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. CHAPTER 1 . The Racial Plasticity of Gender and the Child In the late nineteenth-­and early twentieth-­ century life sciences, sex underwent two key transformations: sex became synonymous with a concept of biological plasticity that made it an alterable morphology, and, through experiments by largely eugenic scientists, it was racialized as a phenotype. The framing of sex through racial plasticity occurred in a broader scientific milieu in Europe and the United States that defined living organisms, both human and nonhuman, as naturally “bisexual ,” a mix of masculine and feminine forms. First operationalized through experiments in changing the sex and phenotype of animals, this racial plasticity was adapted for altering the human body by the emergent field of endocrinology between the two world wars. Yet if plasticity named the inherent indeterminacy of sex as a biological form, scientists also began to wonder ifthatmeantitmightnot beinclinedtotakeonbinary form,at least in certain cases. On the one hand, defining sex in the terms of racial plasticity granted unprecedented technical access to altering living morphology. On the other hand, the material reach afforded by plasticity held open the door to biological resistance to the imposition of rigid forms, such as mutually exclusive masculinity and femininity. Since plasticity is a quality—­a capacity to generate and receive imprints of form—­ and not a visibly discrete “part” of the body, endocrinology called upon the figure of the developingchildtoserveasastabilizingmetaphor .Asametaphorforaninvisible but material plasticity, the child organized sex and growth along parallel phylogenetic and ontogenetic scales. Yet this metaphor also preserved and kept alive the tension between indeterminacy and form at the core of sex. As a result, the sex binary moved closer to conceptual collapse the more it became scientifically alterable. By returning to the era that precedes the emergence of the medical category “transsexuality,”whatHenryRubincallsthe“pre-­historyofexperimental endocrinology,” we encounter “sex” as a wide-­ open field of biological • 35 • 36 THE RACIAL PLASTICITY OF GENDER AND THE CHILD form with highly racialized significance in the heyday of eugenic science.1 Earlytwentieth-­centuryendocrinologycontextualizedhowthechild’sbody became a central living laboratory for trans medicine over the rest of the twentieth century, while at the same time actual children were rendered passiveandinvisiblewithintheclosureofitsdiscourse.Thischapter,then,is not about trans children directly but rather works to open up the key conceptofplasticitythatshapedthetranstwentiethcentury .Thischapterisnot quite, for that matter, about many actual children at all, but more so about the strangeness of “the child” as a figurative form of life. One of the historical problems endemic to Western childhood is that an abstract concept of “the child” has profoundly overlaid—­ sometimes, overdetermined—­ the lives of actual children. The tension between abstraction and material life is, precisely, incorporated into the child as a strangely living figure, or what Claudia Castañeda aptly calls a “figuration.”2 One of the key historical effects of this figuration is that it allows for the child to serve as a metaphorical representation of other concepts, often ones that are too inhuman to stand on their own—­including plasticity. By calling attention to how scientific cultivation of the racial plasticity of sex relies on a metaphor, I do not mean to suggest that it is for that reason unreal or some kind of ruse. On the contrary, as we will see, it is precisely the partial misfit between plasticity and the child greased by the mechanics of metaphor that was so productive for medical science over the ensuing century. Metaphor is, after all, a well-­ established explanatory technique in the sciences. The rhetoric of science has been investigated through the metaphors that govern its composition, while the techniques of scientific research and theoretical inquiry have been read in terms of the metaphorical relationships between models and the phenomena under investigation.3 The history and philosophy of science have also paid close attention to the ways in which metaphor, among many literary, poetic, and aesthetic commitments, explains the emergence of European science from a specific Romantic tradition in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.4 Still, in those accounts metaphor tells us much more about language and the practice of science than about the objects, animals, and silenced bodies subjugated through scientific practice. The point is to reassess not only the position of the scientific observer but also the object of observation and scientific discourse. As Gillian Beer observes in Darwin’s Plots, a focus on metaphor is not an argument that scientific discourse is a set of literal fictions. In the case of Darwin, Beer argues that it was precisely his THE RACIAL PLASTICITY...


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