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The Riddle of Gender: Science, Activism, and Transgender Rights

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  292 Ratings  ·  41 Reviews
When Deborah Rudacille learned that a close friend had decided to transition from female to male, she felt compelled to understand why.

Coming at the controversial subject of transsexualism from several angles–historical, sociological, psychological, medical–Rudacille discovered that gender variance is anything but new, that changing one’s gender has been met with both acc
Paperback, 400 pages
Published February 14th 2006 by Anchor (first published February 22nd 2005)
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Gender is an increasingly important and consistently under-researched aspect of the human experience, one that most people have a narrow understanding of. As Rudacille points out in The Riddle of Gender, gender and anatomical sex, while most often a matching pair, are two different things. Extensive scientific research is woefully lacking and what little has been conducted over the past one hundred years was piecemeal and undermined by personal bias and politics. Because of this it's little wond ...more
Argh I had most of a review written and then I lost it! Highlights: This is a bit of a choppy read. Not that a nonfiction book has to be just one thing, but it tries to be a history of trans and intersex people, a history of research on transgender and intersex conditions, a discussion of the current science of gender, a work of advocacy for both trans civil rights and the need for more research into biological causes of gender identity, AND a collection of interviews with trans people. The piec ...more
Feb 12, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very good book, particularly for people unfamiliar with gender theory and wanting to know more about modern conceptions of gender. Having both a wide variety of first hand experiences of transgendered individuals but also including a wide range of biological references and data it provides the reader with ample information to see both the human and statistical views of transgendered people.

The one disappointment is the book is lacking in the complete representation of transgendered ind
Dec 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: transgender
As a transgender woman myself, I started reading this book because I wanted to find the answers to some of the questions I had. I really enjoyed the first few chapters and interviews, but I'll admit that sometimes I felt like the questions she was posing in the interviews were a bit invasive. I understand that sometimes you have to ask difficult questions but I still cringed a few times while reading this book.

I would recommend it only because I haven't found any other books yet that discuss tra
Jul 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This covers the history of gender research, history of civil rights for transgendered people as well as interviews of transgendered doctors, activists and scientists.
Aug 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone (if you don't know about transgendered issues, you need to)
Recommended to Heather by: Fellow Bookcrosser
When I was in college I took a course called "Women and Men in American Society." Despite that title, we really studied issues of race, class, and gender. However, one of the things we really never covered were transgender issues. Later I watched the films "Boys Don't Cry" and "Transamerica" but still felt rather uneducated until I crossed paths with this book.

Turns out that transgendered folks are the bastard stepchild of the LGBT movement–when any anti-discrimination laws are passed, they are
Oct 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Lots of good info in here, non-judging. News to me was the effect of DES and other endocrine disrupting chemicals and sexual development in embryos. Good material for general consciousness-raising. For example, pp172-173 long list of terms people sometimes use to self-identify, including Two Spirit, agendered, pangendered, bike, transkid,
P183 Beautiful answer to "Do women relate differently to you as a man?" and explanation of difference between male and female sexuality by FTM man.
Ch 6 "Childho
Jul 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book brings tremendous value to the understanding of gender identity in the American culture. The author brings the best perspective for this subject - that of someone not part of the transgender community. Rudicille starts wher about 99-98% of America faces this subject...a novice with no understanding or experience with transgender people. She uses her scientific knowledge to dig into the subject because it touches someone close to her and she wanted to know and understand what this was a ...more
Jul 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I find gender a fascinating topic. I remember being blown a way by Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinburg. It is about a transgender person who had trouble with forms that asked to check either Male or Female when neither one was right. Riddle is a series of essays, history and interviews with transgender people. It contains many sad stories and many success stories of the happiness that transitioning from one gender to another can bring. A big question is what bathroom do you use? Transgender peo ...more
Apr 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating book. Some of the interview chapters were a bit stilted and harder to get through, but the science and political research included here is amazing. I was horrified to read about the effects of DES on the children of those who took it, and intrigued at the possible connection to gender dysphoria.

It seems that the research into transgender issues seems to focus primarily around MTF people, which was a bit disappointing. There are all of these interesting theories as to what
Paula Mckinley
This book is extremely important for everyone to read. As we are entering an age where equality is being debated within the United States, 'The Riddle of Gender' is an important read. This book focuses on the biological, social, economic, individual and community aspects of the Transgender group. Coming into this book I had no idea on what it meant to be transgendered. This book gave me a honest base that I am able to understand the needs, conflicts, and beliefs of the transgendered group. Also ...more
Apr 20, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I returned this one to the library before I made it all the way through. The author took an interesting approach to trans issues, but sometimes I just can't do non-fiction.

Her angle was that at some point she realized she knew absolutely nothing about transfolk, and that was going to try to learn as much as possible by writing a book. One thing I really liked was how she would do one chapter on say, genetics, then the next chapter would be an interview with a transperson. Then a chapter on lega
Feb 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. I am very interested in the topics of sex and gender and sexuality. Reading this book was an enlightening experience. The title is fitting as the author does talk about the potential neurobiological, genetic, and environmental contributors to the understanding of one's own gender. She also talks about the context of our lives - we can't separate ourselves from the culture we've grown up in and which surrounds us almost every moment.

So some nature vs. nuture discussions happening. The autho
Julia Bae
Jul 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Dense with information and completely fascinating. I loved reading about the different scientific approaches towards variances in gender & sexuality over the years, and how these influenced and were influenced by contemporary social movements. I appreciated Rudacille's tact when it came to subjects like social constructivism and biological determinism. She very clearly understands the need for a nuanced approach to LGBT (particularly trans) issues, especially given the ease with which resear ...more
I think this is a good basic overview of all of the research and beliefs that has gone into what we know about being transgender. I would have preferred it to be a more cohesive book, organized by topic more instead of the strange mix of time & topic that Rudacille decided to go with. However, for someone who knows very little about the history of the movement, I think this is a good starting point. I think my favorite thing about this book was the interviews - I could read those all day, wi ...more
Aug 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book that really opened my mind a bit about transgender issues, and while it doesn't really solve the riddle, it did make me realize that the issue is more complex than I had previously understood. If you're looking for an answer on what to think or even how to think about gender, this book may frustrate you because it doesn't pretend to have one. But if you're like me -- open-minded but still not quite understanding, or even with some remaining knee-jerk prejudice about non-"normative" gender ...more
Aug 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
this book had a lot of really good information in it and i learned a lot.

my biggest annoyance with the book is that the author was all over the map sometimes. she didn't really stay focused and followed a lot of rabbit trails which, while very interesting, really strayed from her premise of writing about transgender people and trans rights.

but the science of the book was fascinating and i learned about a lot of things that i hadn't read about before. so overall i would recommend this book, but
Dec 12, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Intermittently fascinating and boring, but always important. One of the very interesting parts of this book is that there is a big section on DES exposure. I did a pretty big DES project at work and had worked with many of the people that were interviewed in that section. As I think about the topic of gender and trans gender I see my interest (personally and professionally) go back to the 90s.
Heather Wright
Mar 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-books
This was a really interesting book and I learned a lot from it. It does a good job of giving a general overview of the history of transgender persons, science, issues, activism, and rights. The writer has a background in science journalism, so the scientific parts are easy to understand for laypeople. I think this is a great starting point for someone interested in the topic because it gives the broad overview look as well is specific examples throughout.
If it were not for some of the really interesting interviews (which Rudacille does not execute very well) i would say this book deserves 0 stars (especially because of its strong emphasis on discredited neuroscience and environmental estrogen exposure theories) but Susan Stryker in particular gives a pretty excellent interview.
May 16, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book came my way via a family gynecologist, who is herself trangendered and super cool. I found it to be an excellent intro to the subject, with chapters that give the perspectives of trans people, doctors, and activists, as well as some good chapters about biology, genetics, etc. I learned a ton from it and you will too if you read it!
Oct 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is also a good book, this has a lot of history in it. It's amazing to know about the other individuals throughout history who lived opposite the gender they were born. The woman who wrote this book did so because a friend transitioned and she wanted to know more. This is also good one to give to family and friends.
Jul 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm reading this as part of a feminist book group that I just joined. So far, so good! The author does an excellent job of mixing pretty heavy theory with real life experiences of transgendered peoples, which allows the work to really have an emotionally impact.
May 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An enlightening book, a little dated (2005, pre-DSM-V) but brilliant and extraordinarily interesting. A real page-turner, I couldn't put it down. The focus is really on the science (both biological and social/psychological).
Nov 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lots of interesting history of the thinking about gender.
Judith Guttman
Jan 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
All the things I thought I knew but didn't. Her Afterword, with it's reflections on the effect of 9/11 on our fear of the Other rings with a dismaying truth.

Thought provoking, provides a different outlook on the issues.
Daphne Shaed
This was an excellent book. It was a quick and informative read and a good introduction to the concepts of social constructions in regard to gender and recent histories of gendered bodies.
Jan 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating book. Looking forward to some of the suggested reading in the bibliography.
May 06, 2012 rated it liked it
I thought the historical stuff was very interesting, but outside of that, it's a HYPERmedicalized presentation of facts from an offensively anthropological perspective.
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“In a 1999 paper, Reiner indicates that his data show "that with time and age, children may well know what their gender is, regardless of any and all information and child-rearing to the contrary. They seem to be quite capable of telling us who they are, and we can observe how they act and function even before they tell us.” 1 likes
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