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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.
In this story of transsexuality, Meyerowitz shows how new definitions of sex circulated in popular culture, science, medicine, and the law, and she elucidates the tidal shifts in our social, moral, and medical beliefs over the twentieth century, away from sex as an evident biological certainty and toward an understanding of sex as something malleable and complex. How Sex Changed is an intimate history that illuminates the very changes that shape our understanding of sex, gender, and sexuality today.
[How Sex Changed] examines changing definitions of gender through the prism of transsexuality, that most mysterious of conditions in which a person is born with normal chromosomes and hormones for one sex but is convinced that he or she is a member of the other. Dr. Meyerowitz shows how mutable the words "male," "female," "sex," and "gender" have become, and how their meanings have evolved through time. Hers is one of several new books on the subject of the transgendered...In terms of the scientific quandary of gender, [this book] is the most important.
— Dinitia Smith
How Sex Changed is a sober, comprehensive cultural history that draws on previously unavailable archival sources. It is likely to become a standard reference in the field. How Sex Changed follows the growing self-identification and assertiveness of transsexuals in American society. One of its great strengths is its examination of the intersection and interaction of science and culture, a type of inquiry that should serve as a model for future work on gender issues...[This is] an intelligent, even indispensable, account.
— Julia M. Klein
Meyerowitz details the advancement of medical treatments for transsexuals along with accompanying changes in the scientific as well as the popular lexicon...Though doctors have published a number of medical texts on transsexuality, and several transsexuals have published their autobiographies, Meyerowitz's book stands out as a comprehensive, scholarly volume that incorporates research from a wide range of sources, including the perspectives of many transgender people themselves.
— Amanda Laughtland
A thorough and fascinating academic study...Meyerowitz in this fine book uses the history of transsexuality and the narrative arc of Jorgensen's story as a means by which to study our ever evolving notions of man and woman, sex and gender. The key word here is evolving. We haven't figured anything out, but at least we're asking questions.
— Jonathan Ames
In addition to examining these definitional battles, Meyerowitz details how transsexuality became a lens through which post-war American culture's concerns with "the limits of individualism, the promises and pitfalls of science, the appropriate behavior of women and men, and the boundaries of acceptable gender expression" were refracted. She uses the story of Jorgensen's personal transformation to frame a riveting social, medical and cultural history of transsexualism in the United States...The richness of Meyerowitz' incisive and accessible history lies in the breadth and depth of her research.
— Paisley Currah
Beginning with the 1950s, Joanne Meyerowitz shows how sex-change surgery forced people into rethinking gender beyond binary categories of male and female
Meyerowitz is too smart to fall for the charms of such simple essentialism, and also shows that transsexual patients who hoped for surgery were prepared to structure their life stories, and their sense of self, to fit in with the institutional meanings and interpretations of their "condition"
Meyerowitz is correct to turn away from the more simplistic theoretical idiom which posits transsexuality as only ever a hybrid symbol of thirdness that denaturalizes and parodies gender binaries.
— H. G. Cocks
How Sex Changed brings the reader to the revelation that transsexuality functioned as both a cause and effect of surrounding notions of what sex, gender, and sexuality do or don’t have to do with each other...[it] also provides a compelling look at many of the most prominent researchers and clinicians involved in transsexuality. Reading this book one is struck not only by the astounding number of theories that were put forth to explain (and sometimes explain away) transsexuality but also by the stark contrast between those clinicians and researchers who wanted to help transsexual people and those who were only interested in advancing their own careers...This book ought to be required reading for everyone engaged in the study of sex, gender, and sexuality, since everyone so engaged can use the understanding Meyerowitz provide of how tangled ideas about sex and gender can become and how harmed those entangled can be. The writing style—blessedly free of the needless jargon that chills so many would-be sexy books—makes How Sex Changed a pleasure to read and accessible even to undergraduates. The use of primary and secondary literature feels like scholarship at its best without being plodding. Meyerowitz performs a masterful job showing how the popular press, the medical literature, and the autobiographies of transsexual people ended up playing off each other; a narrower historical study of transsexuality could easily have missed these critical insights.
— Alice D. Dreger
1. Sex Change
2. "Ex-Gi Becomes Blonde Beauty"
3. From Sex To Gender
4. A "Fierce And Demanding" Drive
5. Sexual Revolutions
6. The Liberal Moment
7. The Next Generation