Cover image for How sex changed : a history of transsexuality in the United States
How sex changed : a history of transsexuality in the United States
Meyerowitz, Joanne J. (Joanne Jay)
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2002.
Physical Description:
363 pages, 19 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HQ77.95.E85 M48 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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How Sex Changed is a fascinating social, cultural and medical history of transsexuality in the United States. Joanne Meyerowitz tells a powerful human story about people who had a deep and unshakable desire to transform their bodily sex. In the last century when many challenged the social categories and hierarchies of race, class and gender, transsexuals questioned biological sex itself, the category that seemed most fundamental and fixed of all.

Author Notes

Joanne Meyerowitz is Professor of History at Indiana University and Editor of The Journal of American History.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Meyerowitz, teacher and editor (of the Journal of American History), uses both skills to explain a confusing subject and pilot readers through a morass of changing terminology and interpretations. During the last 50 years, members of the general public, medical and legal personnel, and transsexuals themselves have all tried to describe transsexuality and its many ramifications. Meyerowitz highlights the contributions of leading medical pioneers, such as Harry Benjamin and John Money, and transsexuals, including Christine Jorgensen and others less famous. The book might have bogged down in the anatomical, chromosomal, psychological, and social aspects of the differences between men and women, but Meyerowitz avoids this by maintaining focus on major trends and attitudes. She cites carefully chosen persons, organizations, and publications to demonstrate the gradual development of the now generally accepted idea of maleness and femaleness occupying a qualitative continuum rather than representing polar conditions. Detailed and informative, and well supported by references and notes, Meyerowitz's work is commendable to anyone seriously interested in transsexuality. William Beatty

Publisher's Weekly Review

When ex-GI George Jorgensen changed his sex and took on a new identity as Christine in 1952, the lurid journalism that followed focused on questions of Jorgensen's genitals, her sexual performance and her sexual availability set the tone for how U.S. media understood and discussed transsexuality. So argues Meyerowitz, professor of history at the Indiana University, at the beginning of this first complete history of American transsexualism. Carefully tracing the next 50 years of science and public attitudes surrounding transsexuality, Meyerowitz charts a number of fascinating historical moments: the complicated relationship between the gay rights movement and transsexuals in the mid-'60s; the deeply negative response that transsexuals had to Gore Vidal's Myra Breckenridge (Jorgensen thought of suing him); the complex battles to grant transsexuals a different legal sexual identity; how transsexuality became "sexy" through the careers of performers such as Coccinelle. While the book is scholarly in orientation, Meyerowitz's easy, readable style makes her thorough research in a wide range of fields accessible and enjoyable, even when she is detailing such subjects as internecine fighting among psychiatrists over the merits of sex-change operations. Meyerowitz thinks we have a much broader appreciation of gender and much more tolerance of gender variance these days, but she also sees that media visibility as not entirely positive, since most portrayals show transgender people as "freaks" or comic oddballs. On the whole, the book is an invaluable introduction to how ideas about gender and sexuality have evolved. (Oct.) Forecast: This title should be a lock on campus via syllabi and library collections, and get national reviews on the basis of its status as the first history of transsexualism. Trade sales should be solid and steady, especially if displayed with the below title by Amy Bloom, which should also get significant attention. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Christine Jorgenson wasn't the first person to undergo sex-change surgery, but her media-savvy personality and glamorous looks made her a household name in the 1950s. Historian Meyerowitz chronicles the saga of transsexuals themselves, including their struggles for access to sex transformation and their continued problems with discrimination both from the conservative Right and from gays and feminists who saw them as "infiltrators." She also shows how the phenomenon of transsexuality led physicians and academics to make elaborate distinctions between gender and sex and to ponder the origins of both in nature and nurture and how these ideas slowly entered common discourse. Although this book is accessibly written and is the first book to treat transsexuality exclusively, the narrowness of the subjects recommends it primarily for academic and research libraries. Smaller public libraries need a less specialized text such as John D'Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman's Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America.-Mary Ann Hughes, Neill P.L., Pullman, WA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Meyerowitz (history, Indiana Univ.--Bloomington) recounts the history of Americans hoping to change their physical sexual characteristics, starting when George Jorgensen returned from Copenhagen in 1952 as Christine, her passport reflecting her sexual reassignment surgery. Her story brought forth great demand among transsexuals, mostly ignored by an indifferent and timid medical community. The discourse began mostly in the popular press. Meyerowitz concentrates on the 1950s and 1960s, when the psychiatric and psychological establishment regarded transsexuals as "mentally ill" and the surgery as "sexual mutilation." By the 1970s, some university hospitals allowed the surgery, usually sheltered by gender identity research clinics that shooed away homosexuals. Such narrow notions of sexuality attracted wrath from radical feminists and gay activists. A few liberal judges who accepted friendly medical testimony made law by defining sex by postoperative anatomy and gender identity, rather than by birth certificates and chromosome testing. The optimistic 1970s gave way to the conservative 1980s. Cost, as always with any unconventional medical procedure, remained (remains) an obstacle. Court battles have only begun--over marriage, adoption, divorce, passports. The discourse expands. Meyerowitz writes well. No bibliography. Excellent endnotes. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. All public and academic collections. P. K. Cline Earlham College

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
1 Sex Changep. 14
2 "Ex-Gi Becomes Blonde Beauty"p. 51
3 From Sex to Genderp. 98
4 A "Fierce and Demanding" Drivep. 130
5 Sexual Revolutionsp. 168
6 The Liberal Momentp. 208
7 The Next Generationp. 255
Abbreviationsp. 288
Notesp. 289
Acknowledgmentsp. 343
Illustration Creditsp. 347
Indexp. 349