Traversing Boundaries of Gender Two Books Challenge Conventional Notions
Reviewed Amy Adams Squire Strongheart, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Making History From Joan of Arc to RuPaul
By Leslie Feinbert
212 pages, Beacon Press, $27.50
Exploding the Myths of Male & Female
By Phyllis Burke
308 pages, Anchor Books, $23.95
IF YOU'RE puzzled about the evolving roles of women and men in the 1990s, two new books might help, or they might just confuse you further, depending on how committed you are to keeping the sexes separate. "Transgender Warriors" and "Gender Shock" both deal with sex and gender and are based on the premise that "female" and "male" are not fixed constructs.
To understand "Transgender Warriors," it is helpful to know something about the author. Leslie Feinberg is one of millions of individuals who came into this world with a gender expression different from her anatomical sex.
Feinberg has lived her entire life answering the question, "Are you a guy or a girl?" She says that the answer is not simple because she is not a simple person. Feinberg sees herself as a complex individual and that the pronouns "he" and "she" do not adequately reflect that complexity. "I do not want to simplify myself in order to neatly fit one or the other."
"I am transgender," writes Feinberg, "and I have shaped myself surgi cally and hormonally twice in my life, and I reserve the right to do it again."
"Transgender," as Feinberg uses it, is a word that encompasses a variety of diverse but coalescing communities, including transsexuals, transgenders, transvestites, bi-genders, drag queens and kings, cross-dressers, intersexuals (hermaphrodites) and even women body builders who have transgressed the boundary for what is deemed socially acceptable for the feminine physique. In short, "transgender" includes anyone whose gender expression is considered by society as inappropriate for her or his sex.
Often finding herself on the wrong end of a broken beer bottle because someone was frustrated by her appearance, Feinberg began asking a few questions of her own. Have all societies recognized only two sexes? Why is sex-reassignment or cross-dressing a matter of law? Have people who traversed the boundaries of sex and gender always been demonized, and, if so, how did they cope or fight back?
"Transgender Warriors" was born out of a need to answer these questions, and the title is a tribute to all persons who violate the cultural boundaries of sex and gender: "We face discrimination and physical violence. We are denied the right to live and work with dignity and respect. It takes so much courage to live our lives that sometimes just leaving our homes in the morning and facing the world as who we really are is in itself an act of resistance."
The 15-chapter volume begins with some autobiographical narrative about what it was like to grow up working class and Jewish during the McCarthy era and to come out as a transgendered person in gay bars in New York and Ontario during the Stonewall era. …