Book Review – Diary of a Transsexual [Lyn Raskin]

Diary of a Transsexual
Raskin, Lyn Diary of a Transsexual Olympia Press, 1971.

I came across this book on Ebay a while ago for the princely sum of $2 plus shipping, and given the topic and the age of the work I was immediately attracted to it. The book is written in the first person in the format of a “Dear Diary” by Lyn Raskin, a transsexual woman who was born Edward. Her diary entries cover approximately 18 years of her life, telling of her journey through her 20’s until her early 40’s when she transitioned from male to female.

I’ll start right now by saying that Lyn, as she writes of herself, is a broken person. She has no real career over the course of the book, stuck in the doldrums of being a multiply-failed scriptwriter and lyricist for the stage, living on handouts from her father and menial jobs here and there. She tries to fit into New York City culture over most of her life, but often has to flee to her family in Florida when things get too rough. In fact without the generosity of so many in her life, she would have very quickly ended up on the streets of New York at an early age. She also is taken advantage of by many in her life, with friends and lovers stealing from her and setting her back on many occasions.

The topics of her diary entries can be grouped into four categories: her sex and love life, her quest for work as a writer, the ways in which her friends use and abuse her, and “everything else.” Missing from the narrative are any deep reflections on her gender, her personhood, and her dysphoria. Gender conversation is superficial and focused on personal appearance, including quite a bit of misinformation. She seems almost hapless as she writes for months about how the hormone pills the doctor has given her are changing her body – only to discover months later that she never bothered to check the label of the pills she was actually taking, to discover it was not estrogen but rather the anti-seizure medicine Dilantin.

In short, the book is an interesting view into the mind of a person who faced significant emotional challenges and survived gender dysphoria throughout a time period when our people were seen as little more than circus freaks. I’ve tried to find out more about Ms. Raskin after the book leaves off in the early 1970’s, and I confess to have been stymied, other than a few rumors and third-hand reports. Wherever she may be, God bless her.

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