THE RIDDLE OF GENDER: Science, Activism, and Transgender Rights

Deborah Rudacille, Author
Deborah Rudacille, Author . Pantheon $26 (355p) ISBN 978-0-375-42162-4
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Science writer Rudacille's sympathetic and well-researched elucidation of the threads that make up the tangled issue of gender variance, most visible in transsexuals, is lively enough to be a good introduction for the educated lay reader and documented enough for the scholar. She considers the interplay between the science of gender and the human side of transgender issues, beginning with the story of the Chevalier d'Éon, who spent the mid-1700s as a man and then lived over three decades as a woman. Her narrative progresses through Magnus Hirschfeld's Berlin Institute for Sexual Science and ends with the possibility that pesticides and synthetic estrogens may be increasing gender variance by affecting human endocrinology. Seven interviews with transsexuals prominent in research or activism articulate both the theory and the practice of transsexualism, giving readers the human face of people who don't fit male and female archetypes. Rudacille adeptly discusses the controversies surrounding transsexuality, delving into the Kafka-esque issues around the psychiatric diagnosis of "gender identity dysphoria," giving time to those who question sexual reassignment surgery and covering the conflicts between transsexuals and homosexuals, especially lesbian feminists in the 1970s. Rudacille's evenhandedness bolsters her final opinion, which is that gender identity, including variance, is probably hardwired—and that "culture [should] follow nature's lead and celebrate variety." Agent, Flip Brophy . (Feb.)

FYI: This would make an excellent companion volume to Joan Roughgarden's brilliant Evolution's Rainbow (Forecasts, Mar. 29, 2004).

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