Disappearing Ambivalence? Representations of Intersexuality in North American Medical Television Dramas

Throughout modern American medical history, a tremendous amount of energy has been invested in policing and erasing bodies that have challenged the prevalent model of gender binarism by their sheer indeterminacy. As a result of this, these troubling intersex bodies have almost disappeared from the A...

Ausführliche Beschreibung

Gespeichert in:
1. Verfasser: Whybrew, Simon Daniel
Format: Arbeit
Sprache:Englisch
Veröffentlicht: Philipps-Universität Marburg 2015
Anglistik und Amerikanistik
Ausgabe:http://dx.doi.org/10.17192/ed.2015.0001
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Zusammenfassung:Throughout modern American medical history, a tremendous amount of energy has been invested in policing and erasing bodies that have challenged the prevalent model of gender binarism by their sheer indeterminacy. As a result of this, these troubling intersex bodies have almost disappeared from the American national consciousness and thus also from American culture. However, as a consequence of the growing intersex movement that emerged during the early 1990s, the question of intersex births and rights has resurfaced. During this period, intersexuality also became the subject of unprecedented media attention and in 1996 the US TV drama Chicago Hope was the first medical drama to portray the reaction to and the treatment of intersex children by modern medicine. Since then almost every mayor medical drama has dealt with this issue in at least one of its episodes. It is precisely these representations from 1996 to 2014 that this thesis examines. As this thesis asserts, the portrayal of intersex people in medical dramas gains special significance because these shows are imparted with an aura of medical authority and thus have the potential to either reaffirm or challenge marginalized status of intersex people, and, along with that, the underlying heteronormative gender system. Thus, this thesis explores the intersection between the medical authority of medical TV dramas and their depiction of intersexuality, heteronormativity, and the resulting effects. Consequently, this thesis determines whether and to what extent these representations of intersexuality in the respective episodes of these shows can be said to either challenge or reinforce the marginalized and pathologized status of intersex individuals and with it heteronormativity in general. Moreover, it explores the question of whether a development in the depiction of intersexuality has occurred as a result of intersex activism and changes in the medical communities approach to intersexuality. This is accomplished by comparing early representations of intersexuality from Chicago Hope and ER, and shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, which preceded the 2006 “Consensus Statement on Management of Intersex Disorders” with those of later shows such as Private Practice, House, M.D., and Saving Hope which followed the statement. In the process, this thesis determines whether portrayals of intersexuality during the two periods challenge the traditional treatment paradigm and with it the imposition of heteronormative standards onto the unruly bodies of intersex children, or whether they merely represent what Judith Butler has termed ‘high het entertainment.’ To achieve this, it utilizes the concept of heteronormativity in conjunction with Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity and ‘high het entertainment,’ and Michel Foucault’s conception of the ‘medical gaze.’ In this manner, it demonstrates that rather than unfolding the deconstructive potential of intersexuality, the portrayal during the first period is used to reinforce heteronormative standards in that the shows utilize their medical authority both to portray intersexuality as a pathological aberration and to impose heteronormative standards onto it and the respective patients. Moreover, although the shows following the “Consensus Statement” are increasingly skeptical of the traditional treatment paradigm they nonetheless perpetuate gender binarism and the belief that sex determines gender, and misrepresent the history of the medical treatment of intersex children. As such, these episodes—much like their earlier counterparts—can be identified as an example of what Butler calls ‘high het entertainment.’
DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.17192/ed.2015.0001