TRANS/SUPER/NATURAL: Fear, Trembling, and Transsexuality in American Fiction

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TRANS/SUPER/NATURAL: Fear, Trembling, and Transsexuality in American Fiction develops new ways of thinking about the biological, historical, and social elements that constitute what we call gender by identifying 20th-century American literature’s practice of mobilizing motifs of magic and monstrosity to articulate authors’ material, social, and political relationships to transsexuality. These motifs are shown to be part of a historical process in which medical and social sciences as well as academic discourse have employed misogynist and racist logics to render the transsexual body “super/natural”—that is, at once an unnatural biological aberration as well as a disembodied site of abjection beyond the natural/unnatural binary upon which is projected dire spiritual implications. Identifying the centrality of this super/natural thinking to other instances of political theorizing by marginalized populations, TRANS/SUPER/NATURAL reads fearful and esoteric representations of transsexuality in American fiction as making visible the magical thinking underlying contemporary formulations of gender. Across three chapters, the figure of the super/natural transsexual aids in the refiguration of embodiment as an always-already mystical experience that unsettles reductive pathologies of racism and sexism; kinship and socialization as fluid processes that work not to reinforce essentialist binary gender norms, but to enable transgressive categorical slippages; and history as a malleable space vulnerable to alterations that might make the present more livable for vulnerable populations.






Harlock, Caoimhe Aisling (2022). TRANS/SUPER/NATURAL: Fear, Trembling, and Transsexuality in American Fiction. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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