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Autobiography, Transsexual  
 
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Over the last 75 years, individuals have published autobiographies not only to tell or to clarify the stories of their lives, but also to educate others in an effort to gain greater acceptance for people.

Many of the early autobiographies were written by transsexual women whose gender identities had been revealed by the press. Forced into the media spotlight because they were transsexual, their work often served as a response to the stereotypes and misinformation circulated about their experiences.

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But in the last decade, as the existence of transsexual individuals has become less of a novelty to much of society, transsexual women autobiographers have been able to shift their focus from challenging sensationalized portrayals of their personal lives to creating a public image that reflects how they understand their gender identities.

Although comparatively fewer autobiographies have been published by transsexual men as opposed to transsexual women, a growing number of such works in the last few years has led to a greater recognition of the diversity of transsexual identities.

Early Transsexual Autobiographies

Given the unprecedented news coverage that Christine Jorgensen received beginning in 1952 for being the first person from the United States publicly known to have had a "sex change," it is not surprising that her 1967 life story would be the most widely known among the early transsexual autobiographies.

But the earliest transsexual autobiographies were actually published by Europeans. The first known book-length account is the narrative of Lili Elbe, a male-born Danish painter who began to identify and live as a woman in the 1920s and had a series of gender confirming surgeries.

Shortly before her apparent death in 1931, Elbe's transition became public, creating a media sensation in Europe. To provide a more accurate rendering of her life, Elbe requested that her friend Ernst Ludwig Hathorn Jacobson develop a book based on her diary entries, letters, and dictated material. Jacobson published the resulting work, Man into Woman: An Authentic Record of a Change of Sex, in 1933 under the pseudonym Niels Hoyer.

After Man into Woman, another transsexual autobiography was apparently not published until 1954, when two works were written by transsexual Britons in the wake of the international publicity surrounding Jorgensen's transition. Robert Allen's But for the Grace: The True Story of a Dual Existence describes how he was assigned female at birth, but petitioned the British government to amend his birth certificate in 1944--one of the country's earliest officially recognized gender changes--and legally married a woman. Allen states that he did not take hormones or have surgery.

In contrast, Roberta Cowell's Story by Herself is an account by the woman who had the first known vaginoplasty (surgical creation of a vagina) in England and who was legally recognized as female in 1951. Being the first British transsexual woman to undergo surgery and having achieved some fame previously as a race car driver, Cowell's transition made headlines in Britain, and excerpts from her autobiography were serialized in one of the country's celebrity magazines.

The outing of London model and socialite April Ashley as transsexual a decade later generated similar interest in Britain. As recounted in her 1982 autobiography, Ashley experienced an even greater public indignity when her husband was successfully granted a divorce by arguing in court that their marriage was never valid because Ashley had been registered as male at birth.

But the sensational press coverage that Cowell and Ashley faced paled in comparison to the media frenzy that followed the news of Jorgensen's transition. As Jorgensen recounts in her autobiography, the media attention she faced was so relentless that she was unable to have the normal life she had sought by having gender confirming surgeries. Whether she desired to or not, she had little choice but to turn to a career in the public eye. In doing so, Jorgensen brought the concept of gender transformation into homes throughout the world and helped many transsexual women in the 1950s and 1960s recognize and understand themselves.

Transsexual Autobiographies, 1974-1983

In the 1970s, the headline-news coverage that accompanied the transitions of Jan Morris, Renée Richards, and, to a lesser extent, Nancy Hunt raised still greater awareness of transsexual women. Morris, a renowned British author and travel correspondent, described in Conundrum (1974) how she sublimated her gender identity through movement until she could no longer avoid undertaking the more difficult inner journey to accept herself.

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The cover of the Cleis Press edition of Christine Jorgensen's widely-read autobiography.
  
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