New year, new paper - this time on trans medicine

By Os Keyes

I’m on the job market right now, which is exhausting in a thousand predictable ways. One of the biggest challenges I did not predict (but probably should have) was the complexity of pigeonholing myself. Of reframing my work - which has ranged in venues from CHI to Cultural Studies to Feminist Philosophy Quarterly - into a nice tidy bite-sized description a hiring committee can swallow without chewing.

Today, I’m excited to announce I’ve made it that much harder thanks to a new paper I have out in Seminars in Plastic Surgery (yes, really): “A History of Gender-Affirming Surgery at the University of Michigan: Lessons for Today”. As the title suggests, the piece is a collaboration with an amazing bunch at UMich; as it further suggests, it’s the first ``spin-off’’ paper from my dissertation, and describes the history of gender-affirming care and the (multiple) gender identity clinics at the University of Michigan, from the 1960s to the present. The TL;DR (although less bluntly than this, because it’s a medical journal, not an organizational sociology one) is that the secret sauce to a sustained and long-lasting gender identity clinic is, in a word, entrenchment: the clinic becoming wrapped around and glued into the Medical School’s broader goals of teaching and research. This comes with costs; it means, ultimately, that the GIC model depends in part on patients’ willingness to be coerced into becoming research subjects or teachable moments.

The paper isn’t perfect, of course - but it does start to fill a noticeable gap in the historical record around the “Gender Identity Clinic” model, by talking about a clinic other than the one at Johns Hopkins. The Hopkins obsession of much existing scholarship comes from a range of sources, many of which are entirely understandable and some of which are completely pragmatic: they come down to the difficulty of finding sources to talk about other clinics with. As our ability to do so suggests, there were a lot of unique sources that came into play, here, and I’m tremendously grateful not only to my co-authors but also to our various informants, from interviewees (Dave Neal, Vic Stoeffler and Bob Oneal) to archaeologists (Eric and Craig Pearson) - and most of all, to Caitlin Moriarty at the University of Michigan archives, who has not only been inordinately patient (hah) with this project but also been kind enough to take the records we’ve produced, and many more, into an archive collection - more on that soon.