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versa); active cultural support of children’s gender self-identification helps revolutionize hide-bound, sexist and outdated ideas about gender; and medical intervention is a sign of a tolerant, liberal and humane society.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.