Explores the history of transgender and gender nonconforming people, with a focus on those who identified in other than a straightforward binary fashion; on communities in West Africa, Asia, and among Native Americans; and on cross-dressing in World War I prison camps and in entertainment.
As [Heyam] demonstrate in this astute, self-aware and riveting study, the history of gender nonconformity around the world is so vast that no book can begin to contain its reaches ... And yet, it’s worth a try ... Taken together, the chapters prove the existence of trans people at almost every juncture of history, confirming that to veer from prevailing conventions and definitions of gender is as universal as humankind ... While I would have preferred, in 'a global trans history,' greater discussion of nonwhite gender variance — half of the book’s six chapters focus on the relatively small populations of white Europeans and North Americans — Heyam does challenge the Western limitations that have prevented historians from accounting for trans people across time and geography ... By making their biases explicit, Heyam invites readers to situate our own positions within the historian’s account. Reflecting on their efforts to avoid complicity in the white gaze while writing about people of color, Heyam writes: 'Not everyone will think this is enough; I’m not sure I think it is myself.' In the field of history, where trans perspectives are so rare, let alone nonwhite ones, Heyam’s admission of fallibility goes a long way ... a book that moves far beyond mere representation by managing to be both intellectually rigorous and exciting to read. It makes for a vital contribution to our understanding of gender variance and its place in social and political history, all around the world.
... [a] rich and complex journey, riddled with conflicts, contradictions and reverses ... Every substantive chapter of this interesting book is packed with relevant testimony to support Heyam’s thesis of the long-established nature of the phenomenon of transness ... Heyam distinguishes their book from other trans histories in that 'invasive details about trans and intersex people’s bodies that populate many other histories' have been avoided, stating that 'nobody needs to know exactly what someone’s genitals look like to understand their story'—although very often for intersex individuals, examination of their genitals is precisely where their story starts ... Heyam does some sterling work on putting life into the cliché of 'socially constructed' but could have been even more forceful in exposing the narratives that hold binarism in place, and the circumstances in which binarism is regarded as a requirement, such as in autocratic, conservative, and expansionist political regimes who cannot tolerate difference ... The strongest chapters, and those most likely to draw in the intelligent 'gender amateur' are those packed with historical testimony ... The more explanatory and theoretical sections sometimes feel not fully realized, or perhaps not always made with sufficient force ... Hopefully their revelations of gradations, variety, intersections and combinations of sex, sexuality, and gender will soon lead more people to see that discrimination on these grounds is really not worth the effort, and that we should all be focusing our hostility on climate change . . . or Botox . . . or moon landings . . . or (fill in the blank).
... eye-opening ... highly informative ... tells a wide variety of pertinent stories that are often left out of the trans narrative ... Heyam makes the compelling argument that just because people in the past may not have had access to medical transition procedures or modern vocabulary to adequately discuss gender doesn’t mean their experiences outside the gender binary should be ignored ... The author’s historical and topical range is impressive, and only a few of the sections are disjointed. Overall, the book will fascinate anyone interested in a subject that many readers likely misunderstand ... A capable, worthy demonstration of how the history of disrupting the gender binary is as long as human history itself.