WINDY CITY TIMES
||BOOK REVIEW: Just Add Hormones: An Insider's Guide to the Transsexual Experience, by Matt Kailey
Testosterone Files, by Max Wolf Valerio
This article shared 5074 times since Wed Aug 2, 2006
by Rachel Pepper
The transgender publishing world is exploding, and these two books, Just Add Hormones and Testosterone Files, are among the best of the recent crop. Both capture what it is like to be an F-to-M, that is, female-to-male, transgendered or transsexual man.
Matt Kailey lived as a straight woman for 42 years and then transitioned with hormones and surgery into a self-proclaimed transsexual, also becoming a gay man in the process. His book, Just Add Hormones, is the more analytical of the two, and perhaps more clinically informational. Kailey deftly explains so many things that a non-trans person might question—such as how a trans-man picks a new name, how trans-men retrain themselves to become more masculine and why trans-men are often more chauvinistic than straight men ( basically, because, despite living as women previously, they now must 'reject all things feminine before, during, and after the transition.' ) Kailey also places the struggle for trans rights squarely into the lesbian and gay movement, with his chapter on TransPride explaining his vision of an all-inclusive queer pride movement.
Yet, Max Wolf Valerio's Testosterone Files struck me as more heartfelt. Weighing in at 343 pages, Valerio's book is meaty, detailed and emotionally gripping. It chronicles the years in the late 1980s he spent considering and then beginning his transition, and takes us gradually up to the near-present days of his life as a straight man. In 1989, Valerio had his first testosterone shot, and is now well known as one of the first and most visible F-to-Ms in San Francisco's swelling transgender community. A writer and performance artist, Valerio has also been the subject of several films, including Monika Treut's 1992 short film Max and a later release, Gendernauts.
As Max—previously Anita—goes through his transformation, we are unequivocally drawn in, intimately experiencing his shots, his facial hair growth; the increase in his muscle mass; his mood swings; his increasing sex drive and appetite; his wooing of women as a straight man; and the privileges and dangers that come with being male. He grapples a lot with what it means to become a man and, concurrently, with what kind of man he wishes to become. Even his analyses of the chemical and emotional differences between his old and new selves ( and therefore female and male selves ) is riveting, though at times stereotypical. 'Women's feelings are in Technicolor and men's are in black and white,' writes Valerio near the end of the book, a pat statement that defies human difference, even where large amounts of testosterone are involved.
Still, Valerio is sensitive to this, and raises so many issues so poignantly that his journey reflects that of our entire LGBTQ community as it grapples with how best to understand and include the growing number of transgenders and transsexuals in our midst. 'As a woman,' Valerio writes, 'my sexual orientation was ostensibly lesbian. As a man, it is heterosexual. If I am still queer, it is because I was transsexual, not because of my sexual orientation. When I go to queer events, however, I often feel like I am the only straight person there...This alienation feels new and puzzling. Am I still queer?' The answer may depend on who is asking and to whom. For now, however, reading both these books will go a long way towards understanding this question—and any others you might have—about these issues.
This article shared 5074 times since Wed Aug 2, 2006
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