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Philosophy in the Contemporary World

Volume 23, Issue 2, Fall 2016

Bioethics

Janet Donohoe
Pages 24-34

On a Hermeneutics of the Body

In much of the contemporary situation for trans* persons, authority over identity has been given to, or perhaps taken by, arbiters of the medico-legal discourse. These identity “experts” have become the gatekeepers for sex reassignment and gender designation. Alternatively, many theorists argue that identity is exclusively about first-person appeals to one’s own sense of oneself. I show here that neither of these accounts does justice to our experience. Instead, drawing upon Hans Georg Gadamer’s notion of horizons, I outline a position where first-person and third-person accounts of the meaning of the body can meet somewhere in the middle. Such a position, characterized by a hermeneutics of the body, mediates between the phenomenological first-person while still recognizing the third-person view of the body as relevant. Approaching the body through a hermeneutic process allows us to find a place where we can all be open to different performances of gender and different particular bodily actions that recognize the bodies of us all as a combination of sedimented styles of action within social discourses.

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