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  • Queer Embodiment: Monstrosity, Medical Violence, and Intersex Experience by Hilary Malatino
  • Eden Kinkaid (bio)
Queer Embodiment: Monstrosity, Medical Violence, and Intersex Experience by Hilary Malatino. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2019, 264 pp., $45.00 hardcover.

In their recent book, Queer Embodiment: Monstrosity, Medical Violence, and Inter-sex Experience, Hilary Malatino presents a historical and institutional genealogy of "intersex" as a category, demonstrating how intersex bodies have long served as the ground for upholding notions of dimorphic sex and normative gender. Situating intersex embodiment as the "major conceptual center of queerness" (6), Malatino argues that intersexuality is at the root of modern understandings of sexual selfhood. Across the book's chapters, they trace the deployment, transformation, and contestation of the meaning of intersex from its inception in medico-scientific discourse and modern sexology through to its contemporary instantiation as "disorders of sex development." Malatino examines this history with two major questions in mind: "How did intersexuality sediment as an anomalous type of bodily composition that needed to be corrected? How can we contest that understanding of intersexuality as we develop ways of thinking and enacting gendered embodiment otherwise?" (7).

Drawing together scholarship within intersex and trans studies, feminist new materialisms, and the philosophies of Foucault, Deleuze, and Guattari among others, Queer Embodiment approaches intersex embodiment as a means of troubling foundational taxonomies at the heart of modern conceptions of sex and gender and as a way to upend the supposed naturalness of sexed and gendered embodiment. Through a close reading of trans and intersex archives "from below," alongside critical reflections on their own biography, Malatino provides a compelling historical, institutional, and lived history of intersex as a category. While engaging this history, they are keen on exposing its omissions, ruptures, and alternatives, providing thoughtful strategies for resisting forms of medical and epistemological violence and reimagining the meanings of intersex.

In chapter 1, "Queer Monsters: Michel Foucault and Herculine Barbin," Malatino engages the story of Herculine Barbin, whose memoirs were published by Michel Foucault in 1978. Barbin's memoirs provide a personal account of her ambiguous sexed embodiment and queer desires, which led to medical and social interventions and ultimately, her suicide. Through a "reparative reading" of Barbin's memoir, Malatino argues that it is not Herculine's sexed ambiguity itself that led to her suicide; rather, it is others' lack of tolerance for this ambiguity, which Herculine at times seems to have experienced as pleasurable. Here, the medical establishment was complicit in policing sexed ambiguity; Malatino describes how discourses of "hermaphrodism," which was a category that tolerated a "two-sexed" condition, gave way during the late nineteenth century to discourses of "false" and "true hermaphrodism," which reinforced [End Page 184] the idea that one had a single "true sex" that could be discovered. Situating the memoir in Foucault's oeuvre, Malatino considers how this emerging concept of "hermaphrodism" intersects with larger concerns of governmentality, biopower, ascesis, and technologies of the self, theoretical terms that are further developed in relation to intersexuality through the remainder of the book.

Chapter 2, "Impossible Existences: Intersex and Disorders of Sex Development," focuses on the historical and discursive shift from the term "intersex" to the contemporary term "disorders of sex development." This shift was motivated, in part, by a desire to normalize intersex conditions and locate them within a normative sexed and gendered trajectory of "development." Malatino makes the implications of this shift clear: "if one is intersex, one cannot be a man or a woman; if one has a DSD, one is still either a man or a woman and has just hit a bump in the road on their way to a finally and firmly sexed designation" (90). Malatino worries that this shift recirculates ideas of "true sex" that have historically led to the pathologization of and medical intervention on intersex bodies. They thus reject the "politics of normalcy" shaping intersex terminologies and protocols, instead arguing for a more affirming and complex intersex politics.

Malatino confronts the limitations of the trans and intersex archive and its omissions in the third chapter, "Gone, Missing: Queering and Racializing Absence in Trans and Intersex Archives." Here, they are concerned with how the archive only...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2151-7371
Print ISSN
2151-7363
Pages
pp. 184-187
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-18
Open Access
No
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