Ontological Governance: Gender, Hormones, and the Legal Regulation of Transgender Young People
Abstract: Legal institutions worldwide construct theories about gender’s ontology—i.e., theories about what gender is—and use those constructions to govern. In this article, I analyse how the Family Court of Australia constructed ontologies of gender to govern young people’s gender-affirming hormone use. By analysing the ‘reasons for judgment’ published about cases where minors applied for the Court’s authorisation to use hormones, I show that the Court constructed two theories about the ontology of gender concurrently—one essentialist and the other performative—which it leveraged to arbitrate the legitimacy of hormone use. By critically examining the Court’s ontological assertions, I argue that both theories advanced anti-queer directives that tethered the legitimacy of hormone use to its promise to produce normatively gendered subjects. This analysis highlights that legal regimes concerned with controlling gender-affirming practices have much more at stake than access to those practices alone. By governing mechanisms of gender’s production, these regimes do not merely shape how gender can be expressed but also the possible forms of gender itself.