Rebeka Põldsam will defend her doctoral thesis „„Why are we still abnormal?!” History of discourses on non-normative sex-gender subjects in Estonia“

On 11 December at 15:00 Rebeka Põldsam will defend her doctoral thesis „„Why are we still abnormal?!” History of discourses on non-normative sex-gender subjects in Estonia“.
 

Supervisors: Prof. Ene Kõresaar (Tartu Ülikool), Prof. Raili Marling (Tartu Ülikool)

Opponents: Dr Tuula Juvonen (Tampere University),  Dr Andrés Brink Pinto (Lund University)  

Summary

Dissertation ““Why are we still abnormal?!” History of discourses on non-normative sex-gender subjects in Estonia” analyses how notions of homosexuality and transgender identities have been conceptualised and changed over the past one hundred years. I study the representations of sex-gender minorities in public discourse (print media, laws and sexual education handbooks). In addition to public materials I studied individual accounts, which I found through a diverse set of archival sources, interviews, memoirs and participant observations. Each article focuses on a distinct period – interwar Estonia, Soviet Estonia, during the transition period of independence and in the twenty-first century – in the case of which I outline and examine dominant discourses on non-normative sex-gender subjects.

Drawing on feminist theorist Karen Barad's agential realism, I propose an analytic model for diffractive reading of public discourses and personal stories, by juxtaposing and reading them through one another to study their entangled meanings. The analysis shows that in each studied period, the non-normative sex-gender subject has been constructed in a particular way, which in turn has created different experiences and subjectivities. The dominant discourse is mostly shaped by the laws and science regulating gender expression and sexual behaviour, which repeatedly reinterpreted the norms of sexuality and sexuality over the twentieth century.

The Soviet era had a most extensive impact on the representation of non-normative sex-gender subjects. In Soviet Estonia male homosexuality was criminalised and conflated with sexual abuse, while female homosexuality and gender diversity were generally silenced. Trans-people who found ways to transition were required to hide it. The Soviet regime attempted to erase non-normative sex-gender subjects from its society, similarly to several other topics, and it succeeded in marginalising the history of sex-gender minorities’ lives from the interwar period, and continues to shape the twenty-first century discourses on sex-gender normativity for many. At the same time, the analysis shows that the discourses on non-normative sex-gender subjects have been shaped by international developments and politics throughout the 1920s–2020s.

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