Stitching up the natural: "Manboobs," pregnancy, and the transgender body

Resource type
Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
Author: Garner, T.
This thesis is an examination of the construction of the “natural” male and female body through gynecomastia surgery (chest surgery for “excess” breast tissue on men) and pregnancy, read within the discursive fields of medicine and online support groups. I take as my starting point the accusation that the transgender body is constructed, which rests on the assumption of a “natural” body, free from “harm,” “physical intervention,” “modification,” and “mutilation.” In contrast to most academic engagement with transsexuality, I shift the focus to the “natural” body and emphasise its construction through close comparative interrogation using Foucauldian discourse analysis. Comparing gynecomastia and female-to-male transsexuality, I highlight the production of the “natural” male body through gynecomastia surgery, and by exploring pregnancy in relation to infertility, I reveal the constitution of the “natural” female body through pregnancy. Through this reconsideration of gynecomastia surgery and pregnancy as naturalised body modification, I emphasise the sexed body as effect rather than cause or, in other words, I challenge the common understanding of sex as biological foundation. Reading for, what I identify as “technologies of the natural,” disrupts the natural/constructed binary and challenges dominant ideas about sexual difference and reproduction. It provides the means to contest the narration of a “natural body,” which represents the ground upon which transgender people are subject to physical violence and excluded from social and political life, and constrains all bodies within a rigid epistemological and ontological framework. Providing a poststructural perspective on sex and gender, this interdisciplinary project draws from feminist theories of the body, transgender studies, queer theory, cyberstudies, the politics of reproduction, sociology of health and illness, critical race studies, and disability theory. Situated within the framework of “somatechnics,” it is an attempt to reconceive the body, technology, and the relation between them, and provide a reconsideration of the nature of embodiment. Given the extent to which the sexed body is a site through which unequal relations of power are maintained in our present social landscape, this project is a necessary contribution to the interrogation of the operations of power (and resistance) in this historical and cultural moment.
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Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Leung, Helen Hok-Sze
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