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To give a history of transsexuality
means discussing the development of medical opinion, popular culture, and some
trends in how people described themselves and what they did.† It means entering
into some conceptual discussion of what we mean by transsexuals, and the way
that the developing ways of thinking among different groups affected each
other.† Joanne Meyerowitz does all this quite proficiently, starting at the
beginning of the twentieth century, going up to the 1990s.† Her main focus is
on the decades of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and much of her discussion
revolves around the case of Chris Jorgensen, which made the public aware of the
possibility of sex changes in the 1950s, which she describes in the chapter,
"Ex-GI Becomes Blonde Beauty."† She details some of the ideas of
well-known theorists such as Harry Benjamin, Robert Stoller, and John Money.†
She chronicles the complexities of public opinion, which gradually grew more
accepting of gender reassignment.† While she addresses the relation between
gender, sex, sexuality, and the law, How Sex Changed does not spend much
time on theoretical issues.† It is a well-written book that deserves a wide
It is particularly interesting that
at the beginning of the century, many theorists accepted that there is not an
absolute distinction between male and female, especially in† psychology, but
also in biology.† According to the theory of bisexuality, everyone is to some
extent male and to some extent female.† But this theory has only won limited
acceptance in popular culture, which is uneasy with people who are hard to
classify as either male or female.† Yet, surprisingly, it was in the 1950s that
the theory of human bisexuality had its heyday.† Oddly, it seems that in some
ways, the public was more open to the fluid nature of biological sex than it is
These days we tend of think of sex
as a biological category while gender is a psychosocial category.† One of the
merits of Meyerowitz's book is that it shows not only how we arrived at
viewpoint, but also how our current view is not necessarily our final one.†
Certainly, to describe a person who wants surgery changing male genitals to
female as a woman locked in a man's body is just one possible portrayal, and it
is not necessarily any more accurate than any other.† Meyerowitz never
addresses the larger question of why we feel so compelled to divide people up
in such a binary fashion into male and female, trying to minimize the diversity
among people.† So, while this work will be an important contribution to the
history of sexuality, it nevertheless raises more philosophical and theoretical
questions than it answers.†
© 2004 Christian Perring. All
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island.
He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main
research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.
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