Monday, August 6, 2012

REVIEW: Confessions of a Transsexual Physician by Jessica Angelina Birch MD

The significance of the title, Confessions of a Transsexual Physician, was not lost on this reviewer, as the author, Dr. Jessica Birch, a former practicing Catholic, pulls no punches in terms of the intimate revelations expressed in this extremely frank memoir. ”Confessions” provides an often sad and gut-wrenching glimpse into the life of an individual who happens to be a physician who is also an MTF transsexual, taking us on a journey through childhood, early adulthood, marriage and family, gender transition and beyond.

In so doing, this memoir provides a very up-front and self-critical case study of a person who has a history of making impulsive, sometimes narcissistic, co-dependent, oft obsessive and/or self-destructive decisions. However, it is a touching book that is ultimately about a human being who originally viewed herself as a victim, not accepting much responsibility for her actions, but has finally come to terms with her life. She has done so after moving on to her new gender role and repairing and improving those relationships she could salvage while building fresh and strong friendships with others who are now in her circle while developing brand new interests and outlooks.

The writer, a person who experienced intense gender dysphoric feelings from her earliest memories, relates an honest and gripping account of her difficult journey across gender roles, pulling no punches in her account of the struggles toward self-acceptance as she moves us through her transition. Most importantly, her story makes a powerful case for the "normalization" of transgender issues.  Here is a person who, until later life was a tortured and depressed individual who often went to extremes in an attempt to obtain relief from the suffering of existential angst in an attempt to lead a happier, more fulfilling life. It is well-written true-life tale about someone born into the wrong body, resulting in a sad and extremely painful life of trying to fit unnaturally in to a male gender role, eventually leading to an impulsive, headlong “damn the torpedoes” and “take no prisoners” approach to gender transition that eventually rights itself to what appears to be, at least for now, a peaceful, serene if not yet totally happy ending.

This well-written, exciting, titillating, yet often depressing memoir held my interest from start to finish. Although this book could have benefited by a slightly better editing job to remove some of the redundancies that were included, overall it was an extremely compelling read. I was impressed with the author’s writing style as demonstrated by her wonderful flowing passages, her literacy and insights while occasionally providing a glimpse of a doctor’s technical, clinical and scientific approach. But what I enjoyed most about this memoir were the frequent portions that provide a rather touching reading experience, such as the author's descriptions of the loving relationship she finally developed with her mother, a person who abused her as a child, and whose love and acceptance she sought over the years until finally gaining it in a female gender role.

I also appreciated how the author candidly reveals the side of her that contains some serious emotional issues she would have been much better served to have first worked out before making her gender change. I believe that in the final analysis she would acknowledge that handling these problems first might have been preferable to adopting behaviors that were tantamount to rejecting family and friends in an impulsive and headlong plunge to find herself by getting to what she perceived to be the root of her problems, her gender. Ultimately, she realized that even with such a dramatic life change, the basic unresolved issues always re-emerge. All and all, this powerhouse work is a wonderful and moving memoir that underneath it all presents a logical rationale for enabling people to be who they really are.

[Reviewed by Samuel]

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