Now I Have Found Myself, and I Am Happy: Marta Olmos, Identity, and Sex Reassignment in Mexico, 195257

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 1:30 PM
Boulevard C (Hilton Chicago)
Ryan Jones, State University of New York, College at Geneseo
On May 5, 1954, Mexico City daily ABC broke the sensational story of Marta Olmos, the recipient of the first official male-to-female (MTF) sex-reassignment conducted in Mexico and one of the earliest to occur outside of Europe. Over the course of two years (1952-1954), Marta’s team of skilled physicians successfully deployed the era’s most advanced techniques in plastic surgery and hormonal, psychiatric, and behavioral therapies to engender her transition. As news of Marta’s transition spread across Mexico, some commentators expressed surprise and even patriotic admiration at the doctors’ unexpected achievement. As the embodiment of that triumph and an overnight media sensation, Marta expressed delight at the outcome: “Now I have found myself,” she told reporters, “and I am happy.” Nevertheless, from the moment the story broke, critics from multiple quarters assailed the authenticity of Marta’s transition, the doctors who performed it, and even Marta herself. Marta’s case brought the international debate on sex-reassignment—that aside from sensationalist press accounts of Christine Jorgensen and others had largely occurred at a relatively safe distance—directly into a national discussion. This discussion occurred at the nexus of concerns over and debates on gender norms, sexuality, citizenship, ethics, religious identity, and science, as well as carried with it both the potential for great international acclaim for Mexico’s clear modernity as well as the possibility of international ridicule or humiliation for having allowed such a controversial event to have occurred. This essay examines these and more interrelated threads associated with Marta’s transition, from the local and Mexican contexts to the international debates on sex-reassignment. It analyzes what is known about Marta based on fragments preserved in press interviews, published works, and images, and in particular, makes use of a number of newspaper cartoons that sought to understand the perceived proliferation of "Christines" and "Martas" in Mexico.
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