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Getting to be seen: visibility as erasure in media economies of transgender youth

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There is currently a proliferation of images of transgender youth in popular discourse, many of which reflect the threat to capitalist heteronormativity that transgender young people pose to contemporary U.S. society. This veritable explosion in media visibility of transgender youth

There is currently a proliferation of images of transgender youth in popular discourse, many of which reflect the threat to capitalist heteronormativity that transgender young people pose to contemporary U.S. society. This veritable explosion in media visibility of transgender youth must be critically examined. This dissertation explores media economies of transgender youth visibility by examining media and self-represented narratives by and about transgender young people in contemporary U.S. popular discourse to uncover where, and how, certain young transgender bodies become endowed with value in the service of the neoliberal multicultural U.S. nation-state. As normative transgender youth become increasingly visible as signifiers of the progress of the tolerant U.S. nation, transgender youth who are positioned further from the intelligible field of U.S. citizenship are erased.

Utilizing frameworks from critical transgender studies, youth studies, and media studies, this project illustrates how value is distributed, and at the expense of whom this process of assigning value occurs, in media economies of transgender youth visibility. Discursive analyses of online self-representations, as well as of online representations of media narratives, facilitate this investigation into how transgender youth negotiate the terms of those narratives circulating about them in U.S. contemporary media. This project demonstrates that increases in visibility do not always translate into political power; at best, they distract from the need for political interventions for marginalized groups, and at worst, they erase those stories already far from view in popular discourse: of non-normative transgender youth who are already positioned outside the realm of intelligibility to a national body structured by a heteronormative binary gender system.

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2016