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An intimate portrait of a new generation of transmasculine individuals as they undergo gender transitions Award-winning sociologist Arlene Stein takes us into the lives of four strangers who find themselves together in a sun-drenched surgeon’s office, having traveled to Florida from across the United States in order to masculinize their chests. Ben, Lucas, Parker, and Nadi An intimate portrait of a new generation of transmasculine individuals as they undergo gender transitions Award-winning sociologist Arlene Stein takes us into the lives of four strangers who find themselves together in a sun-drenched surgeon’s office, having traveled to Florida from across the United States in order to masculinize their chests. Ben, Lucas, Parker, and Nadia wish to feel more comfortable in their bodies; three of them are also taking testosterone so that others recognize them as male. Following them over the course of a year, Stein shows how members of this young transgender generation, along with other gender dissidents, are refashioning their identities and challenging others’ conceptions of who they are. During a time of conservative resurgence, they do so despite great personal costs.  Transgender men comprise a large, growing proportion of the trans population, yet they remain largely invisible. In this powerful, timely, and eye-opening account, Stein draws from dozens of interviews with transgender people and their friends and families, as well as with activists and medical and psychological experts. Unbound documents the varied ways younger trans men see themselves and how they are changing our understanding of what it means to be male and female in America.


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An intimate portrait of a new generation of transmasculine individuals as they undergo gender transitions Award-winning sociologist Arlene Stein takes us into the lives of four strangers who find themselves together in a sun-drenched surgeon’s office, having traveled to Florida from across the United States in order to masculinize their chests. Ben, Lucas, Parker, and Nadi An intimate portrait of a new generation of transmasculine individuals as they undergo gender transitions Award-winning sociologist Arlene Stein takes us into the lives of four strangers who find themselves together in a sun-drenched surgeon’s office, having traveled to Florida from across the United States in order to masculinize their chests. Ben, Lucas, Parker, and Nadia wish to feel more comfortable in their bodies; three of them are also taking testosterone so that others recognize them as male. Following them over the course of a year, Stein shows how members of this young transgender generation, along with other gender dissidents, are refashioning their identities and challenging others’ conceptions of who they are. During a time of conservative resurgence, they do so despite great personal costs.  Transgender men comprise a large, growing proportion of the trans population, yet they remain largely invisible. In this powerful, timely, and eye-opening account, Stein draws from dozens of interviews with transgender people and their friends and families, as well as with activists and medical and psychological experts. Unbound documents the varied ways younger trans men see themselves and how they are changing our understanding of what it means to be male and female in America.

30 review for Unbound: Transgender Men and the Remaking of Identity

  1. 5 out of 5

    Wesley

    I don't understand how this book got published. If you're an outsider, you shouldn't write about marginalized communities that you have no part in. Just because you are a so-called "social scientist" doesn't mean that you get to treat an entire group of people as if we're animals in the wild that you're observing in camo gear behind a fake flora screen. What Arlene Stein proposes by writing this book is that she is an expert in the trans male experience because she talked to 4 trans men and a bu I don't understand how this book got published. If you're an outsider, you shouldn't write about marginalized communities that you have no part in. Just because you are a so-called "social scientist" doesn't mean that you get to treat an entire group of people as if we're animals in the wild that you're observing in camo gear behind a fake flora screen. What Arlene Stein proposes by writing this book is that she is an expert in the trans male experience because she talked to 4 trans men and a butch lesbian as they underwent top surgery. That is a total of 5 whole people. In her research methods section at the end, she also mentions attending 3 trans health conferences and interviewing 15 other people involved in the transgender community, although not all of these were necessarily trans themselves (she does not give us the ratio of cisgender to transgender in this group). As a recent psychology graduate, I can say definitively that I've done more in-depth literature reviews in my undergraduate psychology research methods classes than Arlene Stein has done here. Just as a trans man I have talked to more transgender people than Arlene Stein has mentioned in her book - and I'm an introvert who never goes out! And yet she claims she has the right to speak on behalf of the trans male community because of this totally rigorous research. This is the essence of transphobia in academia and really all manner of media - that trans people are so belittled and dehumanized that cisgender people can call themselves "experts" in our experiences and lives simply because they deigned to interact with us. As a trans man academic, it's insulting and infuriating. Not only this, but throughout the book is a legitimization of TERF (Trans-Exclusinary Radical Feminist) rhetoric that is deeply concerning. This ideology deeply harms transgender people, particularly trans women, although in this case the focus is on the idea that transgender men are just women who have become traitors to their "natural womanhood" in order to gain access to male privilege. From talking to 5 whole people, Arlene Stein comes to the conclusion that it's impossible to tell the difference between trans men and butch lesbians, and that this claim is mostly true. This both misgenders trans men and automatically positions us as the "enemy" of "real women/feminists" when the reality is - there is no singular Male Privilege in the first place and the dichotomy of privilege vs oppression on a singular facet is false. trans male privilege exists but is different from cis male privilege and exists on a spectrum as well that is wholly dependent on race, class, access to medical transitioning opportunities, education, sexual orientation and even just pure physicality (in how well we pass or not). Yet perhaps tellingly this isn't mentioned at all, just the same as the feminism of the 60s and 70s that Stein so lovingly croons about in barely related nostalgic tangents was the fever dream of privileged white women who excluded other women on the basis of race, class, disability, etc. and that it was so well known for this widespread exclusion that it's become synonymous with the phrase "White Feminism". In footnotes Arlene Stein makes mentions to her own privilege which makes it seem as though she has some type of understanding of All Of This but the idea that her privilege is what allowed her to speak over, silence, and erase basically the entire trans male community with this book seems not to have dawned on her at all. Ms. Stein, please explain to me how you both recognize that you're more privileged than transgender people but somehow still attempt to position yourself as part of the Oppressed Group because all of us trans men just have So Much male privilege, which somehow enables us to not even be able to write a critically acclaimed nonfiction book about our own community ? Please explain to me how you've justified profiting off of a book deal that could have been offered to a trans man instead? I want to know the mental gymnastics involved to keep your conscience clear knowing you deliberately erased us from our own narratives. But no, please, continue your nearly 300 page manifesto on how transgender people simply "reinforce(s) rather than subvert(s) gender categories and the binary gender system". Since you are the Expert now on all of us Transgendereds, clearly. The complaints that I have about this book are endless. It is a harmful book that simply reiterates and validates transphobic ideas about trans men as a way to uphold "real" (aka cisgender) women, as if the very existence of trans men somehow challenges/threatens womanhood or something. Instead of just, you know, being people with varying degrees of understanding in feminist theory and a wide range of gender expression. If cisgender people could just treat us like fellow humans instead of incomprehensible aliens that they need to Decipher that would be great. For those of you who actually want to know what it's like to be a trans man and how to best support us, maybe you could just....ask us? Rather than read a book written by a person who isn't even a part of our community? Just a suggestion.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Emerson Curtright

    Oh, boy...where to start. First of all, I am a transmasc non-binary individual. I would like to eventually get top surgery and that is why this book piqued my interest. The book's premise is that it follows four individuals who get top surgery. The before, the during, the after. The book is strongest when it follows this premise. I enjoyed reading about the personal stories behind these individuals. A lot of what they said resonated with me and my personal experience, as well. The main character t Oh, boy...where to start. First of all, I am a transmasc non-binary individual. I would like to eventually get top surgery and that is why this book piqued my interest. The book's premise is that it follows four individuals who get top surgery. The before, the during, the after. The book is strongest when it follows this premise. I enjoyed reading about the personal stories behind these individuals. A lot of what they said resonated with me and my personal experience, as well. The main character that Stein follows reflects the "typical" transgender narrative but the ones that interested me most were the characters that didn't. Not all transgender experiences follow the "trapped in the wrong body" narrative and I liked Stein's inclusion of these non-typical (but actually really common) stories of what being transgender means. However, the book often veers away from these characters. Stein often rambles and the book has no clear direction. She is a bonafide second-wave feminist and she doesn't let you forget it. From the forefront she makes it clear that she doesn't "understand" trans men and writing this book is a way for her to educate herself....which is weird. I forget the exact wording but at one point she actually says something like "as a second wave feminist, I believe that women are the superior sex. That is why I didn't understand why anybody would want to become a man". Wow. That is an extremely problematic outlook that has been harming the trans community for decades but Stein disguises it as her "inspiration" for writing about trans men. The chapter "What Makes A Man" is especially hard to get through. Many pages are devoted to lamenting the fact that there are no more butch lesbians (since they've all transitioned). Again, this is a gross myth about trans men that implies that they just want to be really, really butch and they aren't actually men. Often, Stein seems nostalgic for the good ol' days. "Gender is just too confusing nowadays!" "Back in my day, there were just TWO genders and women weren't afraid to love other women!" "In the 60s we worked hard for womens equality and now all these dykes want to become MEN. How dare they?!" Those aren't real quotes of course but this is the attitude that often comes out in the writing. It really turned me off from the book and made me question Stein's true intentions behind writing it. Soon after beginning the book, it became clear that it wasn't meant for people like me. There's a lot of "Trans 101" information that might be helpful to parents of trans kids or people (like Stein) who want to educate themselves. However, the problematic elements and harmful myths make me hesitant to recommend this book to anyone, cis or trans. I wish this book had been better. Often times, the narratives of trans men gets swept to the side and I was excited to read something that was about individuals with similar experiences to me. However, this is not that book. Hopefully something better comes along.

  3. 4 out of 5

    James

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. The premise is terrific, and hopefully someone will write a book that lives up its potential. The execution is at times problematic and perpetuates myths that the FTM community is actively trying to combat right now. On the one hand, the community needs more representation right now, as it's pretty poorly understood by the average person. The book does a good job introducing readers to people who are transgender and/or masculine non-binary and showing how they're real people who are not defined b The premise is terrific, and hopefully someone will write a book that lives up its potential. The execution is at times problematic and perpetuates myths that the FTM community is actively trying to combat right now. On the one hand, the community needs more representation right now, as it's pretty poorly understood by the average person. The book does a good job introducing readers to people who are transgender and/or masculine non-binary and showing how they're real people who are not defined by their gender identity. That said, the author's own identity colors these narratives a lot. I don't think she realizes how much, so I'm not saying this is malign by any means! Just slightly myopic and a little self-centered. This is true of many lesbians who write about transgender men (have you read the novel Adam?). It's harder, I think, for them to accept the depth and authenticity of trans men's masculine identities when they've been against men for so long and also have butch lesbians as a solid, if not all-pervasive, frame of reference. Nonetheless, a lot of experiences that the book's subjects have ring true, especially those that are presented in their own words and not filtered through the author. Admittedly, if this book is for non-transgender readers, then this is less problematic, even if transgender readers might prefer a clearer, truer lens. Now...what about the myths that this book helps perpetuate? Genital surgery. Do trans men want it? Absolutely. Not every single one, of course. But A LOT more trans men want surgery than the author indicates. Although to be fair, she does list expense as an issue barring men from surgery (true), I think she does an unforgivable disservice to the community in perpetuating the myth that a) men don't want corrective lower surgery/surgeries and that b) the surgical results aren't very good. One quote from the book seems particularly spiteful and unnecessary: "You can make a hole but you can't build a pole." OMFG...really, professor!? That seems wise and appropriate? Just because the author hates dick doesn't mean it's okay or necessary to shame or belittle men who want/need to have phalloplasty (or metoidioplasty) to alleviate their dysphoria and have what they feel would be a good life. This attitude is prevalent throughout the book, but never directly corroborated by her subjects, although it could perhaps be assumed for Nadia, who does not identify as male. Just to reassure young trans men who've picked up this book and may have come away with a negative message... Go on transbucket. Look at lower surgery results. Decide for yourself! It's because of this message in particular...and a sort of poor understanding of binary FTM identities (hint: they're not lesbians 2.0)...that I really can't recommend this book to any of my cis friends who would otherwise profit a great deal from the interviewees insights and experiences, which I am not always willing or able to articulate to them. It's like...if only I could give this to them without any of the bogus bits. Darn. Still, yes, it's good to have representation in the literature. This book, I hope, will be a stepping stone or push forward for more men within the community to write about their own experiences or step up to correct myths, bad thinking, and cultural misinterpretation. Overall, I think cisgender people have enough misconceptions about transgender men without compounding the problem. Readers might be better off finding books written by those within the community, although currently, there may not be a title that discusses top surgery so in-depth. Instead, consider YouTube videos by trans men, of which there are many to choose from. Full disclosure: the reviewer is FTM transgender, post-top surgery, pre-bottom surgery.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Liaken

    I was excited when I saw this book on the new releases shelf at my local library and immediately checked it out. As I started reading, I felt increasingly uncomfortable. By the time my spouse came in from watering the plants in the garden, I was cringing with almost every sentence. I don't think the author is aware of how much she was not the right person to write this book. We definitely need more books on FTM and FTN trans people, but this book ... this book felt more like one of those ethnogr I was excited when I saw this book on the new releases shelf at my local library and immediately checked it out. As I started reading, I felt increasingly uncomfortable. By the time my spouse came in from watering the plants in the garden, I was cringing with almost every sentence. I don't think the author is aware of how much she was not the right person to write this book. We definitely need more books on FTM and FTN trans people, but this book ... this book felt more like one of those ethnographies of decades ago where a person of European descent is writing about their observations of a group of aborigines, and everything they write is so heavily colored by their worldview that while they are describing things that have to do with the group they are observing, nothing intrinsic to the group is actually being reflected. The authoritative tone is inherently condescending. The second wave feminism that acts as a heavy lens for the book is problematic in ways that I don't think the author or the editor ever mindfully addressed. If, instead, this were a book that was fully a memoir of a second wave feminist lesbian writing about her encounter with FTM trans people and how it shifted her own understanding of gender, etc., I think it might have gone off quite well. It would have then been about her---rather than trying to be about people she hasn't really come to know, not on their terms. There are inaccuracies about surgical and cultural aspects that are harmful, and, well, the word I'm looking for really is outdated. This book that was just published is outdated. And it is a great pity. For I can recommend it to no one. Not to trans people, not to cis people. Alas. But maybe this book will help other books to get written. And that would be good.

  5. 4 out of 5

    K

    I see a lot of trans-masc and non-binary folks complaining about the very idea of this book. Yes, there are things about it that made me uncomfortable as a member of those two groups, but as I got closer to the end, I realized that this book isn’t really for us. It’s for lesbians, trans-unaware feminists, and other older folks who find themselves bewildered by the proliferation of gender identity categories. We have plenty of memoirs and essay collections by insiders, but I’m of the belief that I see a lot of trans-masc and non-binary folks complaining about the very idea of this book. Yes, there are things about it that made me uncomfortable as a member of those two groups, but as I got closer to the end, I realized that this book isn’t really for us. It’s for lesbians, trans-unaware feminists, and other older folks who find themselves bewildered by the proliferation of gender identity categories. We have plenty of memoirs and essay collections by insiders, but I’m of the belief that outsider perspectives can be helpful and shed new insights onto our communities especially when, as in this case, the scholar in question so clearly owns her biases. Stein never backs off the perspective of, "this was different for my generation." So yes, it sucks to feel objectified as an outsider, but compared to some other ethnographic work I have read about aspects of my identity, this book was far from offensive or painful. And in fact, I appreciated the openness with which Stein approached this project. That said, I disliked that Stein gave so much space to lesbians mourning the disappearance of butches (and its relationship to TERF discourse). That interlude is why I didn’t give this book five stars. The lesbian section was so out of place with the empathy exhibited in the rest of the book that I wonder if it was a result of peer review or the intervention of an editor. It's hard to say. I also disliked that this book sometimes reads like an advertisement for Dr. Garramone, the originator of the "ManSculpting" technique. I’m frankly offended that he refuses insurance and has convinced so many trans people that it’s his way or nothing. I can forgive both of these shortcomings due to the challenges of researcher access and peer review. However, I loved that Stein included perspectives that disrupt the gender dysphoria narrative in medical transition. There were people who decided to transition mid-life and who adamantly denied that dysphoria drove the decision. One of the people getting surgery calls herself a lesbian! Many deny that these people affect or take part in aspects of trans identity, but it has been my experience that they are indeed a crucial part of our communities. It was wonderful that she spent so much time with one family as it illustrated how transitions and "coming out" affect the people inhabiting one's larger social world. I also loved that she discussed what happens to her case studies long after the the scars have healed. And finally, I appreciated how she contextualized what has been happening within much larger socio-cultural matrices, such as changing attitudes and access to cosmetic surgery and the expansion of identity politics alongside neoliberal capitalism. We have an inter-generational problem in the LGBTQIA community. Younger folks generally view the political strategies, alliances, and identities of the past as dinosaurs caught in the binary while the older folks—especially in the narrower corners of the lesbian community—tend to view the expansion of trans identities as a threat. Something incredibly valuable about this book is that it attempts to bridge that gap. In fact, I think it largely succeeds. If you’re looking for a reason to hate this book, to reject Arlene Stein or sociology in general, there is plenty in here to pick apart. However, I refuse to reject it on those grounds.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Helm

    I’m sure this book is problematic to some, but I thought it was well researched and balanced, and the author acknowledged points of privilege and bias, so that is saying something. It is written from the perspective of a second wave lesbian feminist reconciling previously held notions of gender with anecdotal and historical research on transmasculinity. Obviously, I found it to be relatable and it gave me tons to think about. I am very glad I read it and it makes me very curious/excited for the I’m sure this book is problematic to some, but I thought it was well researched and balanced, and the author acknowledged points of privilege and bias, so that is saying something. It is written from the perspective of a second wave lesbian feminist reconciling previously held notions of gender with anecdotal and historical research on transmasculinity. Obviously, I found it to be relatable and it gave me tons to think about. I am very glad I read it and it makes me very curious/excited for the future.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Masen

    Awful. If you’re trans (or if you’re cis and believe that trans people deserve love, respect, and equal rights) then steer clear. Stein platforms harmful ideas about trans people, and it was hard to read because of that. I hear the TERF arguments every single day... I don’t need them also in a book for trans people, about trans people. Some of her beliefs (or allegedly old beliefs) are “sugar-coated”, but others aren’t. Just so you can really see how bad this book is, I’ll list a couple of examp Awful. If you’re trans (or if you’re cis and believe that trans people deserve love, respect, and equal rights) then steer clear. Stein platforms harmful ideas about trans people, and it was hard to read because of that. I hear the TERF arguments every single day... I don’t need them also in a book for trans people, about trans people. Some of her beliefs (or allegedly old beliefs) are “sugar-coated”, but others aren’t. Just so you can really see how bad this book is, I’ll list a couple of examples from it. Keep in mind, these are all only a couple of pages apart. First one— “While I was researching this book, femme lesbians often expressed fears to me that their pool of potential dating partners is rapidly diminishing... And in fact, while researching this book, I had to admit that I, too, found myself unnerved by the sight of handsome women transforming themselves into dudes with *stubby (*misspelled in the book) beards, thick necks, and deep voices.” I don’t care who you are— our transitions are not about you. We’re not “women transitioning into dudes”. We have always been our genders, but some of us medically alter our bodies because we have gender dysphoria. Anatomy doesn’t determine gender and gender is a spectrum, just as sexual orientation is. We don’t exist just so we can be “part of your dating pool”. We’re human beings, simply being ourselves. Next one— “Everybody now wants to be a man, or be with a man,” laments a fifty-eight-year-old feminist writer and critic who did not wish to be identified. Others were even less forgiving. A sixty-three-year-old retired schoolteacher in New York secretly wonders whether transgender people are dupes of the medical establishment, and whether it’s all a “big science experiment”. And Esther Newton tells me, “It just pisses me off that *trans (*yep, just trans— they didn’t say “trans people” or “the trans experience”) is what catches [younger people’s] imagination now. That’s where the energy is. From a lesbian perspective, that annoys me”. I’ll let you take in just how hurtful and harmful those statements are. It’s insane, the “secret” perceptions (mostly cis) people have of us, that are so incorrect, demeaning, and dehumanizing. We are not “dupes of the medical establishment”. I cannot believe she printed that, in a book about AND for us. Trans people existed long before modern medicine, in many indigenous cultures, and not every trans person medically transitions— even today. Some only transition socially, (with pronouns, a chosen name, outer expression, etc). The “transition” part isn’t what makes us trans. “Trans” literally means, “across or beyond (your gender and/or sex assigned at birth). Last excerpt, for this review— “But transgender is the hot new thing— which means that younger people are as likely to question their gender today as their sexuality.” As I previously stated, trans people (binary and non-binary trans) are not “new”. We’ve existed in every culture, through all of recorded history. Seriously, go do your own research and you’ll see. Secondly, so what if more people are questioning their gender now? How is that a bad thing? I surely wish I had the information I have now, when I was a closeted trans kid. Could have spared me many years of pain, isolation, suicide attempts, and drug addiction. Trans people exist, whether you like it or not. We don’t exist to be attractive in your eyes, or to fit whatever arbitrary boxes you’ve created. If you’re looking for good books about various trans experiences BY trans authors, then check out CN Lester’s “Trans Like Me”, Alex Iantaffi & Meg-John Barker’s “How to Understand Your Gender”, and Lee Airton’s “Gender: Your Guide”. To every other fellow trans person who comes across this book and thinks it looks interesting because of the cover & description: RUN— far, far away! Save yourself the emotional pain and anger that it’ll inevitably cause. We get enough of this BS in our daily lives.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Simon

    Fucking incredible. Are you a transman? Get it for anyone in your life who is supportive but clueless. Are you a librarian? Buy it for your collection. I can't recommend this enough. Fucking incredible. Are you a transman? Get it for anyone in your life who is supportive but clueless. Are you a librarian? Buy it for your collection. I can't recommend this enough.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ang

    This was fabulous. Stein does a great job of combining science and narrative into something that makes you think and feel. Just perfectly done. (Also, totally fascinating.)

  10. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    About six years ago I accompanied my 22-year-old nephew to Florida for top surgery. My role was to be the responsible grownup, just in case of an emergency. The surgery and recovery went well, and we needn’t have worried. At the guest house where my nephew stayed, all medical arrangements were taken care of, from the pre-operative appointments with the surgeon to the five days of post-operative nursing care, including tending to the drainage tubes placed in my nephew’s chest. While I was sitting About six years ago I accompanied my 22-year-old nephew to Florida for top surgery. My role was to be the responsible grownup, just in case of an emergency. The surgery and recovery went well, and we needn’t have worried. At the guest house where my nephew stayed, all medical arrangements were taken care of, from the pre-operative appointments with the surgeon to the five days of post-operative nursing care, including tending to the drainage tubes placed in my nephew’s chest. While I was sitting there at the guest house, reading magazines, watching videos, and meeting the other trans patients, it occurred to me that a sociologist ought to write about this place. I was so happy to see that Arlene Stein had taken up this project. Transgender visibility is exploding. More and more young people are modifying their bodies surgically to conform to their emerging sense of selves. This process is not new, but what is new is the infrastructure built to support the surgeries and the communities that are being created as a result of the medicalization process. Years later, my nephew is still in contact with some of the other transmen he met during his week at this South Florida recovery center. True, they went through a difficult and painful experience together, which often bonds people, but staying together in a large house with a yard and communal dining, along with sharing stories of their doctors’ appointments, has bound them not only through their suffering but rather by the emergence of a liberated and more complete sense of self. Arlene Stein has sensitively and astutely captured this experience in Unbound. Highly recommend!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Paige

    I loved the sociologist perspective on 4 non binary/ trans men and their experiences with top surgery. Really well written, case study research, with input from various professionals in different fields.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Cavar

    Provides useful information for those more unfamiliar with conversations around transmasculinity, butchness, and dysphoria as experience/diagnosis/mechanism of gatekeeping. The editorializing about the author's own life, given that she does not fall into the category of [gender dysphoric] people she discusses, is a little much; as are her semi-ironic "kids these days" comments, particularly toward the end of the book. I would have liked to see more material about Nadia, the butch lesbian of the Provides useful information for those more unfamiliar with conversations around transmasculinity, butchness, and dysphoria as experience/diagnosis/mechanism of gatekeeping. The editorializing about the author's own life, given that she does not fall into the category of [gender dysphoric] people she discusses, is a little much; as are her semi-ironic "kids these days" comments, particularly toward the end of the book. I would have liked to see more material about Nadia, the butch lesbian of the quartet discussed, but it seemed as though she was mostly used as a means of contrast or emphasis for the other three. Oftentimes, Stein wrote things like "...and 'even Nadia'", positioning her as Other even as Stein herself laments the "loss" of butches to the evil scary trans agenda I mean, medical transition. It's worth a *highly critical* read, and only paired with the narratives of Ivan Coyote, S Bear Bergman, Leslie Feinberg, Eli Clare, and others who have more effectively and less self-referentially accomplished the same task that Stein here attempts, despite this not being in the realm of her lived experience as a non-dysphoric lesbian.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alan LaPayover

    Excellently written discussion of the experience of transmen undergoing top surgery. The author has given us a sensitive, information-filled book that is thoughtful, provocative and open-minded about the very complex subject of sex, gender, and personal identity. As a sociologist and interviewer, she is both clear about her own biases and assumptions and empathetic and open to the thoughts and feelings of the people she is following. I especially appreciated her placing the discussion in a histo Excellently written discussion of the experience of transmen undergoing top surgery. The author has given us a sensitive, information-filled book that is thoughtful, provocative and open-minded about the very complex subject of sex, gender, and personal identity. As a sociologist and interviewer, she is both clear about her own biases and assumptions and empathetic and open to the thoughts and feelings of the people she is following. I especially appreciated her placing the discussion in a historical and social context, and her ability to open up and explore the intricacies of the theoretical aspects of this subject. Personally, (I am a 65-year-old, white, cis-gender, gay man) I felt that many of my own questions were broached and that I was pushed to learn and consider new ideas that are beyond my current comfort zone. This book has answered many questions, raised many new ones, and has helped me grow in this area. I think this is an important contribution to the literature on sex and gender.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Miriam

    I highly recommend this book. The author’s expertise on gender and the transgender experience is impressive and unequalled. Though the book tracks the journey of several trans-men, I as trans-woman felt a common bond and relevance. I came away from this book enlightened and hopeful. I cannot thank Arlene Stein enough. I plan to read this book a second and possibly a third time.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Katie/Doing Dewey

    I really enjoyed this book and felt like I learned a lot. Unlike the previous book, it has no problem with people stories. A lot of the book is composed of direct quotes from trans men and their stories are the focal point. I thought the more philosophical questions the author explored were interesting and important. She also did a good job portraying both sides of controversial issues within the trans community. However, and this is a big however, reading reviews from trans men suggests that th I really enjoyed this book and felt like I learned a lot. Unlike the previous book, it has no problem with people stories. A lot of the book is composed of direct quotes from trans men and their stories are the focal point. I thought the more philosophical questions the author explored were interesting and important. She also did a good job portraying both sides of controversial issues within the trans community. However, and this is a big however, reading reviews from trans men suggests that the author is more biased than I realized while reading. Personally, I noticed that the author skimmed over the issue of TERFs (feminists who discriminate against trans men) and I felt she was probably more interested in the relationship between butch lesbians and trans men than trans men are. She was clear about her own identity as a lesbian and as someone who was part of the second wave feminist movement. I appreciated that transparency. Unfortunately, it seems there were some issues I missed because I’m uneducated about the experiences of trans men. I’d recommend this helpful review on goodreads for the perspective of a trans man on the possibly misleading aspects of this book. Given the fact that this book may perpetuate myths about trans men, I’m not sure I’d recommend it to someone else coming from my position of ignorance. I love reading nonfiction that teaches me something new, but if that information is unreliable, it’s impossible for someone without prior knowledge to sort the good from the bad. This review first published at Doing Dewey.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    I found this book educational. I am probably the type of person (70 year old straight woman) who would get the most out of it. As a 60 year old lesbian, the author is kind of half way between old women like myself who have always felt comfortable identifying as straight and female and mostly 20-something transgender males she profiles in the book. From the reviews here, I see that a some people think that as an outsider (not transgender) she is not qualified to write on this topic. Maybe this bo I found this book educational. I am probably the type of person (70 year old straight woman) who would get the most out of it. As a 60 year old lesbian, the author is kind of half way between old women like myself who have always felt comfortable identifying as straight and female and mostly 20-something transgender males she profiles in the book. From the reviews here, I see that a some people think that as an outsider (not transgender) she is not qualified to write on this topic. Maybe this book is not right for the transgender crowd, but is for a bunch of old straight people. I thought the author did a good job of describing the wide range of ways people experience and deal with being transgender. Although the thought of both breast augmentation and breast removal creeps me out when I think of doing either to my own body, Ms. Stein managed to get me to understand how someone could feel the need to have breasts removed to be in the "right" body. That was an accomplishment.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Annelise Orleck

    A profoundly moving look at a group of young transmen that takes them through the process of coming out, deciding on hormone treatment and top surgery, having surgery, recovering and coming to terms with life after surgery -- with all of its ups and downs, exhilaration, disappointment and everything in between. There is no cant, no pontificating, no academic jargon. Just a careful, thoughtful close up look at the lives of a group of people facing challenge and change. Beautifully written, emotio A profoundly moving look at a group of young transmen that takes them through the process of coming out, deciding on hormone treatment and top surgery, having surgery, recovering and coming to terms with life after surgery -- with all of its ups and downs, exhilaration, disappointment and everything in between. There is no cant, no pontificating, no academic jargon. Just a careful, thoughtful close up look at the lives of a group of people facing challenge and change. Beautifully written, emotionally gripping.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Shayna Ross

    DNF - Read for Rainbow Reading Group - The author really should not have written this with such a limited perspective and understanding without doing more discussion, learning, and engaging with the transgender community

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    Tbh the thing that really drew me through this book was not the information or stories presented so much as watching a middle aged lesbian anthropologist discover the world of trans masculinity. The way she wrote was both sympathetic and accurate, but I could just feel the gulf between our experiences and assumptions about queerness in a really interesting way.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Brent

    This is important work that needs to be done and the author explores new aspects of being trans today as well as a historical overview m. I appreciated the interviews the most, but overall the author puts her own opinion and biases in the writing too much and too easily uses anecdotal interviews as evidence for large generalizations.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly

    There's a lot to say about this book. The main thing that really colors this book is the author's own confusion and search for answers about the transgender experience. I'm choosing to see this as a useful way for cisgender readers to see themselves in the narration and address their (er, our) own confusions. It does detract from getting a more direct picture of the trans experience, however. The author doesn't shy away from stating when she doesn't know something or when she learns something th There's a lot to say about this book. The main thing that really colors this book is the author's own confusion and search for answers about the transgender experience. I'm choosing to see this as a useful way for cisgender readers to see themselves in the narration and address their (er, our) own confusions. It does detract from getting a more direct picture of the trans experience, however. The author doesn't shy away from stating when she doesn't know something or when she learns something that contrasts with her previous worldview. Elephant in the room: The chapter "The Last Butch Standing" should not have made the final cut. The whole chapter is the author waxing nostalgic about how once upon a time she came out as lesbian, presented as masculine and called it "butch" which is what all her lesbian friends were doing, burned their bras and decided women are in every way superior to men, and then times changed and she couldn't just walk into every lesbian bar in San Francisco and see a mass of people who either looked just like her or wanted desperately to sleep with her. Could this be the fault of trans people? *eyeroll*. I almost put the book down at this point. Honestly I'd recommend skipping this whole chapter. A lot of perspectives are presented. A lot of the times when there would be a problematic response from a parent or someone in a trans person's story, the author would step back and say "actually this is what most trans people prefer instead, and this is how things have changed" and I thought it was well done. The stories were told authentically while still being cautious to make sure all the trans people in the narrative were treated by the writing the way they would want to be treated. The whole book is colored by the author's age and feeling of being out of place in a new world of more flexible gender identity/presentation/diversity/etc., but I think that can be used by readers to encourage their own questioning and critical thinking to see how society can change to better allow trans people into it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Arin

    This is not a book written with trans folk in mind for the audience. Nor should the audience be the family of trans folk. But this is a good book about gender. Arlene Stein is an older sociologist who also identifies as a lesbian from the second wave of feminism, the one that has produced many trans exclusive radicals, and while some of her language reflects her age, Stein herself is an open-minded individual, and while reading the book, she exhibits her own growth more than that of any of the in This is not a book written with trans folk in mind for the audience. Nor should the audience be the family of trans folk. But this is a good book about gender. Arlene Stein is an older sociologist who also identifies as a lesbian from the second wave of feminism, the one that has produced many trans exclusive radicals, and while some of her language reflects her age, Stein herself is an open-minded individual, and while reading the book, she exhibits her own growth more than that of any of the individuals she follows. Her research is well conducted, she treats her subjects and other trans folk mentioned in the book with the utmost respect. The most triggering part for me, as a transmasc reader, is reading about the "fear" some of the lesbians she interviewed, as well as she herself, have about "loosing" their butch lesbians. But even when writing about that she acknowledges that it's about the trans men, and not about the lesbian community. All in all, I appreciated reading this perspective on gender from an older generation, and I feel like Stein is someone I could have a respectful conversation with, or even a respectful debate, if it came to that. My thanks goes out to her main subject, Ben, for being willing to do the work with her. This is how we make changes.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jes Reaver

    I hit the wall when the author lamented all the handsome women transitioning to men bc it means fewer butch lesbians. Trans men are not handsome women. They are men. Full stop. Author’s weird sadness for what lesbians could have had, if only those men stayed “handsome women,” was too much. It’s selfish and feels voyeuristic. The wistful longing for the second-wave feminism days where the only good feminists were gold star lesbians was also gross. ALSO ALSO the sad rant about there being fewer le I hit the wall when the author lamented all the handsome women transitioning to men bc it means fewer butch lesbians. Trans men are not handsome women. They are men. Full stop. Author’s weird sadness for what lesbians could have had, if only those men stayed “handsome women,” was too much. It’s selfish and feels voyeuristic. The wistful longing for the second-wave feminism days where the only good feminists were gold star lesbians was also gross. ALSO ALSO the sad rant about there being fewer lesbians these days made it pretty clear that she buys into the gold star lesbian nonsense and that all real lesbians buy into it (or they're not real lesbians) and fuck all this queer nonsense with millennials these days. I’m gonna stop here because I’m fucking pissed. -a transmasc person who really shouldn’t have read this the same day they saw straight ally flags and rainbow Listerine at Target. edit 12/19: some grammar and formatting. I'm also still incredibly fucking angry about this book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Essentially as soon as I started reading this book I started holding it up in front of anyone I know who's interested in gender issues, saying, "This. Read this book. It's so good!" And I'm so glad my early connection with the book and its stories was confirmed all the way to the very end (really, to the very end). Arlene Stein did amazing work in following the stories of four people in for top surgery, and then framing those stories in a bigger narrative about gender, sexuality, how those are r Essentially as soon as I started reading this book I started holding it up in front of anyone I know who's interested in gender issues, saying, "This. Read this book. It's so good!" And I'm so glad my early connection with the book and its stories was confirmed all the way to the very end (really, to the very end). Arlene Stein did amazing work in following the stories of four people in for top surgery, and then framing those stories in a bigger narrative about gender, sexuality, how those are related and different, how the gender landscape is changing, how different generations are connected to that changing landscape... It gave me so much to think about, so much understanding, for adult friends of mine, for the students I teach in my college classes, for children I know who are in the middle of this evolving understanding of ourselves. Thank you, Arlene, for such a thoughtful and empathy-engendering (sorry, I couldn't resist!) book.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    I should have read some reviews before embarking on this one. I enjoyed the men she followed as they shared their fears and triumphs, and complexities. But the author put too much of herself and her beliefs into their stories. She spent too much time trying to fit transmen into her 70s second wave lesbian feminist worldview. At times she came off as borderline TERF and it was offensive.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Grady

    Written with a tone somewhere between journalism and creative nonfiction, this book tells the story of Ben Shepherd and, to a lesser extent, two other transmen and a masculine lesbian who all have breast removal (or ‘top’) surgery at the same south Florida clinic on the same day. Author Stein uses their life stories - and especially, their decisions to pursue surgery and their experiences after - as an armature for a wide ranging discussion of trans-male identity, the relationship between gender Written with a tone somewhere between journalism and creative nonfiction, this book tells the story of Ben Shepherd and, to a lesser extent, two other transmen and a masculine lesbian who all have breast removal (or ‘top’) surgery at the same south Florida clinic on the same day. Author Stein uses their life stories - and especially, their decisions to pursue surgery and their experiences after - as an armature for a wide ranging discussion of trans-male identity, the relationship between gender identity and sexual orientation, the growth in transgender surgical services, and generational changes in queer feminism. Stein is upfront about her own identity as a lesbian, and for most of the book keeps the focus on the world as her subjects and their families experience it - but, when she steps back to think about the social meaning of what she’s seen in a historical context, she does discuss her own reactions (simplifed, she started her research questioning why anyone would want to be a man, and how that desire could be other than anti-feminist, but emerged with a much more empathetic and nuanced view). I think two passages in the penultimate chapter capture the main themes and perspectives of the book: “Passing through the airport, I now find myself looking at people, questioning whether the statuesque thin blond in a white dress or the bearish man in a Gators baseball cap is all that meets the eye...If Theo, the buff tattooed male I met in South Florida, began his life assigned female, how can I be sure that the same isn’t true of the tattooed gentlement in front of me on line at the supermarket? I find the uncertainty reassuring.”(271) Not everyone does, including - sadly - some of the family members of the men in Stein’s narrative. But, in an unassuming way, the book makes it possible for someone who hasn’t had the experience of being transgender to empathize with the burdens our society places on folks whose indentities don’t match their assigned genders, and to celebrate the freedom transitioning can offer. Stein’s other main point - which is partly for her a matter of coming to terms with generational change - is that definitions of gender are becoming increasingly fluid: “My generation of feminists...tried to conjure a world...in which women and men would become fundamentally similar to each other. We made it sexy and fun to be lesbians, whom we often saw as the vanguard of resistance to ‘the patriarchy’. Today’s generation continues some of those projects....But the younger people I met in researching this book are much more willing to let a thousand genders bloom, and to see the modification of bodies, and language, as the foundation for such projects.”(268) Ultimately - and Stein admits this - it’s not really clear how many transmen want to identify as queer, as opposed to settling into a more traditional, ‘male’ gender role - albeit, with feminist and anti-oppression values. I kind of get the feeling that the folks who want to explore truly nonbinary gender identities in society are a small subset - but perhaps that’s in the process of changing.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    I'm trans and I'm annoyed that I wasted my money on this book. At first, I was confused by its oddly detailed but irrelevant information on young trans mens' personal lives. I noticed the author consistently misgenders those portrayed in the book, uncritically presents transphobic narratives that are, frankly, lazy on her part and exhausting to read. Again. I found this demeaning to read, and incredibly tone-deaf and inaccurate as a portrayal of our real lives and real experiences as real people I'm trans and I'm annoyed that I wasted my money on this book. At first, I was confused by its oddly detailed but irrelevant information on young trans mens' personal lives. I noticed the author consistently misgenders those portrayed in the book, uncritically presents transphobic narratives that are, frankly, lazy on her part and exhausting to read. Again. I found this demeaning to read, and incredibly tone-deaf and inaccurate as a portrayal of our real lives and real experiences as real people. I resent being portrayed as a freak of nature and it's long past time that books that do us these injustices not be praised as depictions of our lives and bodies. If you want to know what it's like to live inside someone's skin, ask someone who knows what it's like to live inside their own skin. There are many, many trans authors and scholars and writers who have courageously and generously shared themselves on the page. Loren Cameron's "Body Alchemy": portraits of our trans bodies, unapologetically daring to be bare and beautiful. Jamison Green's "Becoming a Visible Man", a first person narrative that was one of the first published first-person journeys of a trans man. The brilliant, imperative Thomas Page McBee's "Man Alive" and "Amateur" Dylan Edward's comic of queer trans men, "Transposes" that are REAL oral histories of queer trans men. And Lou Sullivan. Lou Sullivan, a gay trans man who started support groups for trans men, the first in North America, and who was long denied surgery because he refused to live in the closet as a gay man, despite that he could have accessed surgery if he had pretended to be straight. Why? Because medical experts, as they have until very recently, did not believe that gay trans men, such as myself, even exist. Lou fought for us. He wrote a book too, "Lou Sullivan: Daring to be a Man Among Men". Lou, like so many young gay men of that generation, was taken too young by AIDS. But he started a movement of visibility. We're still fighting to be seen. This book is not an example of trans men telling their stories. But they're out there. Find them. Read them. Please.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jacob

    I'm a trans man. This book is clearly intend for a cis audience, and I read it as a pre-screening of sorts before suggesting it to cis family to read. I'm glad I did, because although its trans 101 content is fine(if a bit basic, and has the usual 'cis person gazing in wonder' tone issues), it has a glaring issue that prevents me from recommending it for that purpose. The stories of the four central characters are interesting, and I appreciate that she didn't just stick to binary trans men for th I'm a trans man. This book is clearly intend for a cis audience, and I read it as a pre-screening of sorts before suggesting it to cis family to read. I'm glad I did, because although its trans 101 content is fine(if a bit basic, and has the usual 'cis person gazing in wonder' tone issues), it has a glaring issue that prevents me from recommending it for that purpose. The stories of the four central characters are interesting, and I appreciate that she didn't just stick to binary trans men for this & did her best to portray each subject as a whole person. She's also up-front about her own perspective and biases, and seems genuinely interested in trying to understand trans people. Some of her comments on the generational changes in how we approach gender and gender roles/presentation/etc are actually interesting. A few reviewers are taking them less charitably than what I think her intent was - an older person giving her own perspective in an attempt to understand how the world's changed & how younger generations are having their own fights built on what past generations did. The thing that really drags it down is a chapter that swerves into mourning the supposed "disappearance" of butch lesbians, which, aside from not having any real relevance to a book about transmasclunine people, is uncomfortably close to TERF discourse for my(and many other transmasc people's) taste. I'm not calling Stein a TERF herself because she does seem to accept trans folk overall; the problem is she hasn't done the critical thinking or research to realize why this train of thought is harmful to us. She also never *quite* seems to connect the dots that a lot of trans men wouldn't have had much choice but to stay in the closet as butch lesbians in the past. Overall Stein comes off as an older second wave feminist who doesn't really get trans people & is making a good faith attempt to understand, but her own biases prevent her from doing so fully.

  29. 5 out of 5

    R.J. Gilmour

    Stein's book is a sociological study of four transmen going through the process of their top surgery. At the same time it catalogues Stein's own journey as a lesbian woman who came of age in the 1970s as she learns about the trans community. "A diagnosis is a curious thing. Identifying with a medical category requires one to consider the calculus of risks and rewards. The complexity of an individual's life is placed under the microscope and reduced to a table that signifies, in effect, that you Stein's book is a sociological study of four transmen going through the process of their top surgery. At the same time it catalogues Stein's own journey as a lesbian woman who came of age in the 1970s as she learns about the trans community. "A diagnosis is a curious thing. Identifying with a medical category requires one to consider the calculus of risks and rewards. The complexity of an individual's life is placed under the microscope and reduced to a table that signifies, in effect, that you are damaged. Yet having a diagnosis can be comforting too, and can be an entry point to gaining access to medical interventions such as body modification." 66 "Collectively we create norms, or rules for living, and subject others to abide by them. Most of us come to view ourselves as others see us, more or less-the early twentieth-century social psychologist Charles Horton Cooley called it "the looking glass self." And many people, perhaps many more than we can know, spend their lives feeling that their names, or bodies, or genders never seem to fit very well." 75 "Young people understand the search for attention as normal-and inseparable from our "brand culture", according to communication scholar Sarah Benet-Weiser. Brand relationships, she argues, have become cultural contexts for everyday living, individual identity, and personal relationships." 105 "The internet has transformed patients into consumers," Sherman Leis tells me, "though not necessarily well-informed consumers." 134 "I didn't feel that I was 'born in the wrong body." he tells me. "But I was defiantly dysphoric. I just didn't know it." He has few memories of his early life, he tells me, because he "was not really there." 165

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sallie

    This book is extremely well written, both informative and compassionate. Stein introduces the reader to four very likable people,identified at birth as female, all of whom are having "top surgery" (electing to have both breasts removed) because of gender transitioning or gender dysphoria. I learned a lot, even though I've imagined myself to be open and enlightened about the world of transgender people. For instance, I learned how the line between gay/lesbian and transgender people is blurring, w This book is extremely well written, both informative and compassionate. Stein introduces the reader to four very likable people,identified at birth as female, all of whom are having "top surgery" (electing to have both breasts removed) because of gender transitioning or gender dysphoria. I learned a lot, even though I've imagined myself to be open and enlightened about the world of transgender people. For instance, I learned how the line between gay/lesbian and transgender people is blurring, whereas several decades ago there was a clear distinction between these descriptors. Describing someone as 'butch lesbian' is out of favor; transgender, non-binary, or gender-queer is preferred. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to better understand persons who are trying to align their physical images with the way they feel on the inside--the pitfalls and obstacles, as well as the deep-seated peace that can prevail once transitioning is complete. The short, helpful glossary in the back of the book is worth looking at and paying attention to, even if you don't read the book. But if you start reading, you will find yourself caring about the four trans people Stein follows, and you will learn so much about transitioning--from philosophical points of view all the way down to the most practical considerations--you'll be extremely well informed (as of the beginning of our 21st century) about this topic.

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