From Publishers Weekly
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.
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Several of these first-person transsexuals' accounts question socially assigned gender roles and expectations and challenge basic assumptions about what we think we know about gender. What is a "true self," and what does it mean to transform one's "self" outwardly to match one's inner gender identification? The reports of male-to-females (mtfs) Christine Jorgensen, Renee Richards, and Caroline Cossey, a (James) Bond girl and Playboy centerfold--no strangers to the media spotlight--mingle here with those of lesser-known female-to-males (ftms) Loren Cameron, a San Francisco photographer and bodybuilder; English-born transgender rights activist Mark Rees; and others. The many testimonies constitute a valuable collage for gender studies and sociology collections, matching human faces and emotions with external and internal procedures. Though no longer as shocking and rare, transsexual transformations still strike at the core of individual and communal identity issues, and that situation demands testimonies such as these to promote general understanding and acceptance. Readers should, however, prepare for graphic details of surgical procedures, and revelations of newly found erogenous pleasure, too. Whitney Scott
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