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Michigan State University

Transgender Voices in Special Collections: Home

1. Introduction

The MSU Libraries have an extensive scholarly collection on gender studies, including academic journals, books and ebooks, and conference proceedings.

Within Special Collections, our focus is on collecting individual voices. Our transgender-related collections include memoirs, advice books informed by personal experience, newsletters exchanged among small groups, zines, and activist publications.

2. What does "transgender" mean?

“Transgender” is a word that has come into widespread use only in the past couple of decades, [so] its meanings are still under construction. I use it in this book to refer to people who move away from the gender they were assigned at birth, people who cross over (trans-) the boundaries constructed by their culture…

It is the movement across a socially imposed boundary away from an unchosen starting place -- rather than any particular destination or mode of transition -- that best characterizes the concept of “transgender” that I want to develop here.

Susan Stryker, Transgender History

3. Magnus Hirschfeld

Bust of Hirschfeld from Schwules Museum, Berlin (CC BY 3.0)Public advocacy for gay, bisexual and transgender men and women dates back to 1897 and the establishment in Germany of the “Scientific-Humanitarian Committee,” led by physician Magnus Hirschfeld.

The Main Library has English translations of a number of his works, which can be checked out. Of particular interest:

100 Years of the Gay Rights Movement in Germany (held in Special Collections) is an overview of Hirschfeld and the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee.

4. Transsexualism

In the 1930s, after the development of antibiotics radically decreased the risks of surgery, a few physicians in Europe began to offer surgical procedures to transgender individuals who wished to change genders. This was known as transsexualism; the term transgender was not yet in common use.

One of the earliest was Lili Elbe, whose life inspired the novel and film The Danish GirlOther transgender pioneers who discussed their transformation publicly were Christine Jorgensen and Jan Morris.

♦ Works about undergoing gender reassignment are cataloged with the subject headings transsexuals or transsexualism.

Christine Jorgensen sitting in a photo lab editing film.Left: Christine Jorgensen editing film. While still living as a man, she had trained as a photographer. From A Personal Autobiography (1967).


5. Transvestism

Cover of Transvestia magazineIn the years following WWII, a divide opened between those who identified as “transsexuals” (persons seeking gender reassignment) and those who identified as "transvestites."

Transvestites were heterosexual men who dressed as women, whether secretly or openly, and many were careful to define themselves as unlike those who wished to change genders.

Virginia Prince, a leader in transvestism circles, authored several books and started the magazine Transvestia. The organization she started, Foundation for Personality Expression (FPE), reflected her belief that cross-dressing was a way for straight men to express feminine elements of their personality. 

Transvestia magazine

Books by Virginia Prince

♦ Transvestism vs. transsexualism from the Transvestia/FPE perspective:

♦ Works about cross dressing are cataloged with the subject headings transvestites or transvestism.

6. The transgender movement

Cover of Transgender NationTransgender issues took on a new political life with the publication of Leslie Feinberg’s pamphlet Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come (1992).

Gordene Olga MacKenzie's book Transgender Nation followed in 1994, and Feinberg's Transgender Warriors in 1996.

Around this time, the term transgender began to eclipse transvestite and transsexual. The gay rights movement expanded its scope to include transgender issues, and the acronym LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) became commonplace.

7. Transwomen and feminism

Cover of TransSisters journalThe inclusion of transwomen in women-only cultural spaces and in the women's rights movement has been controversial for some.

One of the best-documented examples of disagreement about including transwomen in women-only cultural spaces has been the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, which was held annually from 1976 to 2015. Special Collections is currently processing an archive which will offer several primary sources on this topic.

♦ In the meantime, it has been covered in several articles you can find through the library's general finding tool, SearchPlus.

Other items of interest in Special Collections:

Toward an Insurrectionary Transfeminism

TransSisters: The Journal of Transsexual Feminism

8. Zines

Zines are a form of independent media, produced and published by individuals without corporate involvement. Special Collections has strong holdings of music fanzines, science fiction fanzines, personal and political zines, and fanfiction zines. Personal and political zines have become an important forum for discussion of trans issues.

♦ One of the earliest trans zines was Girly, published in London in the mid-1990s.

♦ The Transgender Oral History Project has published original work and distributed reprints of earlier writings.

♦ Locate trans zines in Special Collections with a keyword search for (trans or transgender) and zines.

9. Comic art

Cover of Just So You Know by Joey Alison Sayers.The Comic Art collection at MSU includes more than 250,000 issues of comics, plus popular and scholarly publications about comics.

Find comic books and comic art zines with trans characters in Special Collections.

10. Spelling note

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary lists transsexual as the more common spelling, but transexual is often seen as a variation. Either can be used.

LibGuide Author

Ruth Ann Jones

Special Collections Education and Outreach Librarian

Michigan State University Libraries

11. More trans titles in Special Collections