But who could describe my fright when, on the next morning, I awoke and found myself feeling as if completely changed into a woman. — Case 129, Autobiography, from Psychopathia Sexualis, a Medico-Forensic Study by Richard Von Krafft-Ebing
At the time the passage above was written, people who felt trapped in the wrong gender automatically became case-studies. Today they become the men and women they always felt they were. Transsexuals test our notions of what it is to be male or female and, more provocatively, what it means to be one self as opposed to another. “Their stories,” says Jonathan Ames, “hold the appeal of an adventurer’s tale.”
In Sexual Metamorphosis, Ames presents the personal narratives of seventeen gender pioneers. Here is Christine Jorgensen, the first celebrity transsexual, greeting thousands of well-wishers from the stage of Madison Square Garden. Here is Caroline Cossey, former model and Bond (as in James) girl, being outed in the tabloid press. Here is novelist and English professor Jennifer Finney Boylan discussing her impending transformation with her heartbroken spouse and supportive yet confused colleagues. The result is a fascinating and compulsively readable book, filled with anguish, introspection and courage.
It's a story that extends back far into human history: a boy or girl feels uncomfortable in his or her own gender-"trapped" in the body of the wrong sex-and life becomes an attempt to reconcile the dichotomy. But it's only in the last 75 years or so that, with the help of medical technologies, a third act has been possible for this narrative, one in which the story's hero has the opportunity to bridge the schism by actually changing his or her physical gender. And, as the stories in this remarkable anthology show, it's in this third act that the true difficulties begin. In his introduction, editor Ames argues that the shared narrative that runs through this anthology parallels that of the classic "bildungsroman," and it's true that the book is really a collection of coming-of-age stories. But it's the unique perspective of the storytellers, as well as Ames's editorial decisions that make these 15 memoirs (all excerpts) particularly engaging. The book covers such surprising subjects as a Bond girl, a Gulf War vet turned beauty queen and an amateur tennis champion while offering such prurient details as the gory particulars of the operations themselves and the first post-op sexual encounters. But it's the excerpts' most human moments-attempts to explain the transformation to young (and even grown) children, reactions of family, friends and strangers-as well as otherwise mundane situations (i.e., getting fitted for one's first suit as a man) that truly make the book a worthwhile cover-to-cover read. Being an anthology, the book is naturally uneven in sections, occasionally dull or repetitive but, in general, Ames makes great choices in his excerpts, and his introduction is good enough that one wishes he had inserted his own voice in the volume just a bit more.
This should be required reading for everyone. Very well chosen selections.
I’m currently reading this book and absolutly LOVE IT!!!! It’s a must for anyone who wants a taste of all the diffent types of transgender journeys there are out there. It’s amazing how many things we share and how unique our journey is at the same time.