“True Sex: The Lives of Trans Men at the Turn of the Twentieth Century” by Emily Skidmore— Assimilation

Skidmore, Emily. “True Sex: The Lives of Trans Men at the Turn of the Twentieth Century”, NYU Press, 2017.


Amos Lassen

As we moved into the twentieth century, there was nothing exceptional about trans men. They led ordinary lives, aligning themselves with the expectations of their communities. There was nothing exceptional about then. Now we have the stories of eighteen trans men who lived in the United States between 1876 and 1936. Even though they were led “unexceptional” lives, Emily Skidmore in “True Sex”, tells us that their lives were surprising and moving and, indeed, challenge much of what we think we know about queer history. Writer Skidmore has traced the narratives surrounding the moments of “discovery” in these communities, looking at reports in local newspapers to medical journals and beyond and has found “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.”

 There was no designation as “trans men” and we see just how complex their stories are and there are surprises and revelations.

  • According to Skidmore, newspaper revelations about trans men invited debate about queer embodiment and the shifting boundaries of the gender binary. There were trans men living, loving, working and dying in rural locations throughout the United States around the turn of
  • and many transmen were accepted by their communities, both in life and in death,. This is counter to what we may have believed—the idea that LGBT people were persecuted and that they went to urban centers to be part of a larger community. Small towns and rural areas were queerer than commonly thought.


Leave a Reply