“How Sex Changed is a fascinating social, cultural, and medical history of transsexuality in the United States. Joanne Meyerowitz tells a powerful human story about people who had a deep and unshakable desire to transform their bodily sex. In the last century when many challenged the social categories and hierarchies of race, class, and gender, transsexuals questioned biological sex itself, the category that seemed most fundamental and fixed of all.
From early twentieth-century sex experiments in Europe, to the saga of Christine Jorgensen, whose sex-change surgery made headlines in 1952, to today’s growing transgender movement, Meyerowitz gives us the first serious history of transsexuality. She focuses on the stories of transsexual men and women themselves, as well as a large supporting cast of doctors, scientists, journalists, lawyers, judges, feminists, and gay liberationists, as they debated the big questions of medical ethics, nature versus nurture, self and society, and the scope of human rights.”
This book tells a very detailed history of the medicalization of transsexuality in the United States with a great deal of emphasis on male to female transsexuals. Despite the book claiming to be a history of transsexuality in general, it instead focuses on the medical aspects of being a transsexual (surgery and hormones in particular). The book talks a great deal about the surgical procedures for male to female transsexuals, but there is a lot less about female to male transsexuals. It often felt like the author threw the guys in as an after thought instead of really caring. I want to think more highly of the author though as the book was very detailed and was told in a narrative that made it more accessible to non-history buffs like me.
The book focuses a great deal on Christine Jorgenson (supposedly the first male to female transsexual in America according to the tabloids), but there is very little mention of Micheal Dillon (the female to male transsexual from the same time period). Though I can see why as Dillon was not American, but he made propositions to Jorgenson so it could have added to the story that everyone wanted a piece of her. It took more than half the book before a female to male was named and then they were quickly pushed aside for another male to female. This is common throughout history, but it is annoying to see it again and again especially in a book that is supposed to show the history. I am hoping the author does a follow up book about the history of transmen in America as that will be the only way that I will be able to accept that the author was able to see that this pattern was happening.
The book itself was long, detailed, and very dull. This is common of good history books. This book often rehashed the same issues out of order. It was not a linear history of medical treatments for transsexuals, instead it went topic by topic and focused on a select few transwomen and a select few researchers. This ignored the involvement that transmen have had in the treatment of transsexuals as many transmen have worked closely with the researchers mentioned, but instead the author focused on the transwomen. There was a mention of a transman (Lou Sullivan), but no mention of his friend Jamison Green who was even more active in the politics of transitioning. Lou Sullivan was only mentioned to show that there was a strict definition of what transsexuals could be. Lou Sullivan was gay so therefore he was not a prime candidate for a “true transsexual” as dictated by researchers.
So over all this book was fascinating and much needed, but it felt like only half the story. I hope that the author will be able to finish the story as I highly enjoyed the way she presented the information and she made it less about the mental illness aspect and more about how others dealt with something that others had already figured out.
4 out of 5 stars. I would recommend this book.
You can buy this book here.