Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Caroline Dadas

Committee Member

Jessica Restaino

Committee Member

Monika Elbert


This thesis studies the rhetoric, visual rhetoric, and visual semiotic potential of the transgender and transsexual community by engaging with its signature rhetorical texts: its print and digital magazines. Designating the transgender/transsexual magazines, Original Plumbing and Frock Magazine as my primary texts for study, I provide three critical lenses through which to view the written and visual expression of the transgender community. The heart of this research seeks to understand how the transgender/transsexual community creates meaning by examining three aspects of its magazines: 1) the trans-rhetorical expression through articles and interviews; 2) each magazine’s aesthetic design through the lens of visual rhetoric; and 3) the visual semiotic potential of its trans-photographic imagery. Foundationally, my study includes a rhetorical examination of both the FTM (female-to-male) and MTF (male-to-female) subidentities beneath the umbrella term “transgender.” Analyzing both gendered cultures of the transgender/transsexual community allows for a more balanced approach to initiating and formatively understanding the rhetorical and visual communication created by this community.

In Chapter One, “A Rhetorical Analysis of Subjective Experiences in Transgender Magazines,” I examine the transgender experience as written in articles and interviews within Original Plumbing and Frock magazines. This chapter identifies transgender rhetoric/narrative within the context of the subjective experiences of transgender/transsexual individuals, as addressed to the audience of each magazine. What is transgender rhetoric and how does it function in this magazine or journalistic medium? This chapter explores existing works within writing studies and LGBT discourses such as Jay Prosser’s Second Skins, Jonathan Alexander’s “Transgender Rhetorics: (Re) Composing Narratives of the Gendered Body,” Mollie Blackburn’s “Exploring Literacy Performances,” among other rhetorical scholars such as James Berlin and how trans-language and identity are shaped in a social constructivist context.

Chapter Two, “Contextualizing Transgender Magazines within the Theory of Visual Rhetoric and Defining the Transgender Aesthetic: A Visual Rhetorical Analysis,” initiates a fundamental discourse concerning transgender/transsexual magazines and their ability to be read within the context of the theory of visual rhetoric. Outlining visual rhetoric’s three markers for inclusion—symbolic action, human intervention, and presence of audience—according to critic Sonja K. Foss’s essay, “Theory of Visual Rhetoric,” how might we define Original Plumbing and Frock as fitting within these markers? Drawing on the works of Anne Wysocki and Dennis Lynch in “Visual Modes of Communication,” Carolyn Handa’s Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World, Lisa Nakamura’s Digitizing Race, and Lester Faigley’s Picturing Texts, I conduct my visual analyses of each magazine as its own section within this chapter.

Chapter Three, “Through a Visual Social Semiotic Lens: ‘Body Language’ in Transgender Photographic Imagery,” studies the highly dominant and visible representations of the transgender/transsexual body within Original Plumbing and Frock Magazine. Drawing from the works of Roland Barthes, Theo van Leeuwen, and Winfried Noth, I discuss the effects of perspective, gesture, posture, and ‘body language’ within the context of transgender body representations and semiotic potential.

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