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Before We Were Trans

Hardcover / ISBN-13: 9781529377743

Price: £20

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One of History Today‘s Best Books of 2022

‘I felt exquisitely anchored reading this wonderful book’ Juno Roche

‘A thoughtful, fun, and refreshingly readable romp through the history of gender variance’ Susan Stryker

‘A searing, reflexive read . . . that needs to be in everyone’s hands expeditiously’ Paula Akpan

Across the world today, people of all ages are doing fascinating, creative, messy things with gender. These people have a rich history – but one that is often left behind by narratives of trans lives that focus on people with stable, binary, uncomplicated gender identities. As a result, these stories tend to be recent, binary, stereotyped, medicalised and white.

Before We Were Trans is a new and different story of gender, that seeks not to be comprehensive or definitive, but – by blending culture, feminism and politics – to widen the scope of what we think of as trans history by telling the stories of people across the globe whose experience of gender has been transgressive, or not characterised by stability or binary categories.

Transporting us from Renaissance Venice to seventeenth-century Angola, from Edo Japan to North America, the stories this book tells leave questions and resist conclusions. They are fraught with ambiguity, and defy modern Western terminology and categories – not least the category of ‘trans’ itself. But telling them provides a history that reflects the richness of modern trans reality more closely than any previously written.

Before We Were Trans is a history and celebration of gender in all its fluidity, ambiguity and complexity.


This book, beautifully researched and astutely written, feels so prescient in this time in which our trans identities are being aggressively challenged as if we are a contemporary aberration. Iterations of transness have been here for as long as we have been walking, breathing, and loving, we have constantly explored the spaces of gender. I felt exquisitely anchored reading this wonderful book
Juno Roche
Before We Were Trans is a thoughtful, fun, and refreshingly readable romp through the history of gender variance before the invention of contemporary 'transgender' categories and concepts
Susan Stryker, author of 'Transgender History'
This is such a searing, reflexive read - in conversation with the likes of Shon Faye, Akwaeke Emezi and Leslie Feinberg - that needs to be in everyone's hands expeditiously
Paula Akpan, journalist and author of 'When We Ruled'
A beautiful, brilliant, lively book that weaves together fascinating and moving examples with thoughtful analysis. Both heartfelt and rigorous, entertaining and scholarly, Before We Were Trans invites us to expand our sense of communities - past and present - in welcoming ways, rather than contracting them and policing their borders
Meg-John Barker, author of 'Gender: A Graphic Guide'
Heyam has cultivated an environment that celebrates trans history, whilst acknowledging the reality of what it means to live within our community with joy and kindness. In-depth research and personal stories tie Before We Were Trans up into true treat for the mind
Jamie Windust, author of 'In Their Shoes'
In this compelling, scholarly, and deeply humane book, Heyam invites us to see the history of gender as fluid, ambiguous and historically contingent. Before We Were Trans invites us to practise a more inclusive history, looking harder for those who stood outside the binary, and allowing their histories to speak for themselves - and to the present - in multiple and creative ways
Dr Caroline Dodds Pennock, Senior Lecturer in International History, University of Sheffield
Before We Were Trans enlarges our understanding of trans histories and highlights the beauty, complexity, and contradictions of doing historical work - all in a voice that invites the reader in, and not only teaches us what to think about trans lives in the past, but how to think about them
Hugh Ryan, author of 'The Women’s House of Detention'
Before We Were Trans is a genuine breath of fresh air - a radical and necessary invitation to rethink who we are, have been, and can become
CN Lester
Before We Were Trans provides much needed context, nuance, and breadth to our understanding of human gender diversity throughout history and in different cultures. While people who we might now call transgender or LGBTQIA+ have always existed, Kit Heyam shows how both individuals' and societies' understanding of sex, gender, and sexuality are situational, multifaceted, and constantly evolving
Julia Serano, author of 'Whipping Girl' and 'Sexed Up'
Incredibly useful in helping us understanding the history of this really important subject.
Monocle Reads
It tackles some of the issues with viewing historical identities through a modern lens, but never loses sight of the human stories at their heart.
BBC History Magazine
[An] astute, self-aware and riveting study . . . Before We Were Trans is a book that moves far beyond mere representation by managing to be both intellectually rigorous and exciting to read. It makes for a vital contribution to our understanding of gender variance and its place in social and political history, all around the world
New York Times Book Review
For historical perspective on the culture wars, Kit Heyam's Before We Were Trans: A New History of Gender (Hachette) is an intervention into the debate about how to write past lives without imposing modern understandings
History Today, Books of the Year 2022