Thursday, 17 September 2009
The correspondence with Bristol City Library, concerning the classification of books with transsexuality in their content (for the story so far, go here and then here), continues. Here is my latest e-mail to them.
Thank you for taking the time to write to me. I am glad that you recognised the unsuitability of the old listing for Jan Morris' "Conundrum"; its reclassification is a welcome step forward.
I do still question, though, whether 306.768 is the right place for a biography. The position of the Transsexuality category within the Dewey system is itself questionable, as a sub-group of 306.7 (Culture and Institutions: Sexual Relations). Transsexuality has nothing to do with sexual relations. However, accepting that, as a topic, it has to exist somewhere, surely this is a section which should deal with the condition itself? There are books dealing with the medical, social, and even political aspects of transsexuality and transgender; and you have some in Bristol; and they are indeed in this section, and rightly so.
But I would argue that, in biography, transsexuality may be an element, and even an important element, of the subject's life; but it is not the defining element. And I am concerned that, by placing biographies of people with a transsexual history into the 306.768 category, those people are being 'othered'. This can and does happen in everyday life, where some people are too ready to see the 'transsexual' in the individual to notice that they are in fact just people too: and, in doing this, they marginalise, exoticise and isolate them.
It was at least in part to address these concerns that I worked with Richard Beard on "Becoming Drusilla", and it seems sadly ironic that the book has been pigeonholed as it has been, when the subject matter is as much the biographer as the biographee, and the book is as much a travel book as it is a biography.
It was only when I noticed the library classification of this book that I started to look more deeply into the subject, and recognised, as you have, that there have been decisions made in the past that, with hindsight, were misguided or just plain wrong. I do urge you to look again at the matter of biography and its categorisation.