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A groundbreaking twentieth-century history of transgender children With transgender rights front and center in American politics, media, and culture, the pervasive myth still exists that today’s transgender children are a brand new generation—pioneers in a field of new obstacles and hurdles. Histories of the Transgender Child shatters this myth, uncovering a previously unkn A groundbreaking twentieth-century history of transgender children With transgender rights front and center in American politics, media, and culture, the pervasive myth still exists that today’s transgender children are a brand new generation—pioneers in a field of new obstacles and hurdles. Histories of the Transgender Child shatters this myth, uncovering a previously unknown twentieth-century history when transgender children not only existed but preexisted the term transgender and its predecessors, playing a central role in the medicalization of trans people, and all sex and gender. Beginning with the early 1900s when children with “ambiguous” sex first sought medical attention, to the 1930s when transgender people began to seek out doctors involved in altering children’s sex, to the invention of the category gender, and finally the 1960s and ’70s when, as the field institutionalized, transgender children began to take hormones, change their names, and even access gender confirmation, Julian Gill-Peterson reconstructs the medicalization and racialization of children’s bodies. Throughout, they foreground the racial history of medicine that excludes black and trans of color children through the concept of gender’s plasticity, placing race at the center of their analysis and at the center of transgender studies. Until now, little has been known about early transgender history and life and its relevance to children. Using a wealth of archival research from hospitals and clinics, including incredible personal letters from children to doctors, as well as scientific and medical literature, this book reaches back to the first half of the twentieth century—a time when the category transgender was not available but surely existed, in the lives of children and parents.


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A groundbreaking twentieth-century history of transgender children With transgender rights front and center in American politics, media, and culture, the pervasive myth still exists that today’s transgender children are a brand new generation—pioneers in a field of new obstacles and hurdles. Histories of the Transgender Child shatters this myth, uncovering a previously unkn A groundbreaking twentieth-century history of transgender children With transgender rights front and center in American politics, media, and culture, the pervasive myth still exists that today’s transgender children are a brand new generation—pioneers in a field of new obstacles and hurdles. Histories of the Transgender Child shatters this myth, uncovering a previously unknown twentieth-century history when transgender children not only existed but preexisted the term transgender and its predecessors, playing a central role in the medicalization of trans people, and all sex and gender. Beginning with the early 1900s when children with “ambiguous” sex first sought medical attention, to the 1930s when transgender people began to seek out doctors involved in altering children’s sex, to the invention of the category gender, and finally the 1960s and ’70s when, as the field institutionalized, transgender children began to take hormones, change their names, and even access gender confirmation, Julian Gill-Peterson reconstructs the medicalization and racialization of children’s bodies. Throughout, they foreground the racial history of medicine that excludes black and trans of color children through the concept of gender’s plasticity, placing race at the center of their analysis and at the center of transgender studies. Until now, little has been known about early transgender history and life and its relevance to children. Using a wealth of archival research from hospitals and clinics, including incredible personal letters from children to doctors, as well as scientific and medical literature, this book reaches back to the first half of the twentieth century—a time when the category transgender was not available but surely existed, in the lives of children and parents.

30 review for Histories of the Transgender Child

  1. 4 out of 5

    Alok Vaid-Menon

    In the 1970s feminists like Dr. Gayle Rubin and Dr. Suzanne Kessler (1978) began to use the term “gender” as a way to challenge dislodge male supremacy. The term “gender”Differentiating “gender” from “sex” (the exclusive term used before the mid 20th century) allowed women to argue that discrimination against women was not prescribed by biology, it was established by social conditions. Because socially constructed gender norms were responsible for women’s oppression, that meant they could re-wri In the 1970s feminists like Dr. Gayle Rubin and Dr. Suzanne Kessler (1978) began to use the term “gender” as a way to challenge dislodge male supremacy. The term “gender”Differentiating “gender” from “sex” (the exclusive term used before the mid 20th century) allowed women to argue that discrimination against women was not prescribed by biology, it was established by social conditions. Because socially constructed gender norms were responsible for women’s oppression, that meant they could re-written. In this way, patriarchy was not an inevitable outcome, but a political choice. While this use of gender was and continues to be politically powerful, it’s important to also acknowledge that the first use of gender was far less emancipatory. Dr. Gill-Peterson’s deeply researched work shows how the term gender actually emerged in the US from racist eugenics as doctors sought to justify performing coercive surgeries on intersex children. In 1955 Johns Hopkins physician John Money coined the terms “gender role” and “gender identity” as part of his exploitative “research” on intersex children. One of the dominant ideas of racist science of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was that only white people had “racially evolved” to display a clear distinction between the sexes (the sex binary). The existence of intersex people – and especially white intersex children -- threatened the sex binary that Western civilization was based on, one of the essential ways that it defined itself against the “savage” nations of the world. The existence of intersex people was contrary to the cultural belief of the sex binary. Money and his peers couldn’t accept this biological reality, so they invented the concept of gender to “save the sex binary from imminent collapse by offering a new developmental justification for coercive…medical intervention into intersex children’s bodies” (98). He argued: “Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the public construes a hermaphrodite as being half boy, half girl. The parents of a hermaphrodite should be disabused of this conception immediately. They should be given, instead, the concept that their child is a boy or a girl, one or the other, whose sex organs did not completely get differentiated or finished” (120). Physicians argued that it was their role to intervene on intersex children (without their consent) and “help” them develop into the “true” “gender identity” that they were supposed to become (100). Gender emerged first as a conservative concept to stabilize the sex binary in the face of collapse. Prior to Money’s concept of gender, in the early 20th century the science began to show that there was no biological basis to the sex binary. In fact, several scientists had begun to argue that humans were “naturally bisexual” (meaning both male and female) or “sexually indeterminate” (119). In particular, many endocrinologists had come to believe that “all humans were, to a certain degree, normally intersex” meaning that “masculinity and femininity were seen as mere tendencies, rather than absolute forms, and human life existed along a range of benign variation” (119-120). The concept of gender “breathed new life” into the sex binary (119) and “neutralized the theory of natural human bisexuality” (122) by establishing that all people had to be either a boy or a girl, and that there was no natural nonbinary form. This project was explicitly about race. Physicians believed that white intersex and trans children could be “fixed,” into “normality” but Black trans and intersex children in particular were seen as inherently incapable of transformation, stuck in a “primitive animality” (80). In fact, Black trans and intersex youth were more likely to be sent to “infinite detention in psychiatric facilities” (31), even when seeking help from medical practitioners. Their gender and sexual non-conformity was seen as a function of their race that could not be “corrected.” We should all be concerned about this foundational violence against intersex people has been erased from the history of gender. Feminism should be about moving beyond the sex binary and affirming the bodily autonomy of all people, especially intersex people.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Iseult

    In order to review this book, I have to say that I read it, but I could not get past the first few pages because of the convoluted and jargon-filled writing. Half the sentences were unintelligible to me after multiple readings trying to parse it out. Some examples: "Children became the incarnation and etiology of sex's plasticity as an abstract form of whiteness." What in the world is an "abstract form of whiteness?" I thought if it would be explained anywhere, it'd be explained after the first In order to review this book, I have to say that I read it, but I could not get past the first few pages because of the convoluted and jargon-filled writing. Half the sentences were unintelligible to me after multiple readings trying to parse it out. Some examples: "Children became the incarnation and etiology of sex's plasticity as an abstract form of whiteness." What in the world is an "abstract form of whiteness?" I thought if it would be explained anywhere, it'd be explained after the first use of the phrase in the introduction, but it was not. Also, "sex became synonymous with a concept of biological plasticity that made it an alterable morphology, and... was racialized as a phenotype." I have no idea what that's supposed to mean. Is this book specifically for PhD students in gender and/or race studies? You can try to skim and find where the author talks about trans children writing to gender clinics in the 60's, for example, but any analysis was totally lost on me. Honestly, I don't know why someone would write in such an unclear way when the subject is so important and obviously the author wants the information to get out there. I'm very surprised the other reviews don't mention this. I'm sorry to leave this negative review, especially when I've read very little, but I'm very frustrated and I hardly think I'll be the only person to feel this way.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Evan

    Histories of the Transgender Child by Julian Gill-Peterson, is a must-have resource. While most people would not dare to come near this subject, Julian does so with ease. The terminology is spot on and not offensive in any way. This would be the place to start, anyone wanting to learn about transgender history. Transgender children’s voices are now being heard across the world. With more and more parents jumping on board to help their kids, this would be an illuminating and eye-opening read. Whi Histories of the Transgender Child by Julian Gill-Peterson, is a must-have resource. While most people would not dare to come near this subject, Julian does so with ease. The terminology is spot on and not offensive in any way. This would be the place to start, anyone wanting to learn about transgender history. Transgender children’s voices are now being heard across the world. With more and more parents jumping on board to help their kids, this would be an illuminating and eye-opening read. While this is one of a few, if not the only book in its genre and field. I was shocked at how much I was able to learn. Being part of the transgender community, I knew at the age of 5 that I wasn’t the sex I was assigned at birth. Back in the 90s, it wasn’t very common. Being open about being trans* has only now been brought to light within the past few years. Knowing how children think and operate before, can help them live the lives they were born to in the body they were suppose to be in. Overall, this book does a wonderful job diving deep into the rich history of the transgender child. It brings the past to light and makes the present known. What will the future hold for these children? I wanted to thank Net Galley for allowing me to read this rich and informative book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sahel

    The first thing that struck me was the rather hard language and writing style, especially in Preface and Introduction. However, later I learned that there were many references to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and that explained the hard language. The subject is also new to me as I had never heard discussions about transgender children. This book rereads the histories of transgender children from early twentieth century through the normative medical archives. The focus on children in this book (especiall The first thing that struck me was the rather hard language and writing style, especially in Preface and Introduction. However, later I learned that there were many references to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and that explained the hard language. The subject is also new to me as I had never heard discussions about transgender children. This book rereads the histories of transgender children from early twentieth century through the normative medical archives. The focus on children in this book (especially from the 60s onward) is because of their supposed body plasticity. Moreover, it was supposed that their bodies would develop and "heal" later on (without leaving behind any psychological or physical scars) as a result of its natural biological model. Peterson argues that transchildren have always lived and the fact that there is not many visible documents about them does not mean that we should poke our fingers at them and treat them like novel subjects. Treating transchildren as novelties of 21st century deprives them of a history that involves lifetimes of transchildren's struggle. Transchildren have always been present throughout the history but the use of metaphors such as child and animal in medical industrial complex has turned them into abstract objects rather than living beings who deserve to live just like any other gender and color. They have always been decided for throughout history and never been asked what they actually wanted or needed. Peterson says: "'Human'=plasticity racialized as whiteness" and this is the reason intersex children in the 50s were "fixed" in surgery rooms. This is all I think I have learned from this book. In the beginning I wrongly assumed the author must not have very much to say, but then I learned I was very wrong. All the proofs and documents from transchildren, pieces of their writings to the doctor and the author's arguments are very brilliant.

  5. 4 out of 5

    emmy

    Included in a blog post and resource list at https://booksbeyondbinaries.blog/2019... Included in a blog post and resource list at https://booksbeyondbinaries.blog/2019...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jo B

    A very well written and compelling book. Rigorous in its research and yet highly readable in its prose. Especially poignant for today's political climate, this book deals with a lot of the big questions of contemporary gender politics by framing them in the context of transgender childhood over the last century. For any historian writing on this subject, getting enough source material together is always difficult, particularly when archives and academies dominated by white cisgender heterosexual A very well written and compelling book. Rigorous in its research and yet highly readable in its prose. Especially poignant for today's political climate, this book deals with a lot of the big questions of contemporary gender politics by framing them in the context of transgender childhood over the last century. For any historian writing on this subject, getting enough source material together is always difficult, particularly when archives and academies dominated by white cisgender heterosexuals are the ones who organise and label the relevant documents. Gill-Peterson has worked diligently and thoroughly on the material available in order to put together a book that feels coherent and consummate. The focus on children is a fascinating approach to the quite underdeveloped field of transgender history. The attention paid towards racialised experiences puts me in mind of the work of C. Riley Snorton (not least because I am currently reading "Black on Both Sides"), but Gill-Peterson would definitely win out in terms of readability and clarity of argument. If you do not have time to read the whole book, it is worth getting just for its concluding chapter: "How to Bring Your Kids Up Trans". It is rare to find a history book that takes such a blunt approach towards a controversial topic like this. It is far more common for historians to slide their agenda in subtly under the table, as it were. However, Gill-Peterson is not your average historian, (in fact, they lecture in English, not history), and this brilliant conclusion teaches us all that we should not be afraid to share the lessons our research has taught us. The America-centrism is unfortunate, but definitely understandable given the scope of this book, otherwise it would have taken many more years to write (and read), and it is definitely a book that is relevant for the contemporary climate.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Travis

    A model piece of trans scholarship that is richly researched and historicized. We need more of this kind of intersectional and critical work.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    306.76808 G4756 2018

  9. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    Histories of the Transgender Child is a short but dense nonfiction history of trans children and adults, and intersex children in the twentieth century. Getting through this book was a feat I’m proud of, and very glad to have undertaken. Gill-Peterson's language is challengingly academic for someone not used to that space, but I relished learning so much from her meticulous research, and I cheered for her thesis that trans childhood is far from a new phenomenon. Her research demonstrates how tra Histories of the Transgender Child is a short but dense nonfiction history of trans children and adults, and intersex children in the twentieth century. Getting through this book was a feat I’m proud of, and very glad to have undertaken. Gill-Peterson's language is challengingly academic for someone not used to that space, but I relished learning so much from her meticulous research, and I cheered for her thesis that trans childhood is far from a new phenomenon. Her research demonstrates how trans people, including children, have had a long and complicated history with the medical establishment and have been active participants in research that has shaped our understanding of sex and gender, rather than the passive bystanders they’re often painted to be. There’s a lot of interesting stuff too about childhood and how that’s been constructed, a topic on which Gill-Peterson is clearly an expert. One facet I was very interested in was her discussions of the intersection between transness, childhood, and race, but unfortunately those were frequently the places where I felt most lost in jargon, and ultimately I didn’t come away from the book fully sure what she was saying there. I continue to be interested in reading about this subject (both of trans history broadly but also trans of color studies specifically) from academic thinkers, and this book made a great companion to another book I read earlier this year, C. Riley Snorton’s Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity. Let me know in the comments if you have any other recommendations in this arena! Overall a tough but refreshing read telling a lot of important stories and context, I’d for sure recommend this to anyone interested in learning more about twentieth century trans history.⁣

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ai Miller

    Just an incredible work. Gill-Peterson manages to rewrite much of the standard narrative of transitional medicine by drawing on histories of gender medical intervention in children, and ideas about their development as they shifted over time, and does so just so powerfully. I probably need to return to this to understand just how the concept of plasticity is being used, though I think its inscrutability is to some extent the point--that is is too slippery to be actually useful even by the people Just an incredible work. Gill-Peterson manages to rewrite much of the standard narrative of transitional medicine by drawing on histories of gender medical intervention in children, and ideas about their development as they shifted over time, and does so just so powerfully. I probably need to return to this to understand just how the concept of plasticity is being used, though I think its inscrutability is to some extent the point--that is is too slippery to be actually useful even by the people who constructed it as a concept. Gill-Peterson's deep care for the children written about in the book is obvious and makes the book all the more compelling, as well as the argumentation about how the figure of the trans child as a marker of futurity, and with no history attached, does damage to actual trans kids (and, I would argue, also trans adults.) All of this is just so important and really challenging me to rethink not only my own work but also the way I frame my politics around urging care for trans kids. The conclusion kind of made me cry! It was so good and so important and I'm going to return to this again and again.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ignatz

    Note: JULES Gill-Peterson, not J****n, JULES Incredibly useful. I tend to find academic trans stuff a bit hit-and-miss but this is an absolute bullseye. Gill-Peterson's detailed theoretical account of trans medicine and its histories is deeply refreshing after endless debates that function entirely via abstractions. In particular the way the concept of 'plasticity' positions trans children within and against eugenic science is deeply compelling and clarifying of how race and class function in thi Note: JULES Gill-Peterson, not J****n, JULES Incredibly useful. I tend to find academic trans stuff a bit hit-and-miss but this is an absolute bullseye. Gill-Peterson's detailed theoretical account of trans medicine and its histories is deeply refreshing after endless debates that function entirely via abstractions. In particular the way the concept of 'plasticity' positions trans children within and against eugenic science is deeply compelling and clarifying of how race and class function in this context. (I would love to see this linked to wider conversations about u.s. political economy in the historical time frame in question.) A must read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Skyler

    Gill-Peterson's research into the long, contradictory, painful, and fitful history of transgender children in the 20th century is a far genealogical analysis of archives spanning decades and coasts, bringing to the forefront young people whose bodies became laboratories for medical research, experimentation, and ugly bias. That they endured, and so often persisted in living authentically, is a series of powerful rebukes of the scientific community which sought and still seeks to destroy them. Th Gill-Peterson's research into the long, contradictory, painful, and fitful history of transgender children in the 20th century is a far genealogical analysis of archives spanning decades and coasts, bringing to the forefront young people whose bodies became laboratories for medical research, experimentation, and ugly bias. That they endured, and so often persisted in living authentically, is a series of powerful rebukes of the scientific community which sought and still seeks to destroy them. The academic language of the book could use more extrapolation at times, but Gill-Peterson's argumentation is solid and passion clear.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

    This is a difficult book to read. Difficult in part because of the language, which presumes prior immersion in contemporary academic literary theory, but more so because of the material. Since Gill-Peterson finds in clinical archives evidence of the lives of trans children going back almost a century, unfortunately many of those cases include evidence that the children were made to suffer, by parents, medics, and other authorities, by neglect and disdain. While I do not think that the author qui This is a difficult book to read. Difficult in part because of the language, which presumes prior immersion in contemporary academic literary theory, but more so because of the material. Since Gill-Peterson finds in clinical archives evidence of the lives of trans children going back almost a century, unfortunately many of those cases include evidence that the children were made to suffer, by parents, medics, and other authorities, by neglect and disdain. While I do not think that the author quite nails down the case for all the points she wished to make, all the points are provocative and worth considering.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jameson Goetz

    One of the most powerful nonfiction reading experiences of my life. This book is so important.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Arianna Gass

  16. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  17. 4 out of 5

    Spencer

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Bonanno

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nechoma

  20. 5 out of 5

    Scott

  21. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Thomas

  22. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Cherne

  23. 5 out of 5

    Thursday Simpson

  24. 4 out of 5

    Miriam

  25. 4 out of 5

    Michael Johnson

  26. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Kate

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rhiannon

  29. 4 out of 5

    Daze Jefferies

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ben Schaefer

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