(F08)
Medicine meets the sexed body: Discovering, diagnosing, producing and shaping
Location Welcome Centre Lecture Theatre 4
Date and Start Time 28 Jul, 2018 at 09:30
Sessions 1

Convenors

  • David Andrew Griffiths (University of Surrey) email
  • Sorcha Ui Chonnachtaigh (Keele University) email

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Short abstract

Western biomedicine has historically worked within a strict binary model of sex and gender, pathologizing those forms of embodiment that do not fit. This panel will open discussions about historical and current 'meetings' that shape and produce both medicine and the sexed body.

Long abstract

While Western biomedicine and law have tended to work within a strict, hierarchical binary model of sex and gender, not all bodies fit this model. Historically, these forms of embodiment have been pathologized by medicine. In parallel, medicine has pathologized - and the law has sometimes criminalised - sexual and gender identities that challenge binary sex-gender norms.

The medico-scientific 'discovery' of different forms of sexed embodiment since the 18th Century has resulted in the appropriation of deliberation and decisions about those bodies by medical professionals. The challenges and uncertainty raised by the sexed body have largely been managed within medicine ever since. For example, cosmetic surgeries on intersex infants to 'normalise' their genitals continue despite decades of activism. People of trans and/or non-binary experience however, while often over-medicalised and pathologized, are still struggling to have basic healthcare needs met.

In this panel, we want to open discussion about both historical and current 'meetings'. These may include those between doctors and patients, between law and medicine, between science and activism or, expanding the scope of the panel, between any of the diverse human and non-human agencies that produce and shape medicine and the sexed body. We recognise the contingent and overlapping nature of these categories and acknowledge the ongoing activism is attempting to protect and empower individuals with historically pathologized bodies. We welcome interest and submissions from academics, activists, artists, and others with an interest in this field.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Medicine meets the intersex body: the creation of sex and the creation of a disorder

Author: Sorcha Ui Chonnachtaigh (Keele University) email
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Short abstract

The work of Karkazis (2008) unequivocally shows the medical invention of sex (in modern times) and the work of Dreger (1998) demonstrates that when the intersex body meets with "medical men", it is the subject of examination, fascination, and dispute. Ultimately, medics decide the "true" sex.

Long abstract

The work of Karkazis (2008) unequivocally demonstrates the medical invention of sex (in modern times) and the work of Dreger (1998) has shown that when the intersex(ed) body meets with "medical men", it is the subject of examination, fascination, and dispute. More recently, medical professionals have moved away from the historical and pejorative term hermaphroditism to Disorders of Sexual Development. This terminology may seem scientific, medical but the focus on sex ought to be interrogated. The focus on sex and the sexual function of the intersex body makes the intersex person's sex itself disordered. Medical attention and intervention may well be required for medical problems affecting health and physical function. Sex is not the proper subject of medical investigation and categorisation. Using Foucault and others, I will show that sex is as much a social construction as gender and, thus, not the business of medicine.

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

Author: Linda Weichselbraun (University of Gothenburg) email
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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.

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´.

When technology meets nature in the production of gendered bodies: the case of breast re/construction

Author: Cinzia Greco (University of Manchester) email
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Short abstract

In this presentation, I explore the way in which cosmetic and reconstructive surgery of the breast contribute to naturalize the breast as an anatomical part deemed to distinguish women from men. I analyse how the "obvious" naturality of the breast is used to justify complex surgical operations.

Long abstract

The breast is among the anatomical parts deemed to distinguish women from men and is symbolically linked to the maternal and care roles that women are expected to take. The "obvious" naturality of the breast is rooted in the zoological taxonomy through the terms "mammals", as shown by the historian Londa Schiebinger. The rhetoric of the women's breast as natural also pervades the different cosmetic operations, and even the reconstructive surgical operations performed after a breast cancer diagnosis and a mastectomy. In this presentation, drawing on an extensive ethnographic research on cosmetic and reconstructive surgery of the breast, both in France and in Italy, I will explore how cosmetic operations that need significant technical skills and equipment are justified, both by medical professional and patients, with ideas linked with the naturality of the female breast. The rhetoric does not take into consideration the anatomical variety of this part of the body - many women do not have an evident breast while several men have developed breast tissue - thus reinforcing the perception that the breast can distinguish the female body from the male one. The result of this paradoxical meeting between surgical technology and nature is the construction - both practical and ideal - of this district of the body, supported by the idea of the female breast as "natural".

Intersex and the ethics of exclusion: choosing, postponing and cutting

Author: David Andrew Griffiths (University of Surrey) email
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Short abstract

In this paper I read infant genital surgeries through Barad's agential realism. Choosing to perform surgery or not are different kinds of agential cuts. I will align Barad's ethics of exclusion Morland's ethics of uncertainty to think of choosing surgery beyond "doing something" vs "doing nothing".

Long abstract

In this paper I will consider both exceptions and exclusions, and will read the decision to perform infant genital surgeries through Karen Barad's agential realism. Individuals born with variations of sex characteristics have historically been seen as unfortunate exceptions to the gender binary. Activists and scholars have conceptualised the intersex body as a 'site of exception', which justifies 'normalising' surgery to uphold the sex/gender binary, and which excludes intersex infants from human rights. Anne Tamar-Mattis (2013) has suggested that the legal framework of the 'categorical exception' could be useful to rethink the rule of parent-doctor medical decision-making for intersex infants. Choosing to allow surgical cuts is an agential cut, to the exclusion of other possibilities. Surgical cuts cleave healthy tissue from the body in order to cleave the individual more tightly to the sex/gender binary; these cuts also often cleave the individual to a life of further medical interventions. Yet choosing not to perform surgery is also a kind of cut; however in this paper I will argue that this cut is to the exclusion of surgery, and opens up worlds of possibility. In this respect I will align Barad's ethics of exclusion with Iain Morland's ethics of uncertainty to rethink the language of choice around surgeries: too often presented as "doing something" vs "doing nothing", when each choice has the potential to be a life-altering, world-making cut.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.