Book Review: Just Add Hormones

The Introduction


Just Add Hormones: An Insider’s Guide to the Transsexual Experience is a non-fiction auto-biographical recount of a transman’s transition in his early 40’s. The author is Matt Kailey, who runs a wonderful blog which I frequently visit not just for the articles but for the stimulating conversation that usually ensues.

The Review

For the inexperienced, novice, young or old, discovering transsexual, this book covers basic ground and a little extra in a measured, clear manner. It is equally equipped to present to non-trans people who are making a sincere effort in understanding the transgender/transexual experience. For the experienced, young, veteran, genderqueer, super involved trans* this book might still contain some explosive Wow’s, or at the very least several Hmmm’s.

Nevertheless, Matt’s witty humor is never lost, and there are genuine gems of wisdom sprinkled throughout. Most topics are navigated with a simple, fresh honesty. Yet the thoughtful insights serve as both discussion starters and disucssion resolvers. With a (self-ascribed) “old-school” view of transgender topics, Matt often manages to leave space for non-binary identified transgender or genderqueer people as well.

That’s pretty much it. I can’t summarize it because it’s not a novel. But I can enlighten you with some quotes that tickled my fancy, with some short annotations of mine, because some of this stuff really made me think.

“Comfort in one’s body and a congruity between body and mind are the goals of transition, and these concepts mean different things to different people.”

“… setting up a strict binary gender system (a two-gendered system) that leaves no room for anyone who doesn’t specifically conform, physically or emotionally, to what our society considers either ‘male’ or ‘female.'”

There is a mention here of ‘physical and emotional’ non-binary identity, but the subsequent discussion focuses primarily on non-binary physical aspects, and does not really touch upon psychological or emotional apsects of it. It’s not so much a failure of inclusion, as the main purpose of the book is not to discuss non-binary identities, but I certainly did notice this happening a few times.

“Transsexuals are the ones who can change gender as we know it. We are the ones who can liberate not only ourselves but the rest of society.”

Some powerful stuff here… This is why I am grateful for being trans – I freed myself from all gender expectations and norms, and can do the same unto others.

“It’s possible that it’s not the person who’s dysfuncitonal but the culture…”

“But is it our culture that produces Gender Identity Disorder? In a way, yes, it is. Our culture certainly doesn’t generate whatever it is that makes a person feel out of alignment with his or her body… our culture does stigmatize this feeling not only as unnatural but as a full-blown mental illness. Society doesn’t produce the feeling, but society provides the diagnosis.”

“When I began to think of myself as a transman, something wholly apart from either a biological male or a biological female, a different animal entirely, I no longer felt genderless. I felt transgendered.”

I like how he frames being transgender not just as an identity but as an important part one’s gender.

“However, the bureaucracy must think that we’re not always sure ourselves, which is why gender questions on forms usually come with multiple-choice answers, allowing for at least a 50 percent chance of getting it right.”

And Matt gets humor right 100% of the time.

“It’s true that simply by transitioning … I have bought into a larger part of society’s binary gender system. When I’m not being accused of trying to rid out culture of gender, I’m lambasted for reinforcing narrow gender stereotypes. For me, it’s simply a matter of comfort with myself and with what I want to look like.”

Ah, the age-old trans dilemma of being free of gender only to cage oneself once again in a different body. But the main point is to be who you are, and if you are a binary identified transgender, or even a cisgender individual, that’s OK too, as long as we recognize, accept, and respect differences.

“I wondered what would happen if a woman with a double mastectomy, an obvious woman who bore the female gender markers of our culture, decided to take her shirt off and lay out in a public park. Would she be arrested or ignored? With the emphasis that we place on breasts, either outcome would seem an insult.”

I very much wonder too…

“‘Gay’, ‘lesbian’, ‘straight,’ and ‘bisexual’ are labels, not orientations. And the interesting thing is that these labels are applied based on the gender of the person feeling the attraction. … My label has nothing to do with who I am attracted to. It has evertyhing to do with who I am.”

I could not have said this better, hence why I never liked to label myself as gay, and my personal distaste for lesbian. Besides, I’m asexual, and that is non-gender based 🙂

“I didn’t choose to be transgendered but I would choose it if I could. I was born that wonderful, fascinating way. It’s not my fault that I lead such an interesting, unusual life. you should not feel sorry for me, and not hate me, because I’m not a victim or a freak, and I have a lot to teach you.”

My new mantra.

The Conclusion

There’s a LOT more quotes that I highlighted and annotated, but I don’t want to re-publish the whole book. Quite the opposite – it’s a short read, and you might just find something that makes you go “oh! [lightbulb]” shedding some light on old and new issues alike. Now go, read!

Last Minute Update

Coincidentally yesterday someone pointed me to a reference of the term neutrois in print – in this book! It’s surprising I missed it, considering I highlighted the part right before it. It is the only print reference of the term neutrois that I know of, and I’m Very Excited to learn this. The book was published in 2005 so neutrois must have been around before then. It’s in the glossary under the definition of transgender. Here’s the whole definition, which by the way I think is accurately descriptive and encompassing.

transgender(ed) (TG): Most generally used as an umbrella term that encompasses a range of people. In general usage, it can refer to anyone who transgresses gender norms. More specifically, it is used to refer to people who experience discomfort and/or unhappiness, either some or all of the time, with their birth sex, including their anatomy, appearance, and expected social roles. The discomfort can be express in activities such as adopting the behavior and dress of the “opposite” sex, either full- or part-time; living in the role of the “opposite” sex, either full- or part-time; or physically altering the body through hormones and/or surgery. It can also refer to those who present as androgynous or do not define themselves by gender at all. In some cases, these people self-identify as genderqueer, genderless, or neutrois. There are many other names that people use to define themselves.

Bonus! Participating in the “Gender Identity & Expression Challenge 2011”

Visit the Bibrary site for more info – it sounds like fun if you’re already reading some queer literature (and if you aren’t, you should)!

9 responses to “Book Review: Just Add Hormones

  1. Just Add Hormones is the only book I’m aware of that uses the word neutrois. Roz Kaveney mentioned the term in the Guardian newspaper last year, but it may have only appeared in the online version.

    The term’s definitely older than 2005 though. I believe neutrois dates from the mid-nineties but I didn’t come across it until 2000. I’ve personally been using it for at least 11 years, and have proof of that dating to July 2001.

    I first read the Neutrois Outpost website in 2000 and joined the mailing list then. It was one of a number of genderqueer support/discussion mailing lists and websites I made use of a decade or so ago (Sphere was by far the best and most active). The Neutrois mailing list was pretty dead though, whenever I crossposted there I got very little response.

    I liked the Neutrois Outpost site because it had a ‘surgery coming soon’ section implying that some people transitioned to androgyny/neutrois directly rather than via a traditional transsexual path, and had a clothing section with actual practical tips. That might have been enough to make me adopt neutrois as my primary label except I had found no one else who was using it, barring one or two people running the website.

    Most people involved in the community who were actively trying to live as neither binary gender and remove/mask ‘sexual characteristics’ then saw themselves as genderqueer, ‘third gender’ or specifically non-gender and/or androgyne/epicene while fitting the definition of neutrois. The Androgyny RAQ was still active and influential as a site about being neither gender so androgyne was still being used as a neutral term (as I use it).

    I think the first time I became aware of neutrois gaining popularity as a primary identity label many people used was when it started being discussed on AVEN (an asexuality discussion community I was involved in setting up), I think it’s pretty likely I was the one who first mentioned neutrois on AVEN given I was a member of both communities when AVEN began and was openly gender neutral (my handle there is paranoidgynandroid).

    That would’ve been in 2003, 2004. AVEN also seems to have popularised ‘agender’ over ‘non-gender’, most likely because of the similar linguistic root to ‘asexual’.

    • Wow, thanks for the extensive rundown Nat. I emailed Matt (the author) and he mentioned meeting someone in 1998 who identified as neutrois, with this being gender neutral and not genderless.

      I’ve now become very interested in tracking this down. Unfortunately because of the internet pampering me, I don’t know how to use a real library anymore….

      • Hi again,

        I’m very interested in the development of particular terms and definitions over others and how they spread through various communities, so I’m always happy to share my recollections and research!

        I just realised I forgot to do the most obvious research and look on usenet! The earliest newsgroup mention of Neutrois was on alt.transgender in December 1996 by a user called GoSpangs who signs off as ‘Auden’, self describes as a ‘disgusted’ ‘GenderPunk’ and whose signature calls for ‘gender terrorism’ and ‘neutrois revolution’.

        The same user posts to transgender and straight edge newsgroups with the same signature repeatedly without mentioning neutrois, but makes another in post mention of Neutrois in January 1997 on soc.support.transgendered.

        The first time anyone else mentions neutrois on usenet is in December 1999, also on soc.support.transgendered stating that as well as TG women, neutrois are ‘probably’ outcasts in the LesBiGay scene. They don’t seem to be neutrois identified.

        The next mention is in reference to the neutrois.com website in May 2000 which is using their definition in an argument about surgery on alt.support.srs, again no neutrois identified people are involved.

        Next the ‘intergender’ newsgroup (whose mailing list I was also a member of) alt.support.intergendered refer to neutrois within a December 2000 list of what we’d now call non-binary gender identities. Still no one in that discussion actually seems to be neutrois identified.

        And in January 2001 one of the BDSM newsgroups soc.subculture.bondage-bdsm.femdom argued over the definition of neutrois and why it was different to neuter (they felt neutrois only referred to genitals, oddly). Still no neutrois people involved.

        Ultimately I couldn’t find anyone actually identifying as neutrois on usenet after 1997. This all tallies with my own experience that a small number of people used the word in the 1990s but the ‘non-binary’ (although we didn’t use that word) online community at the time preferred ‘androgyne’ or maybe ‘neuter’. There are about 2,300 uses of ‘androgyne’ on usenet in the 1990s.

        I should say that in the late 1990s online transgender community ‘androgyne’ tended to be used as a word describing appearance/presentation, not a gender identity – so those identifying as non-gender or intergender might adopt an androgynous presentation (hide/mask/remove gender signifiers) and therefore see themselves as androgynes. It was very common to find people who identified as non-gender, third gender, fluid gender etc on ‘androgyne’ mailing lists because it was seen as living outside of the binary gender system, not necessarily as identifying as something between the two binary genders.

        Those who actually IDed as specifically between female and male used the term ‘intergender’ for their gender identity still separating out ‘androgynous’ or ‘androgyne’ for their presentation. I’m not sure when ‘androgyne’, started to be used by people as a gender identity rather than a description of presentation, but I recall being annoyed when it did because I identified as an androgyne but didn’t fit their ‘between female and male in gender identity’ definition, and I felt that by focusing on identity rather than behaviour it would (and did!) split up the community. I think it would’ve been by about 2002, 2003, when the Androgyny RAQ had gone offline and a new identity-based androgyny website had come online. It’s probably why I was motivated to create the Androgynes LJ community in 2003 to compete with the website ‘misusing’ androgyne in my opinion. By then people were starting to move over to the more inclusive umbrella term of ‘genderqueer’ anyway though.

        Oh and yes in terms of total genderlessness, as in feeling no strong feelings about gender therefore not needing to do anything to act on gender, I don’t recall this ever being discussed in the 1999-2001 genderqueer/non-binary community. In my recollection this first came up later on AVEN (an asexual community, see my last comment) in discussions among asexual people about gender, rather than among trans/genderqueer people. It would be interesting to determine just how much of a role the asexual community has in populising ‘neutrois’, ‘agender’ and genderlessness as concepts. It seems they’re common currency in the asexual community but still almost unheard of in the transgender community.

        Anyway, hope you found some of this interesting. Let me know if you find any more evidence about the evolution of the label ‘neutrois’, especially how it gained popularity the second time around.

        Nat.

    • I found another piece of the history of the term “neutrois.” According to the 2000 version of the site Neutrois Outpost (neutrois.com), the word neutrois “was originally coined by H.A. Burnham, in 1995. Ze formed it to give a name to hirself, and other people with feelings of gender absence and resulting misalignment.”
      Source: Axey, Qwill, Rave, and Luscious Daniel, eds. “FAQ.” Neutrois Outpost. Last updated 2000-11-23. Retrieved 2001-03-07. http://web.archive.org/web/20010307115554/http://www.neutrois.com/faq.htm

    • Don’t mind at all, thanks for asking (a lot of people don’t).

      Asexual is my sexual orientation, like gay, or lesbian, or bi. I’m asexual because I don’t experience sexual attraction. The best way to explain this (simply) is to say that a heterosexual woman is sexually attracted to men but does not experience sexual attraction for women, a homosexual woman is sexually attracted to women but does not experience sexual attraction for men, and an asexual experiences sexual attraction for neither.

      I really recommend reading some of the definitions I’ve put together, and the 101’s and faqs at AVEN (http://www.asexuality.org) if you’re interested in learning more.

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