"Women's Work"? Women Partners of Transgender Men Doing Housework and Emotion Work

By Pfeffer, Carla A. | Journal of Marriage and Family, February 2010 | Go to article overview

"Women's Work"? Women Partners of Transgender Men Doing Housework and Emotion Work


Pfeffer, Carla A., Journal of Marriage and Family


Despite increasing family studies research on same-sex cohabiters and families, the literature is virtually devoid of transgender and transsexual families. To bridge this gap, I present qualitative research narratives on household labor and emotion work from 50 women partners of transgender and transsexual men. Contrary to much literature on "same-sex" couples, the division of household labor and emotion work within these contemporary families cannot simply be described as egalitarian. Further, although the forms of emotion work and "gender strategies," "family myths," and "accounts" with which womenpartners of trans men engage resonate with those from women in (non-trans) heterosexual and lesbian couples, they are also distinct, highlighting tensions among personal agency, politics, and structural inequalities in family life.

Key Words: bisexual, cohabitation, emotion work, families and work, family diversity, family structure, gay, housework/division of labor, lesbian, method, qualitative research, transgender, unpaid family work.

In 2002, a Special Status Committee convened by the Council of the American Sociological Association remarked on the discipline's "deafening silence" regarding scholarship on transgender issues and lives. Since this time, published scholarship on transgender and transsexual individuals has slowly become more common (e.g., Dozier, 2005; Girschick, 2008; Hiñes, 2006; Rubin, 2004; Schilt, 2006; Shapiro, 2004). As focus on transgender and transsexual individuals emerges in sociology, partners of transgender and transsexual individuals have not yet appeared as intelligible subjects within published sociological research. To begin addressing this silence, I present research on the shifting nature of contemporary families and family work - expanding sociological knowledge of (non-trans) heterosexual, lesbian, and gay cohabiters and families to include cohabiters and families comprised of transgender and transsexual men (henceforth referred to as "trans men") and their non-trans women partners (henceforth referred to as "women").

Transgender individuals, communities, populations, and families are quite diverse and nonmonolithic. As such, I chose to focus on constituents from one particular type of trans family configuration or form (women partners of trans men) because my aims and intention were to establish substantive knowledge on a particular population. Women partners of trans men were chosen as the subjects for this study because of their relative absence across the academic, professional, biographical, and autobiographical literatures. Further, this study focused on non-trans women because this group comprises the largest demographic of partners of trans men (Chivers & Bailey, 2000; Devor, 1993; Lewins, 2002).

To date, no nationally representative, peerreviewed data source exists on the lifetime prevalence and growth trends of transgenderism and transsexualism. As such, accurately ascertaining the size and growth of these populations remains difficult at best. Nonetheless, a sociological approach to estimating significance and growth of these communities may usefully include consideration of other social parameters such as media representation and visibility. Once confined almost exclusively to sensationalistic portrayals on television talk shows such as Jerry Springer (as chronicled by Gamson, 1 998), trans lives and realities are now receiving more serious media depiction and consideration than ever before. The lives of transgender individuals are depicted in films and documentaries such as Boys Don 't Cry (1999), Normal (2003), Soldier's Girl (2003), Transamerica (2005), and TransGeneration (2005).

Over the past 2 years alone, trans individuals and families were featured on three episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show (air dates on May 15, 2007, October 12, 2007, and April 3, 2008), which reaches an estimated 49 million viewers per week in the United States and is broadcast to 117 countries worldwide (HARPO Studios, 2008). …

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