Review: Merissa Sherrill Lynn: Her History as She Wrote It

| Jan 14, 2019
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I love history. In fact, I’m passionate about it. When I was asked to review this book: Merissa Sherrill Lynn: Her History as She Wrote It, Compiled by Kerri, my first reaction was “who?” Then my stalwart editor explained that she was a transgender pioneer (before said editor applied the red hot irons to me to “convince” me to review it.)

Merissa Sherrill Lynn (MSL) died in 2017, years after a stroke rendered her invalid. The first I heard of her was an appreciation here on TGF written by Dallas Denny, herself a TG pioneer. I remember reading it (I read EVERYTHING on this site, don’t YOU?) and thinking “Wow, what a shame.”

CoverThis book was a series of emails written by MSL in 2008 and 2009. These emails were sent to some confidants, and are reproduced here exactly how she wrote them — spelling and grammar issues intact. The fact that the book exists is a labor of love by the “compiler,” Kerri.

I learned a lot from this book. MSL drops a lot of names that I heard before, but many that I hadn’t heard. Each time someone was mentioned, I looked them up. I’ll come back to this.

MSL’s main claim to fame was a being an organizer. She founded the “Tiffany Club” near Boston, and eventually formed the International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE) which, for some time was the major player on the transgender scene. They held conferences, published a magazine (Tapestry) and had an endowment that assisted local TG organizations. By all accounts, MSL was quite influential in the 1980s and ’90s.

However, in the mid-1990s, the board of IFGE fired her. She reacted badly, and became, essentially, a hermit. According to Dallas Denny, “The board eventually fired her. Board members told her that if she would be patient they would put together a fund so she would get a stipend for the rest of her life. She did not go gently into that good night, and did not get the stipend. My feeling is the board would have come through within a few months.” (Source: interview by author.)

IFGE no longer exists in a substantive way. There is a sordid history that is beyond the scope of the book, and this review. Their conference became the Empire Conference in Albany, NY, which eventually died out as well. I attended it in 2010. The last evidence I could find of it was 2013.

So, how’s the book? Well, MSL’s writing style here is quirky. Her published magazine work is far more polished. This was during her time after she isolated herself from the world, and that tone pervades the text. She “feels” lonely and betrayed.

That is my major issue with this book. She makes herself out to be a saint and martyr — so much so that it becomes irritating. (And this comes from someone who wallows in self- pity often herself!) She discusses the beginnings of her organizations, and a suicide attempt that became a “spiritual journey.” As the chapters are separate emails, they often repeat each other. At one point, an entire couple of pages are repeated. I think that was a printing issue though. The narrative itself ends suddenly in 1988, as she was about to win an award she didn’t want. There is nothing about the problems with IFGE, etc. Was her narrative interrupted by her stroke? I don’t know, but that’s as good a guess as any.

I sent messages to several people who knew her. I asked if she really was the saint she made herself out to be. Dallas Denny replied “Of course not. Who is?” I asked Angela Gardner (TGF editor) about MSL. She said “she had a tendency to take advantage of her position for her benefit. . . I got the feeling from her editor that it was a vanity project meant to push her greatness.”

That’s the thing, even in death, controversy follows her. She denied all allegations in the book. I guess the truth is somewhere in between.

In the end, this book was hard reading. I wish I knew her so I could form my own opinions. She genuinely seemed like she wanted to help others, and that’s a LOT more than many people. I understand that drive. Merissa Sherrill Lynn would be worth a well-balanced and researched biography, of which this would be one resource. Aside from the history aspect, of which it has plenty, and a lot which she was part of, I can only recommend this book to scholars of the transgender movement. Others won’t make it past halfway.

Merissa Sherrill Lynn: Her History as She Wrote It, Compiled by Kerri

Available from Amazon.
Paperback: $16.95
ISBN: 9781726776813

Correction by Kerri: “One correction to the article would be that Dallas Denny did not write the obituary, I am the author of that and would appreciate a published correction. This is not to take anything away from Dallas with whom I work very closely just making the facts, facts.”

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Category: History, Product Review

Sophie Lynne

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Comments (2)

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  1. Dallas Denny Dallas Denny says:

    Had Kerri not saved Merissa’s e-mails and compiled them in this book, much of her history might have been lost. She sent those e-mails to perhaps 15 correspondents, including Niela Miller, Mariette Pathy Allen, and the late Ken Dollarhide. Her e-mails are not a complete history and sadly do not address her life after her separation from IFGE (or the events that led to the separation), but they track her experiences as an organizer in the fledgling trans community and are a boon to trans historians (who will thank Kerri for presenting them just as they were written). Merissa was a complex and often self-righteous person who played a significant role in the trans community, and Sophie is right: someone needs to write a biography of her and her work.

    Dallas Denny

    • Sophie Lynne Sophie Lynne says:

      Thank you so much for chatting with me about this topic.

      Y’know, YOU could write that biography and/or history. After all, you knew all the major players…

      Just sayin’

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