Our Empowerment, Ourselves
BY RYAN HOWE | When she was 12 years old, Laura Erickson-Schroth picked up her mom’s copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” She flipped through the pages, entranced by what she was reading. The 1973 book, which took a radical posture toward women’s bodies, sexuality, and rights, was filled with the stories of women from all backgrounds and walks of life.
And it spoke to the self-proclaimed tomboy.
“I was always kind of dressing like a boy and playing sports, so gender was something that was always present in my life,” Erickson-Schroth said. “I was always being told what to do for gendered reasons, and reading this book with so many women breaking the stereotypes, it just stuck with me.”
Like glue, the idea behind “Our Bodies, Ourselves” stuck with Erickson-Schroth into her teen years and into adulthood. The idea that women should be telling their own stories led her to start a five-year project that gave transgender and gender non-conforming people the outlet to share their own stories and to educate readers on trans issues.
On May 20, the book “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” was released by Oxford University Press.
Ripping a page from “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” Erickson-Schroth wanted to produce something with voices from every part of the trans community and share trans health information with the public.
“In ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ I was captivated not only by the quotes from hundreds of women, but the way they challenged the medical world’s monopoly on knowledge about women’s bodies,” Erickson-Schroth said. “That’s what we did with our book.”
Reading as part educational, part memoir, part picture book, “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” prides itself on not having to be consumed from the front cover straight through to the back cover. It is to be referenced and picked up and put down at different times, Erickson-Schroth explained.
Complete with a glossary defining terms used in the trans community and an introductory chapter providing an overview of concepts that will help readers delve into the rest of the book, the project is first and foremost an educational tool for the trans community, allies, and doctors.
Another main goal was to share as many viewpoints and personal stories as possible. The contributing authors come from multiple backgrounds, with expertise in law, health, culture, and policy. Quotes from a more than 3,000 people appear scattered through the chapters.
When Erickson-Schroth studied at Middlebury College in Vermont from 1999 to 2003, trans issues weren’t something on people’s minds, she recalled. It wasn’t until after she graduated — as some of her friends came out as trans and she started meeting other trans people and coming across trans patients during her medical school training — that it became an important issue and interest in her life. Erickson-Schroth quickly started noticing a disconnect between the healthcare system and trans people.
“Health providers were either hostile or uneducated about trans issues,” she said. “But trans people saw health providers as gatekeepers because that was their role for a really long time.”
Today, there is information all over the web and in books, but Erickson-Schroth and her team wanted to compile a comprehensive overview of available information into one book. “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” covers health issues, but also employment, social transition, and building communities.
Laura Jacobs, psychotherapist and trans activist, got involved with the project two years ago, when she met Erickson-Schroth while doing similar public speaking and activism. Erickson-Schroth invited Jacobs to join the team.
Jacobs contributed a few excerpts and helped edit the book. But to her, it was much more than that. “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” is providing a resource that she didn’t have growing up. Jacobs explained that in the 1970s and ‘80s there wasn’t much out there about trans issues except for scandalous transphobic stories and porn.
“To see this piece of work created is so incredible,” Jacobs said.
When she transitioned in the early ‘90s, it was still difficult for her to find literature on trans issues. Even with the few books she could find in the library — and sneak out between other books — or find on the nascent Internet, she was still left with information imbued with stigma about trans lives.
Jacobs continued to look for information, or role models, or resources to help better her knowledge of physiological aspects of trans identity as well as the stigma and prejudice transgender people encounter.
To be a part of something that put in one ready place a lot of the information she struggled to find really spoke to Jacobs.
“I have been working in the community for years, and this is the first book that really is geared toward educating the community and allies on a number of issues without it being written in an academic or medical way,” she said. “A high school student could pick this up and follow it.”
Having contributed to the book, Jacobs is continuing her work on the project as a board member of the Trans Bodies, Trans Selves non-profit organization. The board is raising money to help get the book into the hands of those who can’t afford it — and may need it most. It’s also working on spreading the word about the book and gathering more stories for future editions.
The book already incorporates the input of thousands of trans-identifying people, but a key goal is to get more stories from outside the US and Canada. The estimated release date for the next edition is 2020.
“Right now we are working on getting the first issue to as many people as possible,” Jacobs said. “What’s really wonderful about this is that we got so many people to contribute. Every chapter is incorporating a different person’s perspective.”
Erickson-Schroth hopes “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” catches on like the book it was modeled after and that it can continue to publish updates as time goes on. On the back cover of 1973’s “Our Bodies, Ourselves” are that book’s last words — “Please share this book with others.”
“That’s still the most important message I can share with people,” Erickson-Schroth said. “Spread the word, share this book with everyone.”
TRANS BODIES, TRANS SELVES | Edited by Laura Erickson-Schroth | Oxford University Press | $39.95; 672 pages