Trans on Telly: Popular Documentary and the Production of Transgender Knowledge

Stewart, Jay. 2015. Trans on Telly: Popular Documentary and the Production of Transgender Knowledge. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

VIS_thesis_StewartJ_2015.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (7MB) | Preview

Abstract or Description

This thesis considers TV documentaries that feature transgender subjects and which have been broadcast in the UK between 1979 and 2010. Despite the growing popularity of such documentaries, very little critical attention has been given to them. This thesis offers an original investigation of these mainstream cultural items within the multi- and inter-disciplinarity of Transgender Studies. The thesis also contributes to other disciplines, particularly Popular Culture, Visual Culture and TV Studies.

My thesis investigates specifically how the visual narratives and the knowledge produced by them contribute to the ways in which trans subjects form themselves between knowledge products. Such TV documentaries form a notably ‘popular’ route to obtaining trans knowledge – what it means to be trans or what trans is. I also consider how they utilise the visual as part of their performance as well as foreground the productivity or achievement of such knowledge and make explicit its ‘uses’. In this thesis I ask: What happens when we see trans? What trans do we see? And what does seeing trans do? I consider the relationship between ‘serious’, scientific documentary making and notions of respectability, legitimacy and normativity. I show how such a relationship has been compromised through the emergence of the infotainment documentary.

I frame my thinking autoethnographically in order to gauge the receivership of trans knowledge by trans viewers. I offer my own textual and historical analysis of the knowledge products and have also carried out TV screenings of the documentaries, in order to draw on recorded discussions with small groups of trans viewers for my research. I consider how popular documentaries that feature trans subjects play their part in producing a trans public that circulates discourse, forms sociability and effects change and pursues productive exchanges out of, from and through trans knowledge.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Transgender Studies, Popular Culture, TV Studies, Visual Cultures, Gender and Sexualities, Cultural Studies

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


3 February 2015

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

03 Feb 2015 15:48

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 16:07


View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)