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The incredible stories of how trans men assimilated into mainstream communities in the late 1800s. In 1883, Frank Dubois gained national attention for his life in Waupun, Wisconsin. There he was known as a hard-working man, married to a young woman named Gertrude Fuller. What drew national attention to his seemingly unremarkable life was that he was revealed to be anatomically female. Dubois fit so well within the small community that the townspeople only discovered his “true sex” when his former husband and their two children arrived in the town searching in desperation for their departed wife and mother. At the turn of the twentieth century, trans men were not necessarily urban rebels seeking to overturn stifling gender roles. In fact, they often sought to pass as conventional men, choosing to live in small towns where they led ordinary lives, aligning themselves with the expectations of their communities. They were, in a word, unexceptional. In True Sex, Emily Skidmore uncovers the stories of eighteen trans men who lived in the United States between 1876 and 1936. Despite their “unexceptional” quality, their lives are surprising and moving, challenging much of what we think we know about queer history. By tracing the narratives surrounding the moments of “discovery” in these communities – from reports in local newspapers to medical journals and beyond — this book challenges the assumption that the full story of modern American sexuality is told by cosmopolitan radicals. Rather, True Sex reveals complex narratives concerning rural geography and community, persecution and tolerance, and how these factors intersect with the history of race, identity and sexuality in America.

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I got an ARC in return for an honest review on NetGalley.

I am a huge nerd when it comes to queer anything. I am sadly lacking in my knowledge of FtM and transman history as it doesn’t seem to be the topic of choice ever. When I saw this book up for grabs I freaked out. Finally a book that focused on my history. I wasn’t going to be just a footnote in a book that is supposedly about trans people, but focuses on MtF people for 99% of the book.

The book was easy to follow, but a bit dense. It was clearly an academic piece. It was written at a level where it was just slightly above the reading level that I can tear through. It took me two sessions to finish, instead of my customary one when it comes to queer books. I was expecting more of a Transgender Warriorsbut I was very happy with the book.

The book followed the lives of transmen as they were outed in the media in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The author used the local and national newspapers to piece together the stories of the lives of the men and to match up to current theories around gender, race, and identity. I appreciated the note that author had about terminology, but I hate the term “true sex”. The implications are pretty nasty. If the author hadn’t put it in quotation marks every time it was used, I would have abandoned the book assuming that it was transphobic. Thankfully the author made the language clear up front and showed a great deal of respect for the men she was discussing. My favorite sign of her respect was she constantly referred to the men as he and as men. She never took away their dignity. She had none of the issues I generally have with academic work done by someone who isn’t trans (maybe she is trans, I don’t know. I have not asked). Don’t get me started on my issues with psychology research!

The book taught me a great deal and made me reevaluate the way I see smaller cities. This book gave me validation in my views of port cities (did I ever mention how much I hated living in the SF area despite the large queer presence?). I much prefer the smaller cities or towns. According to this book I might just be following the footsteps of many transmen. I doubt the academic work was meant to make me feel less alone, but somehow this book did just that.

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4 out of 5 stars. I would recommend this book.

You can buy this book here.

~Isaiah

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