a number of films, both documentaries and features.

Throughout, we will be interested in questions of embodiment; the role of medical and legal authorities in the construction of trans identities and of trans subjects challenging and at times strategically embracing those constructions; the roles of class, race, region, and other social variables in shaping trans identities and experiences; issues of safety, risk, violence, visibility, and passing; the ethics and the politics of producing and consuming trans stories.

Work for the course will likely include two short papers, a film log, an 8-page essay, and a final exam.


Two English courses in literature or permission of the department.