Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

1 - Intersex Diagnoses and the Parameters of Normality in Cold War South Korea

Saturday, July 7
4:30 PM - 6:00 PM
Location: Amaltas, Lower Ground Floor

Since its founding in 1948, South Korea has defined its national culture in terms of heterosexual purity and gender normativity. Despite these self-images, discussions of “problematic” bodies proliferated in the mass media and among medical professionals, especially under the military dictatorship of Park Chung Hee (1961-1979). Focusing on the sexual sciences of urology, endocrinology, psychiatry, gynecology, and pediatrics, this presentation traces one voluble node in this national debate by examining the medical and social significance of intersexuality in Cold War South Korea. Using medical reports on the diagnosis and treatment of intersex people, I ask why and how these particular bodies became such a heated matter of discussion among civilian and military doctors, as well as journalists who translated scientific knowledge of intersexuality into newsworthy stories for public consumption. Through an analysis of South Korean medical professionals and their training across the post-colonial divide, I pay special attention to the shifting paradigms of diagnosis and treatment that doctors deployed in identifying and seeking to normalize “problematic” bodies. In addition to situating their clinical practice within these global frameworks, I also investigate the social value that intersex diagnoses produced for a country pursuing the nationalist goals of capitalist development and militaristic anti-communism under authoritarian regimes. To this end, I trace frequent traffic that circulated between civilian and military doctors in South Korea, as they encountered bodies that disrupted binary understandings of biological sex in such contexts as hetero-marital reproduction, military service, and the workforce.

Todd A. Henry

University of California, San Diego, United States

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