The Politics of Hormones
Thursday, September 29, 2022
Ronald Tutor Campus Center
Rosen Family Screening Theatre, TCC 227
Image courtesy of Mary Maggic
The one-day symposium will investigate dominant and lesser-known narratives about the role of hormones in the embodiment of vertical logics of race, sex, gender, and sexuality. Presenters will engage with how hormones have neurological, cardiovascular, immune, and other effects such as energy level, response to injury, and stress, alongside the conception of hormones in feminist, queer, and trans contexts, that are often discussed in reference to sex-associated bodily developments and reproduction. This broader frame is an attempt to slough off the taxonomical and reified terms of corporeality and identity in the hope that other shapes and constellations of solidarity, inquiry, and knowledge might emerge.
9:30 am-10 am: Welcome and Opening Remarks: Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Director of the Center for Feminist Research
Panel One (10am-11:45pm): Health, Development, and Matrices of Exposure
- Dr. Stephanie Cook, an Assistant Professor in the departments of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Biostatistics at New York University School of Public Health. She is also the Director of the Attachment and Health Disparities Research Lab (AHDL).
- Dr. Christopher Kuzawa, the John D. MacArthur Professor of Anthropology and Faculty Fellow with the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.
- Dr. Patricia Silveyra, the Anthony D. Pantaleoni Eminent Scholar, Associate Professor, and interim Chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at Indiana University Bloomington School of Public Health.
12-1:00 pm: Catered Lunch for Conference Presenters
Panel Two (1 pm-2:45 pm): Is Testosterone a Metonym for Race?
- Liz Carlin, a Ph.D. candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center.
- Dr. Brandon Kramer, a User Experience Researcher at Edge & Node and The Graph protocol.
- Dr. Sari van Anders, the Canada 150 Research Chair in Social Neuroendocrinology, Sexuality, and Gender/Sex, and Professor of Psychology, Gender Studies, and Neuroscience, at Queen’s University.
Panel Three (3 pm-4:45 pm): Bodily Mutability and Volatility and the Slippery-ness of Race
- Dr. Jules Gill-Peterson is an associate professor of History at Johns Hopkins University.
- Dr. Katrina Karkazis, a Professor of Sexuality, Women’s, and Gender Studies at Amherst College and a Senior Research Fellow with the Global Health Justice Partnership at Yale University.
- Dr. Reena Shadaan, a Mustard post-doctoral fellow at the Institute for Work and Health and a researcher at the Environmental Data Justice Lab, located in the Technoscience Research Unit (University of Toronto).
5-5:30pm Roundtable Discussion of all the Panelists
Levan Institute for the Humanities; Consortium for Gender, Sexuality, Race and Popular Culture; Center for Latinx and Latin American Studies; Gender and Sexuality Studies; Africana Studies Research Cluster; Race, Gender, and Sexuality Research Cluster; Environmental Humanities Working Group; Dornsife Center on Science, Technology, and Public Life
Affiliation: Canada 150 Research Chair in Social Neuroendocrinology, Sexuality, and Gender/Sex, and Professor of Psychology, Gender Studies, and Neuroscience, at Queen’s University
Paper title: “Testosterone, Gender/Sex, and Racialization/Coloniality”
Abstract: Testosterone is a hormone that circulates in most adults’ bodies, regardless of gender/sex. Yet cultural thought ties it exclusively to masculinity/maleness/manhood in ways that tend to prevent scientific research on it and other phenomena, including and beyond femininity/femaleness/womanhood. As a result, much feminist, queer, and trans scholarship about testosterone has worked to challenge its gendered conflation, as well as counter its use in bioessentialist narratives that are used to restrict human rights related to gender/sex. Some scholars have also addressed how testosterone is not just gendered but also racialized. Accordingly, in this talk, Dr. van Anders discusses new ways of understanding testosterone in relation to gender/sex, racialization, and especially anti-Black racism, as well as colonialism and settler colonialism, highlighting perspectives gained from being a scientist doing feminist/queer science with testosterone and gender/sex diversity.
Affiliation: PhD candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center
Paper title: “Hair, Hormones & Haunting: Racializing Polycystic Ovary Syndrome”
Abstract: Public health framing of health disparities often medicalizes race as an independent risk factor for disease outcomes. In the case of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), racial and gendered assumptions about hormones and hairiness are part of the diagnosis itself. Syndromes are ontologically tricky, and the diagnostic criteria for PCOS triangulate on the condition by combining two different biomarkers: body hair and testosterone. Hair and testosterone both have histories of misuse in eugenic research; when used as clinical measures, they can carry forward powerful narratives of biological difference. Through citation analysis of clinical research and physician practice guidelines, I explore how these narratives shape PCOS and bridge gaps in epidemiological evidence. PCOS researchers circulate strong claims about racial difference in hirsutism (“male-pattern” hair growth in women) as if they were established knowledge, sometimes calling for race-specific diagnostic thresholds. Tracing the links between (1) race and hirsutism; (2) hirsutism and testosterone; and (3) testosterone and race in the clinical literature reveals that these connections are all conceptualized in ambiguous and inconsistent ways. Through the mythology of testosterone, the logic linking race to disease is attenuated, and the uncertainty clouding each logical link is mitigated by the apparent strength of the chain as a whole. As PCOS is increasingly reframed as a metabolic disease and a risk factor for other conditions, faith in the differentiating power of testosterone can shape how disparities in these health outcomes are assessed and intervened on.
Affiliation: Assistant Professor in the departments of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Biostatistics at New York University School of Public Health. She is also the Director of the Attachment and Health Disparities Research Lab (AHDL)
Paper title: “Underutilization of the Intersectionality Framework: The Past, Present, and Future of Hormone Research to Understand Health and Disease among Sexual and Gender Minorities of Color”
Abstract: Conceptions of intersectionality posit that intersecting identities (e.g., racial/ethnic identity, gender identity) and processes (e.g., systems of sexism such as laws that limit one’s ability to make decisions about their body) are both vitally important to understanding inequity as well as disparities that arise in response to inequity. Further, exposure to intersectional processes of discrimination may lead to experiences of minority stress (i.e., excess stress experienced based on one’s minority identity). This conception extends to the examination of physiological mechanisms underpinning the association between exposure to intersectional forms of minority stress and health among sexual and gender minorities of color. However, the extant research literature examining health among sexual and gender minorities tends to lack an intersectional stance and focus, thus limiting our ability to understand how these processes may differentially influence patterns of health among racially/ethnically diverse populations of sexual and gender minorities. Therefore, in today’s talk, I will 1) summarize how an intersectional approach related to the study of minority stress and stress physiology among sexual and gender minorities could elucidate key pathways to understand disparities in health, 2) utilize examples of the use of an intersectional approach from my own work examining minority stress, cortisol, and health among young sexual minority men, and 3) make suggestions related to future directions in the field of intersectionality and stress physiology among sexual and gender minorities of color.
Affiliation: Professor of Sexuality, Women’s, and Gender Studies at Amherst College and a Senior Research Fellow with the Global Health Justice Partnership at Yale University
Paper title: “A Lot of People Coming from Africa, Asia”: Race, Testosterone, and the Regulation of Women Athletes”
Abstract: In this talk, I examine how testosterone is racialized in sex testing in sport and the way this is imbricated in other domains of biomedical research. Medicoscientific epistemologies, technologies, and institutions are always racialized. But as Amade M’charek et al. have argued, race is often an “absent presence” both normatively and methodologically (M’charek, Schramm, and Skinner 2014). In sex testing, mentions of race are often excluded from discourse and the obfuscation of race engenders a “slippery- ness”; race is silenced and submerged even as it is made present. For example, “gender challenges” of specific women athletes engage racialized judgments about sex atypicality and femininity that emerged in the context of Western colonialism and are at the heart of Western modernity. Foregrounding the intertwined workings of colonialism, race, medicoscience, and modernity reveal race as central to, not apart from, this regulation. Exposing and centering these relationships, the regulation and its effects can only be understood as intentional and as a predictable outcome of legacies that not only continue to haunt, but to harm.
Affiliation: User Experience Researcher at Edge & Node and The Graph protocol
Paper title: “The Molecularization of Race in Testosterone Research”
Abstract: While feminist science studies scholars have documented the misleading and dangerous implications of reducing testosterone to a ‘sex hormone,’ few studies have explored how testosterone is used to racialize populations in and beyond scientific research. In this presentation, I detail the results of a content analysis of 149 studies that evaluates population differences in testosterone. Despite widespread claims that testosterone varies between racial groups, my analysis of this literature provides scant evidence to support these proclamations, undermining the notion that testosterone contributes to racial differences in biomedical and biosocial outcomes. To supplement these findings, I use network analysis to visualize study outcomes as a citation network and trace racial difference testing in testosterone research from early twentieth-century eugenics research to the contemporary ‘gold-standards’ used by scientists today. Second, I propose three theoretical mechanisms—ambiguity, absence and data recycling—to help explain how the racialization of populations is perpetuated in this context. Lastly, I employ an inferential strategy known as exponential random graph modeling (i.e. logistic regression for network data) to test which factors drive misleading discursive claims in testosterone literature. These analyses demonstrate that the gender and location of study populations as well as the location and scientific domain of the researchers assessing these groups increases the likelihood that scientists will make racializing claims. Together, these various causal mechanisms provide a stronger basis for science and gender studies scholars to understand how researchers enact population differences across different scientific contexts.
Affiliation: John D. MacArthur Professor of Anthropology and Faculty Fellow with the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University
Paper title: “Pregnancy cortisol in the intergenerational perpetuation of health inequality”
Abstract: Research demonstrating the lasting health impacts of a mother’s experiences during pregnancy has led to popular conceptions that maternal diet and other decisions made during pregnancy can harm health in her offspring. In this talk I will critically review the state of this evidence. Evolutionary principles underscore the effectiveness of the mothers’ physiology and metabolism as buffers against variation in diet during pregnancy. At the same time, psychosocial stressors lead to acute and rapid responses in the mother’s stress hormone cortisol, which can reach the fetus and have direct, biological, long-term effects on health in the next generation. Because most forms of chronic stress are societally imposed, this work highlights how factors like structural inequality and systemic racism—more so than an individual’s decisions during pregnancy—have intergenerational impacts on health, contributing to health inequality that maps onto social categories like race and class.
Affiliation: Associate Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University
Paper title: “The Permanent Crisis of Sex and Gender: Race and the Intersex Exception”
Abstract: This paper revisits the middle chapter of Histories of the Transgender Child, which narrates the clinical invention of gender as a medical device for managing the unpredictable hormonal plasticity of hospitalized intersex children in the 1950s. The return is prompted by anger with the persistence of an intersex exception meant to certify political claims both in anti-trans legislation and oppositional discourses of gender inclusion. The clinical history of hormonal volatility casts intense doubt on the optimism of queer and trans political investments in plasticity, not just their authoritarian opponents. More pointedly, it lights up their common racial innocence.
Affiliation: Mustard post-doctoral fellow at the Institute for Work and Health and a researcher at the Environmental Data Justice Lab, located in the Technoscience Research Unit (University of Toronto)
Paper title: “Beyond Molecularized, Individualized, and Damage-centered Frameworks: Towards a Decolonial Feminist Approach to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs)”
Abstract: Oil refineries and settler colonialism are not typically how feminist and environmental frameworks scope the problem of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Instead, it is much more common to find EDCs described as a problem of packaging, plastics, and consumer goods, and to characterize their effects as a problem of bodily damage, and particularly as injuries or alterations to the reproductive and sexual development of individuals. This work seeks to expand from these individualized, molecularized, damage-centered, and body-centered frames, and to strengthen decolonial feminist frameworks for understanding EDCs. Building on our collective learnings, teachings, and engagements in the Indigenous-led Environmental Data Justice Lab, we contend that our understanding of EDCs must expand to the structures that accompany oil extraction and refining, as well as to the distribution of emissions to airs, waters, and lands. Building on the argument that pollution is colonialism (Liboiron), we hold that EDCs are materially a form of colonial environmental violence, disrupting Land/body relations, and at the same time, are made possible by a permission-to-pollute regulatory regime.
Affiliation: Anthony D. Pantaleoni Eminent Scholar, Associate Professor, and interim Chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at Indiana University Bloomington School of Public Health
Paper title: “Sex hormones and respiratory disease: lessons learned from clinical studies and animal models”
Abstract: Asthma is a lung disease caused by exaggerated lung inflammation leading to airway obstruction and compromised airflow. Despite significant advances in its diagnosis and treatment, asthma continues to be a significant health problem affecting more than 25 million patients in the US, and over 300 million around the world. Epidemiological studies have indicated that starting around puberty and peaking during mid-life, women have an increased prevalence of asthma compared to men, and adult women have a higher rate of asthma exacerbations than men. The causes of these disparities remain unclear; however, studies have shown that sex-specific inflammatory mechanisms regulated by gonadal hormones contribute to differences in airway reactivity in response to allergens, environmental exposures, infection, and other stimuli. My laboratory uses experimental models of allergic asthma to explore the contributions of sex hormones to lung inflammatory mechanisms. In this talk I will provide an overview of the epidemiology of asthma across the life span and show results from our studies using mouse models demonstrating sex differences in allergic asthma phenotypes and lung inflammatory responses to air pollution exposures. I will emphasize contributions of the estrous cycle stage, gonadectomy, and circulating gonadal hormone levels to lung inflammation and airway hyperresponsiveness in response to environmental challenges.