The Authenticity of the Body

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On Thursday March 22, at 4:00pm – 6:00pm (Australian Hearing Hub, Level 5, Room 212, Macquarie University) the Markers of Authenticity Seminar Series will recommence for 2018 with two speakers, Dr Karin Sellberg from the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry at the University of Queensland, and Professor Wendy Rogers from the Departments of Clinical Medicine and Philosophy at Macquarie University.

Our theme this seminar is the Authenticity of the Body, that is the way the body has been regulated and thought of in medicine, the media, and in society. Ideas about what constitutes the ideal state and what variations are permissable, tolerable, invited, and recognised shape the possibilities we imagine for ourselves and our conception of what it is to be embodied.

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Narrative Authenticity: Transgender Identity, ‘Passing’ and Coming-of-Age Stories

Dr Karin Sellberg, School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry, University of Queensland

From its modern emergence in the 1950’s and 60’s, transgender subjectivity and embodiment has relied on narrative as a means of transformation. After the highly publicized international announcement of the ‘first sex change’ of Christine Jorgensen in 1952, there was a surge of transition autobiographies published, outlining the pre- and post-transition histories and emotional developments of (initially primarily female-to-male) transsexual authors of various nationalities and backgrounds, as well as a number of academic works, also by transgender authors, analyzing these autobiographies and the questions they pose about gender.

Bernice Hausman recognizes both types of texts to be narratives of authenticity, or identity formation in Changing Sex (Routledge, 1995). Stories about how ‘I always knew I was a little girl/boy’, have become canonical within transgender academia and culture, as well as within the private experiences of transgender men and women. Not merely have they become the means by which a person can prove their transgender status within the clinical space, and thus receive treatment, but they’ve also become an often reiterated and internalized means of connection and self-recognition within transgender cultural spaces.

This paper will investigate the ways in which a number of linked transgender coming-of-age blogs reiterate the narrative structures as well as the more or less theoretical analyses coming out of the autobiographical transgender canon. I will argue that there is a canonical shape, content and understanding of the narratives of self appearing within this online community, and that these constraints determine the perimeters of ‘authentic’ transgender experiences.

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“Overdiagnosis and the problem of ‘real’ diseases”

Professor Wendy A. Rogers, Department of Philosophy and Department of Clinical Medicine, Macquarie University.

 The criteria for defining what ‘counts’ as a disease are contested in philosophy and medicine alike. Conditions such as measles, tuberculosis or malignant melanoma are widely accepted as authentic diseases. In contrast, conditions such as Gulf War Syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome and Lyme-like disease occupy a less certain place in Western nosology. Longstanding challenges in defining disease have been exacerbated by technological advances in medicine that permit identification of ever smaller degrees of abnormality; by the introduction of widespread screening programs; and by changes in diagnostic criteria for specific diseases. These factors have prompted the observation that much of diagnosed disease does not progress in the expected ways, a phenomenon known as overdiagnosis. Overdiagnosis is the detection of conditions taken to be diseases that would not have harmed the individual if left undetected. Overdiagnosis of “non-authentic” diseases raises a plethora of conceptual and ethical challenges, upon which I touch in this talk.

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