Books

With my PhD in English Literature at Edinburgh University about to begin, I will be reading lots of stuff this year. Do not expect weekly reviews, I do not read quickly. But I will share with you anything interesting I do read, whether it’s a novel that’s in vogue, or something from my course that I think is worth knowing that broadened my horizon. I’ll be reading a lot of things about transgender discourse, but hopefully, a lot of things which aren’t, as well.

Gilbert & Gubar: Cross-dressing and Re-dressing (non-fiction)

Gilbert & Gubar: Cross-dressing and Re-dressing (non-fiction)

26.09.16: Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, Cross-dressing and Re-dressing

Within the second volume of No Man's Land is this essay, an intensively researched investigation by Gilbert and Gubar (G&G) on the history of gender switching in English literature. Most useful is the sheer depth and detail of the history of cross-dressing in literature, though the object of attention is transvestism, rather than transsexuality. G&G start in the Renaissance with Shakespeare's two comedies involving female cross-dressing as disguise, Twelfth Night and As You Like It. Further female-to-male cross-dressing occurs in examples of nineteenth-century literature, with the context of socio-economic opportunity. The texts being reviewed, while obscure, highlight the historical phenomenon of gender apartheid in nineteenth century Britain, with the fictional portrayal of women dressing as men to escape their predicament.

It is the in the twentieth century that G&G briefly note a work that questions gender itself, with Edward Carpenter's vision of a sacred third sex, in his works The Intermediate Sex (1908) and The Intermediate Types (1914). Yet such an exploration beyond gender's confines is otherwise barely covered. It is in this early twentieth-century period that a division instead occurs, between female writers using transvestism and gender-transformation as a means for women to embrace a better life, and male writers expressing the anxiety of castration and lost authority. G&G present several examples of such novels that emerge over the ensuing twentieth-century, up until the 1970s, with cross-dressing allowing for female emancipation, or male emasculation and reduction. Famous texts epitomising this development include Joyce's Ulysses, Hemingway's unfinished The Garden of Eden, and Woolf's Orlando, none of which I would regard as doing justice to the complexity and tensions surrounding gender switching. The male literature does provide an insight into cross-dressing as a source of sado-masochistic pleasure, and this is a significant reflection of how femininity and womanhood continued to be seen in the twentieth century.

In focusing on only English literature, there are missed opportunities for a broader scope. Niels Hoyer's Man Into Woman, for example, as a semi-factual account of one of the first post-op transsexuals Lily Elbe, deserves some mention. In fact it is surprising, based on G&G's historical focus, that so little is written historically about the experience of transsexuals, considering the developments in medical technology regarding gender reassignment surgery in the early twentieth century. G&G maintain their focus on literature using cross-dressing as metaphor, not as a genuine experience with its accompanying, complex issues of doubt, disappointments, social rejections and realities. Is this really all that was written about the experience of changing gender? Or does there exist a body of work, perhaps beyond the English speaking world, that explores a transsexual experience. Hoyer's Man Into Woman may well be the tip of the ice-berg, but we don't see it in this essay.
Vested Interests by Marjorie Garber (non-fiction)
Venus as a Boy by Luke Sutherland
 

Comments

No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment
Guest
Friday, 04 December 2020

Captcha Image

What's On This Week

My Latest Posts

November 17, 2020

If I were to detransition, this is what I would write

Warning: this is a speculative piece of writing, not an official announcement, although I have recently begun to imagine an 'ideological' detransition (from trans woman to GNC male). Here, I'm trying to articulate and reflect on my thoughts and feelings, and imagining myself from a different perspective. In this post, I'm Gina v...
November 17, 2020

Trans Hell-thcare

The picture accompanying this post is important to me. I took it yesterday, 16 November 2020, unsure what I'd find. It's been nearly eleven months since I came off oestrogen for reasons I'll get into in a moment. Undoubtedly this has had an effect on me, bodily and therefore psychologically, but the accompanying selfie gives me a reassura...
October 17, 2020

What if gender-critical feminism came to power?

This scenario is inspired by a dialogue I had yesterday evening with a gender-critical feminist just before I went to bed. Here is what I dreamed: In the summer of 2021, the Conservative minister Liz Truss introduces legislation, making women-only spaces legally accessible only to those born female. This U.K. law includes a provision for funding al...
October 13, 2020

Responses to my blog post (1)

A frustrating aspect of my website is that when people write in, there's no trace of an email address so no way of getting back to people, and also no way of publishing their messages. However, I received such a nice response to my article just now that I'd like to include it here. It's from some who for the sake of confidentiality (in case it's ne...
October 11, 2020

On adopting a more gender-critical transgender activism

On adopting a more gender-critical transgender activism Note to the reader: This post is intended as a contribution to addressing the current tensions between transgender activism and gender-critical feminism. The way I see myself in relation to female i dentity, and the ideas I express here, are not a prescription for other trans women. The t...
May 11, 2020

The Book of Queer Prophets, curated by Ruth Hunt

in Books

  The Book of Queer Prophets: 24 Writers on Sexuality and Religion The historically fraught relationship between Abrahamic religions and LGBT+ identities provides the backdrop to The Book of Queer Prophets , a collection of twenty-four meditations by public figures who identify as both religious and LGBT+. The book's curator, the for...
May 09, 2020

Queer/Transgender short film: Mesmeralda

Joshua Matteo's short film, Mesmeralda , merging horror with esoterica, is now out on youtube . As with his previous work Metanoia , we see youthful trans actors racing through the empty streets of a moonlit New York, haunted by symbols and stalked by a masked figure of violent intentions. Mesmeralda , as described by Matteo, is the companion ...
March 08, 2020

Sterile like the moon: the joys of transgender healthcare

Sterile like the moon: the joys of transgender healthcare Summer, 2016: Gina's Big Bang, as transitioning begins A bureaucratic question in a sun-lit room. My medical practitioner asks me if I intend to have children. The question lingers, but the self-loathing is instant. No, I won't be having children. The practitioner nods. She moves on to the n...
November 10, 2019

General Election

General Election 12 December 2019 I spent the last election in an office, alone but for the company of a colleague. We watched the BBC's coverage while I drank wine, downbeat and expecting austerity and the absence of hope to triumph. Then we saw the exit poll and hung around, disbelieving at the sight of the kindled embers and lukewarm glow of a f...