Anatomical Authorities: On the Epistemological Exclusion of Trans- Surgical Patients

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3 Scopus citations


American feminist health activists in the 1970s created representations of genital anatomy intended to replace the abstracted images of biomedicine’s ‘modest witness,’ with what Michelle Murphy has called the ‘immodest witness,’ authority explicitly derived from personal and embodied experience. Decades later, a feminist publication in the tradition of the immodest witness called Femalia was adopted into the practice of an American surgeon specializing in trans- genital sex reassignment surgery (GSRS). Based on ethnographic and textual research, I show how oppositional claims to represent the ‘natural’ female body—one valued for its medical objectivity and the other for its feminist subjectivity—effectively foreclosed these as modes of authority through which the trans- patient might contribute to her surgical care. I argue that trans- patients’ double epistemological exclusion contributes to a broader asymmetry in the use of patients’ subjective reports in the everyday practice of GSRS and the clinical research by which it is evaluated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)425-441
Number of pages17
JournalMedical Anthropology: Cross Cultural Studies in Health and Illness
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 3 2015


  • feminist epistemology
  • sex reassignment surgery
  • surgical practice
  • trans- medicine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Anthropology


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