• A material history of trans identities in UK performance (1967-1990)

Fried, Lauren, 2019, Thesis, A material history of trans identities in UK performance (1967-1990) PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

This thesis is concerned with the location, examination, and documentation of a material history of trans performance, approached through an analysis of the shifting social, legal and political landscape in the UK from 1967 to 1990. Using material culture as a methodological lens, my research explores how often drastic legislative changes during this period corresponded with how trans identities were performed both in public on stage, and in private, everyday life.

Beginning in 1967 with the partial-decriminalisation of homosexual activities in England and Wales, my thesis examines the long-lasting and damaging results of the 1970 Corbett v Corbett case. The thesis is bookended by the years following 1988, with the implementation of Clause 2A to Section 28 of the Local Government Act, which prohibited the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality. I ask how these changes impacted upon trans lives through an analysis of material culture and performance. I approach these issues through an interdisciplinary methodology that incorporates a multitude of narratives that ambulate from the personal, identitarian stories of trans community members, to the macro, structural level of political change and medical discourse.

My introduction lays out the structure of the thesis, then considers how terminology and an interdisciplinary methodology impacts upon the research subject, and lastly, draws out a historical timeline of the period under study. The first chapter critically examines the historiography of trans histories within museums, archives and material culture scholarship, building a foundation for the subsequent two chapters, and presenting original research into the field of trans material culture, which this thesis proposes as a new area of academic study. The following two chapters are both object focused, each exploring a specific facet of trans performance and material culture within a demarcated time period, and examining the use of material culture as performative in the creation of trans identities. Chapter Two analyses the use of dress; while chapter three considers the uses of makeup and hairstyling. By mapping the interconnections between object, performance and body, and by utilising a diverse span of disciplines, this thesis opens up fresh paradigms in formulating an innovative approach to History of Design and material culture, which considers objects as performative, and material culture as central to trans histories.

This thesis offers an original and valuable contribution to knowledge through undertaking new primary research using material culture to expand and challenge our current knowledge of trans histories. Grounded in archival research, I unearth historical evidence from sources that have not yet been considered within trans histories, performance studies, or in History of Design and material culture. This includes tracing the histories of local trans communities through publications produced by, and for, trans groups from the 1960s onwards; mining the Switchboard logbooks from the 1970s; and generating critical readings of objects in the V&A’s Theatre and Performance collection. My research
asks what material histories of trans identities might look like, and where they might be located. Throughout, I respond to trans historians Susan Stryker and Paisley Currah who, in 2015, asked: ‘what counts as “trans”, what counts as evidence, and how can we make sense and meaning of what we encounter’?

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Other > Historical and Philosophical studies > V300 History by topic > V320 Social History
Other > Historical and Philosophical studies > V300 History by topic > V370 History of Design
Creative Arts and Design > W200 Design studies
Creative Arts and Design > W900 Others in Creative Arts and Design > W990 Creative Arts and Design not elsewhere classified
School or Centre: School of Arts & Humanities
Funders: AHRC [1500919]
Date Deposited: 16 May 2022 15:32
Last Modified: 16 May 2022 15:32
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/5050
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