Performing Transgender Authenticity Through Video Diaries

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 1:00 PM
Room: Booth 60
Oral Presentation
Arlene STEIN , Sociology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Growing numbers of young transmen (female-to-male transgender persons) in North America are choosing to publicly narrate their body modifications and post these videos on YouTube. This paper considers two genres of such videos: (1) videos that document breast binding (minimization) and (2) videos that narrate the process of top surgery (breast removal). It examines recurring themes in such videos, as well as the public comments they elicit. The paper speculates as to why individuals would choose to narrate such seemingly private acts in such a public fashion. Toward that end, I draw upon feminist theories of embodiment, media analyses of self-branding and authenticity, and analyses of female masculinity and sexual boundary-making.

I consider the relationship between such videos and other forms of “self-branding,” such as reality television programs, and a genre of YouTube videos in which teenage girls narrate their consumer practices. I argue that transgender videos play a double role as personal and collective identity work, affording individuals the possibility of enacting a transgender self, and also participating in the act of community-building via new media, in the context of post-feminism, the medicalization of gender, blurred public/private boundaries, and late capitalism. Turner (1996) suggests that economic transformations characteristic of postindustrial capitalism have changed the meanings of the body for individual social actors. Once the site of ascetic control and discipline, the body is now the locus of pleasure, leisure, and consumption. Not a fixed biological given, “the body can indeed be restructured and refashioned to bring about profound changes of identity, including changes of gender” (21). While these transgender video autobiographies do in fact exemplify the malleability of the body, I suggest that they also display the enduring importance of ascetic control and discipline.