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Two Reviews of Gordene MacKenzie, Transgender Nation (1994)

Two Reviews of Gordene MacKenzie, Transgender Nation (1994)

©1994, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: I have lost the attribution for the first review. It might be in the first issue of AEGIS News, but I’m not certain.

Source: Denny, Dallas. (1994, August). Gordene MacKenzie’s Transgender Nation: A commentary. Gender Quest1, 10. Reprinted in FTM (October 1994), Renaissance News (V. 9, No. 1, January 1995, pp. 16-17, 24) and TransSisters (Winter 1995, No. 7, pp. 44-45).

Source: Gordene Olga MacKenzie. (1994). Transgender Nation. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press.


I would like to be clear Gordene quickly became a friend to all transsexual and transgendered people— and despite our initial differences of opinion, we soon found common ground.


Gordon Makenzie's Transgender Nation: A Review (Text)

©1994, 2013 by Dallas Denny Source: I have lost the attribution for the first review. It might be in the first issue of AEGIS News, but I’m not certain.


Gordene MacKenzie’s Transgender Nation

A Review


For some time, there have been rumblings out of Texas regarding the impending publication of Gordene MacKenzie’s Transgender Nation. Well, the book has arrived, and it might as well have been called Transgender Texas, for it is clear from reading it that MacKenzie’s exposure to the transgender community has been limited to an attendance or two at the Texas “T” Party in Houston and some local work with a support group in Albuquerque (she claims 10 years experience). She may even have read a copy or two of Tapestry, but Transgender Nation is strongly influenced by the philosophy of transgenderist Linda Phillips and her partner, Cynthia. The Phillips’ opinions are valid and worthy of dissemination, but other points of view are not to be found in this work; Transgender Nation is entirely devoid of input from transsexual persons, although they are a major focus of the work. In fact, the book is little more than a vehicle for MacKenzie’s political agenda, which holds that hormonal and especially surgical modification of the body is a cop-out, an endorsement of prevailing gender norms. This is precisely Janice Raymond’s argument. Raymond argued in her 1979 book The Transsexual Empire that transsexualism should be “morally mandated out of existence,” and it seems MacKenzie would agree with her. Consider:

 The core of transsexual ideology almost always contains transgenderphobic, homophobic, sexist, misogynist, and sexually dimorphic attitudes and beliefs. (p. 64)

By throwing away old genitals and purchasing newly fashioned genitals, transsexuals become the ultimate American icon, the products of a capitalistic and deeply gender-biased culture. (p. 25).

To sell her point of view, MacKenzie dredges up support from discredited sources like psychoanalyst Leslie Lothstein and Meyer & Reter’s infamous 1979 outcome study and exaggerates the difficulties of sex reassignment procedures. Here are just two examples:

… “happy” endings rarely occur in transsexuals who undergo surgery. (p. 19)

… as long as transsexuals submit to surgical solutions, they reinforce gender conformity and control. Potentially explosive socio-political gender issues are often successfully amputated along with healthy genitals on the operating table. But in attaining new surgically remodeled genitals, transsexuals fall prey to American consumer ideology. By throwing away old genitals and purchasing newly fashioned genitals, transsexuals become the ultimate American icon, the products of a capitalistic and deeply gender-biased culture. (p. 25).

Both Raymond and MacKenzie are correct in their assertions that our rigidly sex-typed society can channel people into transsexual solutions that might not be right for them, but both unfairly victimize transsexual people by claiming that transsexual people, by “changing” their gender, perpetuate the present bipolar system. In point-of-fact, it was the radical actions of transsexual persons like Christine Jorgensen who shook up those gender norms and ultimately made MacKenzie’s book possible.

Many transsexual people indeed buy into contemporary gender norms, but if MacKenzie had done her homework, she would have known from the writings of transsexual women and men like Riki Ann Wilchins, Rachel Pollack, James Green, Denise Norris, Kate Bornstein, and Sandy Stone that assimilation is not an inevitable goal for postoperative persons. But MacKenzie did not research her subject well, and it shows not only in the notable lapses and misspellings in the Works Cited list, but in interpretations of the literature she does cite which are but a parroting of Linda Phillips, percolated through the rehetoric of Janice Raymond.

Having transsexual surgery is a political act, but it is not a conformist act. Transsexual persons go against gender norms to exercise their right to modify their bodies as they wish so their bodies reflect their inner visions of themselves. Genital surgery is but one tool they use in achieving a new reality. It is not the most important act in sex reassignment— I would give that honor to the beginning of the crossliving experience— but MacKenzie, by claiming that eschewing surgery can somehow make one a “symbol of unification,” empowers surgery and hence the medical colonization of transsexual people to which she is so opposed.

Simply hanging out with some transgendered persons for a few months and rushing off to a computer keyboard does not make one an expert on the transgender community, and talking to transgenderists does not teach one anything about transsexuals. Transgender Nation suffers from poor scholarship and, well, impressionability. MacKenzie, who heard the views of a small portion of the transgender community, presents those views without synthesis. It would have been a much better work if she had taken the time to obtain the viewpoints of others in the community before sitting down to write. If she had met the real Transgender Nation (an activist organization of transsexual people with chapters in cities across the nation— but not, apparently, Texas), Transgender Nation would have been a richer, less naive, and more powerful book.

Gordene MacKenzie's Transgender Nation: A Commentary

©1994, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: I have lost the attribution for the first review. It might be in the first issue of AEGIS News, but I’m not certain.

Source: Dallas Denny. (1994, August). Gordene MacKenzie’s Transgender Nation: A commentary. Gender Quest1, 10. Reprinted in FTM, October 1994, Renaissance News, January 1995, and TransSisters (Winter 1995), No. 7, pp. 44-45.


TransSisters Pages (PDF)

Renaissance News & Views Pages (PDF)


Gordene MacKenzie’s Transgender Nation

A Commentary


I’ve been very encouraged by the increasing realization by many in the transgender community that it is entirely reasonable and appropriate to live full-time as a member of the other sex without having genital sex reassignment surgery. For many years, this was not even considered as a possibility. Those who crosslived full-time without surgery professed to want it, whether they meant it or not, and those who had had it deluded themselves that they had reached the end of a journey that could have but one legitimate outcome— the lancet.

To their everlasting credit, a few courageous souls, notably Virginia Prince, Linda Phillips, Phyllis Randolph Frye, and Holly Boswell, realized the absurdity of this type of thinking, and began asking, quietly at first, and then with increasing force and volume, “Why is it necessary to have a surgery I don’t want in order to live the life I desire?” Once posed, this question had but one logical answer, and that was that the rigidly dichotomous gender roles of our society had made us blind to the possibility, and that of course, they and other transgendered persons could function in society as women without offering their genitals up to the surgeons.

With time, this new view merged with the similarly awakening realization of post-operative transsexual men and women like Jason Cromwell, Denise Norris, Riki Ann Wilchins, and Kate Bornstein, who had independently realized that surgery was not the panacea that they had thought it to be, and that they were, in fact, still transgendered, and would always remain so. This merged philosophy is now making its way into the world at large through books’ like Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw and magazine articles like R.M. Jones’ “Crossing the Line,” which appeared in Mother Jones in June, 1994.

For a time, it seemed as if at long last transgendered persons, rather than being channeled into preprogrammed (hormones, real-life test, SRS, disappear into mainstream society) scripts, would be allowed to be themselves, that at long last we as a community had defied the stereotypes which we, in our ignorance, had subscribed to. We would be able to simply be ourselves. If we desired surgery, we would have it, but if we did not, there would be no need to submit to it.

But clearly, the battle is not over. Transgender Nation, a new release from Bowling Green University Press, attacks transsexual people and the men and women who have helped them. It does so by attributing an almost magical importance to surgery.

By idealizing the newly emerged transgender sensibility (which after all, differs from full-fledged transsexualism only by a three-hour medical procedure), the author, Gordene Olga MacKenzie, vilifies transsexual surgery and by association, transsexual men and women themselves. Somehow, in her mind, this little operation, a relatively minor procedure, really, reinforces existing gender roles, whereas living as a member of the other sex without the surgery does not. Transsexual people, by having surgery, perpetuate the tyranny of the existing system, whereas transgenderists, by not having the surgery, are enlightened pioneers.

Excuse me. Unless one is an exhibitionist, only a very few people see the surgery site. Genitals, those of transgendered and nontransgendered persons alike, are not visible to others in a society in which genitals are almost always clothed.

Susan Kessler and Wendy McKenna, in their book Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach, speak of cultural genitals. By that, they mean that we assume particular genitals for everyone we know; we have no personal experience with them. If we see a woman in the supermarket, we assume she has a vagina. This is not always the case, for she well be Holly Boswell or Phyllis Frye or Linda Phillips, who retain and plan to always retain the original factory equipment. The fact is that transgenderists, like every else in our society, no matter how androgynous, are assumed by those who meet them to be either male or female or transgendered, and their genitals are a product of the imagination of the other party as well as what they are concealing beneath their clothes. In this way, transgenderists are exactly the same as post-op transsexuals. If they are assumed to be male or female, their genitals are assumed accordingly. It is when they (transgenderist and transsexual alike) are read, and when they claim their transgender status and are Out, that they transgress dichotomous gender roles. Genitalia have nothing whatsoever to do with it.

This is a realization that Gordene Olga MacKenzie has obviously not made, and it is for that reason that Transgender Nation is an unfortunate book which will do a great deal of damage to the transgender community and to the understanding of the community by the general public.

John Money once wrote that those who attack transsexual people the most viciously have never to any extent known them. It’s clear, from MacKenzie’s description that her exposure to the transgender community has been limited and her exposure to transsexual people even more limited— and yet it is an attack on transsexualism, and not the uplifting of transgenderism, that is the real goal of Transgender Nation.

MacKenzie seems unaware of Sandy Stone’s article, “The Empire Strikes Back: A Post-transsexual Manifesto,” and other writings of transsexual people. In fact, from her description, it seems highly unlikely that MacKenzie met any nonassimilation-minded transsexual people. Her involvement with the community was brief, certainly not extensive enough to justify writing a book like Transgender Nation.

MacKenzie’s involvement with the transgender literature is even more beief— or perhaps she is merely being selective in her use of that literature. She relies heavily on papers such as Meyer and Reters’s infamous 1979 study, which has been thoroughly discredited as bad science and unmasked as having political motives, and the writings of Leslie Lothstein, whose findings about the effectiveness of transsexual surgery are at variance from more than a dozen other researchers. But most of all, she centers on Janice Raymond’s The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male, using Raymond’s arguments as her own. Raymond’s thesis, which seems laughable but which has been taken with utmost seriousness by feminist scholars, is that transsexual surgery is a plot by males to render females obsolete by creating “constructed” females from men. Raymond also vilifies transsexual people, for, like MacKenzie, she does not realize that it is transsexual people and those who work with them, much more than transgenderists, who have for more than 40 years brought into question our society’s bipolar model of gender.

MacKenzie fails to mention that those she cites have been challenged and in many instances refuted. She seems ignorant of much of the literature, and in fact does not mention the activist organization Transgender Nation, which had its name and which had been working to deconstruct traditional gender roles long before her book appeared. There are two words which explain this: poor scholarship.

MacKenzie’s book has already elicited one enthusiastic review in the transgender press, and will no doubt be praised by writers in the mainstream press who also have no knowledge of transsexual persons. Once again I call it an unfortunate book, for MacKenzie has driven a wedge firmly between transsexual people and transgenderists, just as they were figuring out just how very much they have in common.



Bornstein, K. (1994). Gender outlaw: On men, women, and the rest of us. New York: Routledge.

Kessler, S.J., & McKenna, W. (1978). Gender: An ethnomethodological approach. New York: John Wiley & Sons. Reprinted in 1985 by The University of Chicago Press.

Levine, R.M. (1994, June). Crossing the line. Mother Jones, 43-47.

Lothstein, L.M. (1982). Sex reassignment surgery: Historical, bioethical, and theoretical issues. American Journal of Psychiatry, 139(4), 417-426.

Meyer, J.K., & Reter, D. (1979). Sex reassignment: Follow-up. Archives of General Psychiatry, 36(9), 1010-1015.

Stone, S. (1991). The empire strikes back: A posttranssexual manifesto. In J. Epstein & K. Straub (Eds.), Body guards: The cultural politics of gender ambiguity, pp. 280-304. New York: Routledge.