By Richard J. Novic, M.D.
iUniverse, 2005, 279 pp., $19.95 (soft cover)
Review by Gunnar Scheibner
Alice in Genderland is the memoir of Dr. Richard Novic, a successful psychiatrist who, in a certain milieu, is known as Alice: a six feet tall brunette who likes shopping, dancing, and chatting with the girls. The story gives an account of Novic’s search for an acceptable self-image as a transgendered person, and illustrates the enormous effort and courage that are required to lead a lifestyle that deviates from societal norms. Novic describes his transgendered life from initial explorations with his sister’s underwear at age eleven to nights out in public more or less passable as a “real” woman.
Novic’s existence as Alice, who has a male lover, may seem unorthodox taking into consideration that, in his male persona, he is a happily married man and father of two. However, the reader will learn that all of this is possible concomitantly, and that dual existences do not seem to be problematic for the author.
Alice in Genderland addresses various issues pertaining to crossdressing and transgenderism. Central to Novic’s account are the sexual, emotional, and social aspects of his crossdressing experience which are particularly well illustrated in this book. As a teenager who attempts to make sense of his desires, Novic associated his crossdressing behaviour solely with the sexual arousal that he experiences through it. Given this association, the sexually explicit nature of Alice in Generland is not surprising. From masturbation involving anal penetration with carrots to numerous other detailed accounts of heterosexual and homosexual intercourse, the book leaves little to the imagination.
The author’s crossdressing evolved from being an activity that was sexually arousing to denoting an identity that was psychologically fulfilling. In the author’s words: “…life has taken me from I need to be a girl in order to have an organism to as long as I’m a girl, I don’t even need one” (p. 247). The book gives intriguing insight into the emotions and desires that, perhaps, only transgendered individuals are able to experience. For example, Novic describes how he entertained thoughts such as: “Wouldn’t any guy be curious? …It’s not that I wanted to try on Trudy’s clothes so much; it’s just that I couldn’t say no to the opportunity” (p. 28). Particularly well portrayed are the emotional conflicts between the desires of a crossdresser and the self-image of a man who is otherwise comfortable and secure in his role as a man.
In a way, Novic leads two completely different lives: one as Richard and one as Alice. Just like the emotional conflicts that may be experienced by a transgendered individual, there are obvious conflicts of appearance between Richard and Alice. Novic’s efforts to master the transformation process from a man to a woman with apparent sex appeal are well illustrated in this book (e.g., Chapter 8: Arts and crafts). For example, the author explains that “…like putting on my breast forms, I would put on my emotions and allow myself to be more perky, playful, needy, and sentimental” (p.154) or “I was so focused on honing my womanly skills that I would even practice some face touching and leg crossing at work” (p. 156).
The social aspects of transgenderism are equally well captured in Alice in Genderland. Novic describes his experiences as Alice in the Chicago Tri-Ess scene where crossdressers meet and socialise as well as in the Hitching Post social club which organises events for crossdressers, swingers and people who are interested in consensual sadism and masochism. After relocating to Los Angeles, the Queen Mary (a transgender night club) becomes the focus of Alice’s social life. I found the contrast between these activities and Richard’s “ordinary” social life with friends and family to be quite provocative.
Overall, Alice in Genderland is both interesting and educational. Throughout the book, Novic refers to scientific papers and academic books in relation to transgenderism and related topics. The reader will find a full reference section and several appendices briefly outlining some basic issues such as the origins of homophobia and transphobia (p. 267). The reader who is unfamiliar with transgender issues may be surprised by the facts presented in this book (e.g. “…1% of male college students admitted to crossdressing in the last three months, and another 2% considered it” [McConaghy, 1993. Sexual behavior: Problems and management. New York: Plenum.] p. ix).
Anyone interested in an extraordinary lifestyle will find this book to be well worth reading. Although individuals with transphobic attitudes may be shocked by its content, I am confident that the educational elements of Novic’s memoir will prove instrumental in fostering understanding. For me, personally, Alice in Genderland was enjoyable to read and broadened my horizons with respect to appreciating human diversity.
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