Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription or Fee Access

Transgender embodiment: a feminist, situated neuroscience perspective

Reubs Walsh, Gillian Einstein

Full Text: PDF



The policing of boundaries of acceptable sexual identities and behaviour is a recurring theme in numerous marginalities. Gender (especially womanhood) is often instantiated socially through the harms to which members of that gender are subjected. For transgender people, the assumption that genitals define gender translates the ubiquitous misapprehension that genitals and sex are binary into an assumption that gender must also be binary. This circumscribes the potentiality of cultural intelligibility for trans gender identities, and may interfere with the ability of transgender people to select the most appropriate medical and social means of expressing their authentic identities, even altering what is possible or appropriate, thereby curtailing trans people’s authenticity and freedom. We therefore distinguish social from bodily aspects of gender dysphoria, proposing a model of their distinct, intersecting origins. We explore ways in which transgender medicine reflects aspects of other gendered surgeries, proposing a biopsychosocial understanding of embodiment, including influences of culture on the neurological representation of the body in the somatosensory cortex. This framework proposes that cultural cissexism1, causes trans people to experience (neuro)physiological damage, creating or exacerbating the need for medical transition within a framework of individual autonomy. Our social-constructionist feminist neuroscientific account of gendered embodiment highlights the medical necessity of bodily autonomy for trans people seeking surgery or other biomedical interventions, and the ethical burden therein.

Keywords: Cultural Neuroscience, Somatosensation, Feminism, Neuroplasticity, Surgery


Bibliography: Walsh, Reubs/Einstein, Gillian: Transgender embodiment: a feminist, situated neuroscience perspective., INSEP – Journal of the International Network for Sexual Ethics & Politics, Vol. 8, Special Issue 2020, pp. 56-70.