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Bodily Interventions and Intimate LabourUnderstanding Bioprecarity$
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Gabriele Griffin and Doris Leibetseder

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781526138569

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7765/9781526138576

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The Intimate Labour of Non-Normative Bodies

The Intimate Labour of Non-Normative Bodies

Transgender patients in early Swedish medical research

(p.232) 12 The Intimate Labour of Non-Normative Bodies
Bodily Interventions and Intimate Labour

Julian Honkasalo

Manchester University Press

This chapter examines the paradoxical interplay of humanist and eugenic ideology underlying early Swedish psychiatric and medical studies on transgender persons. Bioprecarity (see Griffin, Leibetseder in this volume) in this context is theorized as generated through a disciplining double-bind of inclusion and exclusion. The chapter conceptualizes transgender patients in psychiatric institutions in the 1960s as persons who exchange their intimate labour in return for receiving medical care, and a promise to be viewed as legally, politically and socially intelligible. Drawing on Foucault, the chapter contends that disciplinary power operates through invasive examinations, such as anatomical and intelligence measurements, genital examinations, the recording of personal history, family history as well as confessions of fantasies, desires and fears. And yet, the patients are not merely passive subjects of power/knowledge. Rather, they actively engage in intimate labour by producing raw material and data for medical studies. Although intimate labour is usually theorized in the context of care work, sex work and domestic work (eg. Parreñas), this chapter expands the notion of intimacy to include the labour of non-normative, superfluous bodies. As the adjective intimate originates in the Latin verb intimare (to make known) and the noun intimus (inmost, innermost, deepest), the term is particularly suitable for problematizing the interplay between the transgender patient’s own agency and the normalizing power of medical research. Drawing on archival material, the chapter argues that this interplay generated the scientific expert knowledge, circulated and reiterated in public, official investigations that functioned as the basis for the world’s first legislation on the legal status of ‘transsexuals’ and simultaneously, the first state-enforced sterilization legislation of transgender persons (1972). The chapter emphasizes that the intimate labour of transgender patients is the condition for the possibility of both their own self-actualization as well as for the state’s biopolitical, administrative project of documenting, quantifying, regulating, circulating and reproducing the binary category of gender. As a critical rejoinder to previous historical accounts on the so-called ‘transsexual subject’ (e.g. Hausman, 1995; Prosser, 1998; Gilman, 1999; Repo, 2016) that argue that the invention of modern surgery and anesthesia enabled the medical treatment of the first ‘transsexual’ patients and hence also made room for the visibility of trans as an identity category, this chapter aims to offer an account that focuses on the patients’ agency in the midst of normalizing power. Such a perspective is crucial, as it has significant contemporary implications for understanding which transgender lives are rendered intelligible and worthy of inclusion today and which ones are neglected (see Leibetseder, this volume).

Keywords:   trans, transgender patients, transgender clinic, agency, normalization, knowledge production, Sweden

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