Medicalization and Its Discontents: A Queer History

Queer people have long maintained a vexed relationship with the medical profession and its disciplinary outlook. Modern conceptions of sex, gender, and sexuality have been decisively shaped by medical science, in often highly conservative ways that are closely entwined with histories of racialization and ableism. At the same time, queer physicians, researchers, and activists have made significant contributions to the development of modern medicine, and to wider understandings of health and well-being.

Drawing on their own research into the cultural politics of sexual health, in this talk Dr Lloyd Meadhbh Houston offers a historically informed exploration of the decidedly double-edged sword that medicalization – the process by which previously non-medical phenomena come to be defined and treated as issues requiring medical intervention – has afforded to queer people in their pursuit of liveable lives.

Through an exploration of the writing and performances of figures such as Virginia Woolf, Bob Flanagan, and Torrey Peters, they will illustrate how medicalization has shaped queer life and culture, for good and ill, and demonstrate how queer people, within and beyond the medical profession, have sought to intervene in the domain of health.

About our speaker:

Dr Lloyd Meadhbh Houston is Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in English at the University of Cambridge, where they also hold the position of Senior Postdoctoral Researcher at Trinity College. They are the author of Irish Modernism and the Politics of Sexual Health (OUP, 2023), and a range of articles and chapters on the medicalization of sex, queer history and culture, and the history of erotica and obscenity. Alongside their academic research, they also engage in outreach work around gender diversity and trans inclusion and co-host the podcast Censored with Aoife Bhreatnach