Max Wolf Valerio

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Max Wolf Valerio (born February 16, 1957 in Heidelberg, West Germany) is a poet, memoir writer, essayist and actor. He has lived for many years in San Francisco, California. He is of Kainai (Blackfoot/Blood),[1] Sephardic Jewish (Converso), and Northern European descent.

Valerio's 2006 memoir The Testosterone Files is one of his most prominent pieces of writing. It describes his transition and experiences as a trans man. He also writes and performs poetry, and has acted in films and appeared in many documentaries.

Early life[edit]

Valerio's mother is of Blackfoot descent, specifically from the Kainai in Alberta, Canada. His father's family can be traced back to 1694 with the De Vargas expedition and 1598 with the Onate expedition, making their way into what is now Northern New Mexico. Valerio's father identifies as Spanish and his ancestry can be connected to Sephardic Jewish roots from Spain, Portugal and Italy. The Valerio family can be traced from Spain and then migrated to Italy during the Spanish Inquisition. They were conversos and eventually migrated to New Spain. Growing up Valerio had fair skin, light eyes and light hair and was often confused for Russian, half-Chinese, Hungarian or as a white American.[2]

Valerio's father was in the United States Army for 20 years, which caused them to move frequently in the United States and Europe. Max was born in a US Army hospital in Heidelberg, Germany. Valerio lived in many US states including Maryland, Washington, California, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado, as well as in Canada, and again in Germany as a child and teenager.[3]

Growing up Valerio had a hard time relating to girls. He felt that he did not fit in because of his masculine nature and at times would offer to play male roles but it would not approved by the female counterparts that he was attempting to play with. He decided to identify himself as a lesbian as a teen because it made the most sense to him at the time. Valerio imagined himself as a boy when growing up and could not imagine himself growing into a woman. He felt he was always male and identified with male children/adults. Valerio would cry himself to sleep as a child wishing to be a boy. Valerio went to college and came out as a lesbian feminist in 1975. Valerio could not relate to lesbian sex. Valerio started to feel more male and a male gender identity started to come back from childhood.[4]

In 1988, after discussions with a friend and roommate who was formally transitioning from male to female, Valerio realized that he was transsexual and began considering a sex change.[4] Max found the FMT Organization in San Francisco run by Lou Sullivan and started attending meetings. Valerio was amazed by the other female to male transsexuals/transgender people and realized that it could be done. Like an "explosion" in his mind Max Valerio had realized he was not a lesbian but a transsexual man.[4]


Valerio transitioned in 1989 from female to male. Valerio's initial exposure to transsexual information were two pieces that have been considered by LGBTQ groups as being exceptionally trans-phobic. The first book Valerio picked up was Female-to-Male Transsexualism by Leslie Lothstein. Valerio says in The Testosterone Files that "Lothstein's book is damning" and that he "paints the transsexual men he is working with as psychopathic, borderline, fractured, pathetic".[5] Valerio also says that Lothstein's book says that Lothstein "feels that most of the men are mistaken in asking for sex reassignment".[5] The second resource Valerio picked up was Janice Raymond's book, The Transsexual Empire. Valerio states that "Raymond postulated that all transsexuals were dupes of the patriarchy, "mutilating" their bodies in order to live out stereotyped sex roles instead of changing those roles through rigorously applied program of radical feminism".[5]

Valerio talks about his first steps of transitioning in the movie "MAX with Max W. Valerio",[4] a short documentary style film by Monika Treut. Max goes into deeper depth about the testosterone side of transitioning and early steps in his book The Testosterone Files. He also appears in Gendernauts, another film by Monika Treut.

Max then talks about the process in declaring transsexualism to a psychologist or counselor so one may obtain the female to male transitioning hormone: testosterone.[4] Sometimes called "T" in the FTM scene.

What Max went through was a visit to a counselor for three months. That counselor then decides if the patient is "sincere and that [they] probably are transsexual".[4] The counselor then writes a letter so that the patient may obtain testosterone to start the transition from female to male. The standard dosage of testosterone is one injection every two weeks inter-muscularly. That is what Max Valerio did in early stages of transitioning.[4]

Valerio went to an Endocrinologist to obtain the hormones with the letter from the counselor.

Testosterone is a male sex hormone used in female to male gender reassignment. In women, the ovaries and adrenal glands produce testosterone naturally but at about one tenth the amount the typical male would produce.[6] The hormone plays a role in the development of the sex drive, sperm production, fat distribution, red cell production and the maintenance of muscle mass and muscle strength.[6]
FTM transexxuals report an increase of sex drive because of the testosterone as Max goes into detail in his book The Testosterone Files[5]

The physical effects of HRT or Hormone Replacement Therapy using testosterone are: loss of menstruation, deepening of the voice, hair growth both facially and body hair growth, the face taking on more masculine aspects, increase in muscle mass the clitoris enlarging, male pattern baldness could occur if in the genes as well acne.[7] Valerio experienced most of these effects, excluding the baldness. Valerio experienced less hair growth but he attributes this to being half Blackfoot.[5]

The main form of testosterone given is inter-muscular injections every two to three weeks of synthetic testosterone. There is also a way of injecting testosterone subcutaneously, just under the skin. There are also creams, gels sprays, under-arm applications, patches and many more.[6] Valerio used the common way of inter-muscular injections.[5]

The Testosterone Files[edit]

Valerio’s memoir The Testosterone Files describes the psychological, physiological, and social transformation that occurred in the first five years of his transition from female to male.[8] One of the main themes of the book is role of testosterone in his transition. This is because Valerio credits testosterone as the most definitive and crucial aspect of his transformation.[8] The book is organized into three parts: "Beginning," "Before Testosterone," and "After Testosterone."

The prologue is an important aspect of the book because Valerio uses an in depth narration of what it is like to be a transsexual to allow his readers to understand the trials and tribulations that one experiences when going through a sex change. In this section, Valerio wants people to understand that transsexuals are not simply just a branch of lesbian or gay. He wants people to understand that "transsexual identities must be defined and expressed on our own terms".[8] In Valerio's opinion, transsexuals voices and experiences, until more recently, are "unheard and incompletely imagined" which is one of the reasons he wanted to write this memoir.[8]

Part one is the section titled, The Beginning, which introduces you to Valerio as he begins his transition from female to male. Valerio discusses the physical changes occurring that have allowed him to understand what it feels like to experience biological masculinity. These include physical changes such as his voice becoming deeper and his hair becoming darker and coarser.

Part two which is the section title, Before Testosterone, narrates what led Valerio to decide that changing sex was the right path for him. This section of the book describes cultural and ethnic background of both his mother and father. Valerio talks about one of his relationships that lead him to discover that being a lesbian, and sex between two women, did not arouse him.[8] He discovered that his attraction towards women wasn’t a lesbian attraction rather that it was a heterosexual attraction, one from a man to a woman.

Part three, which is the section titled After Testosterone, is one written so that the readers can feel Valerio’s emotional, social, and perceptual transformation from female to male. The beginning chapters of this section narrates Valerio’s acceptance of becoming a male. His body is physically transitioning and he is adapting to doing and experiencing ‘male’ things such as shaving, adapting to a deeper voice, and having straight women make advances towards him [8] He also discusses the emotional experiences of telling everyone who didn’t yet already know that he was becoming a male. He describes an in detail encounter of coming out as transsexual to one of his female co-workers as a way to narrate the difficulty of identity politics when transitioning [8] With this woman, Valerio experienced his first intimate encounter with a female since transitioning to becoming a man. Valerio narrates his perceptual experiences of not yet having bottom surgery, but being physically male otherwise [8] The book ends off with his discovery of his Adams apple that has grown from the testosterone which signifies his excitement and recognition that this transition was exactly what Max needed to be happy with himself.

Max Valerio had an increase in energy almost immediately, and increase in sex drive as well an inability to cry as he once had as a female.[5]

In the film MAX, Valerio talks about his experience of perceptual, emotional and physical change with testosterone. Filmed in New York City in the early 90's, the film is a groundbreaking exploration of trans male experience.[9]

Political views[edit]

When Valerio identified himself as a lesbian, he was able to learn about the idea of feminism, became involved with left wing radical politics and was able to have a deeper understanding of the female identity.[10] Valerio was a part of the American Indian Movement and participated in marches and visited the Pine Ridge Reservation when it was under siege by the F.B.I after the Wounded Knee Occupation. Valerio's political transformation was from left-wing radical and then to the Democratic Party, and eventually to more libertarian/classic liberal and a member of the Republican party.[11] He identifies as a classic liberal.


  • The Testosterone Files: My social and hormonal transition from female to male (Memoir, 2006)
  • This Bridge We Call Home (Anthology, 2002)
  • The Phallus Palace (Anthology, 2002)
  • Male Lust (Anthology, 2000)
  • This Bridge Called My Back (Anthology, 1981 [pre-transition])
  • "Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics" (Poetry Anthology, 2013)
  • "Animal Magnetism" (chapbook of poems, 1984 [pre-transition])


  • Unhung Heroes (Film, 2002)
  • Gendernauts: A Journey Through Shifting (Documentary, 1999)
  • Female Misbehavior feature-length film featuring the short film: "Max" (Documentary, 1992)
  • "You Don't Know Dick: Courageous Hearts of Transsexual Men" (Documentary, 1997)
  • "Octopus Alarm" (Documentary, 2005)
  • "Straight White Male" (Documentary, 2011)
  • "Max" (Documentary, 1992)


  1. ^ "Exile: Vision Quest at the Edge of Identity." Queer Cultural Center. Retrieved 4 Aug 2012.
  2. ^ Valerio, Max (Spring 2000). "Emerging Fragments" (PDF). Halapid. Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies. 8 (2): 4–5.
  3. ^ Valerio, Max, The Testosterone Files: My Hormonal and Social Transformation from Female to Male (Seal Press, 2006)
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Max with Max W. Valerio. Dir. Monika Trout. Perf. Max Valerio. First Run Features, 1992. Transcript.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Valerio, Max (2006). The Testosterone Files. Seal.
  6. ^ a b c Rettner, Rachel. "What is Testosterone?". LiveScience.
  7. ^ "Transgender 101". Open Minded Health.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Max Valerio, The Testosterone Files: My Hormonal and Social Transformation from Female to Male (Seal Press, 2006).
  9. ^ Treut, Monika (1992). "MAX with Max W. Valerio". Film Transcript.
  10. ^ Boyd, Helen. "Five Questions With... Max Wolf Valerio." EnGender. 29 Nov. 2006. <>.
  11. ^ Berg, Alex. "Voter Identification Laws Create Unique Problems For Transgender Voters." The Daily Beast. November 2, 2012

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