Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Nathan Stormer

Second Committee Member

Eric E. Peterson

Third Committee Member

Jessica Miller


Sex reassignment surgery (SRS) has become synonymous with transsexuality as both a symptom and treatment. While a patient's request to undergo surgical modification to 'change sex' is documented beginning in the early 20th century, the acceptance of SRS as a viable treatment did not occur until 1972. This project traces the struggle within medicine to make transsexuality visible, define it as a disease and formulate a course of treatment. A genealogical analysis of journal articles and books from 1930-1987 demonstrates the shifting relationship of surgery to transsexuality, as surgeons and psychiatrists negotiated, constructed and produced the transsexual body. Surgery changes from a symptom of transsexuality to treatment to confirmation of diagnosis. This change was perpetuated by surgery's failure to successfully treat all patients diagnosed with transsexuality, which made possible the categorization of the 'true' transsexual. It also pushed for a standardized criteria within the institution of medicine, which ultimately organized the transsexual body into three distinct stages. Each stage has its own goals, limitations and measures of success. The ultimate rhetorical argument for surgery was to allow the patient to be happy.