My dissertation examines how American law, medicine and society make gendered sense of mastectomy. This research topic emerged out of an earlier study I conducted of breast reconstruction discourses and U.S. vital statistics statutes containing gender correction provisions. From these various accounts I learned that in the United States the presence or absence of breast tissue constitutes a primary marker of gender differentiation from adolescence onward. By equating physical attributes with gender identity, such body-focused gendering conflates that which social construction theories of gender have decoupled: the phenotypic (biological) features of the human body and gender (sex) identity.
To better understand how corporeality informs the ways in which people and institutional actors, such as medical and legal professionals, make gendered sense of different bodies, as well as why the chest, especially, has become salient to the task of gender differentiation, my research draws on case studies of female breast cancer-related and transmale gender-affirming mastectomies. Through a comparison of mastectomy’s potential to affirm masculinity, in the transmale case, and disaffirm femininity, in the case of female breast cancer survivors, I explore how mastectomy affects social-perceptual constructions of gender difference. Additionally, as a result of this exploration, I hope to bring to light the aesthetic experiences that undergird how individuals embody and make sense of their own gender after mastectomy.
(Anticipated completion date: Spring 2019)