Date of Award

Spring 4-15-2011

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Dr. Mindy Stombler

Second Advisor

Dr. Erin Ruel

Third Advisor

Dr. Wendy Simonds

Abstract

Few bodies consistently portray natural or unaltered forms. Instead, humans inhabit bodies imbued with sociocultural meanings about what is attractive, appropriate, functional, and presentable. As such, embodiment is always gendered. The social, extra-corporeal body is a central locus for expressing gender. Surgical body modifications represent inherently gendered technologies of the body. But psychomedical institutions subject people who seek gender-crossing surgeries to increased surveillance, managing and regulating cross-gender embodiment as disorderly. Using mixed research methods, this research systematically compared transgender and cisgender (non-transgender) people’s experiences before, during, and after surgical body modification. I conducted a content analysis of 445 threads on a message board for an online cisgender surgery community, an analysis of 15 international protocols for transgender-specific surgeries, and 40 in-depth interviews with cisgender and transgender people who had surgery. The content analysis of the online community revealed similar themes among cisgender and transgender surgery users. However, detailed protocols existed only for transgender consumers of surgery. Interview findings showed that transgender and cisgender people reported similar presurgical feelings toward their bodies, similar cosmetic and psychological motivations for surgery, and similar benefits of surgery. For both cisgender and transgender people, surgery enhanced the inner self through improving the outer gendered body. Despite these similar embodied experiences, having a cisgender gender status determined respondents’ abilities to pursue surgery autonomously and with institutional support. Ultimately, this research highlights inequalities that result from gender status and manifest in psychomedical institutions by identifying the psychosocial impacts of provider/consumer or doctor/patient interactions, relating gendered embodiment to regulatory systems of authority, and illuminating policy implications for clinical practice and legal classifications of sex and gender.

Included in

Sociology Commons

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