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Normal: Transsexual CEOs, Crossdressing Cops, and Hermaphrodites with Attitude Paperback – September 9, 2003

3.9 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Taking in an amazing range and diversity of the human experience of gender and sexuality, novelist Bloom (Love Invents Us) devotes an essay each to three phenomena: female to male transsexualism, heterosexual cross-dressing and the intersexed, or those with ambiguous genitalia or confusing chromosomal balance. But she is most interested in examining "why the rest of us struggle" with gender and sexual experiences we do not share. Bloom interviews people from each of the above groups (as well as doctors, social scientists and gender activists) and brings together, in graceful, readable prose, a plethora of facts, ideas, arguments and personal responses to help us reconsider received ideas about gender. While some of her information is surprising (babies born with "confusing" gentials are more common than babies born with cystic fibrosis), she never uses the lives of her subjects to titillate. Bloom is happy to confess her own, and others', confusions and lack of information, pointing out that there is no reliable information on the number of heterosexual cross-dressers, for instance. And she allows her subjects like the female-to-male-transsexual who has not undergone phalloplasty and claims, "I can live this way, as a man with a vagina" their complicated lives. Fascinating without being prurient, detailed without being overly scientific, the book opens new ways of viewing not only gender but our own inability to accept difference.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Exploring territory that lies beyond the dichotomies of female and male, gay and straight, Bloom, a National Book Critics Circle finalist for her story collection, A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, introduces members of three very different groups who challenge common definitions of gender and sexuality. For her first nonfiction book, she interviewed women who have surgery in order to conform physically with the male gender they have always seen themselves as having; heterosexual men who satisfy a sexual fetish (they prefer to call it a hobby) by dressing in women's clothing; and the intersexed, whose prime political objective is to do away with the unquestioned cosmetic surgery on children born with ambiguous genitalia. A practicing psychotherapist, fiction writer, feminist, and lesbian, Bloom dares the reader to be willingly confounded by her always engaging, frequently humorous interviewees while also airing her own reactions, particularly her outrage at the brutal surgeries whose benefits have yet to be proven performed on unwitting infants. As an accessible, nonsensationalistic introduction to a fascinating and controversial subject, this volume is recommended for all collections. Ina Rimpau, Newark P.L., NJ
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (September 9, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140003244X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400032440
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #339,209 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on December 31, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In "Normal", Bloom chronicles her journey into understanding female-to-male transsexuals, heterosexual male crossdressers, and the intersexed. Intersexuality is the more preferred term than hermaphroditism. Intersexed babies are those born with genitals that are not as easily identifiable as either male or female, so doctors and surgeons perform often unnecessary and traumatizing surgery to force the baby to conform to what society and the medical community believe the standards to be. Bloom ultimately finds that our notions of what is normal are very constrained, and are much more variegated than the general population believes. By getting beyond the medical and technical jargon and interviewing the people in these categories, she discovers that even in minority groups like these, there are differences between the individuals, so she must dispel her own expectationss about commonalities within minorities. "Normal" is a wonderful introduction into understanding the human varieties on the margins, as well as understanding what is normal.
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Wow, this was eye opening and fascinating! I first read it back in college in a gender studies class but then again last year. It is something I would recommend to all people because gender is never black and white. Never just girl or boy- guy or gal. :)
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Format: Paperback
As a transgender woman, I found parts of this book pretty transphobic. For example, when describing male to female cross-dressers, she says:

"Crossdressers wear their fetish, and the gleam in their eyes, however muted by time or habit, the unmistakable presence of a lust being satisfied or a desire being fulfilled in that moment, in your presence, even by your presence, is unnerving. The mix of the crossdressers’ own arousal and anxiety and our responsive anxiety and discomfort is more than most of us can bear."

It's also very essentialist in how it portrays gender, describing cross-dressers as failing to grasp traits such as "female friendship" and the "female tradition of support and accommodation for one's partner and of giving precedence to the relationship overall".

While there are some redeeming features of the book, and I found the other 2/3 of the book talking about intersexuals and FtMs better, I still found it overall a negative reading experience. I'd recommend anything by Kate Bornstein as a better introduction to transgender issues.
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Format: Hardcover
This lucid book surprised me twice: first, when it exposed me to valuable information I'd never seen before despite a lifetime of study of sexual deviance and, second, when it entertained me with a quality of writing rarely seen. Amy Bloom is, without doubt, an extraordinary writer capable of graceful prose.
Her inquiry into the three subjects of transexualism, transvestism and intersexuality mirrors that of an investigative journalist or probing sociologist: Bloom went into the field, conducted extensive first- and secondhand research and brought home interesting and unexpected insights. No matter how familiar you are with any of these subjects, you will learn something new and useful from this book.
And the pleasure of reading it makes the book doubly enjoyable.
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Format: Hardcover
this book is not for those who have any real experience/knowledge of gender issues, but this is a great introduction to three basic gender 'differences': transsexualism, crossdressing, and the intersexed.
bloom doesn't come off as sensation or polemical or academic - which seem to be the general choices with writings about gender.
she does not by any means manage an exhaustive report, of course: the world of the transgendered is far too complex to manage that, but she does a fair job. these read like the long magazine articles they are, & i would have appreciated a little more in the way of her 'afterword' - that is, more of her thoughts, definitions, a little more of the civil rights issues at stake, etc.
but for what it is, a decent-enough read.
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Format: Hardcover
After a popular novel and two stunning collections of short stories, psychotherapist and fiction writer Amy Bloom turns an eye toward gender, and her new non-fiction book is a knockout. Made up of three individual essays and an Afterword called "On Nature," Bloom examines issues of gender that are outside what most of society calls "normal." In "The Body Lies: Female-to-Male Transsexuals," we are introduced to a number of people born genetically male who are living as women (with or without sex reassignment surgery); in the section on "Heterosexual Crossdressers," we learn about manly men who, at times, enjoy dressing in feminine garb; the last segment, "Hermaphrodites with Attitude," is about people born with ambiguous "genital anomalies." The author interviewed numerous transsexuals, crossdressers, and intersexed people as well as doctors, educators, sex researchers, and others to give readers an engrossing glimpse at the confusion, prejudice, and misunderstanding that occurs when people are not so easily boxed into categories of "male" or "female." With a deft touch and a wry sense of humor, Bloom makes a cogent argument for acceptance and understanding. In a segment that will no doubt be much quoted, she writes, "(O)ur mistake is in thinking that the wide range of humanity represents aberration when in fact it represents just what it is: range. Nature is not two little notes on a child's flute; Nature is more like Aretha Franklin: vast, magnificent, capricious-occasionally hilarious-and infinitely varied" (p. 149)

Anyone interested in a combination of delightful writing style and keen insight about issues of gender will find this book fascinating. I highly recommend it.
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