Today’s transgender community is woefully ignorant of its past, beholden to ‘historical amnesia’ and the ‘erasure of much trans history’ – or so Barry Reay would have us believe. Reay, a prolific historian of sexuality at the University of Auckland, begins his new history, Trans America, by decrying the supposed trans failure to look to the past, before setting about the task of correcting, as he puts it, ‘the significant structural and conceptual weaknesses in trans history’.
It is indeed undeniable that Reay’s monograph has few predecessors. Internationally, scholarly transgender histories are few and far between. In the United States, the field is essentially limited to Joanne Meyerowitz’s How Sex Changed: A history of transsexuality in the United States (2002) and Susan Stryker’s recently updated Transgender History (2008, 2017), the latter strangely unacknowledged by Reay. Here in Australia, an Australian Research Council-funded project on ‘Transgender Australians’ (2018–21), led by Professor Noah Riseman at the Australian Catholic University, marks the first concerted foray into a local trans past.