RavenKaldera.org » Transgender Archive



Disclaimer: These articles are historical documents. They were written in 2000-2004. The terminology and vocabulary used dates from that era, and was acceptable at that time. The descriptions of people and their interesting customs are descriptions of the east coast transgender communities that I hung out in at that time. If it doesn’t look like what you know today, that’s because it isn’t. I refuse to rewrite these documents because someday it will be important to have them available for historical reasons. In addition, I do not claim to be an academic or scholar, and I do not claim to speak for anyone except myself and all the transfolks who have given me permission to speak for them, which is quite a few. Have a nice day.




The Phallus Palace: Female to Male Transsexuals

Book Cover by Dean Kotula, Alyson Publications, 2002
Buy it at Amazon
Review by Raven Kaldera

I've read and reviewed a lot of books on the transsexual phenomenon, and I've found that the first question one needs to ask is: who is it for? Who is the primary audience? It took me a while before I figured out the audience for Dean Kotula's book The Phallus Palace, but I finally nailed it....it's the book that you bring to your therapist to educate them about female-to-male transsexuals. The first part, "Perspectives and Viewpoints", is aimed squarely at the mental health profession. Although it is positive overall, the essays unfortunately (to my mind) challenge very little about the classic psychological model of FTMs, and make only a few nods to their diversity. It rather exemplifies the fact that the mental health professionals who serve this community are often several steps behind it in being aware of its development.

Other parts of the book are significantly more original. "The Men", the section with before-and-after photos, and personal statements, from FTMs was my favorite part. Frankly, the simple blurbs of writing from the transsexuals in the book are better than the long articles of the non-transsexuals in terms of writing style and readability. The photos of the boys are charming, and their poems/stories/personal recollections heartwarming. In my opinion, the book is worth having for this alone, whether or not you want to read academic papers and interviews with psychiatrists. Kotula, who is first and foremost a photographer, shines here with his striking images of FTM variety.

"Perspectives and Viewpoints II" is a series of seemingly random essays whose intertwining thread revolves around FTM history. These are for the most part interesting and well-written - Tarot author Rachel Pollack does mythopoetic research on the myth of Osiris recast in FTM symbolism; Kan Morris writes about gender-crossing female-bodied Civil War soldiers; and Margaret O'Hartigan covers the controversy about Alan Hart, formerly Lucille, whom the gay press mistakenly adopted as a lesbian heroine.

The section called "The Surgeries" deals with just that, complete with graphic photos. It also explains the facetious title - it's the snide name surgeons have for the small plastic tent that supports the newly grafted phalloplasty. Although I found the photos interesting (well, I'm the sort who likes blood and gore) and well-done, I admit I winced at Kotula's naive suggestion that having them displayed in a book might prevent people from feeling the need to ask transsexuals about their own surgeries. I doubt that human nature will ever be that accommodating; even when they know all about specific surgeries, people seem unable to resist asking a particular tranny about their personal anatomy. It's one thing to see it in a book and quite another, unfortunately, to visualize it on a real person standing in front of you.

"Gender Memories" contains a long memoir by the author about his gender journey, and another shorter one by his sister, followed by an academic essay on FTM transition and then an essay by the parent of a prepubescent FTM. This section follows in the footsteps of Mary Boenke's "TransForming Families", the definitive essay collection for families of transfolk, but isn't quite as strong with regard to the intensity of the writing, which seems stilted and uncomfortable in places.

As stated before, it's a great book to hand to your therapist when you can't find a gender specialist and must educate your own, a predicament that transsexuals find themselves in all too often. It wouldn't hurt to pass it along to parents and family, although I'd give them Boenke's book first. FTMs themselves will find most of the material in it already familiar, but the pics of those cute guys are worth collecting, both for pre-transition FTMs who need to see just how thoroughly and amazingly testosterone transforms you, and for those of us who just like pics of cute guys. The more we as transsexuals reframe and reveal our own images through trans-positive eyes (as Kotula and FTM photographer Loren Cameron have both done), we slowly come further into control of our own public destiny. If nothing else, each book on transpeople that is put together by transpeople and not by "experts" examining us under a microscope is a triumph.



Disclaimer: These articles are historical documents. They were written in 2000-2004. The terminology and vocabulary used dates from that era, and was acceptable at that time. The descriptions of people and their interesting customs are descriptions of the east coast transgender communities that I hung out in at that time. If it doesn’t look like what you know today, that’s because it isn’t. I refuse to rewrite these documents because someday it will be important to have them available for historical reasons. In addition, I do not claim to be an academic or scholar, and I do not claim to speak for anyone except myself and all the transfolks who have given me permission to speak for them, which is quite a few. Have a nice day.