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

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Meyerowitz does a great service to historians, political scientists, sexologists, transgender activists, and gender clinicians alike in tracing the genealogy of these debates. She deftly demonstrates how. Jorgenson's story and the history of transsexuality are central parts of [the] reconceptualization of sex in the twentieth century.

The notion that biological sex is mutable, that we define and redefine it, that we can divide it into constituent parts, such as chromosomes, hormones, and genitals, and modify some of those parts, that male and female are not opposites, that masculinity and femininity do not spring automatically from biological sex, that neither biological sex nor gender determines the contours of sexual desire—these were significant shifts in American social and scientific thought.

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They occurred piecemeal through vociferous conflict and debate, and because not everyone accepted them, they laid the groundwork for ongoing contests over the meanings of biological sex, the sources of gender, and the categories of sexuality. How Sex Changed brings the reader to the revelation that transsexuality functioned as both a cause and an effect of surrounding notions of what sex, gender, and sexuality do or don't have to do with each other.

That is, at times contemporary attempts e. In this way Meyerowitz contextualizes the history of transsexuality while also making clear the importance of her subject to other realms of history. Most impressively, Meyerowitz manages this long narrative of ideas and ideals without ever losing sight of the real people whose lives were [End Page ] caught up in it.

She writes sensitively and sensibly about transsexual people, arguing that,. They were neither symbols, emblems detached from social milieus, nor heroes or villains engaged in mythic battles to further or stifle progress. They were instead ordinary and extraordinary human beings who When ex-GI George Jorgensen changed his sex and took on a new identity as Christine in , 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.

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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.


  1. Book Summaries Cont’d: 20th-Century Sexuality and Sexology.
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On the whole, the book is an invaluable introduction to how ideas about gender and sexuality have evolved. For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now. Javascript is not enabled in your browser. Enabling JavaScript in your browser will allow you to experience all the features of our site.

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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 , 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.

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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. Table of Contents Introduction 1. Sex Change 2.

HOW SEX CHANGED: A History of Transsexuality in the United States

From Sex To Gender 4. A "Fierce And Demanding" Drive 5. Sexual Revolutions 6.