"By then the American press is calling them the Hiroshima Maidens," I interject.
"Tonimoto had been approached by Ralph Edwards, who wanted to devote an episode of his popular TV show to him. This Is Your Life was a forerunner of reality-TV shows. It would ambush a celebrity, a famous person, a hero, then bring on people from their past, introduced as voices they might not have heard in years. The unidentified voice would bring in details from the individual's life, revealing something about them, before being reunited. At the very end, host Ralph Edwards would present his guest with a scrapbook that memorialized it all."
"Did Ralph Edwards think this episode was a way to promote cultural reconciliation?"
"No doubt. And it was quite amazing. Ralph Edwards decided to put two of the women on the show, but behind a screen, in silhouette only, to preserve their privacy. This also made the Maidens enormously enigmatic at the same time and was an alienating experience for the women, hidden behind screens like shadow puppets."
"Ralph Edwards," I remind Serlin, "surprised Tonimoto with his family, who'd flown across the Pacific. But the real surprise was Robert Lewis."
"Yes, Lewis was the copilot of the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the A-bomb on Hiroshima. He had agreed to appear on the program, but when he realized what he was about to face, he retreated to the nearest bar. Staff brought him back to the studio and plied him with lots of coffee. Toward the end of the show, Ralph Edwards recounted the moments leading up to the dropping of the bomb, then brought out Lewis, who appeared on stage sweating and uncomfortable. Tonimoto looked like a deer in the headlights. The two were urged to shake hands, which they did. It's about the most awkward thing I've ever seen; it's kind of horrifying."
"Your book is full of ironies. One of them is that, not long after the Hiroshima Maidens had their operations, plastic surgery became an elective procedure. And very popular, with people getting face-lifts and nose jobs and tucks in the pursuit of youth. And, for Asians, it meant round eyes and Westernization of their features -- they could change their racial appearance."
"Yes, all over Asia epicanthic folds were converted to Western eyelids. Colored contact lenses were introduced, pronounced cheekbones were reduced, foreheads made more Western. A huge business."
"You write that by WWII, prosthetics become quite sophisticated, and there is a real attempt made to restore soldiers' limbs and masculinity."
"Yes," says Professor Serlin. "Since most troops were working class, the goal was to return them to the workplace, back to industrial work on a factory floor, in a plant. The replacement limbs reflected this and became more ambitious and motorized, employing all sorts of technology: pneumatic tubes that would allow the arm to extend, and electrodes hooked up to residual muscles to re-create motor skills. Ironically, this very development in robotic arms leads to industrial robots, which take over assembly-line work and by the mid '70s displace most workers."
"Another huge area of body modification that started after WWII involved hormones. Hormones were held to be miraculous agents, as evident in the story you tell about Gladys Bentley."
"She was impressive," says Professor Serlin. "Gladys Bentley was a flashy nightclub performer in Harlem in the 1920s and '30s. She was black and openly gay. Gladys even married her white girlfriend in 1928 in a ceremony in Atlantic City."
"You refer to her as a 'bulldagger.'"
"That was a term used mostly by working-class lesbians back then. 'Bull dyke' would be a more common term today."
"Gladys was a big woman."
"Yes, and as out there as it was possible to be. Years later, however, in 1953, she announces herself in a magazine article as a natural woman again. A hormone imbalance is given as the reason for her lesbianism and raucousness. Injected with hormones, she is cooking, cleaning, being middle class."
"The pictures with the article are hysterical. Gladys in the kitchen; Gladys ironing."
"People talked about hormones in the '50s the way people now talk about genetics. It was believed your glands and hormones determined your identity. People with immature endocrine systems could rebalance their bodies and make themselves happy and healthy -- normal."
"Where they'd want to cook dinner and vacuum," I laugh. "Bentley's experience is benign, compared to Turing's. Alan Turing was a genius cryptographer during the Second World War and credited with breaking major enemy codes. A real hero. After the war, he's arrested for indecency and sentenced to having hormone treatments."
"In England," says Professor Serlin, "it was called orgotherapy. Exactly the same treatment prescribed for Turing's homosexuality was prescribed for Gladys Bentley's lesbianism. Turing was diagnosed as having excessive testosterone, which led to his criminal acts. If his hormone network could be neutralized, effeminized, he would have less desire for men. However, the hormones induced gynecomastia, enlarged breasts. He took his life not long after."
"The treatment was also called chemical castration," I add. "Turing kills himself in an incredibly poignant and symbolic way."
"Yes, he dips an apple in cyanide and eats it."
"He's sort of reversing the Garden of Eden. You write: 'Turing chose deliberately to appropriate the symbol of the apple...to express the death of self-knowledge, rather than its traditional acquisition.'"
We're quiet for a moment. "What," I ask, "do you think of so many star athletes taking hormones and other body enhancing substances?"
"Every athlete is using some form of technology. The idea that there is some pure body that is not mediated by performance-enhancing machines and drugs is ludicrous. We are using technologies to enhance our bodies. We're all doing it."