Do we need bodies for sex? Is gender in the head or in the body? In Second Skins Jay Prosser reveals the powerful drive that leads men and women literally to shed their skins and–in flesh and head–to cross the boundary of sex. Telling their story is not merely an act that comes after the fact, it’s a force of its own that makes it impossible to forget that stories of identity inhabit autobiographical bodies. In this stunning first extensive study of transsexual autobiography, Jay Prosser examines the exchanges between body and narrative that constitute the phenomenon of transsexuality. Showing how transsexuality’s somatic transitions are spurred and enabled by the formal transitions of narrative, Prosser uncovers a narrative tradition for transsexual bodies. Sex change is a plot–and thus appropriately transsexuals make for adept and absorbing authors. In reading the transssexual plot through transsexuals’ own recounting, Prosser not only gives us a new and more accurate rendition of transsexuality. His book suggests transsexuality, with its extraordinary conjunctions of body and narrative, as an identity story that transitions across the body/language divide that currently stalls poststucturalist thought. The form and approach of Second Skins works to cross other important and parallel divides. In addition to analyzing transsexual textual accounts, the book includes some 30 photographic portraits of transsexuals–poignant attempts by transsexuals to present themselves unmediated to the world except by the camera. And the author does not shy from exposure himself. Interjecting the personal into his theoretical discussion and close textual work throughout the book, Prosser reads and writes his own body, his purpose in that stylistic crossing to stake out transsexuality–and hence this very book–as his own body’s narrative.
By Jay Prosser, 1998