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True Sex: The Lives of Trans Men at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  94 ratings  ·  29 reviews
The incredible stories of how trans men assimilated into mainstream communities in the late 1800s. In 1883, Frank Dubois gained national attention for his life in Waupun, Wisconsin. There he was known as a hard-working man, married to a young woman named Gertrude Fuller. What drew national attention to his seemingly unremarkable life was that he was revealed to be anatomi ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published September 19th 2017 by New York University Press
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Sleepless Dreamer
Jun 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is just very cool. Even if it's written a little too densely, it's just so fascinating that the writing style doesn't matter that much. True Sex describes the lives of trans men in the 19-20th centuries. Skidmore digs deep into newspapers from all across the country in order to tell their story. And let me tell you, their lives were absolutely fascinating.  

This book is split into 5 chapters. The first two chapters discuss trans men in rural areas. Skidmore suggests that trans men assi
Lexxi Kitty
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and New York University Press in exchange for an honest review.

This is a nonfiction book that attempts to examine the history of a segment of the LGBT rainbow that tends to get ignored, lumped in with other things, and/or assumed to ‘match up’ with ‘the rest’ of the found history. Specifically this is an examination of the T in LGBT. Though it is entirely fixated on FtM without even a hint that MtF exists – unlike L and G, which at least get a mentio
Morgan M. Page
Jan 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There's nothing I love more than historical stories about trans men running afoul of the law, courting beautiful women into doomed marriages, and living their lives openly as men, and Emily Skidmore's True Sex gives these to you in spades. Skidmore analyses local and national newspaper coverage of over sixty trans men between the 1870s and 1940s, providing a fascinating look at a handful of these men's lives and the often surprising ways they were covered by various media outlets. In doing so, S ...more
Sep 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
True Sex: The Lives of Trans Men at The Turn of the Twentieth Century is a fascinating and tantalizing exploration of women passing as men in American society from the 1870’s-1930’s. Authored by Dr. Emily Skidmore, assistant professor of History and Gender Studies at Texas Tech University, this impressive book unfolds like a novel. There were 65 true life stories studied, recorded from historical local and national newspapers with extensive social and cultural research included.

It was totally s
Isaac R. Fellman
Aug 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A landmark work, important not only for its revelation of the lives of early modern trans men, but for its exploration of how media portrayals of these men - which were always complex, sometimes cruel, sometimes neutral or positive - played on American political anxieties about citizenship, race, marriage, family, and the urban/rural divide. Also a key look at the weird phenomenon of the public perceiving early modern trans men as, basically, plucky gals; you can actually watch the birth and gro ...more
Aug 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
I got an ARC in return for an honest review on NetGalley.

I am a huge nerd when it comes to queer anything. I am sadly lacking in my knowledge of FtM and transman history as it doesn't seem to be the topic of choice ever. When I saw this book up for grabs I freaked out. Finally a book that focused on my history. I wasn't going to be just a footnote in a book that is supposedly about trans people, but focuses on MtF people for 99% of the book.

The book was easy to follow, but a bit dense. It was cl
May 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I really liked this book overall, though a few things felt off.

First, the author does not identify as a trans man yet neither does she devote any discussion to her positionality in studying for and writing this book. As a huge proponent of #ownvoices work, I think that kind of positioning is vital if you’re going to study and discuss the history and lived experiences of a marginalized group that is not your own.

As far as the application of an intersectional lens to the work, I appreciated t
Lauren Kim
May 01, 2018 rated it did not like it
Historical revisionism of the worst kind. The author refuses to touch on the fact that these so-called 'trans men' might simply have been lesbian women who felt unable to come out and live safely as homosexual women in the 19th and early 20th centuries. During this time period women could not work jobs to feed their partner/family, and faced extreme censure if their sexual identity was discovered, making it very difficult to live as lesbian women, and easier to dress as men and disguise their id ...more
Aug 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
I received a ARC of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

It is an interesting book to read since it is real history. It is interestingly written teaches something about trans history. I don't think many people know about this part of history anyhow influential it is to the trans community now. Everybody who want to understand the trans community better or is interested in history should read this book.
Susie Dumond
Aug 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic! This was a thorough and fascinating study of trans men/gender deviance at the turn of the 20th century. I really appreciated all of Skidmore's areas of focus and theses. The book does a great job of applying recent queer theory to historical perspectives and includes a lot of new concepts as well. This is a great read for anyone interested in LGBT history or gender studies.

Thanks NetGalley for the ARC!
What made me want to read this book was that it's part of history that I know nothing about. It's a part of history that's not talked about. I think most people do not know about this part of history. I think it's a book that can educate people on the transgender history. I really enjoyed reading this book and it made me aware of this part of history.

I received a ARC of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Nov 12, 2020 rated it liked it
I expected much more from this scholarship. First, props to this scholar for using newly scanned local newspapers to identify people who were assigned female at birth and passed as or lived as men. I'm grateful to have access to these articles even in an edited account.

I should have known that someone who sidelines Foucault wouldn't be up my alley. I still expected more queer theory to emerge from this trove of information about people who passed as men and then were "found out" mostly by law e
Jan 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although I do not completely agree with all the author's premises, I do agree with the main premise, i.e. that the existence of queer individuals (trans men, in this case) in rural areas in the late 19th and early 20th century was probably greater than most historians have previously assumed. That queer individuals routinely sought out urban enclaves where they could associate with other queers may well be true, but not for all queers. Some of them seem to have been successful at establishing th ...more
Apr 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The history in this book is fascinating, as Skidmore uses newspaper accounts to reconstruct information about trans men living in the 19th/20th Century crossover period. Our interpretation of the present will always inform the past, and as for many years these experiences were understood as women attempting to earn a living in a deeply sexist time, with the visibility of trans men, today's reading looks to a deeper experience of lived gender. Skidmore groups the experiences into themes, looking ...more
I remained slightly off-put through reading the reading of this. I think it would have been an interesting series of short biographies about trans men but her theory is really lackluster. A keyword search through newspaper archives does not a cohesive thesis make.

My first and most important issue is that until trans men are allowed to research and write our own histories and have them taken seriously, others profiting off our history will always feel disingenuous and awkward.
While Skidmore doe
Feb 16, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
"True Sex" deals with a very interesting subject matter and the case studies were all well-researched.

I liked learning more about the lives of trans men during the era and it was fascinating to see how liberal the rural ears these men occupied were for the most part.

Unfortunately, the arguments got rather repetitive, especially towards the end, and, for me at least, this study lacked supporting statistics. The author's arguments are mostly based on her case studies, but she makes claims for th
Wendy Rouse
Apr 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lgbtq-history
True Sex helps fill in important gaps in our understanding of trans history by uncovering significant individual stories of the lives of trans men in the early twentieth century. This book addresses important issues and challenges some of the standard interpretations of LGBTQ history. The focus on the lives of trans men in the rural United States challenges the narrow focus on urban queer communities. Skidmore employs a unique research method in analyzing media coverage of individual stories as ...more
Jen Juenke
Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I was a little hesitant to begin to read this book. As soon as I began to read, I was hooked! I could not put this book down. The author did an amazing job of describing the sexual norms, the newspaper coverage, and the general lives of the transmen that she wrote about. I, like many people, believed that trans people would only be found in urban areas at the turn of the 1900's. Yet the author demonstrates that this was not the case. Some transmen would be found in rural areas, leading "normal l ...more
Dec 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I can't rate this book highly enough. Not because it's perfect - frankly, I don't feel that I can be objective there - but because I feel as though it gave me my history. I always assumed cases of historical transmasculinity were covert and isolated; if you asked me, I could name Alan Hart and almost nobody else. In True Sex, Skidmore exposes a rich history of assigned female individuals living as men in the rural US. She also details her (painstaking) methodology clearly enough that I was able ...more
Jan 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, trans, history
Absolutely fantastic. This book explores a topic I've never seen done before, and it's very well done and readable. It explores the relationship between rural communities and queer (especially trans) folks very well, as well as taking a look into how white supremacy and colorism allow some trans bodies to be glossed over, and some to be policed. Fascinating to see how early modern trans thought differs from trans thought today. Definitely recommend. ...more
Ashley Simpson
Jul 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting and unexpected history of transsexual men in America from the 1850s through the 1950s. The author takes a non-traditional approach to her research which lends itself nicely to the stories she highlights throughout. Also a wonderful source of information on the social standards of heterosexual women of the time as well as examining how male patriarchy and male driven political society was either reinforced or threatened by trans men of the era. All in all, interesting read!
Caitlin Conlon
May 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very informative dip into the lives of trans men in America at the turn of the 20th century. The organization of this book was impeccable. If you’re looking for an “enjoyable” read this probably won’t suit you — its purpose is to be informative & that’s reflected in the writing. But if you’re wondering where to start with trans history, or are looking for a zoomed in look at trans men in America at this time, this book would likely be a good fit for you!
Oct 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: queer, history, netgalley
I was a little bit worried about how the book was going to talk about Frank Dubois because the title is a little sensationalist, but actually I really enjoyed this. The book is respectful towards the men it talks about. The author gives you enough information for this to have legitimacy as an academic text, but it is also very readable and accessible to people who don't have an academic background.

I received a copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sep 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
Too wordy when making a point. Perhaps this book was written as a doctoral, scholarly dissertation and that could explain its lack of serious editing. Whatever the reason, it’s convolutions in language resulted in a book that was not a comfortable read.
Aug 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
So interesting! I never would have thought that so many women could pass as men. The stories of these 18 "men" are fascinating. They lived ordinary lives in small towns, married...passed as men. Who knew? I wasn't really aware of transmen until this book. Worth a read; it's really eye opening. ...more
Feb 13, 2021 rated it really liked it
Interesting research and people of history.
It does read like a super long research paper instead of like a novel of stories. Still worth the read though.
Sean Bradford
Jun 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020_queue
well researched, my greatest takeaway was the overturning of the idea that queerness was centered always in urban areas. rural America has been queer just as long.
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Emily Skidmore's research interests are U.S. women's and gender history, cultural history, and queer studies. Her book, True Sex: The Lives of Trans Men at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, will be published by NYU Press in the fall of 2017. She has presented her research at numerous national conferences, including the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association, the National Women's St ...more

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