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The Gender Frontier, by Mariette Pathy Allen
... this book will be of interest to the transgender community, not least because it ignores the glitz and glamour typical of those transgender books which concentrate on the Barbie and Ken dolls of our community.
The Gender Frontier
by Mariette Pathy Allen
I.S.B.N.-13 978 3936636048
There is a long line of talented photographers who have made a serious commitment to recording images which empathise with their subjects and educate the onlooker to a truth they might otherwise ignore through their conditioning or simply through a selfish desire to pass by on the other side, like the Pharisee in the story of the Good Samaritan.
Sometimes the photographer's motivation has been less easy to fathom than at other times. Matthew Brady's images of the dead and wounded in the American Civil War; Arthur Fellig's scenes of crime, bloodshed and desperation, Diane Arbus' images of freaks and mysteries, culminating, perhaps, in photographs she is reputed to have made of her own suicide, challenge us to understand the degradation and injustice which many suffer through no fault of their own. There is no overt suggestion in the work of these artists that they are doing anything other than depicting the way things are, nor that they are pressing for social change.
Yet photographers like Tina Fiveash, on the Australian scene, and Mariette Pathy Allen in America, bring to their art a desire to show truth allied to a desire to reform society. Fiveash's images of transgenders, gays and lesbians defiantly show us truth and challenge preconceived ideas, and Mariette Pathy Allen's work underlines the similarities and differences in Australian and North American society.
Allen's new book, The Gender Frontier, was published in Germany in 2003 and the text is presented in both English and German.
Many of the image concern themselves with activism associated with the struggle for transgender rights, and there are significant essays by some of America's leading transgender activists. Among these are Grady T. Turner, Riki Wilchins and Jamison Green. There is also a short piece by Milton Diamond, and an introduction by Allen herself.
It was interesting for me to browse through the book, identifying the people I have met in my travels through the United States ... Riki Wilchins, Nancy Nageroni, Jake Hale (it was I who gave him the nickname "Kodiak Jake" soon after we met in San Diego although I think he has probably shaken it off by now) and Virginia Prince, whom I met in 1962 when I was doing post-grad work in Toronto and she was busy forming the Full Personality Expression (F.P.E.) Sorority for Cross-Dressers. Virginia claims to be the coiner of the term "transgenderist" for someone who wishes to live in her/his non-assigned gender role but has no interest in surgical intervention.
There are a number of extended photo-essays of individuals, with a cluster of photographs for each subject, and these are followed later in the book by text essays. It seems a pity the text could not have been more closely associated with the photos but I am well aware of the problems associated with laying out books which contain colour and monochrome illustration as well as text, all of which may demand different types of paper and therefore impose restrictions on the arrangement of the books contents.
One of the photo/text essays deals with Robert Eads and his partner Lola Cola and I realised as I looked through that section that one of the most famous of the many photos of that remarkable couple came from the camera of Allen. Sylvia Rivera and Leslie Feinberg appear in full activist mode and there is even an F.T.M. sheriff from Florida. His was the only image which made me uneasy (as I said to Allen in an email) as he is depicted levelling a handgun at the camera and, by extension, the reader. I do not like having guns pointed at me under any circumstances, and am surprised that anyone who handles guns professionally would do such a thing. (Shows how strong the discipline was in my pistol club, I guess, and how often I was roared at by weapons trainers when I was in the Navy).
I digress. Technically, Allen's book is just about as good as you can get. The monochrome images (black and white if you like) are printed by the duotone process, which runs pages through the press twice, with the result that the blacks are deep and lustrous and the shadings velvety and smooth. The colour printing is as good as one expects German printing to be, which is very good indeed, and the book is physically well-made.
I have, however, a couple of minor complaints relating to the way the book has been designed. Information conventionally contained on the back of the title page (such as the I.S.B.N. and the date of publication) turn up on the last page of text, like a mediaeval colophon. The sub-editors have been careless at least once, transposing page identification of images so that Jamison Green is said to be on p.76 and Yvonne Cook-Riley on p. 77 whereas the reverse is true. This is rather more important in a gender-role-related book than in most, since in some cases the accepted gender association with a given name can be at odds with that person's image. I am sure that neither Green nor Cook-Riley would wish to be identified as the other.
Many of the images chosen by Allen for her book are striking. Some are even daunting, such as the operating theatre view of the surgical donor site for the creation of a neo-phallus. Personally I find photographs of transgenders demonstrating for their rights more inspiring than that of a plump M.T.F. sheriff lying naked in the Florida sun showing off his huge, flaccid penis, but each to his or her own.
I hope I have made it clear that this book will be of interest to the transgender community, not least because it ignores the glitz and glamour typical of those transgender books which concentrate on the Barbie and Ken dolls of our community. It will, however, be of even more value in bringing the general public to an understanding of the need for political, human, legal and medical rights for transgenders. The stress in this book is on the hard-working activists and role models to whom we owe so much. It is a book which is desirable for libraries with gender collections but it should also be in public and educational libraries of even moderate size.
Polare Magazine is published quarterly in Australia by The Gender Centre Inc. which is funded by the Department of Family & Community Services under the S.A.A.P. program and supported by the N.S.W. Health Department through the AIDS and Infectious Diseases Branch. Polare provides a forum for discussion and debate on gender issues. Unsolicited contributions are welcome, the editor reserves the right to edit such contributions without notification. Any submission which appears in Polare may be published on our internet site. Opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the Editor, The Gender Centre Inc., the Department of Family & Community Services or the N.S.W. Department of Health.
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