I believe I first found out about The Shape of Sex shortly after I had surgery earlier this year. I was immediately interested. DeVun had previously co-edited an issue of Transgender Studies Quarterly on Trans*historicities that I have referenced extensively, so I was rather excited to get my hands on The Shape of Sex. I am happy to report that it lived up to my expectations. This book, more than any I have read before, makes a strong case of transgender studies as a discipline.
I hate Leslie Feinberg’s Transgender Warriors. Reading it is like torture to me. It is part history book, part autobiography, but unfortunately it is still one of the few mainstream books on transgender history. Feinberg is not an historian, and it shows. The whole book serves a narrative around class conflict; the upper classes subjugated the lower classes in many ways, one of which was through destroying transgender experiences. While Clare Sears’ Arresting Dress takes a similar framework, Transgender Warriors lacks any kind of nuance. Worse yet, Feinberg will offhandedly mention aspects of transgender existence without exploring them further. It becomes incredibly frustrating to read because it is clear to the reader that there is more that could be done with the history than is being presented. It is a book full of loose ends.
But there is one thing I appreciate Transgender Warriors for; its broad definition of what counts as “transgender”. The definition of “transgender” has changed a lot since Feinberg wrote Transgender Warriors; at the time, it represented anyone who was “beyond-the-binary” (Bettcher). Since then, transgender has come to mean a lot of different things, from binary transgender people to being an umbrella term for the whole community (often represented as trans*). The reasons for these changes are complicated, and even I do not fully understand them. But reading something like Transgender Warriors and calling a figure like Joan of Arc transgender for existing outside the traditional gender binary; that can be very refreshing.
Trying to bridge the gap between transgender studies and museum studies.