Unbinding Turner Syndrome Identities

Author: Kamila Ciepiela (Institute of English Studies, University of Lodz, Poland)
Speaker: Kamila Ciepiela
Topic: Language, Gender, Sexuality
COMELA 2020 General Session


The study aims to linguistically explore the construction of social identity by women with Turner syndrome (TS), a genetic disorder that occurs only in females. Its main symptoms are the complete or partial absence of one of the X sex chromosomes and a short stature. While the genetic design of TS individuals seems to contradict biology, genetically TS individuals are sexless, their karyotype is feminine. Therefore, the way TS individuals construct and perform their gendered identities to fit or not dichotomous male and female prototypes is an intricate issue. The first question that arises is whether TS subjects identify with females rather than males, and if so, do they head for and support traditional discourses of femininity and female social roles or subvert them preferring postmodern feminist views of genderfree roles and positions.

Possibilities of investigation into identity construction and performance are created by narrative analysis. Michael Bamberg (2010, 2012, 2016) claims that in interaction, narrative is not only used to convey meaning and exchange information, but also to construct the identity of the interlocutors. Moreover, the way the characters are located in the story’s plot and the relationships between them allow one to make inferences about the teller’s situated positions and identities transferred into the real macro-social contexts. The location of the characters can be effectively studied by analyzing the semantic, syntactic and discursive means employed in story constructing and telling.

With a qualitative analysis of several stories delivered by Polish TS subjects in semi-structured interviews, I aim to explicate the extent to which their authors are actors in creating their own gendered identity and how they are constrained (positioned) by D-discourses. The research focuses on interactional narrative which is treated in a functional way, i.e., its formal structure is integrally associated with its use, and any deviations from it are relativized as a consequence of a user’s deliberate activity.

Bamberg, M. (2010). Blank check for biography? Openness and ingenuity in the management of the “who-am-I” question.. In D. Schiffrin, A. De Fina, & A. Nylund (Eds.), Telling stories: Language, narrative, and social life (str. 109–121). Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
Bamberg, M. (2012) Why narrative? Narrative Inquiry, 22(1), 202-210.
Bamberg, M. (2016).Narrative. In K.B. Jensen & T.T. Craig (Eds.), The International encyclopedia of communication theory and philosophy (pp. 1287-1295).Oxford, UK, Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (DOI: 10.1002/9781118766804.wbiect175)

Keywords: Discourse, identity construction, language, conversational narrative, Turner syndrome