Research Showcase: Chiara Pellegrini

Chiara Pellegrini is an Associate Lecturer in the School of English. She just completed her PhD with a thesis entitled ‘Trans Forms: Gender-variant Subjectivity and First-person Narration’. This project argues for the ‘gender-variant’ narrator as a key figure in contemporary literature, through readings of first-person narratives from the past five decades in a range of genres (memoir, literary fiction, science fiction, historical fiction) that explore gender identities that are other than binary or fixed. The affordances and limitations of first-person narration (how it constructs identity through time, how it presents and questions its knowledge, how it negotiates the body in the text) allow these narratives to challenge gender binaries, explore the risks and the rewards of being embodied, and reflect on the ways in which lived experience of gender variance is articulated to others.  

Chiara is currently developing a post-doctoral project entitled ‘Crossings, Shelters, Outsiders: Trans Genders in Britain through Metaphorical and Material Spaces’, which aims to analyse how space, place and spatial metaphors (such as borders, entries, exits, peripheries) are used in media and literary texts to discuss gender, finding complicities between trans-exclusionary language and nationalist and imperialist understandings of space.

Leaving or entering a space is a movement that characterises aspects of British politics that are central to debates about justice and the nation, such as housing and immigration policies, Brexit, regional devolution, and postcoloniality. Similarly, spaces are at the centre of the recently renewed efforts of some political groups to limit and threaten the lives of trans people in Britain, such as concerns with the presence of trans individuals in ‘single-gender’ bathrooms, changing rooms, shelters, and political groups, as well as separatist lesbian and feminist movements such as ‘Get the L Out’. Politicised spaces in Britain are not only literal but also metaphorical: the categories of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are viewed as spaces that are traversed and uneasily inhabited by trans individuals, and bodies are also seen as locations that can be invaded or transcend their limits. In this context, spatial metaphors used by different political groups have urgent and material implications affecting the lives of marginalised subjects.

This project analyses the language employed in British journalism, political propaganda, and social media platforms by individuals and organisations that are hostile to trans people, concluding that the metaphors they employ express a concern with policing borders and entries that is complicit with far-right, imperialist and nationalist politics.  At the same time, uses of space and place in British literature by trans authors such as Alison Rumfitt, Juliet Jacques, Juno Dawson and Travis Alabanza are examined in order to reveal strategies for countering the harmful effects of this metaphorical language. These writers negotiate trans characters’ ambivalent belonging in settings such as streets, houses, schools, public bathrooms, and other private or shared spaces, and they creatively reimagine the spaces of the body, the nation, and the self through metaphor, uses of first- and third-person voice, narrative structure, and other formal choices.

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