Creating, maintaining and questioning (hetero)relational normality in narratives about vaginal reconstruction

Feminist Theory 14 (1):105-121 (2013)
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Abstract

Analysing ten interviews with women diagnosed with and treated for congenital absence of the vagina, this article theorises the notion of ideal (hetero)relational normality. It explores how women in my case study negotiate, relate to and challenge this notion and examines the normative and bodily work for which it calls. The article specifically underscores the corporeal dimension of (hetero)relational normality. I argue that this notion of normality shapes the bodies of the women through medical interventions, while concurrently being reinforced through the corporeal shapings that the women undergo. These corporeal shapings consolidate enacted norms concerning heterosexuality and form understandings of female and male bodies. The analysis also reveals how these women nevertheless find ways to re-negotiate and question the notion of ideal (hetero)relational normality and its intertwinement with medical practice. The article contributes both to the critical examination of genital surgery and to feminist discussions of how to critically examine heterosexuality without rejecting it. Furthermore, it provides a deeper understanding of how medical interventions designed to create a vagina, or dilate a vagina considered ‘too small’, are made meaningful by the women affected.

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