Association for Queer Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Based on ethnographic research and preliminary field visits to a youth clinic in New York City, this paper explores how the specter of transgender suicide articulates with conceptions of youth to form a moral and ethical justification for medical intervention. In talking to health professionals about transgender youth, suicide rates commonly come up as risk-factor that proper pediatric treatment can reduce. While the hyper-visibility of trans-death has been critiqued in the realm of cultural studies (Gil-Peterson 2018; Snorton 2017), it nonetheless exists as an ethnographic category that motivates doctors, researchers, and parents to produce knowledge about transgender youth. Further, doctors themselves are often aware of this critique, and are also careful not to conflate transgender identity with a need for medical intervention. This creates a unique problem: on the one hand medical researchers and physicians at the clinic acknowledge a lack of data on trans-youth beyond suicide numbers and seek to create generalizable information and research. On the other, the standard of patient-centered care includes an awareness of the diverse goals transgender youth set for themselves and resists the generalizations made by earlier medical professionals. While researchers are engaged in the construction of a biomedical “population” in Foucault’s terms (2004), this moment where trans pediatrics is still nascent offers an entry way into an analysis of gender and biomedicine that escapes hard divisions between medicalization and resistance, especially through an interrogation of the ethical substance at the heart of emergent transgender pediatric care.