Sociology student, Emma Daitz, received her MA degree with distinction for her thesis entitled “What’s in a name? A Cape Town case study of how a group of transsexual men and women understand and relate to the term transgender“. Daitz, whose thesis was considered by one of the two reviewers as “a first-class piece of work at Master’s level” was supervised by Huma’s Deborah Posel.
Below is Emma Daitz’s abstract:
The term transgender originates in the United States and gained intellectual and political traction in the early 1990s with the advent of queer theory and the coalitional activism of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersexed (LGBTI) people. Since then it has travelled south from the global metropole, undergoing a series of reinterpretations and contestations of its ‘original’ meaning along the way. Using a phenomenological approach and the technique of in-depth interviews, this dissertation investigates how a small sample of gender variant men and women understand, experience, and relate to the terms transgender and transsexual. The relevance of such an investigation lies in, amongst other things, the fact that queer theory – the corpus of theory most frequently applied to in order to theorize the lives of gender variant men and women – does not always pay adequate attention to the empirical data on their lived experiences. Significantly, this research found that a) the norms that guide these men and women in the construction of their gender identities are far more heterogeneous than existing research grounded in queer theory makes clear, b) that these men and women, despite being actively involved in transgender rights activism, were unwilling to adopt ‘transgender’ or ‘transsexual’ as identities, eschewing the fluidity celebrated in queer theory whilst at the same time embracing a discourse of rights and entitlements for all gender variant folks, c) that, for the participants, the terms transgender and transsexual functioned to describe what was hoped to be a temporary position rather than an enduring one, and d) that biomedical categories and explanations for transgender and transsexuality were frequently used and experienced by these men and women as legitimating, and sometime even liberatory, rather than pathologizing or traumatic.