fell into this project sideways. In the summer of 1990, I had just passed my
comprehensive examinations and was beginning work on a dissertation
..... concerning the idea of identity in feminist theory.
was a topic I had been
thinking about for some time and it seemed a natural for a theory-minded
feminist graduate student like myself. But no matter how much I applied my-
self to the task, most of my thoughts on the issue seemed uninspired, boring,
even obvious. By October, that project clearly had no future and I was fishing
around for another one. I was also relatively homebound, with acute tendini-
tis in one foot. In a rather despairing mood, I began reading-and this book
started to happen to me.
The idea of transvestism was kicking around feminist literary criticism at
the time, and when I finally got to the library to look for primary source ma-
terial, I inadvertently found texts that dealt with transsexualism. Now that was
really fascinating. For about six months I read anything and everything I could
find about cross-dressing and sex change. I attended a national conference
for transvestites and transsexuals. I started to write critiques of the existent
feminist treatments of transsexualism. The possibilities for understanding the
construction of "gender" through an analysis of transsexualism seemed enor-
mous and there wasn't a lot of critical material out there. But it wasn't until
the following summer, in a seminar on "Theorizing the Body," that I found my
"hook," my way into the project.
was very simple, really. In thinking about technologies of the body, I real-
ized that certain technologies were essential for the material practices known
as "sex change." After all, without endocrinology and plastic surgery, there
could be no hormonal treatments or genital surgery. I hypothesized that trans-
sexualism emerged in the twentieth century at least in part due to advances in
medical technologies that made physical "sex change" possible.
The essay that I wrote for the seminar was supposed to be the first chapter of