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Transitioning gender and sexuality in

child-adult conversations
or
The language of cisnormativity
Stina Ericsson
stina.ericsson@lnu.se
IGALA 9

Marika: why did you say daddy to
a girl
Sara:
no that
Marika: is that daddy it’s a girl
Sara:
no
Marika: yes because (x that is) do
boys have purple (so) do
boys have purple sweaters
do boys have (that nice)
no it’s a girl
Sara:
stop

Genderism (Hornscheidt 2012, Wojahn 2015)
– The structure of discrimination that re_constructs gender
Realisation

The idea that

Categorial gendering

All human beings are gendered

Binary gendering

There are two, and only two, mutually exclusive
gender categories

Cisgendering

The following are unambiguous, uniform, and stable
over time:
gender assignment, gender role, gender identity, and
gender presentation (cf. Zimman 2015)

Androgendering

Masculinity is the norm

Heterogendering

Heterosexuality is the norm

Reprogendering

Reproduction is part of what is normal

Ø Dependencies, intersections

More on cisgenderism
•  The rendering of “woman” and “man” as stable, normative,
ubiquitous (Enke 2013: 243)
•  A culture/ideology predominantly tacitly held and communicated
•  difficult to recognise, hard to understand its effects (Kennedy
2013)
Ø  How can we study expressions of cisgenderism? What can we find
out about cisgenderism through studying language/interactions?

Method and material
•  The Daddy, daddy, child project
•  Norms and changing norms surrounding family and intimate
relationships in talk between children and parents
•  Today’s Sweden: varying family forms, same-sex marriage,
reproduction technologies, etc.
•  Participants
•  13 families, incl. 23 children aged 5–8 years
•  Single mothers by choice through insemination/IVF, same-sex
and different-sex parental couples, parents living together and
not, and parents who are married and not

Method and material
•  Data collected using a purpose-designed app
•  Records audio and logs multimodal events
•  Used in the home whenever the families
wanted, and for as many times and as long as
they wished
•  Images, spoken questions and other
utterances by a character called “Moi”, and
simple animation

Questions to the material
•  Identification of instances of troubling gender identities in the
conversations
•  i.e. sequences where the interaction involves the re-assignment of
gender and/or the questioning of a particular gendering
•  or where the assignment of a particular gender is otherwise
interactionally highlighted
•  What is it that is the target of troubling/explicitly made gender?
•  What reasons are given, when such are given, for seeing something as
X? (e.g. which aspects of gender presentation)
•  How is the negotiation done?

The prevalence of gendering
•  Categorial and binary gendering are both prerequisites of
cisgendering
•  Both very common in the material
•  “who’s that (.) is that her t- to the right”
•  “baby brother (.) baby (.) mummy: (.) daddy: grandma and
(.) grandpa”
•  Differences of opinion
•  Parent: what’s he called the first one
•  Child: but he’s a GI::RL

Explicitly not gendering
• 
• 
• 
• 

Father:
William:
Father:
William:

has that person said what that person is called
yes
what’s that person called
@@ don’t remember

•  Challenging categorial, binary and cis gendering?
•  Not gendering – linguistically marked
•  Affirms the norm

William, 7, and
father

William, 7, and
father

F: who are they
W: daddy mummy little brother him ’n’ big sister

F: I think she’s called Monika she’s called Katrin …


F: by the way I called that person Monika …
is that a girl or a boy
W: boy
F: look carefully go closer
W: it’s a girl
F: how do you know that
W: ☺because it’s got such big boobs☺

F: did it turn out wrong can- are there families that look like that
W: yeah yeah there are- no no should we go back and change it
F: there are families that look like that there are families wi- where the
parents both are girls so it’s not completely wrong but you thought it
was a boy right that’s why you took it

William, 7, and father
F: who are they
W: daddy mummy little brother him ’n’ big sister

F: I think she’s called Monika she’s called Katrin …

F: by the way I called that person Monika … is that a girl or a boy
W: boy
F: look carefully go closer
Categorial
W: it’s a girl
gendering
F: how do you know that
W: ☺because it’s got such big boobs☺

Binary
gendering

F: did it turn out wrong can- are there families that look like that
W: yeah yeah there are- no no should be go back and change it
F: there are families that look like that there are families wi- where the parents both are girls so
it’s not completely wrong but you thought it was a boy right that’s why you took it

William, 7, and father
F: who are they
W: daddy mummy little brother him ’n’ big sister

F: I think she’s called Monika she’s called Katrin …

F: by the way I called that person Monika … is that a girl or a boy
W: boy
F: look carefully go closer
W: it’s a girl
F: how do you know that
W: ☺because it’s got such big boobs☺

Heterogendering

F: did it turn out wrong can- are there families that look like that
W: yeah yeah there are- no no should be go back and change it
F: there are families that look like that there are families wi- where the parents both are girls so
it’s not completely wrong but you thought it was a boy right that’s why you took it

William, 7, and father
F: who are they
W: daddy mummy little brother him ’n’ big sister

F: I think she’s called Monika she’s called Katrin …

F: by the way I called that person Monika … is that a girl or a boy
W: boy
F: look carefully go closer
W: it’s a girl
F: how do you know that
W: ☺because it’s got such big boobs☺

Cisgendering

F: did it turn out wrong can- are there families that look like that
W: yeah yeah there are- no no should be go back and change it
F: there are families that look like that there are families wi- where the parents both are girls so
it’s not completely wrong but you thought it was a boy right that’s why you took it

William, 7, and father
F: who are they
W: daddy mummy little brother him ’n’ big sister

•  Discursive, sequential
use of categorial,
binary and cis
gendering in reasoning
about heterogendering

F: I think she’s called Monika she’s called Katrin …

F: by the way I called that person Monika … is that a girl or a boy
W: boy
F: look carefully go closer
W: it’s a girl
F: how do you know that
W: ☺because it’s got such big boobs☺

F: did it turn out wrong can- are there families that look like that
W: yeah yeah there are- no no should be go back and change it
F: there are families that look like that there are families wi- where the parents both are girls so
it’s not completely wrong but you thought it was a boy right that’s why you took it

Hannes, 8, and father

Hannes, 8, and father

•  Moi:

here comes a family look at the pictures and tell a
story about what happens when they eat breakfast

• 


•  Hannes:
•  Father:
•  Hannes:

the dog’s asleep (.) m: mummy’s really tired so she looks
like a guy and is holding coffee and a mug (.) and eh
@@@ continue @@@@ it’s really good @@@
@@@

Hannes, 8, and father

•  Hannes:

… mummy’s really tired so she looks like a guy …

•  Difference identity/assignment – presentation
•  Cisgendering challenged to preserve heterogendering

Cisgendering – giving justifications
•  “is that a daddy I think it looks like she’s got breasts”
•  “☺because it’s got such big boobs☺ … and and you can see that it’s
a little smaller than the other guys”
•  “it’s a gigantic nose”
•  “do boys have purple (so) do boys have purple sweaters do boys have
(that nice) no it’s a girl”
•  “because he has like these clothes looks (ri-) looks like it’s a boy
though his face looks more like a boy”

Violations against gender norms
Mother:
Matilda:
Mother:
Matilda:
Mother:
Matilda:

Mother:
Matilda:

and then
that’s the daddy ⌈who’s him
⌊da- daddy with boobs
☺yeah daddy with boobs☺
@@@ ☺yeah☺ @@
@@@
☺so what’s his name☺
his name’s Burt-on

Violations against gender norms
Mother:
Matilda:
Mother:
Matilda:
Mother:
Matilda:

Mother:
Matilda:

and then
that’s the daddy ⌈who’s him
⌊da- daddy with boobs
☺yeah daddy with boobs☺
@@@ ☺yeah☺ @@
@@@
☺so what’s his name☺
his name’s Burt-on

•  A dad/male with
breasts is to be
laughed at, not
taken seriously

Violations against gender norms

Violations against gender norms

• “but why does she have a tie”
• “why doesn’t she have a dress”
• “I think she’s the prettiest her with the dress she
doesn’t have a dress”

Ø Accountability, the unanticipated, nonnormative as that which needs to be explained
(Scott & Lyman 1968, Sterponi 2009)
Ø The desirability of certain bodies

Concluding discussion
• 

• 
• 

Categorial and Binary gendering – both prerequisites for Cisgendering –
prevalent and dominant
•  Differences of opinion never resolved by anything other than one of two
genders, no gender-neutral pronoun used
•  Note, however: “☺yeah daddy with boobs☺” (in some ways
transgressing, in other ways not)
•  “Binary gendering makes everything else unthinkable,
unintelligible” (Hornscheidt 2015: 34)
Cisnormativity – implicit like many other norms (cf. Kitzinger’s (2005)
heterosexuality as a taken-for-granted background resource)
Cisgenderism reflected and (re)created through several different linguistic
means
•  Marked non-gendering, smiles and laughter, arguments and reasoning
through several utterances, the non-normative held accountable

References
Enke, AF (2013) The education of little Cis: Cisgender and the discipline of opposing bodies. In S.
Stryker and A. Aizura (eds) The Transgender Studies Reader 2. Pp. 234–247.
Hornscheidt, L (2012) feministische w_orte: ein lern-, denk- und handlungsbuch zu sprache und
diskriminierung, gender studies und feministischer linguistik. Frankfurt am Main: Brandes & Apsel.
Hornscheidt, L (2015) Trans_x_ing linguistic actions and linguistics. In J Magnusson, K Milles & Z
Nikolaidou (eds) Könskonstruktioner och språkförändringar: Rapport från den åttonde nordiska
konferensen om språk och kön. Huddinge: Södertörns högskola. 29–46.
Kennedy, N (2013) Cultural cisgenderism: Consequences of the imperceptible. Psychology of Women
Section Review 15(2).
Kitzinger, C (2005) ‘Speaking as a heterosexual’: (How) does sexuality matter for talk-in-interaction?
Research on Language and Social Interaction 38(3): 221–65.
Scott, MB & Lyman, SM (1968) Accounts. American Sociological Review 33(1): 46–62.
Sterponi, L (2009) Accountability in family discourse: Socialization into norms and standards and
negotiation of responsibility in Italian dinner conversations. Childhood 16(4): 441–459.
Wojahn, D (2015) Språkaktivism: Diskussioner om feministiska språkförändringar i Sverige från 1960talet till 2015. PhD thesis. Uppsala: Uppsala University.