Trans Science

In the current controversies around transgender healthcare, we hear a lot of talk of science. Opponents of care - particularly for transgender youth - argue that hormone therapy and surgery are “experimental” or “unproven”. Some proponents, including members of the governing board of the World Practitioners Association for Transgender Health, have in turn proposed greater studies of the benefits and consequences of surgical treatment in particular.

What is interesting here is not that there is science talk: arguments about “the science” structure a whole range of biomedical and public policy debates. What is interesting is instead that these questions are not new. Indeed, the institutionalisation of trans medicine arguably began by treating transgender people, and surgery, as the subjects of research as much as treatment. To a greater or lesser degree, this scientific strain is still present in medical treatment throughout the world.

My thesis works to resurrect and retell this history, and show how its politics connect and resonate with current controversies. Using a mixture of interviews and archival methods, I demonstrate the inherent (rather than incidental) uncertainty involved in trying to answer questions of “quality of life”, and the human cost of structuring medical treatment as research.

Thus far, I have reviewed around 30,000 pages of archival documents (and a thousand published papers, dissertations and books), and conducted 61 interviews of everyone from 1960s patients to current practitioners. I am particularly interested, right now, in talking to anyone who:

  1. Was treated at the Institute for Sexual Health at the University of Minnesota, or the Gender Identity Clinics at the Universities of Texas, Michigan or California, San Diego;
  2. Has been (or is) a patient through the Dutch, Belgian or Spanish systems of Gender Identity Clinics;
  3. Has been (or is) a provider at any of the institutionalised Gender Identity Clinics in North America or Europe.

Participant protections, and involvement, are highly important to me - interviewees are guaranteed not only the right to anonymity and full transcripts of our conversations but, by default, the right to see how their words are used and interpreted, and correct any misinterpretations or unfair portrayals directly. If you are (or know anyone in!) the above categories, and are interested in participating, please email me at okeyes @ uw . edu.