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Risk, Innovation, and Gender Reassignment Surgery Culture in Thailand

Lecture | April 23 | 12-2 p.m. | 602 Barrows Hall | Canceled


Aren Aizura, Assistant Professor in Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, University of Minnesota

Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society


Please join us for a HIFIS Transgender Studies faculty job talk:

This talk examines how the South East Asian gender reassignment surgery industry fits into a global imaginary of risk and innovation in transgender health. Drawing from my forthcoming book Mobile Subjects: transnational imaginaries of gender reassignment, I examine the global boundaries of what is considered “proper” in transgender health, both in terms of technical surgical innovation and psychological protocols directing the process of gender reassignment itself. I review media depictions of South East Asian gender reassignment surgery (GRS) dating back to the 1974 documentary Shocking Asia, along with ethnographic accounts of trans people accessing GRS in Thailand in the 2000s. In the 1990s transgender foreigners began traveling to Thailand for gender reassignment surgery in large numbers. In Europe and North America Thai gender reassignment surgeons were renowned for not requiring psychiatric evaluation, folding into perceptions of Thailand as a space of corruption, excess, and absence of regulation. Accessing gender reassignment surgery in Thailand has therefore been understood as “risky”. However, this risk is also seen as promising: patients sometimes talk about the absence of “litigational culture” as the reason that Thai surgeons have been able to innovate new surgical techniques. Nationally, however, Thailand has moved towards regulating gender reassignment surgery since 2009. This move towards regulation has helped Thai GRS surgeons to position themselves as modern, reliable, and prestigious, and to gain recognition from European and North American trans health experts. Thus, patients and health providers negotiate the perception of South East Asia as unregulated and corrupt differently in different contexts. Examining this reveals a careful negotiation between the promises of risk and innovation in transnational health practices, the politics of embodiment, and transnational access to transgender health in general.

Aren Aizura is assistant professor in Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies at the University of Minnesota. His research interests include transgender studies, transnationality, and political economy and labor. Aizura earned a PhD in cultural studies from the University of Melbourne. He is the co-editor of the Transgender Studies Reader 2, and his work has appeared in numerous journals and books, including Queer Necropolitics (Routledge, 2014) and Trans Studies: Beyond Homo/Hetero Normativities (Rutgers University Press, 2015). His book "Mobile Subjects: travel, transnationality and transgender lives" will be published with Duke University Press in 2018.


gilliane@berkeley.edu