Accepted paper:

Conceptions of the transgender brain: from binary, sex reversed and pathological to something beyond?


Linda Weichselbraun (University of Gothenburg)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on field notes, documents and interviews, I highlight how the `transgender brain´ has been researched and conceptualized in the last two decades, and how such conceptions reflect and impinge on understandings of sex/gender, transgender identity and boundaries between health/pathology.

Paper long abstract:

In the last decades, the `sexed brain´ has become a major focus of attention in Western culture, and since the mid-90s neuroscience has produced a number of prominent studies concerned with the brains of transgender persons. Critical engagement with neuroscientific knowledge production from feminist and STS perspectives has demonstrated how scientific claims about `male´ and `female´ brains both influence and are influenced by various constructions of sex/gender, and how these have social implications. However, how the neuroscience of transgender impacts understandings of sex/gender, transgender identity and the boundary between health and pathology is still not extensively addressed within STS research. This paper focusses on the `transgender brain´ as an epistemic object; an object that neuroscience asks questions and produces knowledge about. Drawing on empirical data including documents and field notes from events where the `transgender brain´ has been presented and discussed, as well as interviews with transgender individuals, activists, clinicians and neuroscientists, the paper discusses changing conceptualizations and understandings of the `transgender brain´ during the last two decades. By demonstrating the contingency of such conceptualizations - from a binary, sex reversed and pathological brain to something beyond that - the paper aims to contribute to a wider discussion of how science, technologies, bodies, discourses and healthcare needs contribute to produce, shape, challenge and give meaning to conceptions of the `transgender brain´.

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Discovery, discussion and decision
Medicine meets the sexed body: Discovering, diagnosing, producing and shaping