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Technology creating definitions?

2009 February 8
by Melanie

When I read the Hausman article, I immediately had a problem with her idea that transsexuality is merely a product of modern technology. From her words, it seemed to me that she doesn’t think the concept of transsexual existed before doctors were able to completely remove all genital traces of one sex or the other.

However, these links between medical technology, medical practice, and the advent of “sex change” in the twentieth century have been ignored my most scholars who study the subject, who more usually understand transsexualism as representative of a transhistorical desire of some human subjects to be the other sex. In contrast to this view, I argue that developments in medical technology and practice were central to the establishment of the necessary conditions for the emergence of the demand for sex change, which was understood as the most important indicator of transsexual subjectivity.

At the end of the article, she discusses Lili Elbe and Christine Jorgensen as the first in a line of many who would “become women” through the use of technology. This is another case of defining what makes a woman by the ability to bear children or the possession of ovaries- something I don’t agree with. Lili Elbe’s final surgery, just months before she died, was to transplant an entire uterus into her body, to allow her to bear a child. Indeed, her death is believed to have been caused by the rejection of that organ. But does that mean that someone born with a uterus and ovaries who is subjected to a hysterectomy later in life is no longer a woman? Or that a victim of breast cancer who undergoes a double mastectomy and chooses not to have reconstruction is also no longer a woman? Having known someone who has undergone the latter and still considers herself to be a woman, it’s hard to understand people who would think of her as less than that.

I guess my real question is: how are we defining “transsexual”? Is it necessary to have a desire for SRS? What of those people who will never have the opportunity to even consider SRS, or those who are unaware of its existance? I think that, in our collective human need to define and label, we have created a category that may just be impossible to define.

On a side note, the story of Lili Elbe is set to become a movie starring Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron, due for release in 2010. It’s adapted from the novel That Danish Girl, by David Ebershoff.

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