GWS News

IPRH Prize awarded to Shelby Strong

4/24/2018  8:00 am

Should We Pass on ‘Passing Women’?:

The Stakes of (Trans)gender Ontologies for Korean Namjangyeoja Dramas

Abstract:

Scholarship has gendered the protagonists of namjangyeoja dramas, South Korean live-action television dramas that focus on the lives of female-assigned people who pass as men, as “women." I argue that we must push back against this narrow reading of namjang characters and instead embrace ambiguity and plural possibilities in namjang gender representations. The widespread pattern of namjang characters being depicted as being coerced into “confessing” that they are “women” calls into question the idea that their “real” gender can only be read as female, static, and singular. Indeed, a deeper reading reveals how some namjang protagonists are portrayed as identifying as gender non-binary and gender fluid. I propose that using “transgender” and “namjangyeoja” in conjunction with each other can help us orient to transgender possibilities in namjang dramas and illuminate how the pervasive practice of using “namjangyeoja” to categorize performances of gender nonconformity by female-assigned people is imbricated with institutionalized forms of transphobic heteronormative familism in South Korea. Ultimately, I argue that we must be vigilant about how our choice to affirm certain ontologies (e.g., “namjangyeoja”) over others (e.g., “transgender”) enacts epistemological forms of violence that support larger, institutionalized projects of death by exclusion and illegibility.