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Hooray for historic hermaphroditic travelogues

I have finished The Sinkings! Wow. How horrendous.

A woman, Willa, gives birth to a baby who is both a boy and a girl. In an effort to help the baby have a normal life, she put it through a series of gruelling surgeries to make it a girl.

But the baby, when it becomes an adult woman, doesn’t thank her mother. In fact, she hates her for choosing to make her an infertile woman over a possibly fertile man. She leaves, her mother devestated.

Willa reads about a man, murdered in the 1700s, who she thinks was born the same as her child. The book then switches between the life of this man, Little Jock, an Irish convict transported to Australia, and Willa.

The story of Little Jock is a real one. The book shows an incredible amount of research, as we follow Willa through the libraries and archives of Australia to Scotland to Ireland to England and back.

Imagine being born both a man and a woman. Imagine being constantly fearful that someone will see that you are different. Imagine the the inner battle between your genders. Imagine never being able to have a child, or an orgasm.

What a life.

Little Jock has it even worse. Fleeing the Irish Famine, he ends up in the slums of Glasgow. He is in and out of prison. The family who takes him in is so poor all they eat is porridge. Jock is eventually deported to Australia to serve hard labour. He finally makes a life for himself as a free man, and then someone finds out what he is. And they murder him.

Depressing, no?

Don’t worry, there is a happpy ending. But you’ll have to read it yourself.


About writehandedgirl

Sarah is a writer who is passionate about social justice, feminism, politics, and cats. She is a columnist and poet and currently lives in Nelson. You can follow Sarah on Twitter (@_writehanded_) or read more of her writing at


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