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How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United Statesby Joanne Meyerowitz
Synopses & Reviews
In the autumn of 2012, Maxim Februari—known until then as writer and philosopher Marjolijn Februari—announced his intention to live as a man. The news was greeted with a diversity of reactions, from curiosity to unease. These responses made it absolutely clear to Februari that most of us don’t know how to think about transsexuality. The Making of a Man explores this lacuna through a deeply personal meditation on a profoundly universal aspect of our identities.
Februari contemplates the many questions that sexual transitions entail: the clinical effects of testosterone, the alteration of sexual organs, and its effects on sexual intimacy; how transsexuality figures in the law; and how it challenges the way we talk about sex and gender, such as the seemingly minor—but crucially important—difference between the terms “transsexual” and “transgender.” He analyzes our impressions of effeminate men and butch women, separating apparent acceptance from actual prejudice, and critically examines the curious requirement in many countries that one must demonstrate a psychological disturbance—a “gender identity disorder”—in order to be granted sex change therapies. From there he explores the seemingly endless minutiae changing genders or sex effect, from the little box with an M or an F on passports to the shockingly sudden way testosterone can adjust physical features.
With his characteristically clear voice combined with intimate—sometimes moving, sometimes funny—ruminations, Februari wakes readers up to all the ways, big and small, our world is structured by sex and gender.
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.
In the autumn of 2012, Maxim Februari, known until then as writer and philosopher Marjolijn Februari, announced his intention to live as a man. In The Making of a Man he describes how the news was greeted: the unease, the interest, and the slightly too comradely tone in which people suddenly started to address him. Whatever the reaction, there was always an element of ignorance. Hardly anyone seemed to understand what a sex change actually involves or how best to react to it.
Februari analyzes our impressions of effeminate men and butch women, and examines apparent acceptance and actual prejudice. Curiously, to gain access to medical treatment you are required to demonstrate that you are psychologically disturbed—you need to be diagnosed as suffering from a “gender identity disorder”—and the book examines the implications of this requirement. Then there are the far-reaching demands of officialdom that must be met so that, for example, “you can go on holiday with a passport that gives your correct gender.”
Februaris account of his own transition is fascinating. Although the process of changing sex is of course a lengthy one, the outside world experiences it as a fairly abrupt switch. From one day to the next, as the testosterone took effect, Februari started to find himself addressed as a man rather than as a woman. “What had changed?” he asks himself. “In the intervening twenty-four hours I hadnt had a haircut, I wasnt wearing different clothes; it was just that the testosterone had altered the subtle signals by which my body suggested its sex.”
Februaris characteristically clear, philosophical voice, combined with his intimate, sometimes moving, sometimes funny experiences make this account unique. He analyzes and describes, charts and enquires. Above all, he makes us think.
Honorable Mention, 2002 Sylvia Rivera Award in Transgender Studies, Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies
2002 ForeWord Book of the Year, Gay/Lesbian Nonfiction Category
About the Author
Joanne Meyerowitz is Professor of History at Indiana University and Editor of the Journal of American History.
Table of Contents
1. Sex Change
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