series event

Society as a medical toolbox: Social medicine as an ambiguous form of transgender care 

This month is LGBT History Month in the UK, so the Centre for History in Public Health (CHiPH) is hosting four seminars exploring queer health history as part of their ongoing seminar series (currently convened by Dr Hannah J. Elizabeth). Join the seminars to hear about the intersections between queer health, history, and activism across varied time periods and geographies. While most CHiPH seminars are recorded, join the zoom live to join the discussion.

In this presentation, Dr Ketil Slagstad examines how trans medicine was enacted as a form of social medicine in Norway from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. During this time, a new model for regulating 'sex change' was introduced. These practices had little in common with what today is understood as gender-affirming treatment. Psychiatrists, doctors, psychologists and social workers with a special interest and training in social medicine developed new diagnostic routines and therapeutic practices that emphasised the social aspects of medical transitioning.  

In this paper, Ketil Slagstad draws on archival material, medical records and oral history interviews with former patients, health professionals and activists to demonstrate how specific notions of society and the social both underpinned and were mobilised by professionals in medical practice. This paper traces the conflicting and ambiguous ideals and goals of this type of care, balancing between biomedicine and social medicine. He explores what this case says about the meeting of social medicine and minorities in the welfare state, particularly by situating social medicine in the long tradition of state medicine in Norway with close ties to sexology and sexual health. Finally, he asks whether social medicine, a kind of medicine with subversive and liberating potential, may have become particularly prone to reproducing norms of the normal and the pathological. 


Dr Ketil Slagstad graduated from medical school in 2011. He worked as a medical doctor before he became an editor of the Journal of the Norwegian Medical Association. He started as a PhD student in the history of medicine at the University of Oslo in 2019. Ketil’s PhD project Biomedicalisation of Transgender: Sex and Gender in Postwar Medicine, aims to analyse the medical terms which have been used to characterise, define, distinguish and pathologise biological, psychological and social sex and the extent to which these terms still have effect in the present.  


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