Robert Bittner PhD Thesis Defence

January 11, 2017


Wednesday, January 11, 2017 9:30 am
Harbour Centre 1500

Theorizing Trans Readership: Examining Ways of Reading Trans Themed Young Adult Literature


Chair:                                     Dr. Jen Marchbank (Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies)
Senior Supervisor:              Dr. Helen Leung (Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies)
Supervisor:                           Dr. Elizabeth Marshall (Education)
Supervisor:                           Dr. Peter Dickinson (English and Contemporary Arts)
Internal Examiner:               Dr. Stuart Poyntz (Communication)
External Examiner:              Dr. Gwen Athene Tarbox (Western Michigan University)


While there appears to be an expansion of gender and sexuality studies within the field of young adult literature criticism, the vast majority of scholarship privileges the study of gay and lesbian identities, as well as binary gender identities—either male or female. There is not much treatment of those who identify as other or in between. In the 1990s articles began to address topics of cross-dressing and responses to cross-gender behaviour—in response to changes in the field of psychology, namely the removal of homosexuality and the addition of Gender Identity Disorder (GID) in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of the American Psychological Association. Explicitly trans identified characters were not published by mainstream publishers until after 2004 in the wake of Julie Ann Peters’s Luna. Using a queer theory approach to children’s and young adult literature focuses more on sexuality and sexual attraction, but the addition of various trans studies approaches—research that looks to bodily transition and modification—along with reader-response theory (Rosenblatt), allows for a more complex exploration of transformation and the notion of gender as something fluid and transitional. By working to combine queer and trans theoretical approaches with literature and the transgender body and experience, I begin working in a more complex way with new and emerging issues in literature, such as intersexuality, asexuality, and two-spiritedness. This requires moving beyond rigid gender dichotomies and homonormative/transnormative identities which are presented even within queer, gay/lesbian, and feminist studies; an exclusion which could become an inclusion with the use of transgender studies in the field of children’s and young adult literature. This study will look to find commonalities or divergent purposes between what occurs in theoretical studies and what actually matters to trans and queer young adult readers. I engage in interviews with queer and trans identified teens, as well as librarians in order to gauge what teens readers want and how they read trans and queer characters within available YA fiction. In this way, children’s and young adult literature scholars will have the ability to better understand the purpose and usefulness of textual analysis and gatekeeping processes.

Keywords:           Trans Studies; Queer Studies; Young Adults; Literature; Reading; Recognition