Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Heather Brunskell-Evans, Mini-Symposium on Sex and Gender: Foucault and the Construction of Transgender Children, The Electric Agora
A modern symposium for the digital age
blog, July 2019

Thirty years ago, ‘the transgender child’ would not have made sense to the general public, nor would it have made sense to young people. Today, children and adolescents declare themselves transgender, the NHS refers some children for ‘gender-affirming’ therapy, and laws and policy are invented which uphold young people’s ‘choice’ to transition and to authorize the stages at which medical intervention is permissible and desirable.

The current narrative of the transgender child has numerous, attendant strands: although previously unrecognized, children born in ‘the wrong body’ are alleged to have always existed; parents are ‘brave’ when they accept their daughter is ‘really’ a boy (and vice versa); active cultural support of children’s gender self-identification helps revolutionize hide-bound, sexist and outdated ideas about gender; and medical intervention is a sign of a tolerant, liberal and humane society. What is the provenance of such a narrative? On what scientific medical/ psychological/philosophical bases are these composite ‘truths’ founded?

In order to examine the component parts that make up the narrative of the transgender child as a real, ahistorical, naturally occurring figure I use the genealogical method of the philosopher Michel Foucault who traces histories of the present power/knowledge/ ethics relations out of which sex and gender identities emerge.

4 thoughts on “Foucault and the Construction of Transgender Children (2019)

  1. Diana Kuhl says:

    This is very disappointing to see profiled here. Considering Foucault’s discussion of the insurrection of subjugated knowledges, having someone who is not trans, and whose views contribute to epistemic violence against trans people is antithetical to the most fundamental aspect of Foucault’s work; to shift the gaze onto the politics and hierarchies of knowledge production, particularly the dominance of voices flowing from the authority of the psy disciplines. This is the first time that discussion of trans people has emerged on this page, and sadly it is from a perspective of someone not a member of a marginalized group claiming authority and dismissing folks who are marginalized. For a Foucauldian genealogy that has the epistemic complexity and ethical representation of trans people, see Jemma Tosh’s Psychology and Gender Dysphoria (2016).

    1. Clare O'Farrell says:

      Hi Diana, thanks for your comment. There have been in fact a few items on transgender posted on the blog over the years. Many thanks for this reference. I will post it up tomorrow.

  2. I have become aware that the Foucault I read is not the Foucault other people have read. My Foucault was opposed to normalization. He would never have supported the construction of practices that convince people to turn to Big Pharma and Big Surgery because they have been subjected to a discourse that frames their unhappiness with gender as a result of having the wrong body. The notion of pink and blue brains is making him turn over in his grave.

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