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Blending Genders

Social Aspects of Cross-dressing and Sex-changing.

Edited by Richard Ekins and Dave King.

This is a book about the various shades of people who shift between our society's gender role boundaries. It is a collection of papers by fifteen contributors, drawn together by commentaries by the authors.

Transsexuals are prone to tell you that "They are quite different from transvestites," but when you ask how, they become vague, and their answers seem less than believable. Perhaps the first part of this book will give some clues, contrasting the stories told by cross-dressers in the early part of this century, as role play, with the personal experience of one, Mark Rees, who has crossed the gender boundary permanently, as role identification. In so doing the book reflects the stereotypes of that one is a "man dressing up" or was "always really a woman," or the case of Mark Rees, a man. Because of this, the next section describing a 'career path' may seem at first sight contradictory. Perhaps, because for Mark, his feelings were clear early in childhood, the stages were collapsed into a very short time frame, or perhaps they never happened. For Farrer's cross-dressers in the first paper, the experience was clearly more than a transitory erotic event, spending whole days and weeks in the opposite role, reminiscent of Hirschfeld's transvestites. Hence Ekin's third section fills in the void - that large body of people, who are genuinely 'in between', sometimes referred to as Dual Role Transvestites.

The second part of the book, The Social Organisation, describes the ghettoes which our culture grudgingly sets aside for those who are outside its rules, King's Cross in London, the Porchester Balls and a 'heterosexual transvestite' club.

Even today there are people living, undetected, in the 'opposite role', and have done so for much of their lives, without thought of medication or surgery. Yet psychiatry has a history of 'normalising' those who are 'deviant'. Part three follows the history of medical practice, the second of the two papers being highly critical of the surgical/medical path (though it seems natural, in this technological age, to seek an engineering solution to a problem). It provides an astringent counterpoint to the rest of the book, yet it will hardly be comfortable reading for many.

The fourth part of the book reviews the treatment of gender crossing by the media. Firstly in literature, not only in popular women's and other magazines, but in works by Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling and Conan Doyle, and in children's books. This is followed by view portrayed by the media, and finally the variety of telephone premium rate lines. A survey of the Internet will no doubt follow in the future. It intrigues me that, with the anonymity afforded by the net, people feel able to label themselves 'sissy boys.'

The fifth and final part approaches gender, or rather, transgender, politics. One of the bete noires of the 'conventional' transsexual world is Janice Raymond, and the section begins with a detailed response to her book, The Transsexual Empire. The final paper is by the author herself, notable because she finally admits that there are women changing over to men, though she labels them 'transgendered lesbians'. In between these, there are two papers. One challenges the relationship of mtf transsexuals to real women, and the other challenges the conflation of homosexual and transgender politics and history.

As I have said, this book may make uncomfortable reading for many, but it contains the thought-provoking ideas of a wide range of writers, and contains many questions that need to be asked.

Published by Routledge, 1996.
Paperback, 257 pages,
ISBN 0 415 11552 3
GO TO TOP Copyright GENDYS Network. Page design Jed Bland. 30.12.98 Last amended 22.05.04