E. Graff

E.J. Graff, the author of What Is Marriage For? The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution, is a visiting researcher at Brandeis University's Women's Studies Research Center and a contributing editor at the Prospect.

Recent Articles

Being Black and White

Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black By Gregory Howard Williams. Plume (1996), 285 pages, $13.95 paperback The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother By James McBride. Riverhead Books (1996), 297 pages, $12.95 paperback Black, White, and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self By Rebecca Walker. Riverhead Books (2001), 323 pages, $23.95 hardcover Divided to the Vein: A Journey into Race and Family By Scott Minerbrook. Harcourt Brace and Company (1996), 261 pages, $24.00 hardcover When I was 18, I learned, quite belatedly, that my father's brother had married a black woman. The wedding took place in 1958--the year I was born, the year after my parents married. Instantly I knew that racism had kept me from knowing my uncle (by then dead of a heart attack), my aunt, my cousins. Instantly I knew I would have to find them. But it was one thing to discover that the deepest, most volatile division in the country ran right...

Strangers in Our Midst

Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America By Stephen G. Bloom. Harcourt, 338 pages, $25.00 The Stranger Next Door: The Story of a Small Community's Battle over Sex, Faith, and Civil Rights By Arlene Stein. Beacon Press, 267 pages, $27.50 A stranger comes to town. It's one of the great themes of American literature and film, not to mention contemporary American politics. Often our towns don't seem big enough for everyone, especially when profound disagreements arise. Liberalism at its most limited sometimes tries to overlook those disagreements, as if all we needed to live happily side by side were a kindergarten diversity curriculum in which brown- and yellow- and pink-skinned children and children with two mommies happily taste one another's foods and sing one another's holiday songs. But that pleasant vision of pluralism can itself offend those who believe tolerance to be dangerous and immoral while seeing their own philosophy as the One True Way. What happens when...


We were standing in our neighbors' house--I must have been five or six--next to a diaper-changing table, where the moms were cooing over a new baby. Suddenly I was dizzyingly puzzled by how adults knew whether that blurry lump of flesh was a girl or a boy. My mother was quite impatient with the question, saying that I already knew. "I don't remember," I insisted. "Yes, you do. Think about the difference between you and your brother." What could she mean? "In the bathtub," she coaxed. Still no insight. Finally, as if this were as plain as the alphabet, she said, "Boys have penises and girls have vaginas." Oh! That! That was a relief: The distinction was both simple and unimportant. Almost everyone accepted these ABCs of sex, the idea that "penis" equals "boy" and "vagina" equals "girl." But the growing and increasingly significant transgender movement is asking us to believe that sex is not always determined at birth. ( Transgender is a blurry neologism. At its most expansive, it takes...