How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States / Edition 1

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Overview

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 have a deep and unshakable desire to transform their bodily sex. Over the past 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.
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Editorial Reviews

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. (Oct.) Forecast: This title should be a lock on campus via syllabi and library collections, and get national reviews on the basis of its status as the first history of transsexualism. Trade sales should be solid and steady, especially if displayed with the below title by Amy Bloom, which should also get significant attention. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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
Booknews
As early as the 1930s, but certainly after the well publicized sex change by Christine Jorgensen in 1952, scientists, doctors, and the public began to grapple with questions regarding the nature of sex. Meyerowitz (history, Indiana U.) traces the evolution of the discourse to the present, and projects it to the next generation. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
Fascinating account of how transsexuality has challenged American concepts of sex, gender, and sexuality in science, medicine, law, and popular culture in the 20th century. As defined by Meyerowitz (History/Indiana Univ.), transsexuality refers to conditions in which people hope to change the bodily characteristics of sex through hormones and surgery. Sex changes in animals were attempted in Europe in the early decades of the 20th century, and during the 1920s, German doctors performed sex-change surgery on patients, but few Americans were aware of the phenomenon before 1952, when the story of Christine Jorgenson's transformation from male to female made headlines. Magazines, newspapers, books, and B-movies sensationalized the topic, while scientific literature began debating the biological and social basis of gender and sexuality. By the 1960s, with more men and women calling for the right to determine their own sex, a small number of American doctors were acceding to these demands. Meyerowitz describes the two sexual revolutions that followed: one, the open eroticisation of male-to-female transsexuals; the other, an effort by doctors and transsexuals themselves to distinguish transsexuals from homosexuals and transvestites. She recounts how the latter effort led in the 1970s to the establishment of clinics, professional standards of diagnosis and treatment, research programs, and support groups, and how different concepts of gender led to friction between the emerging transsexual liberation movement and the gay and women's liberation movements in the decades that followed. With her sympathetic reporting on the lives of individual men and women coming to terms with theirtranssexuality-especially Jorgenson, who lived until 1989-Meyerowitz gives serious social history an engaging human face. Informative and absorbing. (20 b&w photographs)
The Atlantic
This unusually intelligent and straightforward cultural history...convincingly shows that our coming to view "biological sex"--the physical markers of femininity and masculinity--as malleable rather than immutable constituted one of the most profound moral, social, legal, and medical changes in twentieth-century America.
Booklist
Meyerowitz, teacher and editor...uses both skills to explain a confusing subject and pilot readers through a morass of changing terminology and interpretations...The book might have bogged down in the anatomical, chromosomal, psychological, and social aspects of the differences between men and women, but Meyerowitz avoids this by maintaining focus on major trends and attitudes. She cites carefully chosen persons, organizations, and publications to demonstrate the gradual development of the now generally accepted idea of maleness and femaleness occupying a qualitative continuum rather than representing polar conditions. Detailed and informative, and well supported by references and notes, Meyerowitz's work is commendable to anyone seriously interested in transsexuality.
New York Times

[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

The Nation

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

The Progressive

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

Bookforum

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

Psychology Today
Gender is a fundamental part of human identity, yet for some people the question, "Male or female?" is not easily answered. These individuals feel they are trapped in the wrong body. Their history, and especially their efforts to change their bodies through surgical and medical interventions, is the subject of this new book by Joanne Meyerowitz...This is a scientific work, but Meyerowitz keeps the very human side of the issue front and center throughout.
Women's Review of Books

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

Journal of Contemporary History

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

Journal of the History of Sexuality

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

Estelle B. Freedman
A masterful history. Drawing on extensive and compelling evidence, Joanne Meyerowitz shows how transsexuals, the doctors who treated them, and the media not only expanded the possibilities for individual sex change but also transformed the cultural meanings of sex, gender, and sexuality in twentieth-century America.
Susan Stryker
Quite simply the best work on transsexual history yet produced. How Sex Changed is a wonderful introduction to the topic for newcomers as well as a solid point of departure for specialists already working in the field. A lucid, readable tour de force of archival research.
James W. Reed
How Sex Changed brings transsexuals into the canon of U.S. history. Meyerowitz provides the disciplined analysis of the emergence of this minority that we need in order to bring them into our evolving gender history. This is one of the most original and useful contributions to the history of sexuality in a decade.
Leila J. Rupp
An absorbing tale. In Meyerowitz's deft telling transsexuality becomes a complex phenomenon that shook the foundations of American thinking about the ostensibly natural linkages among sex, gender, and sexuality. This is a masterful work.
Stephen Whittle
This splendid, beautifully written history of sex changing is also a history of changing sexual politics, social and political identities, and new technologies that have combined to change all our lives. A "must have" for all scholars of sex, sexual mores and sexual and gender politics, as well as required reading for all transsexual and transgender people. It is a reclamation of our history, of where we have come from and where we are going.
Regina Kunzel
How Sex Changed succeeds brilliantly in bringing together cultural, medical, and social histories of transsexuality, and in giving powerful voice to transgendered and transsexual people's role in making that history. This is a compelling and important book.
New York Times - Dinitia Smith
[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.
The Nation - Julia M. Klein
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.
The Progressive - Amanda Laughtland
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.
Bookforum - Jonathan Ames
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.
Women's Review of Books - Paisley Currah
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.
Journal of Contemporary History - H. G. Cocks
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.
Journal of the History of Sexuality - Alice D. Dreger
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.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674009257
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2002
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.48 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Joanne Meyerowitz is Professor of History at Indiana University and Editor of the Journal of American History.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 Sex Change 14
2 "Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty" 51
3 From Sex to Gender 98
4 A "Fierce and Demanding" Drive 130
5 Sexual Revolutions 168
6 The Liberal Moment 208
7 The Next Generation 255
Abbreviations 288
Notes 289
Acknowledgments 343
Illustration Credits 347
Index 349
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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2003

    An incredible work by Joanne Meyerowitz!!

    This is a very comprehensive modern history of Transsexuals, gender identity dysphoria, and cross-gender identification. It provides the reader with information, and points out those things that are misinformation, on those people who do not identify with their physical gender. It delves into the how and why. The author goes on to relate how treatment of those individuals has evolved over the last sixty or so years. It is written in a style that is easy to understand for anyone interested in knowing more than what is presented in the media. I found it to be fascinating and enlightening. It should be required reading for all Psychologists/Psychiatrists who have patients who identify as Transgender. I highly recommend it.

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