“Now I feel ‘truly’ like me!”: a discourse analysis of the ways ‘the gaze’ functions in two children's picture books featuring transgender and gender variant characters
thesisposted on 24.05.2021, 12:30 by Meredith Farley
Drawing on transgender, queer and feminist theoretical perspectives, I critically analyze two children’s picture books featuring transgender and gender variant characters. With these critical theoretical perspectives in mind, this discourse analysis examines the ways the books, both visually and textually, depict gender embodiment and the experiences of the characters. Using questions derived from these theoretical lenses, I analyze concepts of power, normalcy, difference, the gender binary, gender fluidity, intelligibility and unintelligibility. These concepts contribute to the dominant discourse of ‘the gaze’, seen in varying ways in the books. Children’s story books largely underrepresent the experiences of transgender characters, particularly books outlining, and explaining, a social gender transition. The majority of picture books with LGBTQ+ themes focus on same sex families and feature boys in dresses, thus centralize around disrupting the constraints of masculinity. I conclude this paper with recommendations for selecting, reading, and discussing books with transgender and gender variant protagonists. The central themes outlined in the academic literature illustrate that ‘the gaze’ and regulation of knowledge have a significant impact on what is visible in children’s books. This may ultimately affect children’s understanding, and appreciation, of gender variance and, hence, social gender transitions in early childhood.