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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Millie Thayer

Second Advisor

Robert Zussman

Third Advisor

Joya Misra

Fourth Advisor

Miliann Kang

Subject Categories

Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Gender and Sexuality | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Politics and Social Change | Social Psychology and Interaction | Sociology | Theory, Knowledge and Science


This dissertation investigates how gender minorities in the U.S. transform conceptions of gender as they push for social recognition. Analyzing an original collection of 69 in-depth interviews alongside ethnographic observations and archival Internet data, I find that trans social actors create new interpretive practices that challenge cultural conventions around gender. In so doing, they undermine the hegemonic gender paradigm and introduce an alternative knowledge system that facilitates their recognition. This process of social change takes place at the levels of discourse, individuals, interactions, and institutions. My research illustrates how, contrary to the theory of the “looking-glass self” (which suggests that we see ourselves the way others see us), trans individuals engage an interactional process of “radiant selves,” bringing others to see them as they see themselves. Working collectively and individually, they reconceptualize gender and transness. By creating a new gender paradigm and new gender identity concepts, social actors act as citizen theorists. Telling self-stories that contest the dominant “wrong body” narrative of trans identity, actors shift and expand notions of what transness is and can be. They re-educate others, bringing them to use linguistic gender accomplishment practices, where interaction partners verbally communicate their own gender pronouns, and holding others accountable to honoring their identity claims rather than holding themselves accountable to meeting conventional gender expectations, performing emotional labor in the process. Thus, they politically labor to reinvent gender as a system of meaning, reorganize its accountability structure, build a community of practice that affirms trans identities, and collectively constitute themselves and each other as subjects. Drawing on previous queer political approaches—the deconstructionist aims of anti-identitarian queer theory and politics and the structural concerns of identity-oriented gay and lesbian mobilization—trans social actors engage a new form of constructive everyday resistance, using their embodied selves to work on, against, with, and through existing gender notions in order to change them. I argue that by engaging in such efforts to gain social recognition, trans actors reconfigure the gender knowledge system, exercising a degree of “discursive agency,” in sharp contrast to frequent assumptions about the overwhelming power of gender structures.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Available for download on Sunday, September 01, 2024