Stryker’s Hundred Years of Transgender History

In this chapter by Stryker, she attempts to provide a sort of running history for the transgender community beginning around 1850. She begins with a description of how difficult it must have been to have been a young person who wanted to have the role of the opposite gender in society and then goes into the fact that cross-dressing was outlawed specifically in various places beginning in 1848. There had previously been laws that limited cross-dressing based on people trying to portray races other than them in a racist light (which considering the fact that “black face” was so common in the 20th century in the tv and film industry makes me think that those laws themselves were extremely thinly spread and loosely followed) but this was a new type of legal discrimination that was specific to gender roles.

She talks about how little research there is to help say why cross-dressing became such a social issue and she then compared its development to the development of feminism, which I personally liked, because feminism in the 1800’s was an obscure and hard issue to garner popularity. She also mentioned the fact that men and women who were gay, lesbian, or interested in “cross-dressing” would attempt to find the anonymity they so desired in cities where they could be free of the restraints that small town life put on the individuals. Of course, this was an easier thing for men to do… but what wasn’t in the 1800’s, right?

She highlights that in the later 19th century, science became the new god — which is pretty true when you think about it. Those in search of ways to redefine themselves when it came to gender were beginning to find answers, and if not answers, at least the hope that they would soon exist — that science was making it possible for them to begin thinking about changing the sex they were defined at birth. With this a possibility, science certainly had a lot to do with changing the way gender made life work. She goes into a description a couple pages long of how Hirschfield was the first big advocate for trans, but I’m not going to go into that too much seeing as we went over it in class.

She talks about the stifling of the issue (WWII and Nazi Germany specifically) and says that, “Not until the middle of the twentieth century did social networks of transgender people begin to interconnect with networks of socially powerful people in ways that would produce long lasting organizations and provide the base of a social movement.” Regardless of the fact that there was a social movement coming to be, there was still a notion that surgeons who tried to do sex reassignment surgeries could face criminal prosecution over the notion of the “mayhem” of destruction of healthy body tissue. She noted that in the 1950’s, only a few dozen sex changes even took place in the United States.

Stryker describes the first real faces for the issue — Louise Lawrence, a trans woman who was involved in the networking of scientists and doctors in helping advocate trans issues, Virginia Prince, the first publisher of a trans-centric magazine, creator of some of the first trans organizations, and the individual who was seen at the center of government harrassment on the issue, and Christine Jorgensen, who we talked about a great deal in class… the first real “face” for trans people.

This chapter really delved into some of the biggest issues and obstacles that stood in the path of the trans movement and it also highlighted some of the largest characters over a hundred years of hard work. If anything, it really seemed to show the persecution of any people who didn’t want to be defined by gender, and I think that Stryker made a good point in making that the true basis for where the movement came from.


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