Early Trans and Intersex Narratives

Three books in a row. From left to right they are: "Herculine Barbin: Being the Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth Century French Hermaphrodite" compiled by Michael Foucault; "Transvestites: The Erotic Drive to Cross-Dress" by Magnus Hirschfeld; and "From Female to Male: The Life of Jack Bee Garland" by Lou Sullivan

Continuing with the theme of trans and intersex narratives, I have made up a short master post of early memoirs and biographies of trans and intersex figures that I am familiar with, including the ones I discussed in this month’s review. I am here defining early as having been born in the 1800s, even if their text wasn’t published until later. They are listed in order of age range.

This is the earliest written memoir I have found in my studies. The actual memoir portion of the book is quite good, though pieces are missing due to mishandling. It’s the extra “dossier” at the end of the book, along with the introduction, that Foucault added full of legal and medical reports and a fictional story based on Barbin’s life a that I find deeply fetishistic. As it is a book that gets taught in queer studies classes, you may be able to find a pdf online without having to spend money on it or, if you’re at university, the school library might have it. If you do want to buy it, I would recommend buying used. 

First published in German in 1910 and later translated into English in 1991, the book spends pages 17 to 123 going into 17 case studies of trans people who have detailed their lives for Hirschfeld. It can be a slow slog through dated and a bit technical language, but I think ultimately very enjoyable for someone interested in trans history. 

This is the one genuine biography out of the set. Published by trans man and activist Lou Sullivan in 1990, he was drawn to Jack Garland after hearing about him in a presentation. Unfortunately, this book is out of print and can be difficult to find. To my shame, while I do own this book, I haven’t read it yet. Perhaps it will appear as a future review.

  • 1882-1931 – “Man into Woman” compiled by Niels Hoyer

Lili Elbe’s memoir is an interesting case, written in third person with identities masked and compiled by a third party. Outside of some of the cases in Hirschfeld’s “Transexuals,” this is the only genuine memoir I have found of a trans woman. This can be found in a number of ways, I own the new ebook version “Lili: Portrait of the World’s First Sex Change” as well as a facsimile reprint of “Man into Woman.” Getting your hands on an original copy can prove difficult and pricey.

Update 6/15/20: “Man into Woman” was recently republished in a comparative academic edition that goes hand in hand with an online archive.

Published in 1907 and reprinted 100 years later with a beautiful afterward detailing the man behind N. O. Body. See review for more information.

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Approaching Judaism as a Queer Trans Man

A Rainbow Thread by Noam Sienna

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with religions. One that has been inherently distrustful even before I realized I was a queer trans man. Yet something about a higher power and the magic of religion has always fascinated me. I wasn’t raised religious, except in the vague Christian-normative way most secular families are. Christmas might not have been a “religious” holiday for my family, but it’s still a religious holiday underneath. You’d be hard pressed to find a wholly secular “Christmas” holiday, though the McElroys’ Candlenights does try its best, it’s ultimately pan-religious rather than secular.

Despite the fact that I wasn’t raised religious, religion was always an option. My mom, an ex-Catholic and religious history and comparative religion double major, made it very clear that religion was an option, should I ever want to pursue it. As a result, I had Hanukkah books and Kwanza books alongside my Christmas books, ate latkes and knew how to play dreidel, but also sang Christmas carols and got a new Christmas ornament every year. I also remember spending at least one holiday with a Jewish friend when I was in kindergarten or first grade, though I could not for the life of me tell you what holiday it was.

Torah Queeries edited by Gregg Drinkwater, Joshua Lesser and David Shneer

After briefly looking into what conversion would mean when I was in college, I didn’t actually make the decision to look into converting formally until I moved away from home. Approaching Judaism is not easy, it’s a journey, but it’s one I feel prepared to make, due to the fact I’ve made a similarly massive transition before with my gender. Just like with gender transition, converting to Judaism isn’t a massive change in my worldview, it’s just a change in how I approach the world. 

That said, just because Judaism is what feels right to me doesn’t mean that it’s still not easy to grapple with the historical stigma that chases queer and trans people wherever they go. Noam Sienna’s “A Rainbow Thread: An Anthology of Queer Jewish Texts from the First Century to 1969” presents an incredible historical record, but it’s also one that isn’t wholly happy. In between loving homoerotic poems and stories, you also have first hand records documenting the persecution of queer people in history. While court or arrest records are sometimes the only historical documents that remain of queer presence, it doesn’t make it any less challenging to read them, especially when they come from a religion you are looking to join.

Balancing on the Mechitza edited by Noach Dzmura

However, the way Judaism has evolved into it’s various branches means that the Judaism of then is not the Judaism of now and there is absolutely space in Judaism for queer people. This is made apparent through the existence of books like “A Rainbow Thread” and “Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentary on the Hebrew Bible,” as well as through the Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, which is a congregation in New York City that is explicitly for the LGBTQ community.

One other book that I have found particularly important in twining my conversion and gender together is “Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in the Jewish Community,” edited by Noach Dzmura. It’s designed with a readership of transgender people in mind and as a result is an indescribably cathartic read. Some might find the terminology dated, because the book is almost ten years old at this point and many of the authors writing are older, but that doesn’t detract from the messages that the book brings.

If you’re interested in pursuing something that isn’t Judaism. Some other books I would recommend are:

  1. “Holy Harlots: Femininity, Sexuality & Black Magic in Brazil” by Kelley E. Hayes, which “examines the intersections of social marginality, morality, and magic in contemporary Brazil by analyzing the beliefs and religious practices related to the Afro-Brazilian spirit entity Pomba Gira.” Pomba Gira being a figure who has been linked with trans women and gay men, which if memory serves is either talked about on in the book or in the accompanying DVD, “Slaves of the Saints.” 
  2. “In from the Wilderness – Sherman: She-r-man” by David E. Weekly. “In from the Wilderness” is a memoir, that details Weekly’s life as a transgender man holding religious office in the Methodist Church. 
  3. “Omnigender: A Trans-religious Approach” by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott. I haven’t read this myself, but I have heard very good things about it. It seems to be a more Christian approach, but I can’t tell if it’s geared toward any one specific denomination.

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Introducing Earring Magic Ken! He’s wearing a what as a necklace?

Last month, after a week of bidding I acquired one Earring Magic Ken doll. Mattel’s best selling Ken doll.

What?

I know what you might be thinking. Thomas you are an adult, why on earth are you buying a Ken doll? And moreover why is that relevant to your blog?

Disregarding the fact, that I still have several Barbies from when I was a young lass. Earring Magic Ken is special, because he was inadvertently designed off of queer rave fashion of the early 1990s. Specifically, he’s wearing a cock ring as a necklace, which was a known queer fashion statement at the time.

Earring Magic Ken

After reaching out to their audience of young children Mattel learned they would like a new Ken doll to be cooler and more hip. So they went out looking for what was cool and as it happened the queer fashion worming its way into the mainstream was what they picked up as cool. Columnist Dan Savage wrote an article in 1993, the year the doll came out, detailing a really excellent explanation of what was going on. I would highly recommend it as reading for anyone interested in learning more. 

“Cock rings exploded (ouch!)—as vest zipper pulls, as key rings, as bracelets; rubber ones, leather ones, chain ones. But the thick chrome variety, the Classic Coke of cock rings, was and is most often worn as a pendant,” (Savage).

In 2017, Savage said in an article by Bryan Young, that he thought the “Earring Magic Ken incident [was] more of an amusing cultural blip than some kind of important moment, noting that neither the doll nor the hubbub is well-known today,” and that he didn’t think that a gay man under 40 would know about it. Well, it’s 2019 and I’m 25, so here we are. 

Now I’m a queer historian so I am well aware that I’m an outlier here, because I seek out this kind of stuff. However, I discovered Earring Magic Ken through a decently popular post on Tumblr. A post which currently has over 270,000 notes. That’s no small amount of people and I’m sure many of them, like myself, are on the younger side of things. With projects like Making Queer History and books like “Queer, There and Everywhere” emerging, younger members of the LGBTQ community are getting more and more access to their history. As a result, fascinating tidbits like Earring Magic Ken are resurfacing. 

The Tumblr post does admittedly have some misinformation attached to it. There’s a reblog that says that there was no corresponding Barbie for Earring Magic Ken. There were two actually, a blonde and a brunette Barbie as well as a Midge doll, they just didn’t sell particularly well opposite Ken, who flew off the shelves. 

Below, I have linked two different iterations of the Tumblr post, as well as a link to the Dan Savage article, the Bryan Young article and a few others. 

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Tumblr Post: https://transmanreno.tumblr.com/post/159839841850/surprisebitch-fangnominous-m00nqueer-ok

Tumblr Post (the one with the bit of misinformation): https://transmanreno.tumblr.com/post/170000579996/gay-son-of-a-pastor-shoptiludropdead 

Dan Savage article: https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/ken-comes-out/Content?oid=882402

Bryan Young article: https://money.howstuffworks.com/barbie-earring-magic-ken-gay-icon-1993.htm

Pride article: https://www.pride.com/90skids/2018/3/16/discontinued-gay-ken-doll-will-haunt-mattel-forever

The Man Behind the Doll article: http://manbehindthedoll.com/mbtd_earring.htm