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

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9780674009257: How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States
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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.

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About the Author:

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

Review:

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...[How Sex Changed] is an invaluable introduction to how ideas about gender and sexuality have evolved. (Publishers Weekly 2002-07-01)

[A] 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...With her sympathetic reporting on the lives of individual men and women coming to terms with their transsexuality--especially Jorgensen, who lived until 1989--Meyerowitz gives serious social history an engaging human face. Informative and absorbing. (Kirkus Reviews 2002-08-01)

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. (The Atlantic 2002-09-01)

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. (Booklist 2002-09-15)

[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 New York Times 2002-10-29)

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 Nation 2002-12-02)

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 The Progressive 2002-12-01)

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 Bookforum 2002-12-01)

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. (Psychology Today 2003-02-01)

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 Women's Review of Books 2003-02-01)

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