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Whether it is informing about new technology or health issues, the press is always educating the public and influencing their lives and life choices.
During the 1930s to mid 1950s the transsexual and transgender community benefitted from the media coverage on “sex reversals,” “sex changes,” and “sexual metamorphoses.”
“From the 1930s through the 1950s, certain readers appropriated public stories of sex change and included the quest for surgical and hormonal transformation as a central component of their senses of self” says Joanne Meyerowitz author of Sex Change And The Popular Press. During the 1930s, some of the first sex change stories were appearing in American newspapers and magazines. Readers used the press as a way of self-identifying; through reading, “ some transgendered individuals—self-identified in the terms available in their day as eonists, transvestities, homosexuals,inverts, and hermaphrodites” (Meyerowitz).
Sex change surgeries were more common in Europe. European doctors would only perform surgery on people who were intersex. The procedure for intersex patients usually consisted of the removal of body parts such as testicles, breasts, and uteri. As the press covered more and more stories on patients who were having sex changes or modifications, more and more people wanted the same thing done to them. Many people who wanted sex changes claimed they did not feel like their original sex, but as the opposite sex. Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld considered transvestism “a harmless inclination” and advocated the social acceptance of transvestites, says Meyerowitz. By 1931, German physician Felix Abraham published the first scientific report on modern transsexual surgery of a male-to-female patient, which included castration, amputation of the penis, and creation of an artificial vagina.
Once again, more and more people learned through the mass media of new possibilities for medical intervention, whether it was surgery or hormonal treatment. This was quite revolutionary for the transsexual and transgender community.
Although most of the surgeries occurred in Europe, many Americans wanted surgeries too. Doctors in the United States refused to perform surgery even to a person with an intersexed condition. Many people became frustrated and hopeless because of these American doctors that would not perform any kind of surgery thus, they cut off their own body parts, out of desperation. As the media continued to report on sex change surgeries, the ground for transsexuals began to shift. American doctors began to perform surgeries and hormone treatments.
Meyerowitz makes a very important point about the press’s role in the transsexual community, “sensational stories…opened possibilities for persons who already had various forms of cross-gender identification. In the ongoing process of constructing their own identities, they drew on the popular culture to forge new understandings of what they might become.”
In present day, the media and press continue to have an influence in the way people construct and articulate their identities. Not many realize how important it is for people to read and learn about something they have been feeling for so long, but not having a name for it and finally feeling like they are part of something way bigger and that they are not alone.