New! Improved! Just as much sodium as before!

March 26, 2007 at 5:45 pm 1 comment

Welcome to a new feature, called me reviewing something. I decided that since I’m now almost exclusively reading annoying things for class, I would use my copious free time to read things that actually interest me. I found my first item for review while looking for something by Judith Halberstam (look forward to a review of Female Masculinity soon). Finding her whole section of the shelf empty, I stumbled instead upon the nice shiny cover of Deborah Rudacille’s The Riddle of Gender: Science, Activism, and Transgender Rights.

The book opens with a quotation from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty”:

Glory be to God for dappled things–
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change

I have to say that I found Rudacille’s format one of the strongest points of the book. She pairs transcripts of interviews with gender variant folk (hooray for Ben Barres!) with chapters on various topics–Through Science to Justice, Childhood, Interrupted, and Fear of a Pink Planet, just to give you an idea of the flavor–that dabble in history, activism, endocrinology, health care, and more. Mixing it up this way makes the book readable in a way that a lot of queer writings aren’t. I’ll admit that I glazed over a couple of times during chromosome discussions, but even the science was presented in a way that a total non-science person (me) could understand.

And the interviews themselves are real gems. I particularly appreciate that Rudacille never really offers up “authoritative” definitions for terms like transsexual or intersex. Instead, she defines them historically, and allows her (contemporary) interview subjects to speak for themselves on what gender means or where the differences may or may not lie between words like transsexual and transgender.

Overall, the book gets a big thumbs up from me. It touches on the standard history (Hirschfeld) without getting mired in it, and introduces a history I know I never had any knowledge of (Benjamin). It addresses science in a frank but accessible way. The interviews and biographies are treated with respect and sincerity. Here’s one of my favorite bits:

If the stories contained in this book teach us anything it is that gender variance is neither a fad nor a revolution. It is a biological fact. Our continuing failure to acknowledge this fact virtually ensures that there will be more Alexanders and Tacys and Gwens, individuals whose pain cannot be assuaged by a syringe or a scalpel and who die violent and premature deaths. Whether dying by their own hands or at the hands of uncomprehending others, these individuals have been sacrificed to an illusion, the belief that the spectrum of gender contains only two colors, black and white, and nothing in between.


Entry filed under: books. Tags: , , .

Some thumbs

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Alex  |  April 25, 2007 at 9:01 am

    Thank You


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Blasts from the Past

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