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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Queer, There and Everywhere: 23 People who Changed the World by Sarah Prager

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[Edit: Originally published July 8, 2017]

Queer, There, and Everyone is a really wonderful book. It’s well researched, informative, and best of all it’s accessible. As I’ve discovered seeking out books for my thesis, when it comes to queer texts they aren’t always the easiest to get your hands on or even read when it comes to more theoretical texts. There are a lot of queer texts that are mainly geared at adults. Queer, There, and Everywhere, provides good summaries of the amazing lives of twenty-three incredible people in language that you don’t need to be a college student to understand. As a voracious reader myself, I breezed through it in a couple hours.

Several of the people included in this book were people whose memoirs I’d already read, including Lili Elbe’s Man into Woman (though what I read was the renamed Kindle version Lili: A Portrait of the First Sex Change) and Josef Kohout’s The Men with the Pink Triangle. Queer, There, and Everywhere does a really great job of summarizing the stories in these books. Of course Lili and Josef’s sections were not only summaries of their memoirs, in fact, it wasn’t until this book that I learned Josef’s name, because his name is not included in The Men with the Pink Triangle. He chose to remain anonymous when the book was first published. 

Queer, There, and Everywhere is also one of those books that makes a great stepping stone for further research. The bibliography in the back is organized by section and so if there’s a particular person you find yourself wanting to look into further, it’s very easy to find other books or resources to pursue. I know I intend to invest in some of the books used as references for the sections on Renée Richards and Sylvia Rivera. The bibliographies of queer texts are your best friend when it comes to finding further readings, especially if you’re like me who’s really bad at googling things.

The people in this book range from the year 203 (Elagabalus) to today (George Takei). It’s not meant to be a comprehensive history by any means, there’s entirely too much rich and complex history for that. But our history has been one that gets overshadowed and ignored so often that this book feels really great.

Warnings:

There are a couple of deaths, Elagabalus’ and Harvey Milk’s that are, for this level of book, pretty graphically described. Those two both left me feeling distressed and I actually had to put the book down for a bit after the Harvey Milk section. It may have been the fact that both of these people were murdered that made their deaths hit particularly hard.

You can find it here.

Related Reviews: Christopher and his Kind

Snaps:

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