Families in Transition: Gender Non-Conformists and their Kin Networks in the Mid-Southern U.S.

Ryan C Plis, Purdue University


In this dissertation I use ethnographic research with gender variant people in the Mid-Southern United States to consider the multiple ways that difference, whether based upon race, class, sexuality, or other social positions, shapes and influences gender variant lives, gender expressions, and identities, as well as individual feelings of belonging to a transgender community or kin network. Specifically, I demonstrate how racial and economic marginalization together with gender variance lead to different feelings about selfhood and connection between people who share gender variant experiences. I document how the convergence of racial, economic, and rural marginalities shape the larger narratives about what it means to be transgender, which continue to be dominated by white, middle-class, metropolitan-dwelling people. Additionally, I found that those gender variant people who are racially or economically marginalized created and deployed the most innovative means of self-expression. One such practice was “ciscognito” in which the gender variant person presents a gender in accord with their birth-assigned sex regardless of their own preferences or identities, in order to access spaces, employment, social services, or resources. Detailing such practices is important because through the enactment of these novel cultural practices and performances, the gender variant people in the Mid-South show that innovation and creativity occur everywhere, not just in cities and urban areas imagined to be safe and promising retreats for gender and sexual minorities. Finally, through participant observation and extensive go-along interviews with the kin members of gender variant people, I was able to share and discuss the experiences of gender variant people as part of local communities and families, as whole people with lives aside from their identification as gender variant. Innovatively, this dissertation demonstrates the ways in which entire kin networks transition as gender variant people move from one sex/gender position to another, radically altering many facets of day-to-day life for family members and friends.




Blackwood, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|Gender studies

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