Anne Koch-Rein

Cutting Both Ways: transSurgery and the discursive currency of the cosmetic


There is a trend in queer (and/or) feminist and transgender scholarship that links transSurgery and other (especially surgical, i.e. cosmetic surgery) forms of bodily modification. While in earlier analyses, these were/are sometimes pitted against each other to denounce one, or compare/d to criticize and dismiss both, they are here – as if in a countermove – made equivalent to depathologize both.

To assess whether and under what conditions this ‘cosmeticization’ can be successful as a move to rethink and reevaluate transSurgery, the following paper – after fleshing out and situating the proponents’ arguments a little further – sketches some of the adversaries, challenges, contexts, and potential pitfalls: mainstream rationales and sentiments against what are deemed ‘selective’ surgeries; delusory celebrations of cosmetic surgery that bolster a neo-liberal subject empowered by “the belief in the individual capacity to control one’s life (i.e. the body)”; the history of certain strands of feminist anti-trans scholarship that have employed analogies to cosmetic surgery; and feminist debates on cosmetic surgery that have mainly dismissed and analyzed it in a very simple gendered paradigm that has asked serious questions about, and often left no room for, agency. It examines how the equation of transSurgery and cosmetic surgery does not have to be to the detriment of one or both, but can be mutually beneficial, especially in complicating the dilemmas of agency, embodiment, and the perpetual search for subversion.