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The Clinic and Elsewhere - Gender & Sex Equity Initiative Speaker Series Spring 2019

The Clinic and Elsewhere speaker series is sponsored by the Gender and Sex Equity Initiative of the Rock Ethics Institute (REI) and is convened by Hilary Malatino, a core faculty member of the REI and Assistant Professor in the Department of Women's Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Penn State. See press release here
by Betsy VanNoy Jan 29, 2019

The Clinic and Elsewhere speaker series is sponsored by the Gender and Sex Equity Initiative of the Rock Ethics Institute (REI) and is convened by Hilary Malatino, a core faculty member of the REI and Assistant Professor in the Department of Women's Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Penn State.

See press release here 


  • October 24, 2018 - Julian Gill-Peterson
  • November 28, 2018 - Ellen Feder
  • January 23, 2019 - Aren Aizura
  • February 20, 2019 - Eric Plemons 
  • March 21, 2019 - Susan Stryker

Short Description (find long description at end of announcement):
The Clinic and Elsewhere: Critical Conversations on Trans and Intersex Wellness is a lecture series that will bring scholars from the fields of trans and intersex studies into conversation with Penn State students, faculty, and staff, as well as the broader central Pennsylvania community, in order to analyze and further develop strategies to ameliorate forms of medical and administrative violence that impact trans, intersex and gender non-conforming (GNC) subjects accessing or attempting to access health care and wellness services. 


Julian Gill-Peterson
Date: October 24, 2018
Time: 5:00pm
Location: 67 Willard

Title: The Intersex and Trans Invention of Gender: On Children’s Self-Determination
Abstract: The contemporary concept of human gender has an origin in mid-twentieth century medicine, derived from dehumanizing and unethical clinical research with transgender and intersex children. This talk examines how the medicalization of intersex and transgender young people overlapped in this era, shaping the abstract idea of normative gender by dismissing the agency and knowledge of kids. Considering the very different landscapes of pediatric transgender and intersex care today, the historical overlap of these fields offers important resources for critiquing medical models and imagining what childhood gender self-determination can look like.

Bio: Julian Gill-Peterson is Assistant Professor of English and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. They are the author of Histories of the Transgender Child (2018). Julian is currently at work on a new book project entitled Gender Underground: A History of Trans DIY.

Ellen Feder 
Date: November 28, 2018
Time: 5:00pm
Location: 201 Thomas

Title: Curiosity, Ethics, and the Medical Management of Intersex Bodies
Abstract: To consider the recent history of the medicalization of intersex bodies requires acknowledgment of the ways that such bodies have been made “curiosities,” objects of scientific investigation associated with harms now recognized as human rights violations. In this presentation, I propose that focusing on curiosity itself may help us better understand and appreciate the moral violation of medical treatment of intersex. I also suggest that examination of curiosity in this context may challenge some settled beliefs about this history of the standard of care, and furthermore help us to better appreciate the consequences of a refusal to be curious.

Bio: Ellen Feder is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at American University, where she also teaches in the program in Women and Gender Studies. She has been an active member of ISNA since 1999, when she first presented a paper at the American Philosophical Association that considered the failure of bioethicists to intervene in the medical management of intersex. She has since published work resulting from interviews she conducted with parents of children with intersex, and was a member of the Hastings Center working group, “Surgically Shaping Children.” She is also a member of ISNA’s Medical Advisory Board.

Aren Aizura
Date: January 23, 2019
Time: 5:00pm
Location: Foster Auditorium

Title: Hell Holes Or Saviors: Transnational Visions of Southeast Asian Trans Surgery
Abstract: This talk investigates political economies of risk logic by looking at how transnational trans and queer studies comprehend trans people’s patronage of “back alley surgeons.” I compare online reviews of and videos about Pratunam Polyclinic, a walk-in aesthetic surgery clinic in Bangkok, Thailand with a large trans clientele, which some consider a “hellhole” but which others describe as a renowned center for transgender surgeries. This comparison troubles the exceptionalist logic that global north nations offer the best surgical care and yield the most satisfied trans surgery candidates. Arguing that the spectral other of the “high quality” or “caring” surgical procedure is a subject thought to be condemned to mutilation, disfigurement, and unimaginable pain and suffering, I show how this spectralizes and marginalizes low-income trans people (particularly trans and gender nonconforming people outside the global north) who access low-cost surgical procedures as naturally risky or insensitive to “bad” care. 

Bio: Aren Aizura is an assistant professor in Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies at the University of Minnesota. His work has appeared in numerous journals, including  Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Medical Anthropology: Cross-cultural studies in health and illness, Asian Studies Review, and ADA: A Journal of Gender, New Media and Technology and the edited collections Queer Necropolitics, Trans Studies: Beyond Homo/Hetero Normativities, Transfeminist Perspectives in and beyond Transgender and Gender Studies, Transgender Migrations: The Bodies, Borders, and Politics of Transition (ed. Trystan Cotton, Routledge, 2011), and most recently an essay on queer/trans archives in Samuel Steward and the Politics of the Erotic (Ohio University Press, 2017). With Susan Stryker, he co-edited the Transgender Studies Reader 2 (New York: Routledge, 2013) and is also the co-editor of a special issue of TSQ, Decolonizing the Transgender Imaginary (1:3-4, 2014). He is on the Editorial Board of TSQ, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, and the Expanding Frontiers series at University of Nebraska Press. His book project, Mobile Subjects: travel, transnationality and transgender lives, was published by Duke University Press in November. 

Eric Plemons
Date: February 20, 2019
Time: 5:00 p.m.
Location: 162 Willard

Title: Surgery Without Surgeons: how clinical gaps shape trans-embodiment
Since 2014, public and private insurance coverage for transgender Americans’ surgical care has increased exponentially. Training clinicians and equipping institutions to meet the surge in demand has not been as rapid. Through ethnographic research at a surgical workshop focused on trans-genital reconstruction and in a US hospital working to grow its transgender health program, in this talk I show that effects of the decades-long insurance exclusion of trans-surgery are not easily remedied through the recent event of its inclusion because patient access is not the only thing that has been restricted by coverage denial. Lack of funding has also limited the development and circulation of technical skills required to perform these procedures, and the administrative processes needed to integrate them into existing clinical workflows. A close look at the growing practice of facial feminization surgery—desired by many prospective patients but outside the logic of contemporary trans-therapeutics—makes clear that gaps in clinical logic continue to shape how, as what, and by whom practices of surgically mediated trans- embodiment are materialized. 

Bio: Eric Plemons is Assistant Professor in the School of Anthropology at the University of Arizona. As a medical anthropologist and clinical ethnographer, Dr. Plemons's research focuses on the politics and practice of transgender medicine and surgery. His first book, The Look of a Woman: facial feminization surgery and the aims of trans- medicine (Duke University Press, 2017) was awarded the 2017 Ruth Benedict Prize for outstanding monograph by the Association for Queer Anthropology. His current research examines the ways the US institutions are responding to a growing demand for transgender healthcare.

Susan Stryker
Date: March 21, 2019
Time: 5:00 p.m.
Location: Foster Auditorium

Title: Psychedelic Trans: Whiteness, Plasticity, and Socio-Somatic Transformation
Abstract: It may be mere coincidence that in the 1860s, one of the first cities in the United States to pass laws against cross-dressing was home to the first plastics factory in the United States, but since the middle of the 19th century, notions of transness, plasticity, and bodily transformation have been linked in popular culture as well as medical and scientific thought. This lecture, drawn from the forthcoming book What Transpires Now, develops the concept of a "plastic aesthetics" in order to extend recent work in trans studies on the relationship between race, whiteness, and the capacity for socio-somatic transformation in the direction of a psychedelic transformation of consciousness, by focusing on intersections of the human potential movement, psychedelic experimentation, and transgender medicine in the life and work of mid-twentieth-century trans philanthropist Reed Erickson. 

BioSusan Stryker is Associate Professor of Gender and Women's Studies, as well as Director of the Institute for LGBT Studies; she also holds a courtesy appointment as Associate Professor in the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences.  She is the author of many articles and several books on transgender and queer topics, most recently Transgender History (Seal Press 2008). She won a Lambda Literary Award for the anthology The Transgender Studies Reader (Routledge 2006), and an Emmy Award for the documentary film Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton's Cafeteria (Frameline/ITVS 2005). She currently teaches classes on LGBT history, and on embodiment and technology. Research interests include transgender and queer studies, film and media, built environments, somatechnics, and critical theory.

Long Description:

“The Clinic and Elsewhere: Critical Conversations on Trans and Intersex Wellness” will bring scholars from the fields of trans and intersex studies into conversation with Penn State students, faculty, and staff, as well as the broader central Pennsylvania community, in order to analyze and further develop strategies to ameliorate forms of medical and administrative violence that impact trans, intersex and gender non-conforming (GNC) subjects accessing or attempting to access health care and wellness services.

This seminar series is critical in multiple senses. It is critical in terms of timing, as rollbacks to gains in trans health care coverage loom on account of the Trump administrations’ reinterpretation of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), an anti-discrimination clause that had formerly been understood to include trans persons under the rubric of sex discrimination.  This reinterpretation rejects the inclusion of trans subjects as a protected group, threatening to chip away at the widening of access to certain transition-related procedures heralded by the passage of the ACA.

Moreover, it is critical in its cognizance that the recent expansion of coverage has predominately enhanced access to care for transnormative and more significantly resourced trans and GNC subjects, failing to address the circumstances that compromise access to healthcare for multiply marginalized trans, intersex, and GNC subjects. Denials of transition-related services continue to occur, access to insurance coverage remains uneven, many procedures fall beyond the purview of coverage, and trans/GNC patients continue to report harassment, harm, and neglect in medical settings. The long-term impacts of trans-specific hormone use continue to be under-researched, and the dearth of trans-competent physicians persists. Intersex subjects find a ready and willing medical apparatus should they seek technologies of sex “normalization,” but are confronted with a lack of competent medical care when seeking medical treatment not related to their intersex condition.

Finally, it is critical of the ways in which medical transition and intersex sex “normalization” has been framed as the sine qua non of trans and intersex experience, and understands this as part of the fraught legacy of medical pathologization that remains intimately interwoven with the intelligibility of trans and intersex identities and the legibility of trans and intersex rights claims. This has produced a hegemonic understanding of transition as teleological, with a clear pre- and post-, beginning and end, that is too often determined by intensively Eurocentric, dimorphic gender ideals that many – perhaps most – subjects, trans, intersex, or otherwise, fail to realize. This encourages a relation to transition that hinges on what Jasbir Puar has termed “piecing” (The Right to Maim, 45): a disintegrated focus on components of corporeality that are each evaluated with respect to norms of gendered embodiment and accordingly commoditized by the medical-industrial complex. Procedures that modify certain of these pieces may be covered by insurance – if one has it, if one can litigate rejections to coverage – but many (facial feminization surgery, post-mastectomy chest reconstruction, tracheal shaves, electrolysis) are not. This piecing together of embodiment is “galvanized through mobility, transformation, regeneration, flexibility, and the creative concocting of the body” and “performs medicalization as strategic embodiment” (Puar 45). The ability to piece together a body that passes is severely economically circumscribed; “piecing” is thus primarily aspirational for all but the most privileged transnormative subjects. Trans and gender non-conforming subjects marshal resources, however minimal, over the long-term in order to garner access to “piecing” procedures, and this long-term deferral of access is experienced by many as a conscription to forms of violence, debility, and incapacitation that are indexed to one’s inability to pass as cisgendered – administrative violence, housing, employment, and educational discrimination, familial rejection and communal shunning, and lack of access to quality medical care.

Expanding understandings of health, wellness, and care beyond the purview of the medical industry is integral if we are to delink trans experience from medical pathologization; it is also imperative to address if we are concerned, broadly, with how to render trans lives more livable. The contemporary state of trans and intersex health care is informed by what Adele Clark has termed “stratified biomedicalization,” where health is hegemonically defined by biomedicine and technoscience, simultaneously, “as a moral obligation, as a commodity, and a mark of status and self-worth” (Metzl, Against Health, 6) and access to the commoditized markers of “good health” is monetized, for-profit, gate-kept, and often outright denied to poor and working-class subjects. “Trans health” is too often used as a synonym for medicalized transition, which is a strategic deployment that simultaneously enables activism around access to a limited range of biomedical technologies of transition while disabling alternative conceptions of trans and intersex health that are less readily assimilated to the highly individuated, neoliberal profit logic of the medical-industrial complex.

The purpose of this series to generate collaborative, interdisciplinary answers to the following question: how can we generate conceptions of health and wellness that address access to medical transition but foreground the (often more exigent) questions of access to housing assistance, trans-competent primary care, redress of workplace discrimination, counseling, communal support and solidarity, and freedom from interpersonal, communal, state, sexual, domestic, administrative, and police violence?