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The link between Intersexuality, Transgenderism, and Surrogacy

Kammy's picture

I've found this week's readings to be both interesting and salient, especially in comparison to Elly Teman's Birthing a Mother (which I have been reading for another class). Teman's book is an ethnographic exploration of surrogacy in Israel. It examines the process of surrogacy as perceived by both the surrogate and the intended mother, and it addresses the construction of motherhood within the particular context of Judaism and nationalism of Israel.


Most interesting to me were Sullivan's article regarding testosterone, and Roughgarden on intersexuality and transgenderism. Along with Teman, both Sullivan and Roughgarden address the use of medical technology towards the construction of either feminine or masculine ideals. The process of surrogacy is highly medicalized. It entails a large amount of hormone therapy for IVF: in order to extract eggs from the intended mother, to synchronize the menstrual cycles of the surrogate and the intended mother (from whom the egg was extracted), and in order to maintain the first few weeks of pregnancy. One round of IVF is rarely sufficient, and thus surrogates may undergo as many as six rounds of invasive IVF treatment (Israeli law only allows 6 rounds for surrogates). And furthermore, various medical procedures are performed throughout the pregnancy, such as ultrasounds and amniocentesis – which sometimes lead to termination of pregnancy if fetal abnormalities are detected. The entire process is highly structured and within the domain of medical authority and intervention. Roughgarden herself postures that transitioning between gender and sex might be perceived positively the way pregnancy is – as a discovery rather than a diagnosis and a process to be medically guided: “Just as we should speak of 'discovering' a woman to be pregnant, and not of 'diagnosing' her, we should also speak of discovering transgender gender identity”. I think that that Surrogacy is certainly a marginal and unconventional path towards motherhood, but it seems to me like a critical link and an insightful approach in understanding and reframing intersexuality and transgenderism. By examining surrogacy, we might recognize how constructed our conceptions of femininity (along with motherhood) and masculinity are and furthermore recognize medical intervention as a useful tool in certain circumstances.