Julie Peters

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First published in Screaming Hyena, 1997

Transsexuals Handled with Care

Review - True Selves

Julie Peters

Understanding Transsexualism for families, friends, co-workers and helping professionals by Mildred Brown & Chloe Ann Rounsley: PRENTICE-HALL; 1997; 256 PP; $39.95 CLOTH

I would have loved to have had this book when I was growing up. It is clear, straight forward, practical and emotional. It deals well with both Female to Male and Male to female transsexuals. It does embrace the medical model too strongly for my liking. Lesbian feminist gender politics students will find plenty of quotes to debunk (sorry I meant to say "deconstruct") the medical model.

Mildred Brown is a gender therapist, PhD in Human Sexology and professor of clinical sexology of some 20 years experience and Chloe Ann Rounsley is a journalist.

I found myself crying when I read the chapters on the childhood, teen and adult years typical of some of her 400 patients. I cried for them and for myself. I couldn't believe how accurately this book described my childhood, youth and early adulthood. It made me realise that even though I felt so scared and alone, there were so many others growing up with the same pain. We need to know of each other.

The chapters on changing gender pull no punches; they tell how it is; the euphoria, self realisation, un-employment, rejection, discrimination, vilification, harassment and violence; of firemen refusing to rescue a transsexual, laughing at her while she bled to death. As I read on I found myself amazed that people would ever change gender ....ah! ... didn't I do that? Well! Yes I did. "True Selves" does give a feel for why people do it.

She does believe transsexualism is a "GID (gender identity disorder)", not a mental illness but still a medical condition, which the patient was born with. I am uncomfortable with Mildred Brow-n's level of adherence to this medical model. I see transsexualism as one possible solution to living in a highly gendered society, where you don't fit in. She defends the American Psychiatric Association's "Standards of Care". Many transsexuals and transgendered find these very frustrating; they want to control their own lives and bodies but because it is a "proper" medical disorder, GID, many medical people believe they have the role of diagnosis and treatment.

This book is very good in the way it deals with the practical aspects of transsexualism; coming out to self, coming out to family and co-workers, making legal changes, problems with employment and public toilets and dealing with stress. There are some very moving letters to and from the transsexuals, their parents and children. The chapter on surgery is informative and mostly realistic. Although I strongly object to Mildred's description of a neo-vagina as "indistinguishable from that of a genetic female." And then ... She looks at "Dating before and after surgery" and should you tell.

Janice Raymond, in Transsexual Empire (1979) is highly critical of the medical profession for reinforcing gender stereotypes by getting their transgendered clients to "fit" into one of the two genders. Mildred Brown does encourage changing gender to "fit in" and behaving in "gender appropriate" ways and passing, to avoid discrimination and vilification. She also encourages them to accept their uniqueness instead of being obsessed with being "normal". She does not encourage heterosexuality over homosexuality. She doesn't believe it is necessary to pass and you can identify and live as the new gender or as an "out" transsexual and she does not push hormones and surgery as the only or best alternatives.

I realise that the gendered society we live in is constructed; it is not essential but it is real. And so "True Selves" is very useful; it looks at practical ways of dealing with extreme dis-ease with gender using the transsexual model. I highly recommend this book if you think you might be transsexual, or relate personally or professionally to transsexuals.

Julie Peters is a transgender activist, a Director of Photography, writer and member of State Executive of the Australian Democrats.




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© Copyright Julie Peters 1997
Contact julie@natasha.ironbark.id.au