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How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States Hardcover – October 1, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When ex-GI George Jorgensen changed his sex and took on a new identity as Christine in 1952, the lurid journalism that followed focused on questions of Jorgensen's genitals, her sexual performance and her sexual availability set the tone for how U.S. media understood and discussed transsexuality. So argues Meyerowitz, professor of history at the Indiana University, at the beginning of this first complete history of American transsexualism. Carefully tracing the next 50 years of science and public attitudes surrounding transsexuality, Meyerowitz charts a number of fascinating historical moments: the complicated relationship between the gay rights movement and transsexuals in the mid-'60s; the deeply negative response that transsexuals had to Gore Vidal's Myra Breckenridge (Jorgensen thought of suing him); the complex battles to grant transsexuals a different legal sexual identity; how transsexuality became "sexy" through the careers of performers such as Coccinelle. While the book is scholarly in orientation, Meyerowitz's easy, readable style makes her thorough research in a wide range of fields accessible and enjoyable, even when she is detailing such subjects as internecine fighting among psychiatrists over the merits of sex-change operations. Meyerowitz thinks we have a much broader appreciation of gender and much more tolerance of gender variance these days, but she also sees that media visibility as not entirely positive, since most portrayals show transgender people as "freaks" or comic oddballs. On the whole, the book is an invaluable introduction to how ideas about gender and sexuality have evolved.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Christine Jorgenson wasn't the first person to undergo sex-change surgery, but her media-savvy personality and glamorous looks made her a household name in the 1950s. Historian Meyerowitz chronicles the saga of transsexuals themselves, including their struggles for access to sex transformation and their continued problems with discrimination both from the conservative Right and from gays and feminists who saw them as "infiltrators." She also shows how the phenomenon of transsexuality led physicians and academics to make elaborate distinctions between gender and sex and to ponder the origins of both in nature and nurture and how these ideas slowly entered common discourse. Although this book is accessibly written and is the first book to treat transsexuality exclusively, the narrowness of the subjects recommends it primarily for academic and research libraries. Smaller public libraries need a less specialized text such as John D'Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman's Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America.
Mary Ann Hughes, Neill P.L., Pullman, WA
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; First Edition edition (October 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674009258
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674009257
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,460,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By David Valentine on June 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book is, ostensibly, about the history of transsexuality in the US. But it is, as its title implies, more generally about how the concept of "sex" itself has changed in the US in the past hundred years. Meyerowitz has done an amazing job of putting together activist, scientific, and popular cultural sources to produce a scholarly -- but very readable -- history. Meyerowitz's main point is that it is through a "taxonomic revolution" -- initiated by the possibilities of transsexuality -- that scientists, sexual minorities, and broader US society have come to distinguish between sex, gender, and sexuality, and the kinds of identities that are attached to these concepts. She argues most persuasively that the distinction between these arenas of lived experience were worked out through the debates over transsexuality in the US, drawing on earlier European sexological discourses.
Meyerowitz uses Christine Jorgensen as the central figure in this book, and has gone part of the way to producing something of a biography of CJ. This works really well. Another notable feature of this book is that Meyerowitz is careful to follow the different experiences of transexual men and women, which adds further depth to this book.
This book is very readable -- I intend to teach it in an undergraduate course this year -- while at the same time theoretically sound and clearly very well-researched. It answered many questions that I had, and brought together much of what I have wanted to understand about this field.
Highly recommended for anyone interested in gender and sexuality, both specialists and the general reader.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Big Jess on February 15, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is a thoroughly researched and well written book. It places transsexual people in the context of U.S. history and undermines many myths that permeate popular culture about transpeople. Extremely informative and readable.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Sabrina Dee Schnur on July 8, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A very well written and informative book. A lot of info on Christine Jorgensen and the earlier doctors that fought for the rights of Transexuals. Also, it was nice to read a more "up-to-date" book on the subject too (copyright 2002). The only negative was that some info was overly repetitive and was a little jumpy in a historical time line. But, do not let that stop you from reading it, I highly recommend this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Laura Ann Scaife on November 6, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I will finish my own MTF transition in less than three weeks, but as I have undergone this amazing process, I got very curious about the people who went before me. This book was the answer to most of my questions. I realize that I owe the people in this book a huge debt which I can never repay, so let me try by saying that this book is an amazing piece of history. It is very well written and, while at times a little repetetive, puts the history of transexuality clearly in perspective. Using Christine Jorgenson as an anchor, the author then lays out very clearly what came before and and what followed. I was particularly amused at some of the comments about the sixties; "The doctors didn't trust the patients, and the patients didn't trust the doctors"! Fortunately that isn't the case anymore. If you are part of the transexual community or merely curious, give this a try. An excellent look at a piece of history seldom touched on by others, this is very well done and well worth a read.
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There is so much more to this topic then meets the eye. If you want to fill in the blanks as to where this starts ( the first successful operation 1930 ) and cover events up to today, then this is for you. A must read for parents and relatives to understand what is happening to a loved one or friend. It gave me tremendous insight into the topic and helped me deal with someone I love in an understanding and caring way. If you are TS/TG you should also read this and check out -Lynn Conway- & TSRoadmap both very helpful web sites. Apparently there are something like 40,000 trans women in the US today mostly living a normal life without anyone being the wiser since they look & act - well - normal. Finally the DSM 5 -aka- the psychiatric bible, no longer classifies transgender as a mental illness, but for what it is, that being a "dysphoria". It is an inescapable feeling for Trans people. Did you ever feel to be anyone other then who you are. If not, then you are lucking this is not something one chooses. I would say they are born this way.
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