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Emotion Work in the Public Performances of Male-to-Female Transsexuals

Abstract

Much research has shown that entering the public sphere is emotionally taxing yet key to male-to-female transsexuals’ status passage. Yet, little is known about how transsexuals actively manage their emotions during this important transitional phase. Taking a dramaturgical approach to emotions, we explored how some male-to-female transsexuals managed their emotions in ways that helped generate self-confidence and commitment to their paths. Interviewees engaged in three primary forms of emotion work: (1) preparatory emotion work mitigated anxiety and bolstered confidence, which motivated them to enter public arenas as women; (2) in situ emotion work transformed negative emotions as they arose when performing womanhood in public; and (3) retrospective emotion work reinterpreted past public performances to neutralize negative and accentuate positive emotions.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Unless noted otherwise, when we refer to “transsexuals” in this article, we mean male-to-female transsexuals.

  2. 2.

    While some essentialist sex researchers (Bailey, 2003; Blanchard, 1991, 1993a, b; Lawrence, 2004) might label our interviewees “homosexual” or “autogynephilic” transsexuals, we do not use these labels because the assumptions of our constructionist approach are fundamentally incompatible with an essentialist paradigm (DeLamater & Hyde, 1998; Schrock & Reid, 2006; Tiefer, 1995).

  3. 3.

    We generally resolved such disagreements by going back to the data and determining that one of us had proposed an interpretation that strayed too far from the empirical evidence.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Daphne Holden, Irene Padavic, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. Margaret Leaf and Emily Boyd contributed equally to this article.

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Correspondence to Douglas P. Schrock.

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Schrock, D.P., Boyd, E.M. & Leaf, M. Emotion Work in the Public Performances of Male-to-Female Transsexuals. Arch Sex Behav 38, 702–712 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-007-9280-2

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Keywords

  • Transsexuals
  • Emotion work
  • Gender performativity
  • Passing