Sexual Metamorphosis: An Anthology of Transsexual Memoirs edited by Jonathan Ames (Vintage), 320 pages, $21 paper. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Novelist Jonathan Ames has pasted together selections from more than a century of literature in an ambitious attempt to trace the evolution of transsexual identity.
Sexual Metamorphosis begins with an 1886 case study by German sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing and ends with novelist Jennifer Finney Boyland's personal account of her transition in 2003.
The book mostly showcases well-known male-to-female transsexuals, including tennis star Renée Richards, James Bond girl Caroline Cossey and the first transsexual celebrity, Christine Jorgensen. Only three of the 16 authors are transsexual men, including Loren Cameron and Mark Rees. Ames offers a flimsy excuse in the introduction, explaining that FTMs prefer to avoid the spotlight. I guess he missed books released this year like the excellent collection of memoirs From The Inside Out: Radical Gender Transformation, FTM And Beyond, edited by Morty Diamond.
Also missing are the more radical voices of the transsexual movement. These are well-crafted stories written mostly by transsexuals with high profiles and high incomes, many of whom have appeared on Oprah, and the majority of them don't want to be lumped in with those taking a more critical stance on gender issues.
Much of Ames's introduction is cringe-worthy, especially his account of his first meeting with a transsexual woman as a young man and how he began to hang out in a bar frequented by transsexual prostitutes, ostensibly as "research" for his novel The Extra Man. The narrative's voyeuristic tone smacks of anthropological fetishism.
This book is for an audience with little knowledge of transsexuals. It's a primer for those fascinated by anyone who chooses to change sex. I'd like to see a collection of transsexual memoirs without the participation of men like Ames who have the clout to get mainstream attention.
That said, most of these stories are engaging and insightful, which is never a bad thing.