My research interests are in Gender and Transgender Studies, Queer Studies, American Literary and Cultural Studies, Rhetorics and Theories of Metaphor, Legal Cultures, and Disability Studies.
As an interdisciplinary (Trans-)Gender and Queer Studies scholar with Americanist training, I am particularly interested in how embodiment, identity, and knowledge come to matter and how they are linked rhetorically.
“Mirrors, Monsters, Metaphors: Transgender Rhetorics and Dysphoric Knowledge”
My dissertation locates marginalized forms of knowledge in recurrent metaphors circulating in the rhetorics of transgender experience. A gendered identification that is not naturalized generates an intensified pressure to speak (about) gender in the absence of sanctioned vocabulary. This proliferation makes transgender discourse a particularly useful object for studying how gendered meaning is made. Investigating the rhetorical, cultural, and political work of a persistent set of transgender tropes, my project introduces the category of ‘dysphoric knowledge’ to turn gender dysphoria from a diagnosis into a conceptual tool to theorize minoritized and pathologized claims to knowledge and embodiment of gender.
The project begins by tracing the medical history of the term Gender Dysphoria and its role in Transgender Studies debates about the trope of the “wrong body,” making the case for dysphoric knowledge as a way of rethinking the field through a lens of transgender rhetorics and knowledge production. Chapter two offers a reading of shame and disgust in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein through Silvan Tomkins’ affect theory to argue that the monster trope in transgender discourse negotiates non-normative embodiment and its perceptions in the social world. Chapter three argues that ghosts and hauntings in transgender autobiography appear as figures of disrupted temporal and pronominal narrative coherence, historical loss, and disembodiment, while mirrors such as in The Well of Loneliness stage scenes of dysphoric experiences of gender that find no reflection in mirror models of knowledge. Chapter four discusses the skin suits of violent transsexual movie tropes (The Skin I Live In, Silence of the Lambs) and the cloth skins of a transgender novel (Stone Butch Blues) to bring out the different logics of skin and clothing as rhetorically gender-identity-laden surfaces: Clothing operates according to a metaphorical logic, while skin operates metonymically – in turn allowing for epistemological and ontological claims, respectively. The final chapter uses the examples of Peter Pan and the figure of the transgender “boi”/boy and of transgender women performing and re-writing Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues to argue that such gender-specific tropes negotiate the place of transfemininity and transmasculinity in feminism and can help articulate an inclusive vision of feminism.
My next long-term research project, tentatively titled “Bodies on the Bench: Judicial Diversity and Symbolic Justice,” will take my interest in identity, embodiment, and representation to the realm of U.S. legal culture. Bringing together German Cultural Legal Studies work in the tradition of Cornelia Vismann with a Queer Disability Studies perspective, the project will study how the contradiction between the disembodied, rational, neutralized body of the court and the actual people that fill its seats crystallizes once there is an increasingly diverse range of bodies – in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, age, disability, and illness – on the judicial bench. Unlike existing (and inconclusive) sociological and political science approaches to measuring judicial diversity on the state and federal supreme court levels and its impact – or lack thereof – on verdicts (counting heads and counting judicial votes), this project will use media representations, courtroom observation, and autobiographical texts to provide a literary and cultural studies perspective, which will allow it to ask larger questions about judicial performativity and judicial diversity in its function for symbolic justice.