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Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism

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Patrick Califia is one of the most outspoken and intelligent commentators on sexual politics writing today. Writing about both male-to-female and female-to-male transsexuals, he examines the lives of early transgender pioneers like Christine Jorgensen, Jan Morris, Renee Richards and Mark Rees; and contemporary transgender activists like Leslie Feinberg and Kate Bornstein. Patrick Califia is one of the most outspoken and intelligent commentators on sexual politics writing today. Writing about both male-to-female and female-to-male transsexuals, he examines the lives of early transgender pioneers like Christine Jorgensen, Jan Morris, Renee Richards and Mark Rees; and contemporary transgender activists like Leslie Feinberg and Kate Bornstein. This edition features an updated introduction by the author and includes a bibliography, list of resources, and index.


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Patrick Califia is one of the most outspoken and intelligent commentators on sexual politics writing today. Writing about both male-to-female and female-to-male transsexuals, he examines the lives of early transgender pioneers like Christine Jorgensen, Jan Morris, Renee Richards and Mark Rees; and contemporary transgender activists like Leslie Feinberg and Kate Bornstein. Patrick Califia is one of the most outspoken and intelligent commentators on sexual politics writing today. Writing about both male-to-female and female-to-male transsexuals, he examines the lives of early transgender pioneers like Christine Jorgensen, Jan Morris, Renee Richards and Mark Rees; and contemporary transgender activists like Leslie Feinberg and Kate Bornstein. This edition features an updated introduction by the author and includes a bibliography, list of resources, and index.

30 review for Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism

  1. 4 out of 5

    Frankie Reeves

    Astonishingly detailed and objective studies on everything transgender. This book is an amazing first step for anybody interested in understanding more about transgender and transsexual history, and parts of it definitely helped me develop a great understanding of my sense of self.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    It's been a bit since I read this book, but I'd have to say the only reason Pat Califia is considered 'provocative' might be because he attacks other trans writers as not being 'trans enough,' or not trans 'in the right way.' I was fine with him complaining about Janice Raymond (definitely not a trans writer, just an idiot who writes ABOUT trans people), but when he attacked Kate Bornstein - one of my favourite writers - simply for being open about her past as a male, it was not okay. This is an It's been a bit since I read this book, but I'd have to say the only reason Pat Califia is considered 'provocative' might be because he attacks other trans writers as not being 'trans enough,' or not trans 'in the right way.' I was fine with him complaining about Janice Raymond (definitely not a trans writer, just an idiot who writes ABOUT trans people), but when he attacked Kate Bornstein - one of my favourite writers - simply for being open about her past as a male, it was not okay. This is an informative book, but I don't need identity policing mixed in with my information, thanks!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Sammis

    While I enjoyed the book thoroughly and learned a great deal I felt at times that the author's personal agenda clouded some of her discussions, especially those involving women (whether straight, lesbian, transgendered or otherwise). While I agree that women have been and in some places still are dominated and or repressed by men, I cannot agree that the experiences are as uniform and unilateral as she insists they are. Chapter three is the worst offender and quickly goes from being an academic While I enjoyed the book thoroughly and learned a great deal I felt at times that the author's personal agenda clouded some of her discussions, especially those involving women (whether straight, lesbian, transgendered or otherwise). While I agree that women have been and in some places still are dominated and or repressed by men, I cannot agree that the experiences are as uniform and unilateral as she insists they are. Chapter three is the worst offender and quickly goes from being an academic essay to being a long winded rant.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bean Delphiki

    I haven't read this book in years, and so cannot give an especially detailed review of it. I gave it five stars simply because it had such an enormous, and deeply personal, influence on me when I read it. I read this book when I was 16 and just coming out as an FtM to my friends and family. I read passages from this book out loud to my mother, and she was able to relate to them from a feminist perspective even while she felt conflicted about my announcement that I am transsexual. I believe this I haven't read this book in years, and so cannot give an especially detailed review of it. I gave it five stars simply because it had such an enormous, and deeply personal, influence on me when I read it. I read this book when I was 16 and just coming out as an FtM to my friends and family. I read passages from this book out loud to my mother, and she was able to relate to them from a feminist perspective even while she felt conflicted about my announcement that I am transsexual. I believe this book made it easier for her to accept my identity and grow to see me as simply her child again, rather than someone terribly damaged or ill. I remember this book particularly for its defense of the humanity of trans people. Patrick Califia tears into shoddy, transphobic research, into the erasure of trans history by queer historians, and into Janice Raymond's virulent polemic, The Transsexual Empire. These sections should have you saying, "Yes!" The book has some flaws, but Califia's fierce voice in defense of the atypically gendered was something I needed to hear coming of age as the token "tranny" in my high school.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    A staggeringly sweeping overview of trans memoir and theory, I also found this book to be completely approachable. (Parenthetically, this is another book written by Califia pre-transition -- though the author does frankly discuss their considerations about transition and their decision not to pursue it at that time.) Starting with the famous Christine Jorgensen bio and other trans biographies, Califia moves from there into the complicated roles of medical professionals, anti-trans sentiment in l A staggeringly sweeping overview of trans memoir and theory, I also found this book to be completely approachable. (Parenthetically, this is another book written by Califia pre-transition -- though the author does frankly discuss their considerations about transition and their decision not to pursue it at that time.) Starting with the famous Christine Jorgensen bio and other trans biographies, Califia moves from there into the complicated roles of medical professionals, anti-trans sentiment in lesbian-feminist and gay male contexts, appropriation of transgendered historical figures by other sexual minorities, and some interesting thoughts on the often-cis-gendered partners of trans people and the paucity of attention to sexual function. I enjoy Califia's opinionated and visible authorial presence.

  6. 5 out of 5

    JackLeGeth

    Oui oui oui. Vraiment très bien écrit, bon découpage de chapitres, très bien sourcés et documentés, argumentés. Certains passages sont sur à lire sur la transphobie des féministes lesbiennes des années 70. C'est un livre nécessaire pour comprendre l'histoire du mouvement trans, des trans, des militants.es et leurs partenaires de vie en terme d'identité et de représentations. Très content de voir que tout les sujets sont discuté comme la biphobie, le peu de représentations et discussions sur la s Oui oui oui. Vraiment très bien écrit, bon découpage de chapitres, très bien sourcés et documentés, argumentés. Certains passages sont sur à lire sur la transphobie des féministes lesbiennes des années 70. C'est un livre nécessaire pour comprendre l'histoire du mouvement trans, des trans, des militants.es et leurs partenaires de vie en terme d'identité et de représentations. Très content de voir que tout les sujets sont discuté comme la biphobie, le peu de représentations et discussions sur la santé et sexualité des hommes frm et ftm gay. Je n'étais peut être pas d'accord avec tout mais j'ai appris beaucoup de choses et avancé dans ma réflexion. Je le recommande à toute les personnes trans et leurs alliés.es.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Candice

    This is one of my absolute favorite books. Patrick Califia is a wordsmith, full of persuasive arguments and fiery passion. As usual, Califia dares to go where most won't. From highly-critical reviews of transgender narratives to uncovering the truth about Janice Ryamond, to challenging the medical industrial complex to the rarely-discussed topic of partners of trans and gender-noncomforming people (which, by the way, gets its own chapter), he gets it right every time. I cannot emphasize enough ho This is one of my absolute favorite books. Patrick Califia is a wordsmith, full of persuasive arguments and fiery passion. As usual, Califia dares to go where most won't. From highly-critical reviews of transgender narratives to uncovering the truth about Janice Ryamond, to challenging the medical industrial complex to the rarely-discussed topic of partners of trans and gender-noncomforming people (which, by the way, gets its own chapter), he gets it right every time. I cannot emphasize enough how crucial this book has been for developing my insight into gender studies. This book is excellent for those who want something intelligent and passionate as opposed to academic and dry.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tobi

    I actually read this for a class on trans issues. It goes devotes each chapter to a segment of the population and their interactions with trans people: historians, medical professionals, feminists, etc. I'm not fond of the assertion that gender variant people of past cultures would have obtained hormones and surgery if they were available to them, but it's encouraging to know that isn't a position the author continues to support. Other than that, very well cited and deconstructs anti-trans and tra I actually read this for a class on trans issues. It goes devotes each chapter to a segment of the population and their interactions with trans people: historians, medical professionals, feminists, etc. I'm not fond of the assertion that gender variant people of past cultures would have obtained hormones and surgery if they were available to them, but it's encouraging to know that isn't a position the author continues to support. Other than that, very well cited and deconstructs anti-trans and trans-negative perspectives in clear and concrete examples. Definitely a good read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    mary

    An insightful and brave book. It also includes a very informative and detailed history of trans people in America in the past half century. The author is not afraid to share opinions and ideas, even very controversial ones. In fact, I think they really enjoy de-simplifying an already complex issue. I'm appreciating this. An insightful and brave book. It also includes a very informative and detailed history of trans people in America in the past half century. The author is not afraid to share opinions and ideas, even very controversial ones. In fact, I think they really enjoy de-simplifying an already complex issue. I'm appreciating this.

  10. 5 out of 5

    J Baker

    Patrick Califia's book was surprisingly insightful. I know he's received a lot of flak since he transitioned, but for me that doesn't lessen the impact or value of his historical attention to transgender issues, even if it does call into account, in some way I find irrelevant, his objectivity. He is clearly very passionate about it. It isn't a book mired in theory, which is part of its charm. Patrick Califia's book was surprisingly insightful. I know he's received a lot of flak since he transitioned, but for me that doesn't lessen the impact or value of his historical attention to transgender issues, even if it does call into account, in some way I find irrelevant, his objectivity. He is clearly very passionate about it. It isn't a book mired in theory, which is part of its charm.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jazzy

    this is a amazing collection of essays about the politics of transgererism. Califa is very unbiased in their writing. many of the essays talk about the negitive and possitive reactions to trans people. the history of the first out trannies, and the first out trannyphobs. it is a great book of theory and i hate theory. read it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Harper

    I gave this to my mom to read - it's the only transgender reader I've found that represents a wide enough variety of experience that it's pretty much approachable by everybody. Not perfect though, and I prefer the reader called "genderqueer" but felt most of those stories were too racy or personal for a parent. I gave this to my mom to read - it's the only transgender reader I've found that represents a wide enough variety of experience that it's pretty much approachable by everybody. Not perfect though, and I prefer the reader called "genderqueer" but felt most of those stories were too racy or personal for a parent.

  13. 4 out of 5

    TempleCollie

    Ever the revolutionary, Califia-Rice's thorough and evocative review of the transgender movement and its impact trades an overall theme or message for a case-by-case response. While it packs as much punch as any other study in a significantly easier to understand form, it shares with its forebears the lack of a concrete conclusion. Ever the revolutionary, Califia-Rice's thorough and evocative review of the transgender movement and its impact trades an overall theme or message for a case-by-case response. While it packs as much punch as any other study in a significantly easier to understand form, it shares with its forebears the lack of a concrete conclusion.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Oz Barton

    A rare find: a book about trans people, by a trans person, that isn't an autobiography and doesn't suck. Academic, rigorous, critical, and dense text. By far one of my favorites on the topic. A rare find: a book about trans people, by a trans person, that isn't an autobiography and doesn't suck. Academic, rigorous, critical, and dense text. By far one of my favorites on the topic.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sheryl

    I tried REALLY hard to get through this book, but I have yet to. It's a topic about which I am very curious, and of course no one writes about gender and sexuality like Pat/rick, but it did not hold my interest. I'll try again some day. I tried REALLY hard to get through this book, but I have yet to. It's a topic about which I am very curious, and of course no one writes about gender and sexuality like Pat/rick, but it did not hold my interest. I'll try again some day.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bart

    Much of this book is dated, especially the preface to the second edition (the newest, I think) and the feminist section - Janice Raymond really isn't taken serious anymore. Even so, Sex Changes is interesting keeping in mind the 1997 perspective. Much of this book is dated, especially the preface to the second edition (the newest, I think) and the feminist section - Janice Raymond really isn't taken serious anymore. Even so, Sex Changes is interesting keeping in mind the 1997 perspective.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    Probably my favourite book on trans politics partly because I was a fan of Pat Califia's fiction writing before he transitioned. A really thoughtful and challenging book. Probably my favourite book on trans politics partly because I was a fan of Pat Califia's fiction writing before he transitioned. A really thoughtful and challenging book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    a great book for anyone who wants to better understand transgenderism (i read it while dating a tranny-boi).

  19. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Pretty good, although it tried to be too comprehensive and ended up a little unfocused. I wish he'd had more of a thesis or argument, though I know it was meant to be an overview kind of book. Pretty good, although it tried to be too comprehensive and ended up a little unfocused. I wish he'd had more of a thesis or argument, though I know it was meant to be an overview kind of book.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ashton Ellen Santo

    It was so funny, ironic and cathartic to read this book. While many things have changed in trans politics since 1997, many others firmly stay the same. I wish I’d read this book earlier in my academic career, since it’s a great selection of political discourses and histories of trans people in the US and UK. Definitely one of my favorite reads thus far this year. I love Califia’s emphasis on sexual and erotic pleasure as a lens for trans activism, since at the time (and to a certain extent now) It was so funny, ironic and cathartic to read this book. While many things have changed in trans politics since 1997, many others firmly stay the same. I wish I’d read this book earlier in my academic career, since it’s a great selection of political discourses and histories of trans people in the US and UK. Definitely one of my favorite reads thus far this year. I love Califia’s emphasis on sexual and erotic pleasure as a lens for trans activism, since at the time (and to a certain extent now) surgeons who performed genital surgeries had little consideration for their patients’ ability to enjoy sex post-op, let alone orgasm. Califia beautifully synthesizes this contemporary problem with the fact that in order to receive treatment at all, trans people have had to aggressively distance themselves from “transvestites” and perverted crossdressers — and they did so by desexualizing themselves and repressing their desire for pleasure. I feel like even now the options that are available for genital surgeries are still generally confined to cisheteronormative ideas of what genitals should look & act like. I’d take off half a star because, disappointingly but not surprisingly, Califia completely overlooks the work of Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson with STAR, among the many other organizing accomplishments of Black & brown TGNC folks in the latter half of the 20th century. Not adding this crucial part of our history reflects the ingrained racist biases that white people — trans and otherwise — must work to unlearn. Also, it only would have made this book more compelling. His takedown of transphobia in gay academia, while great, also sets up white trans people to justify our appropriation of non-white identities/cultures (e.g. hijra, sao praphet song, Two Spirit) to legitimize our own existence. We don’t need to do that. We should instead be committing ourselves to ending racial injustice as well as transphobic injustice and appreciating/celebrating the diverse gender expressions this world has to offer us. And I think Califia would probably agree with me on that, too — his unwavering dedication to equity and justice is part of what I love about his writing and what makes me keep revisiting it. Anyway, I just felt so seen when Califia admitted that Christine Jorgenson’s (rest in peace) autobiography was boring as shit. I admire her for what she did, but she wasn’t a compelling writer in the least.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Leona

    Really enjoyed this. It challenged me and got me thinking, so this is a good thing. On a personal level, as a student of English, I am interested in seeing the difference in someone's style of writing in fiction versus non-fiction. It's rare for me to be able to say that I enjoy both those sides of someone's writing, and in this case I can. I have seen in some comments underneath mine that point out that Califia has coloured this book with his own views and that the text therefore is biased. I w Really enjoyed this. It challenged me and got me thinking, so this is a good thing. On a personal level, as a student of English, I am interested in seeing the difference in someone's style of writing in fiction versus non-fiction. It's rare for me to be able to say that I enjoy both those sides of someone's writing, and in this case I can. I have seen in some comments underneath mine that point out that Califia has coloured this book with his own views and that the text therefore is biased. I would say this takes place no more here than (generally) in any other text you would care to mention. It is a huge ask of someone to suggest that they should approach a topic completely without bias; we are all products of the environment in which we were raised and, as such, we will speak from a certain position. I would suggest there can be no neutral standpoint when discussing these topics. To expect this of someone is unreasonable. As ever, I love the inclusion of bisexual people. I'm always relieved to find evidence of this in a text. Too often, bisexual people are erased, so when I see someone who affirms that category, it's fantastic. Well constructed and easy to follow, especially for an academic-tone text (this is rare!).

  22. 5 out of 5

    Danni Green

    I realize this book is way out of date, but there were other trans people writing much better content even before this was first published, and we know that the author had access to that content because he cites it. The "examining an anthropological specimen" tone he takes when writing about BIPOC folks was so gross I almost ditched the book just on that basis, but I wanted to make it all the way through to try to figure out why this book is so canonical. I never figured it out. I didn't make a I realize this book is way out of date, but there were other trans people writing much better content even before this was first published, and we know that the author had access to that content because he cites it. The "examining an anthropological specimen" tone he takes when writing about BIPOC folks was so gross I almost ditched the book just on that basis, but I wanted to make it all the way through to try to figure out why this book is so canonical. I never figured it out. I didn't make a list of all the issues with this book because it wasn't worth interrogating it that deeply just to stick it in a Goodreads review. There are plenty of great trans historical texts in the world. Read those instead. You can even use this book for its bibliography to find them.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Phoenix

    Although informative, the author did not speak with a non biased view point and let his opinions blur the facts. Otherwise, this is an informative book, and includes quite a list of books, mostly autobiographies, but some novels too, that are mentioned for further reading, since I do not believe this should be your only source for LGBT history.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lisha

    I just finished it for the same week and i really enjoyed it. I loved how at first the story lines didn't seem to have anything to do with each other but slowly details were revealed to show how they are all connected. I just finished it for the same week and i really enjoyed it. I loved how at first the story lines didn't seem to have anything to do with each other but slowly details were revealed to show how they are all connected.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jæ Larson

  26. 5 out of 5

    Phipps

  27. 4 out of 5

    Shane Harley

  28. 5 out of 5

    Grace

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dan

  30. 4 out of 5

    Timanthony Demarco Montinez Oliver

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