The Paris Review

Reframing Agnes

A 1958 case study is widely believed to be “the first sociological case study of a transitioning person.” A new documentary short, premiering at Tribeca, finally allows Agnes to speak in her own words. 

Kristen Schilt. Photo: Dan Dry.

In October 1958, a nineteen-year-old woman called Agnes approached the psychiatry department at UCLA, having been referred there by a physician in her hometown. “She was tall, slim, with a very female shape,” the sociologist Harold Garfinkel noted. “Her measurements were 38-25-28. She had long, fine dark-blonde hair, a young face with pretty features, a peaches-and-cream complexion, no facial hair, subtly plucked eyebrows, and no makeup except for lipstick.” Agnes arrived at UCLA seeking genital surgery for her self-described intersex condition. According to Agnes’s self-reporting, though she had apparently been born a boy, female secondary sex characteristics began to spontaneously develop during puberty. Extensive physical and endocrinological testing revealed her to have no obvious intersex condition; all the same, Agnes’s physical appearance assured

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