Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2019

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Communication Studies

First Advisor

Kang, Jiyeon

First Committee Member

Nabhan-Warren, Kristy

Second Committee Member

Wanzer-Serrano, Darrel

Third Committee Member

Hingstman, David

Fourth Committee Member

Cram, E


Given the rates of discrimination against transgender people and the flaws inherent in existing models of coexistence and allyship, I offer two main concepts to improve trans allyship. First, an ethic of responsible listening, which I explain as the process of opening up discursive spaces for transgender voices to be heard and responded to, based on an obligation to craft dialogue and to recognize trans people as people. In tandem with listening, then, is its result, ally labor: a category of complex practices without guarantee that seek to benefit transgender lives through a process of cis people leveraging their privilege to enable trans people to better navigate systems of oppression.

I work through two theoretical questions to help solve the problems with existing theories of allyship: First, how might we move towards more affirming modes of coexistence that allow for difference with the goal of recognizing transgender people as equal members of society? And second, how might we practice allyship differently through listening to voices that have traditionally been marginalized?

Working through these questions, I critique existing coexistence discourses and look toward modes of enacting a more productive discourse of allyship. In order to move beyond understandings of allyship that focus on identity categories, diversity and inclusion discourses, institutional response, and education, we can think of allyship differently, as an ethical orientation that facilitates those who are different from one another living and existing together. I forward a rhetoric of allyship through this dissertation, which I define as the discourses that circulate, modify, and extend the meanings of allies and ally labor, a rhetoric that works to understand how trans and cis people can better coexist together, given an intervention that focuses on trans vernacular voices in order to build and maintain this rhetoric. Intervening rhetorically allows a focus on the ways that discourses are malleable, contingent, and balance the universal and particular.

In order to do so, I analyze a variety of texts: from popular media coverage of trans celebrities and fictional film and televisual representations to understand the ambivalence of visibility, to ally training manuals from colleges and universities across the United States to parse through the logics of ally training programs, to blogs, zines, and online magazines that craft definitions of solidarity from activists, ending with an qualitative analysis of interviews with 13 transgender people in order to better understand the unique and varied needs of trans people to craft a more holistic version of allyship.


ally, allyship, transgender


ix, 239 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 223-237).


Copyright © 2019 Hannah Lee Johnson