The Transgendered Body and Documentary Narratives: Resistance, Partnership and Domestic Screen Memories

Authors: Pullen, C.

Conference: Popular Culture Association & American Culture Association Conference

Dates: 7-10 April 2009


This paper considers the representation of the transgendered body within documentary and reality TV forms. A central point of concern is an examination of resistance to normative gendered ideals, and the discursive potential of the transforming body within family and partnership narrative frames. This includes the ‘bricolage’ (Levi Strauss, 1962) of family memories and the context of past lives, reconstituted through the presentation of home movies, and the discussion of life histories.

Whilst transgendered social identities are increasingly prevalent within contemporary and popular media forms, such as the celebrated appearance of transsexuals; Candice Cayne in the popular drama DIRTY SEXY MONEY (ABC, 2008, USA), and Nadia Almada as winner of BIG BROTHER (Channel 4, 2004, UK), these ‘advances’ centralise isolated stories of personal fulfilment, with an expectation to transform to normative gendered ideals.

This paper explores a rejection of such gender and essentialist fixity, where stories of family and partnership frame resistances to complete gender transformation. This reveals various transgendered social agents diversely contextualising homosexual and intersexual lives, involving themselves as ‘intimate citizens’ (Plummer, 2003) in the progression of social ideals, and the reconstitution of past lives. Through an examination of case studies, such as SHE’S A BOY I KNEW (Gwen Haworth, 2007, Canada), MY DAD DIANE (Fran Landsman for BBC, 2005, UK) and THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT MIRIAM (Sky, 2004, UK), tensions are explored which reveal the social constructionist, and multifarious, nature of transgendered ideals, and how contemporary narratives of advance may not necessarily rely on ‘complete’ gender transformations. At the same time such reconstitutions, foreground the intimate potential of domestic memories, raising tensions between lived experience and future progress. Such evocation for imagined lives does not rely on the impetus to change and fix sexual identity, but the polyvalent nature of personal desire in self construction. These are not isolated apparitions, but integral components, in new reconstitutions of family and partnership frames.

Source: Manual

Preferred by: Christopher Pullen