Norms of Embodiment and Transgender Recognition: The 'Wrong Body' Problem, the Taboo on Translocation, and the Case of Henry James

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I begin with critics’ hostility towards Gilbert Osmond, notorious villain of Henry James’s The
Portrait of a Lady (1881). I identify this tradition as a response to Osmond’s identity as a trans
woman, and to the mode of embodiment that Osmond demonstrates as one possible
solution to the problem of the “wrong body.”
In the article’s first half, I sketch the status of the “wrong body” in trans studies, where the
concept is disfavoured as reproducing a repressive ideology. I contrast its characterization in

Lacanian psychoanalysis as psychotic. I demonstrate, nonetheless, in the principles of
Lacanian theory the postulation of a class of subjects whose psychical sexuation as men or
women does not match up with the symbolic sexual identity of their physical persons and
who cannot, therefore, assume their physical persons as their bodies (I term this “co-located
embodiment”). I develop a Lacanian analysis of the solution modelled by Osmond to the
“wrong body” problem: “translocated embodiment,” in which a subject assumes as their
body a sexed form other than their physical person.
In the second half, I explore the operation of translocated embodiment in the Anglo-
American leisure-class community of The Portrait of a Lady. I read the aestheticism of Gilbert
Osmond, Ralph Touchett and Edward Rosier as a historically specific instance of
translocation, and show that its social disfavour drives James’s three connoisseurs to
attempts at heterosexual courtship and matrimony whose purpose is to secure an
advantageous representation of these transgender subjects in the form of cisgender women.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNovel-A forum on fiction
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 26 Sept 2022

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