Developing Individual Accords: How transgender people negotiate their knowable gender identities, changing bodies, and culture, to live in and alongside the cisnormative gender order
This study analyses the lived experiences of transgender people who seek to negotiate and develop congruent gender identities within, against and alongside predominantly cisnormative (gender identity matches sex assigned at birth) and binary (male/female) conceptualisations of gender in contemporary Western society. Using the framework of queer sociology and trans identity theory, I employ constructed grounded theory methodology to inform my analysis of 18 interviews with Australian transgender men and women across a broad age range and from diverse socio-economic and geographic locations. In doing so, this study engages with and illuminates the complex process of on-going negotiation involving an individual’s knowable gender identity, gender identity as performed by and embedded in bodies, and gender identity as defined and produced by culture. Such movement means that while transgender participants in this study often use binary and static identity language to describe their experience, they live lives that express cisnormative, transnormative and genderqueer identifications and practices. Participants demonstrate agency by developing individual accords or understandings that honour their knowable gender identity and their complex positionalities in relation to the cisnormative binary gender order. This project thereby sheds light on and expands our understanding of diverse transgender identities by foregrounding how transgender people’s lived experiences of gender identity are relational and contextual. Their lived realities testify to the reductive nature of binaries—whether the nature versus culture binary, cisnormative versus genderqueer, or the stable versus fluid gender identity binary—as a lens for understanding or explaining the production of gender identity. This study reveals that, far from constituting a rigid structure, the cisnormative binary gender order is subtly but routinely managed by transgender people via complex gender practices that demonstrate agency and resistance against its hegemony.