Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation



First Advisor

Elaine Chun


This dissertation examines how metalinguistic discussions within transgender communities in South Carolina are shaped by experiences, identities, and ideologies related to intersecting social dimensions, specifically, gender, age, race, and regional identity. Based primarily on 20 ethnographic group and individual interviews with 41 transgender individuals living in South Carolina, as well as over 24 months of participant-observation in two trans organizations, the analysis illustrates how trans South Carolinians simultaneously navigated changing norms of community language use, expectations of regional linguistic practices, and mainstream discussions of trans linguistic affirmation. I draw on these sociolinguistic and linguistic anthropological methods to examine how discourses about linguistic choices reproduced and challenged ideologies of language, gender, race, age, and region that circulated broadly in the United States, and I offer four main findings. Chapter 4 illustrates how participants positioned trans-inclusive language practices as aligned with Southern norms of linguistic respect, despite the everyday challenges they faced living in this region. Chapter 5 shows how participants reproduced stereotypes of linguistic age-based differences that circulated beyond trans communities, such as the “old curmudgeon” and the “young innovator.” Yet participants also worked toward mutual, intergenerational understanding about language practices within trans communities. In Chapter 6, I discuss how linguistic innovation from Black trans communities was tied to racialized ideologies of youth identity, “slang,” and “coolness,” while linguistic innovation from white trans communities was understood as shaping standardized norms. Finally, Chapter 7 illustrates how members linguistically created trans joy to sustain trans life by using language as a tool for both personal identification and for political representation and action. This dissertation argues that a fuller understanding of language within a trans linguistic framework requires that we consider how gender, region, age, and race can intersect as trans identities and experiences are shaped.


© 2023, Archie Crowley

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