Gender Essentialisms and the Abject: Understanding Transgender Identity in Jackie Kay's Trumpet

  • Laura Scott


This article focuses on the tensions between essentialist and fluid conceptions of gender identity in Jackie Kay's Trumpet (1998). Joss Moody, a Black Scottish jazz trumpeter who is posthumously revealed to have been biologically female, is constructed largely through external characterisations. The most significant of these narratives are his wife Millie's and his son Colman's. I first illustrate the importance of performativity in understanding gender identity through the work of Judith Butler. This provides context for my discussion of Millie and Joss, focused on the relationship between the pellicular and the sartorial. The narrative focus on skin and the body versus clothing serves to illustrate Millie's understanding of gender as fluid and performative. In the second section of the essay, I outline the abject and address Colman's expulsion of that which threatens his sense of self. Positing that his perception of Joss as a representative of the maternal that must be expelled in order to enter the Symbolic and constitute a self, his understanding of gender on binary terms is the key element in his internal struggle. Embarking on a journey to learn about his father's life, Colman's refocusing on personal, lived experience allows his views to align with Millie's by the end of the novel. Thereby, Kay illustrates the tension between binary and nuanced understandings of gender in Trumpet, and the method by which this can be overcome: an inclusive understanding that undermines notions of a hegemonic masculinity from which non-conformants can be excluded based on bodily attributes.

How to Cite
Scott, Laura. 2022. “Gender Essentialisms and the Abject: Understanding Transgender Identity in Jackie Kay’s Trumpet”. FORUM: University of Edinburgh Postgraduate Journal of Culture & The Arts, no. 33 (September).
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