Events / Current Issues in LGBTQ Health featuring Dr. Eric Plemons: “The Look of a Woman: Whiteness and womanhood in facial feminization surgery”

Current Issues in LGBTQ Health featuring Dr. Eric Plemons: “The Look of a Woman: Whiteness and womanhood in facial feminization surgery”

Join our upcoming Current Issues in LGBTQ Health lecture, “The Look of a Woman: Whiteness and womanhood in facial feminization surgery” with Dr. Eric Plemons, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona. Dr. Plemons is a medical anthropologist focused on surgical practice and the production, circulation and application of expert knowledge on gendered bodies.

The talk will be held from 3:00-4:30pm (CT) on Tuesday, May 7. A reception will follow.

Please note that this event will not be livestreamed.

This talk is part of the cultural anthropology lecture series hosted by Northwestern University’s department of anthropology. It is also co-sponsored by The Sexualities Project at Northwestern. ISGMH’s Current Issues in LGBTQ Health lecture series is generously supported by the Northwestern University Office of the Provost’s Hollister Lecture Fund and by Northwestern Medicine.

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About the speaker: 

Picture of Dr. Eric Plemons Dr. Eric Plemons is Assistant Professor in the School of Anthropology at the University of Arizona, where he directs the program in medical anthropology and also serves as Co-Chair of the Transgender Studies Research Cluster. Plemons’s research focuses on the politics and practice of transgender medicine and surgery. He spends time with clinicians, patients, and administrators as they all work—sometimes together and sometimes against one another—to determine what “good trans medicine” is and how and for whom it works. His first book, The Look of a Woman: facial feminization surgery and the aims of trans- medicine (Duke), was awarded the Ruth Benedict Prize in 2017 for outstanding ethnographic monograph on an LGBT topic. His work has appeared in a variety of journals including Medical Anthropology, Journal of Medical Humanities, Social Studies of Science, Medical Anthropology Quarterly, and Body & Society; a new article on the exclusion of trans healthcare in the growing network of Catholic-affiliated hospital systems in the US is forthcoming in the religious studies journal Cross Currents. 

About the talk:

Facial feminization surgery (FFS) is a set of bone and soft tissue procedures intended to feminize the faces of transgender women. In the surgical evaluation, particular facial features are identified as “sex specific” and targeted for intervention as such. But those features do not exhibit “maleness” or “femaleness” alone; they are complexly entwined with morphologies of ethnic classification. Based on the history of how FFS was developed and on observation in the clinic, I show how patients’ and surgeons’ feminine ideal frequently conflicted with facial characteristics identified as “ethnic.” In clinical practice, “masculinity” and “ethnicity” were entangled as the constitutive outsides by which desirable “femininity” found its form. In this talk, I argue that surgery that self-consciously enacts a patient’s move away from physiognomically identifiable ethnicity in order to achieve an ostensibly unmarked and neutral femininity becomes not only a process of feminizing the face but of whitening it, regardless of whether “white” features are the express desire of the patient or aim of the surgeon.

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Current Issues in LGBTQ Health: Dr. Eric Plemons

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