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How ‘wrong body’ transgender theory is reflected in broad consumer culture

The conception of transgender identity as an “authentic” gendered core “trapped” within a mismatched corporeality has attained unprecedented legibility within contemporary Anglo-American culture. This is according to Michael Lovelock, who argued that the dominance of “wrong body” transgender theory in popular media aligns with the contemporary cultural imperative for all women, cis or trans, to display their authentic femininity through bodily work.

The conception of transgender identity as an “authentic” gendered core “trapped” within a mismatched corporeality has attained unprecedented legibility within contemporary Anglo-American culture. This is according to Michael Lovelock, who wrote “Call me Caitlyn: making and making over the ‘authentic’ transgender body in Anglo-American popular culture” in the Journal of Gender Studies (published by Taylor & Francis Group); and where he argued that the dominance of “wrong body” transgender theory in popular media aligns with the contemporary cultural imperative for all women, cis or trans, to display their authentic femininity through bodily work.

Lovelock focused on the media representations of two female transgender celebrities, Caitlyn Jenner and Nadia Almada, and explored how these women’s gender transitions have been discursively aligned in popular media to the established trope of female bodily transformation. Lovelock highlighted the parallel of constructed femininity in both transgender and cisgender women by analyzing the strong public praise Jenner received from society for her external beauty and feminine appearance.

“The public reception to Jenner’s re-emergence as Caitlyn, on news websites, blogs and social media, was almost unanimously positive, with praise for her physical beauty occupying a particularly central position in this commentary. Indeed, Jenner’s visual adherence to traditional signifiers of female beauty – slender, voluptuous, and impeccably groomed – appeared to be a central strategy through which the magazine piece sought to ratify Jenner’s claim to an innate female subjectivity. Yet, whil(e) the case of Caitlyn Jenner is notable for the vast amount of debate to which she has been subjected, there is little in the media representations of Jenner’s transgender identity which is inherently new. In both TV and magazine interviews, Jenner articulated what has become a highly recognizable script of transgender subjectivity within contemporary popular culture: the notion that transgender people possess an authentic gendered core, which is located within an initially mismatched corporeality,” Lovelock stated in the article.

For Lovelock, Jenner’s triumph holds “commercial currency” in the use of fashion, cosmetic surgery and beauty applications as a means to deflect from gender-assigned attributes, and to reveal the “true” gendered self and be accepted.

Lovelock also noted that previous transgender scholars have argued for acceptance and recognition of transgender identities in their own right. Plurality of human identity could make way for alternatives to standard binary gender which are not specifically male or female, but purely transgender. The commonly accepted “wrong body” theory reinforces the straightforward male vs. female gender model, and leaves no room for a third or alternative form of identity.

Lovelock finds female transgender identity is directly aligned with expectations of bodily work which are perceived to constitute day-today imperatives for all women.

“The wrong body paradigm attains its rhetorical force through the ways in which it speaks to a broader consumer culture in which the external bodies of all women must be worked upon in order to actualize or release an authentic, internal female self,” Lovelock concluded.

Taylor & Francis Group is a publisher of scholarly journals, books, ebooks and reference works in all areas of Humanities, Social Sciences, Behavioral Sciences, Science, and Technology and Medicine.

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