Dr. Chris Coffman takes on a remarkable challenge in the new book, “Gertrude Stein’s Transmasculinity”, and succeeds. The book is of course, about Gertrude Stein, whose work and life signaled a paradigm shift in western thinking about the continuous evolution of perceptions on gender and sexuality. Dr. Coffman uses Stein’s own ideas to position the new work, opening the introduction with Stein’s quote from her essay “Composition and Explanation”, which she wrote in the winter of 1925-1926 and was delivered as a lecture to the Cambridge Literary Club, and at Oxford University. The essay was subsequently published by Hogarth Press by Leonard and Virgina Woolf. Coffman’s lens is sharply focused on the idea that what is, in this case Stein’s Transmasculinity, was always there, but that it is the perceptions, vantage points, and biases that make it seen or unseen at different times in history. Readers may be reminded on similar philosophical explorations and question on the idea of Truth—with a capital “T”; is it relative or absolute? However, that’s another conversation. Coffman is in agreement with Stein when Stein writes,
“There is singularly nothing that makes a difference a difference in beginning and in the middle and in ending except that each generation has something different at which they are all looking… By this I mean this. The only thing that is different from one time to another is what is seen and what is seen depends upon how everybody is doing everything. This makes the thing we are looking at very different and this makes what those who describe it make of it, it makes a composition, it confuses, it shows, it is, it looks, it likes it as it is, and this makes what is seen as it is seen. Nothing changes from generation to generation except the thing seen and that makes a composition.”
“Gertrude Stein’s Transmasculinity” presents the reader with path to understanding one of the most complex concepts of current times, the emergence of gender fluidity beyond what is physical and the revelation of how it has been there all along; and by focusing on Gertrude Stein, “Gertrude Stein’s Transmasculinity” also helps one understand queer history in the western world. This is particularly important, because while gender has been seen more openly and differently in other cultures, it is the western vantage point that dictates public policies and subsequent institutional biases and impartialities in western reality. Coffman delivers the exploration Stein’s Transmasculinity elegantly and with pristine craftsmanship. “Gertrude Stein’s Transmasculinity” is not an easy read, but it is a delightful read because Coffman builds her investigation slowly, with clear explanations and precise language so the reader doesn’t get lost in academic posturing or superfluous tangents.
In “Gertrude Stein’s Transmasculinity”, Coffman contextualizes Stein’s life, person, and work through their proximity to others, and in relation with others’ work. This is where the dynamics of Stein’s profoundly transformative existence involved in a homoscocial engagement with Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and Carl Van Vechten intersect with her shifting Transmasculinity. The impact of these singular relationships illustrate the push and pull, contrasts and clashes of narrow and established ideas of gender and privilege enjoyed by the men and Stein’s own radical and innovative work. Stein’s identification with shifting and multiple genders and at different times gives rise to the queer queerness that touches anyone who comes in contact with her world; there is freedom in the queer gaze that even the likes of Picasso can’t resist no matter how much they try. Stein owned her Transmasculinity, and it was a force that shaped her work, Coffman reclaims this truth for Stein in spite of the misogyny that marked her story for so long. “Gertrude Stein’s Transmasculinity” is a sheer intellectual delight that encapsulates a time in which the stars aligned (Stein, Toklas, Picasso, Hemingway, Van Vechten, etc.) and together they shed a complex light into centuries that followed, igniting a conversation that is nowhere near its end. Coffman’s work through “Gertrude Stein’s Transmasculinity” ensures that that light is now a little more equal.
Chris Coffman holds a doctorate in Comparative Literature and Gender Studies from University of Southern California, and an undergraduate degree from Cornell University also in Comparative Literature. Dr. Coffman teaches courses about modernist literature, women’s literature, queer theory, and literary theory. Coffman is currently the Secretary of the International Comparative Literature Association’s Comparative Gender Studies Committee and UAF’s Organizational Vice President for United Academics.
“Gertrude Stein’s Transmasculinity” is published by Edinburgh University Press
234mm x 156mm
Published June 2018
eBook (ePub): 9781474438124
eBook (PDF): 9781474438117