Recent Scholarship on Trans* Surgery

TSQ_5_2_coverThe Surgery Issue,” a special issue of TSQ: Transgender Studies Quarterly edited by Eric Plemons and Chris Straayer, explores the vital and contested place of surgical intervention in the making of trans* bodies, theories, and practices. This issue engages “the surgical” in its many forms. Contributors contemplate a wide scope: physical, technical, and social aspects of the body; trans* and transition-related surgeries broadly construed; local and international endeavors; the conceptual, the theoretical, and the practical; the historical and the speculative.

Trans* surgery has been an object of fantasy, derision, refusal, and triumph. For decades after its establishment in the 1950s, clinicians considered a desire for reconstructive genital surgery to be the linchpin of the transsexual diagnosis. Drawing on earlier legacies of sexology and plastic surgery and the emerging specialties of endocrinology and surgical transplant, early emphasis on genital surgery determined clinical legibility, shaped forms of identification, produced institutional capacities, and became the object of criticism by those for whom a desire for body alterations indicated profound pathologies on the parts of patients and their willing surgeons. Subsequent contestations of the medico-surgical framework troubled the place of surgical intervention and helped mark the emergence of “transgender” as an alternative, more inclusive term for gender nonconforming subjects who were sometimes less concerned with surgical intervention.

Beginning in the 1990s, new histories of trans* clinical practice challenged the institutional claim that transsexuals were uniform in their desire for genital surgery, and trans* authors began to advocate relationships to their surgically altered bodies as sites of power rather than capitulation. Still others refused a focus on surgery-centric conceptualizations of trans* on the grounds that it obscures the conditions of how and for whom surgery is available, values Euro-American histories of transsexualism, and obfuscates the reality that trans* subjectivity might be as much about justice and rights as it is about physical transition.

Read the introduction to the issue, made freely available.

Eric Plemons, coeditor of “The Surgery Issue,” is also author of the recent book The Look of a Woman: Facial Feminization Surgery and the Aims of Trans- Medicine. Developed in the 1980s, facial feminization surgery (FFS) is a set of reconstructive surgical procedures intended to feminize the faces of trans- women. Plemons foregrounds the narratives of FFS patients and their surgeons, showing how the increasing popularity of FFS represents a shift away from genital-based conceptions of trans- selfhood. He demonstrates how FFS is changing the project of surgical sex reassignment by reconfiguring the kind of sex that surgery aims to change.

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