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The interactional making of a “true transsexual”: Language and (dis)identification in trans-specific healthcare

  • Rodrigo Borba EMAIL logo


Can the transsexual subject speak in their own terms? This is the question this article addresses. Grounded on a Foucauldian genealogical approach to discourse analysis and on Goffmanian-inspired interactional analysis, it investigates how knowledge systems that pathologise transsexuality as a mental disorder get gradually embodied (and spoken) in consultations at a Brazilian gender identity clinic. The analysis follows the interactional history a trans woman had with the clinic’s psychologist and traces the intertextual links that connect various consultations in time. This series of encounters constitutes a socialisation trajectory during which the trans client is led to speak a language that is not hers in order to frame an identity performance within the diagnostic criteria for the identification of “true transsexuals”. The article, thus, contributes to three areas for the study of transgender and language: (1) it investigates how transsexual people are led to speak a language that is not their own (the problems of agency and trans-autonomy); (2) it points to the centrality of studying how others speak to transsexual people – a gap identified by Don Kulick but which remains under-investigated; and (3) it highlights the importance of language use for the design of trans-positive and trans-affirmative healthcare practices.

A Appendix

Transcription conventions have been adapted from Jefferson (2004).


Falling intonation


Rising intonation


Continuous intonation


Sound elongation


Abrupt interruption of talk

talk= =talk

Latched talk




Louder voice


Lower voice


Faster talk


Slower talk


Overlapping talk


Audible inhalation


Audible exhalation


Laugh while talking




Lapse of time in which no speaker takes the turn


Inaudible speech


Dubious transcription

((comments)) Transcriber’s comments


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Published Online: 2019-01-29
Published in Print: 2019-02-25

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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