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

Regular price $ 19.95

by Emily Skidmore

New York University Press

8/15/2019, paperback

SKU: 9781479895687


Winner, 2018 U.S. History PROSE Award

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 anatomically female. Dubois fit so well within the small community that the townspeople only discovered his "true sex" when his former husband and their two children arrived in the town searching in desperation for their departed wife and mother.

At the turn of the twentieth century, trans men were not necessarily urban rebels seeking to overturn stifling gender roles. In fact, they often sought to pass as conventional men, choosing to live in small towns where they led ordinary lives, aligning themselves with the expectations of their communities. They were, in a word, unexceptional.

In True Sex, Emily Skidmore uncovers the stories of eighteen trans men who lived in the United States between 1876 and 1936. Despite their "unexceptional" quality, their lives are surprising and moving, challenging much of what we think we know about queer history. By tracing the narratives surrounding the moments of "discovery" in these communities - from reports in local newspapers to medical journals and beyond - this book challenges the assumption that the full story of modern American sexuality is told by cosmopolitan radicals. Rather, True Sex reveals complex narratives concerning rural geography and community, persecution and tolerance, and how these factors intersect with the history of race, identity and sexuality in America.


"The personal accounts are presented in compelling detail and with compassion, living up to the promise of intimacy suggested by the cover photo of trans man Kenneth Lisonbee and his wife Stella Harper from the unlikely year of 1929."--The Gay & Lesbian Review

"Dynamic, compelling, and wholly original, True Sexis an invaluable addition to LGBTQ studies."--Foreword Reviews

"Though an influx of bathroom bills would have us believe that disrupting the gender binary is a new phenomenon, trans people have been here living, assimilating, and creating families that protected them . . . You'll be engrossed by their lives, and how Skidmore interweaves American history with their decisions."--Bitch Magazine

"Skidmore offers a three-fold critique. First, she provides well-drawn and sympathetic profiles of the compelling trans men considered; second, she offers a critical assessment of the press of the day and how it helped foster a new morality . . .and third, she engages in an ongoing critique of her field of study, LGBT scholarship."--New York Journal of Books


Emily Skidmore is Associate Professor of History at Texas Tech University, specializing in the history of gender and sexuality in the United States. She lives in Lubbock, Texas.