Archives for posts with tag: medicalization

Somehow on Thursday we managed to find ourselves talking about the curiosity kids have when they’re in their teenage years. We talked about how kids that are home-schooled are usually sheltered to the point where they’ll do just about anything to know what’s going on outside of the world they know. I couldn’t help but relate this to my high school years because I went to a Pre-Professional Ballet Performing Arts Conservatory my junior and senior years of high school. I’d go to public school until noon and then I’d drive to the conservatory for the rest of the day/night  to take ballet classes. The conservatory offered academics but I was already set comfortably with my friends and life at my public high school so I just came after the academic portion of the day was complete. I was the only one who traveled from another school so my life at public high school was a mystery to everyone at the conservatory. Boys, dances, co-ed lunches…everything that I had understood to be everyday life was so intriguing to these girls. I’d fulfill their curiosities by telling them about the latest drama at our school or who was caught kissing someone’s boyfriend in the back hallway. They hadn’t ever experienced anything like a public high school before and so they had no idea what to even think about it.

Just as my friends at the conservatory hadn’t any idea of what public high school was like, our society used to not have any idea about intersexed individuals at all. In class we talked the concept of visuality. This process of actually looking at intersex bodies was what seemingly sparked an explosion of human hermaphrodites. Dreger talks about on page 25 how because gynecology was flourishing as a sub-discipline, midwifery was becoming less and less popular. With the devalorization of  midwifery and home births, medicine was becoming more and more apparent in the births of children. The medical community was much more apt to catching these “disorders of sex development,” so intersex conditions weren’t going as unnoticed as they had previously been. The idea of a hermaphrodite violates the logic of sexual dimorphism and this makes our culture and society uncomfortable. Unfortunately, instead of developing a nonsexually dimorphic understanding of bodies, the medical community chose to create pseudo hermaphrodites and completely over-medicalize these conditions.

The over-medicalization of these conditions, I believe, is what has made the stigma around these conditions so negative. Wouldn’t it be so much better to treat these intersex conditions just as normal and everyday as let’s say high blood pressure? It’s something that some people have to deal with but it’s no reason to make someone feel uncomfortable or ashamed of it. America is a society of the motto, “more is better” so….shouldn’t being intersex and having more sex organs be in fact seen as a good and impressive thing? It’s definitely something to think about.

Jenna Wise

After researching sex reassignment surgery, I found the standard of care for gender identity disorder. As mentioned in class and Spade’s article, the medical considerations and standard of care for sex reassignment surgery is much more in depth and complicated than any other elective plastic surgery. For example, a breast augmentation (the most popular procedure) is easy to acquire. There are numerous doctors (and imposters) that are more than willing to perform a breast augmentation. Some plastic surgeons are willing to work out a payment plan! While a breast augmentation is seen as a rather routine procedure, patients still have horror stories about their experience with the “routine” procedure. There are countless woman that regret their decision to have a breast augmentation and many have the implants removed. “Fear” that sex reassignment patients will regret their surgery leads to such extensive medical consideration while breast augmentation does not. Why is it so difficult for individuals who desire a sex change to undergo surgery? The procedure is much more invasive and life-changing than a simple breast enlargement but the reasoning is even more compelling than wanting to “enhance” one’s looks and proportion or land a modeling/acting gig or seem even more feminine and desirable. (I have nothing against wanting to enhance one’s look/appeal to bolster confidence in one’s body.) It seems rather superficial to want to enhance your outward appearance. So why then is it so difficult for those that want to enhance their outward appearance as well as there inward to bolster confidence through sex reassignment surgery?

Another interesting thing about breast augmentations is that the manufacturers of the implants do not undergo rigorous testing to ensure that their product is safe inside a human body. Many implants erupt, leak, and adhere to tissues of the body. This poses many health risks. Women have reported flu-like symptoms, neck and back pain, blurry vision, insomnia, anxiety, dizziness, chronic fatigue, COPD, IBS, connective tissue disease, and the possible symptoms go on.  These patients are not even required to see their plastic surgeon annually or schedule follow up appointments (unless complications occur immediately). The FDA is currently investigating the effectiveness of the protocols surrounding breast implants and procedures. If so much time and effort is put into studying and analyzing date surrounding an elective procedure, why not for sex reassignment surgery?  Breast implants are almost guaranteed to fail within a patient’s lifetime. About 80% of implants fail within 10 years of insertion. The more I looked into a breast augmentation the more I realized that the seemingly routine and low risk surgical procedure posed high risks after all. It even guaranteed failure and required more surgeries every 5 to 10 years to replace the silicone implants. It does not seem fair to require extensive mental and physical examinations for an elective surgery such as gender reassignment when voluntary procedures are done by the thousands daily that present many complications to both mental and physical health too.

FDA panels put silicone breast implants back under microscope:

Standard of Care for GID:

Sex Reassignment Surgery:


I’ve known since I was in the 5th grade that my dad was a “sex addict.”  This may seem like adult information that perhaps a 10 year-old shouldn’t know about, but my parents weren’t perfect.  My dad didn’t perfectly fulfill his role as monogamous husband, and my mom didn’t perfect keeping secrets from her kids.  Whatever.  It didn’t necessarily scar me for life, nor did it necessarily fuck up my own sex life.  It did, however, help to shape my understanding of “good” sex and “bad” sex.  Learning that my father had a “sex addiction” also informed me that his way of having sex was not the “right” way.  Also, I had a certain understanding that it was not necessarily his fault.  He experienced childhood sex abuse and it in turn “caused” his sex addiction, or so I thought.  I remained under the impression for quite some time that my father’s sexual behavior was deviant; it wasn’t how he was supposed to have sex.  But something went wrong along the way and he developed this pathology.  Had nothing happened to him to cause him to develop this excess sexuality, then his sexuality would have developed “normally” into heterosexual, married, monogamy.   This was the impression I had.

Janice Irvine’s Disorders of Desire really opened my eyes to the historical and cultural construction of “sex addiction.”  In the chapter “Regulated Passions,” Irvine traces the history of how sex addiction came to be seen as a legitimate, medicalized pathology.  Irvine basically says that the labeling of sex addiction was a response to those who do not conform to normative, monogamous sexuality within heterosexual marriage.  If they don’t like to have sex the “normal” way, then something must be wrong with them, and there must be a scientific justification for such behavior.  Irvine argues, “It is not surprising that professionals in the late twentieth century would conceptualize concerns regarding sexual desire as major medical problems, since historically physicians have played a significant role not only in the management of sexual behavior but in defining the existence, appropriateness, and ideal object of sexual desire or passion” (176).  In other words, my father’s sexuality was inappropriate according to normative medical standards, which are always culturally subjective.  There was something “wrong” with him because he didn’t want to have sex with just my mother.

This whole idea of the “sex addict” is a means of further legitimizing heterosexual, monogamous, married sex as the normal and natural sexuality.  There was nothing deviant about my father’s sexuality.  His sexuality was just different from my mother’s sexuality, which fell in accordance with normative societal standards (that is, until she came out as a lesbian, but that story is for another time).  My father did make a mistake, however, by not informing my mother of his different sexuality to make sure she was okay with it, or she could have made the choice not to marry him.  His sex addiction did “hurt the family,” but now I realize that is just because we live in a society where it is expected to.  My dad died when I was 16, so I can’t tell him that I get it now.  I understand that his sexuality was not deviant or wrong, just different.  Sex addiction is a historical and cultural phenomenon, it’s not some medical disease that my dad suffered from.  He just had sex differently than he was “suppose” to according to modern Western ideology.  I can’t fault him for that. -Stephanie Halsted

After reading and discussing Foucault’s lecture on the “Abnormal,” I wondered about what might constitute the “human monster” in today’s society.  According to Foucault, “what defines the monster is the fact its existence and form is not only a violation of the laws of society but also a violation of the laws of nature” (55-56).  Furthermore, “the monster was also someone with two sexes whom one didn’t know whether to treat as a boy or a girl…”(65).  This particular quote reminded me that those with an undefinable sex are still seen as monstrous in modern society, as people are at odds as how to categorize them.  Specifically, I was reminded of a popular news story from a couple of years ago about a woman runner, Caster Semenya.  Semenya consistently outran her competition, and her muscular, masculine build started raising questions about her “true” sex.  She was forced to undergo medical testing in an attempt to “prove” her female sex, and therefore continue to be allowed to compete in the women’s category.  This medicalization of Semenya’s sex coincides with Foucault’s description of the monster in that he asserts that the monster’s existence “provokes either violence, the will for pure and simple suppression, or medical care or pity” (56, emphasis added).  After some genetics testing, it was realized that Semenya has androgen insensitivity syndrome (or AIS), which we learned about in Angier’s Woman: An Intimate Geography.  If you remember, AIS means that the individual has X and Y chromosomes with feminized genitalia.  It is very possible that Caster Semenya was completely unaware that she indeed had AIS.  I find it ridiculous that Semenya’s sex was even called into question in the first place, simply based on the idea that she was simply too athletic, too good at running to possibly be a “real” woman.  Don’t even get me started on what I think about the farce of “real” womanhood or manhood, anyway.  Let’s just say I think it’s bullshit.  In the end, it was decided that Caster Semenya can continue to run with the girls.  As it turns out, a lil’ ole Y chromosome doesn’t make you a good runner!  Who would’ve guessed?!  So what was all this medicalization of Semenya’s body really for anyway?  It goes to show that even in today’s “insightful” society, there is an uncontrollable need to categorize sex according to narrow specifications.  We still have a lot to learn.  -Stephanie Halsted