Towards a Queer Feminist Vernacular: Dr Katharina Lindner’s Film Bodies

by: & So Mayer with Davina Quinlivan , May 15, 2019

© Book Cover: Katharina Lindner (2018) Film Bodies: Queer Feminist Encounters with Gender and Sexuality in Cinema
Katharina Lindner (photo reproduced with permission of Laura Montgomery)


Generosity, interconnectedness and hope are so prominent in Katharina (Kat) Lindner’s scholarship that to celebrate her work is to bring the necessity and power of these three, often critically undervalued, qualities in mind. Equally as highly-accomplished an athlete as she was a brilliant film and gender scholar, Kat brought together incredible physical, emotional and psychological acuity in her writing. Her forms of knowledge spread across intellectual, social, affective and kinaesthetic planes, both resistant to dominant formations and simultaneously, centripetally hopeful for a time where cinematic embodiment might breathe more freely beyond the heteronormative constraints of binary gender.

Over the last fifteen years, Kat wrote unwaveringly in the service of developing a new vocabulary that made it possible to understand and articulate the diverse ways that gendered bodies live in the world, with a particular and special attention to those bodies which do not ‘fit’–that is, conform to binary norms–both on- and off-screen. Kat’s writing on ‘non-fitting’ bodies remains just as compelling in the present moment. The recent ruling by the IAAF that outstandingly gifted South African athlete Mokgadi Caster Semenya should medically suppress her natural testosterone levels in order to continue competing internationally, a ruling that ignores scientific evidence on the complex, non-definitional role of testosterone in both sex/gender identity and in sporting achievement [1], has been rightly identified by many as prompted by colonialist assumptions about binary sex/gender that are racist and transphobic. These assumptions are neither new nor unexpected: there is a long history of the abuse and exploitation of black women’s bodies in medical science. [2] But the ways in which sports operate as a microcosm of socio-cultural attitudes, particularly toward gender, is an issue upon which Kat has written extensively.

Eight years ago, Kat was already writing about women’s sport and its challenges to social constructions of gender through the physical and phenomenological embodiment of its athletes. On the introduction of female boxing to the 2012 Olympics, Kat wrote about the significance of this moment as demonstrative of ‘ways of ‘being in the world’ that unhinge, in the most fundamental of ways, binary understandings of the gendered body’. [3] The gender/queerness of her work, and its feminism, take a powerful orientation away from binaries and centres, and towards more subtle paths, margins and entanglements.

Kat examines bodily screen performances as a site of embodied, muscular, affective and kinaesthetic knowledge in her monograph Film Bodies: Queer Feminist Encounters with Gender and Sexuality in Cinema, where moving (physically) is always connected to moving and being moved emotionally. The book is not only an eloquent exploration of queer and feminist phenomenologies from philosophical, psychological and cinematic perspectives; it also applies these hybrid phenomenologies (thoughtfully, gently) to reveal the nuanced ways of being in the world undertaken by variously gendered on-screen bodies in contemporary queer cinema. Her analyses range across independent and arthouse cinemas transnationally and contextually, from the queer kinaesthesia of Sally Potter’s filmmaker-dancer protagonist in The Tango Lesson (1997) and Natalie Portman’s doubling performances in Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, 2010), to the temporally-lagged, post-athletic body of Laurie in 2 Seconds (Manon Briand, 1998), from the six cross-dressing central female characters of Jafar Panahi’s Offside (2006) both tense and tentative, to the (non)binary undoings of Céline Sciamma’s films Tomboy (2011) and Girlhood (2014). Each one pays intimate attention to the entangled and twisted natures of queer bodily movement, texture, proximity and sensation within the specific national and cultural contexts of each film. The book’s ultimate aim is both gentle and radical, offering ‘a reorientation, not just of film criticism … but of phenomenological film criticism (by (at)tending to the variously twisted dimensions of embodiment) [in order to] grasp the queer feminist tendencies that variously surface’. [4]

Film Bodies is bookended with a beautiful proposition: that the bodily work of intellectual labour undertaken therein is a way of talking about, and moving towards, the recognition of a queer feminist vernacular threaded through in cinema, and in the wider cultural sphere. Adapted from Brett Farmer’s concept of ‘vernacular queerness’ [5], and with typical generosity, Kat (exactly) fleshes out this term and brings it into a new context, describing it, with reference to Kara Keeling’s term for queer Black femme perception, as a mode that ‘takes shape, and makes (un)common sense, through cinema’s embeddedness within broader socio-cultural constellations of embodiment and affect.’ [6] Delicately, and perhaps most innovatively of all, she indicates the fragile ecologies of community that might emerge via ‘a communal sense of a shared sense-sibility … these modes of embodiment [which] cohere around the felt experience of marginality, spatio-temporal containment … corporeal resistance, refusal and resilience; around the reshaping and reorienting of not only bodies but worlds.’ [7]

Connecting itself carefully and precisely through its vocabulary and syntax to the work of queer feminist scholars of colour such as Keeling and Sara Ahmed, Kat’s writing builds worlds, perpetually reshaping and reorienting previous forms in order to create something new. Her queer feminist vernacular is just one example of her meticulous acknowledgement of the work of other writers, situating herself within a constellation of others, and mutually entangled within them. And yet in acknowledging these constellations, she continues to produce thought anew. Following in the vein of Ahmed’s approaches to citation, Kat writes that ‘Citation networks and transmissions are important indicators of how the queer/feminist body of work that underpins this book has taken shape over time. I acknowledge these interconnections by citing not only original sources but also the works that have brought these sources into my conceptual, political, affective horizon.’ [8] This short comment, at the start of the footnotes that underpin the book, speaks again to Kat’s generosity and her intense awareness of interconnectedness. Film Bodies is a conversation in multiple directions, thus — like the queer feminist body in 2 Seconds— defying a straight insistence on linear time. Speaking with her critical peers as with filmmakers and performers, Kat also centres her work of curation and advocacy with the pioneering Scottish Queer International Film Festival, with a sense of open, flowing discourse where audience members, filmmakers, critics and curators queerly exchange both roles and ideas.

It is inevitable to dream of future thoughts Kat might have had and how she might have further embellished her unique reflection on communities and interconnectedness, embodied cultures and queer cinematic bodies. However, rather than rehearsing or silently tracking those thoughts and questions that were once ready to be gently put to Kat, it is still possible to enter into the constellation of ideas through which we can imaginatively continue alongside her, opening up new encounters with film which foster a queer feminist vernacular. A vernacular is by definition grassroots, networked, collaborative, material and ‘from below’, directed towards speaking with and in a community, not towards institutions. Vernaculars are thus oriented towards sharing, rather than accruing knowledge and/or power. In the context of the upcoming 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, we can perhaps think analogously how the specific skills of players mesh non-hierarchically for the game, creating that sense of synchronicity and collaborative flow unique to and yet ubiquitous in sport, dance and music. An intersectional queer feminist vernacular would be led by those with the most acuity for the way bodies are conformed or resist conforming, because they have the sharpest and most valuable ‘read’ on the field. In this way, Kat’s work opens itself out to the field, precisely in search of a collaborative team which is upheld and supported by the contributions of all of its members, and particularly those most attuned to the conforming demands and distortions of social-embodied orders.

The distinctive cadence of Kat’s scholarly voice will still be drawn out via gender/queer aspects of physicality, endurance and kineaesthetics in those films to come, and via the scholarship and criticism to come. These moments of intervention become all the more important in relation to trans visibility, including, for example, the critiques of the transphobic gaze in Lukas Dhont’s Girl (2018) [9], and the manipulation of QTIPOC labour in Ryan Murphy’s television series Pose (2019), which draws extensively on Jennie Livingston’s Paris Is Burning (1990). [10] Conversations continue about past and emergent communities, as do the tentative ecologies which resist and persist in spite of the oppressive regimes and structures which they inhabit. Kat’s name will no doubt appear, an index of multiple constellations, as she is brought into these new conversations.

And this is the most important way to write about Kat herself: not as a person in the past tense, who is gone inconceivably soon, but a scholar, thinker, and writer in the present and future, whose work persists and endures, brings forth new growth, and reveals itself to the communities that surround her. What remains of her is in her writing, and also in the constellations of bodies who extend warmth and grief at her absence, and who derive hope, interconnectedness and generosity from her writing. As a scholar and friend, Kat’s quiet, interrogatory rigour drew others toward her, to listen with her. In turn, her ways of attending to cinematic bodies, mediatised bodies, sporting, athletic, dancing, queer and trans- bodies, reveal gentle insight and hopeful compassion for the possibility of a world in which marginal, ‘non-fitting’ bodies might create their own communal space. And in the constellations who are connected through her, there is both spaciousness, and love.



[1] See Katrina Karkazis’ illuminating article, ‘Stop talking about testosterone–there’s no such thing as a ‘true sex’’, The Guardian, 6 March 2019, (last accessed 5 May 2019).

[2] With many thanks to Karel Green, Seher Tariq & Pruthvi Mehta for their discussions of the undercelebrated lives of people of colour in STEM via POC Squared (last accessed 5 May 2019). See also Skloot, Rebecca (2011), The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Crown Publishing.

[3] Lindner, Katharina (2012), ‘Women’s Boxing at the 2012 Olympics: Gender trouble?’, Feminist Media Studies, Vol. 12, No. 3, p. 467 (464-467).

[4] Lindner, Katharina (2018), Film Bodies: Queer Feminist Encounters with Gender and Sexuality in Cinema, London: IB Tauris, p. 245.

[5] Farmer, Brett (2011), ‘Loves of Siam: Contemporary Thai Cinema and Vernacular Queerness,’ in Peter Jackson (ed.), Queer Bangkok: Twenty-First Century Markets, Media and Rights, Aberdeen & Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, p. 85.

[6] Lindner, Film Bodies, p. 248.

[7] Lindner, Film Bodies, p. 250.

[8] Lindner, Film Bodies, p. 251.

[9] See, for instance, Brennan, Cathy (2018), ‘It’s winning awards, but Girl is no victory for trans representation,’BFI features, 30 October 2018, (last accessed 10 May 2019) & Maclay, Willow (2019), ‘The Right Kind of Transgender Representation’, Patreon, 17 March 2019, (last accessed 10 May 2019).

[10] See Martin, Alfred L. Jr (2018), ‘Pose(r): Ryan Murphy, Trans and Queer of Colour Labor, and the Politics of Representation’, LA Review of Books, 2 August 2018,! (last accessed 10 May 2019).

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