The concepts of a “third gender” category and “transgendered” groups of people are not new or recent discoveries. In fact, researchers and anthropologists have been studying these cultures for decades. Their findings can be seen throughout the numerous posts found on the blog Trans Bodies Across the Globe. From cultures in India to South America gender variant individuals found in different cultures date back for hundreds of years.
These cultures and “third genders” help to establish a foundation for our own understanding of transgender. In this blog I will discuss the first half of Susan Stryker’s book Transgender History. In this book, Indiana University scholar Susan Stryker details the political activism and history of transgendered individuals and their movement in the United States. It is important to understand there are other cultures that have third gender categories, but also imperative to understand the history and struggles of transsexual and transgendered individuals in our society.
In the first chapter of the book Stryker simply defines many terms that she will use through the remainder of the book. Of these she lists sex, intersex, morphology, gender, gender roles, gender comportment, and gender identity as a small portion of words that would fit into her book. These words she explains are easily misunderstood or interpreted incorrectly. Two of the most conflated words being gender and sex.
In the next chapter of the book Stryker goes on to speak about the history of transgender. Pointing to many historical moments, movements and figures which helped transform the image and perception of gender variant people Americans understand today.
The medical field is one important historical aspect of transgendered history that has helped to create transgendered individuals as sickly or mentally unstable. Stryker explains, “Access to medical services for transgender people has depended on constructing transgender phenomena as symptoms of mental illness or physical malady, partly because “sickness” is the condition that typically legitimizes medical intervention” (Stryker, 37). If transgendered people hoped to obtain any medical help they had to succumb to these dangerous stereotypes and assumptions that they were ill.
Other topics discussed in the beginning of the book ranged from demonstrations that lead to violence as well as famous advocates of transgender and transsexual movements. This includes the famous Hirshfeld, Prince, and Jorgensen.
The first half of Stryker’s book is a great description of what has occurred in the United State’s history regarding the transgender movement. It describes well the limitations and prejudices seen by this minority group in America and provides the dominant culture with a look into their struggles.
I really am enjoying this book because it is well written and easy to read. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in finding out more about the United States transgender cultures and communities or anyone interested in learning about people different or similar to themselves. Enjoy!