Research

I am an anthropologist with a special interest in the medical and surgical management of sexed and gendered bodies. My research has focused on the politics and practice of surgical sex reassignment--of the face, chest and genitals--in the United States and abroad. I am currently Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Arizona (see my faculty page here). I am also working with colleagues to  develop the Transgender Studies Initiative at Arizona. We hope to introduce a graduate curriculum in transgender studies very soon.

Eric Plemons, Ph.D.

Surgical Capacities



Facial Feminization Surgery

Histories and Practices of Genital Sex Reassignment Surgeries

 

The technical practices and surgical strategies employed in the contemporary practice of genital sex reassignment surgeries (GSRS) vary considerably between practitioners. This research project uses textual and visual archives as well as ethnographic research and observation with surgeons in order to better understand the conditions of this variation. Thus far I have conducted ethnographic research--including interviews and OR observations--with surgeons in Argentina, Belgium and the United States.

Much has been made of the recent decision that Medicare will now cover surgical procedures for trans- folks. While financial reimbursement will extend access to such procedures to many who did not have it before, expanded access (it is expected that this policy decision will be adopted by other insurers) also raises questions about capacities. The net effect of having stigmatized a surgical specialty in the US for thirty years is that few practitioners are skilled in these complex procedures. I am working, first, to understand current infrastructures--of education, insurance, bureaucracies of diagnosis--and their capacities. This knowledge will provide the necessary basis on which to influence policy and practice to the benefit of trans- surgical patients. 

Surgical interventions have long been recognized as best practice treatments for those diagnosed as "transsexual", "gender dysphoric," or suffering from "gender identity disorder." The therapeutic rationale for these interventions is complex. Surgery is performed on the material body, but its palliative effect is in the mind/psyche. As such, clinical means for evaluating the effectiveness of this surgery have struggled not only to define desired outcomes, but how such outcomes can or should be measured. In this study, my research assistants and I have created a database of English-language outcomes studies and are analyzing their contents. The first article to come from this study will focus on the particular role that the category of "patient satisfaction" plays in authorizing procedures and verifying outcomes.   

Satisfaction Study

Facial feminization surgery (FFS) is a set of bone and soft tissue reconstructive procedures intended to alter the faces of trans- women in order that they are recognized by others as "women" in their everyday lives. My analysis locates this growing contemporary practice in the historical and geographical specificity of its origins and development: San Francisco from the mid-80s to today. I argue that FFS is trans- medicine for a performative theory of gender, one that emerged in the early 1990s alongside and in critique of a (neo)liberal politics of identity and recognition. Anchored to, and justified by, a recourse to the radical self-making of performative gendering, but still appealing to the confirmatory power of recognition, the movement of FFS from the margins of trans- medicine increasingly toward its center, provides a way to understand contemporary trans- medicine as operating on a fundamentally different understanding of bodies and selves that that by which "transsexualism" first emerged nearly 70 years ago.  My book on this project, The Look of a Woman, is under contract with Duke University Press.