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.
- 1838-1868, “Herculine Barbin: The Recently Discovered Memoirs of a Nineteenth-Century French Hermaphrodite” – complied by Michael Foucault in 1980
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.
- 1868-1935 – “Transvestites: The Erotic Drive to Cross-Dress” – Magnus Hirschfeld
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.
- 1869-1936 – “From Female to Male: The Life of Jack Bee Garland” – Lou Sullivan
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.
- 1885-1956 – “Memoirs of a Man’s Maiden Years” – N. O. Body aka Karl Baer
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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