Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Maybaybutter/Getty Images Plus and Jem Cohen. In 2021 the writer then known as Luc Sante—author of the classic 1991 urban history Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York —sent an email to a group of friends and colleagues. In it, she explained that she was in fact Lucy Sante and would now embrace the gender identity she had suppressed for the previous 66 years of her life. The most startling thing about this news wasn’t Sante’s transition, but the fact that she had put it off for so long. In her captivating new memoir, I Heard Her Call My Name , Sante mentions that, while living in New York in the 1970s and ’80s, she had been close to the photographer Nan Goldin, a celebrated portraitist of the downtown gay and transgender communities. Sante describes herself as first and foremost a “bohemian,” a type of person of which there are “vanishingly few” these days. Proud gender nonconformists, drag queens, and the people who admired them were all around her during her New York years—yet, in the midst of what was surely the most accepting environment available at that time, she still didn’t feel free to be herself. Apart from Sante’s age when she announced her gender identity, there isn’t anything particularly unusual or new to her transition story. Technology played a pivotal role, from an app that feminizes selfies and showed her the woman’s face she had so long denied to the online communities where she sought advice and support in coming out. She describes the physical effects of taking hormones, the process of constructing a whole new wardrobe, the stress her transition imposed on her long-term relationship. What makes I Heard Her Call My Name extraordinary aren’t the events Sante describes but the way she describes them. Her writing remains as perceptive, elegant, and striking as ever, and furthermore it is fearlessly honest—a quality that often seems almost as rare as Sante-style bohemians. Slate receives a commission when you purchase items using the links on this page. Thank you for […]

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