Christine Beatty's book review of
The Man Who Would be Queen:
The Science of Gender Bending and Transsexualism
by J. Michael Bailey
Sex sells. That tenet is a mainstay of modern marketing. For decades everything from toothpaste to new cars have been marketed using the suggestion of sex. And sexologist J. Michael Bailey’s new book, The Man Who Would be Queen: The Science of Gender Bending and Transsexualism is a glaring example. Combine lurid sexual description with some fact, with controversial research done a decade or more prior, with long-debunked stereotypes and with the author’s smug assurance, and you have Bailey’s book. And while it should be easy to dismiss it as sensationalized exploitation, in reality it is dangerous to the entire transgender community, and especially to transsexual people.
The staggering amount of misinformation aside, this book’s dangers are twofold. First it is being pitched as science, as though its wild inaccuracies are facts. Second that it was actually published under the imprimatur of the National Academies using their own publishing company. This lends respectability to "findings" and opinions that should have been laughed right out of the editor’s office. While it is tempting to speculate that perhaps the Academy Press is so cash-strapped that this sexualized "academic" excursion might have slipped through a potential cash cow, this is not the place for such imputations. It is sufficient to discredit this work by highlighting its many shortcomings.
Before ripping this tome to shreds it is important to note a few positives, because some of Bailey’s defenders seize upon these to defend him as a "friend" of our community, and because, to his credit, they are constructive and helpful attitudes. Early on in the book, Bailey envisions an ideal world where children with Gender Identity Disorder are counseled that their feelings are not wrong, and that there are other people like them. Furthermore, in this utopia these kids are started on HRT at puberty if their GID persists and allowed to have SRS after age 16 if they are truly transsexual.
Much later in the book Bailey gives the impression he opposes the belief of some doctors that transsexuals should not be given surgery. But it's a tiny bone that does not undo the damage he does with his sex-obsessed etiology of transsexualism.
Given that Bailey is a sexologist, it is not surprising that the book fairly drips with it. Rather than dwell on dull and tedious research, he packs the pages with anecdotes and personal observations, most of it focused on carnality. And it is not a vanilla-flavored licentiousness with which he spoonfeeds the reader, it is a graphic galaxy of lewdness, paraphilia and promiscuity. And, according to Bailey, these are not just common behaviors for transsexual people, these are our main motives for transition and surgery, no matter what "kind" of transsexual you are. This brings us to the second major flaw in Bailey’s book, his classification of transsexual types and their motives.
In Bailey’s world there are only two kinds of transsexuals, homosexual and autogynephiliac. However, the responsibility for this over-generalized grouping cannot be laid at Bailey’s doorstep. Before the American Psychiatric Association’s bible, the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual, removed Transsexuality as a diagnosis and replaced it with GID, transsexualism was classified into four types: homosexual, heterosexual, asexual and unspecified. The orientation was determined based on the birth-assigned sex of the transsexual person and of her/his partner of choice. Then along came Ray Blanchard of the Clarke Institute of Toronto who studies men with gender disorders, as well as transsexuals. To "avoid wordiness," according to Bailey, Blanchard lumped the latter three into a group he called "nonhomosexual." He then decided that these three types had remarkable similarities and hung upon them his new pet "diagnosis" that he called "autogynephilia." [It should come as no surprise that Blanchard has since identified autogynephilia in homosexual TSs as well.]
There is no need to recount all of the problems with this theory except as it applies to Bailey’s book. In a nutshell, autogynephilia is being "erotically obsessed" with the image of oneself as a woman, a fantasy usually accompanied by masturbation, that begins in childhood . Those are Bailey’s exact words, although other proponents of autogynephilia do not state it quite so bluntly. The thing that seems to elude supporters of this theory is that it was developed when studying men. Even autogynephilia cheerleader Dr. Anne Lawrence pointed out in her 1998 Transgender Tapestry article: "none of Blanchard’s subjects had actually undergone gender transition and sex reassignment surgery - they were simply males who were gender dysphoric, and who said they felt like they were, or wanted to be, women. Blanchard has never tested his ideas in a group of postoperative male-to-female transsexuals" [emphasis added]. Yet Bailey recklessly picks up this theoretical cudgel and waves it about as fact. Even worse he flatly claims it is this motivation instead of GID that motivates all "nonhomosexual" transsexual people.
On page 167 he bluntly states that "autogynephilia is not primarily a disorder of gender identity" and instead, several pages later, labels it a "sexual preference." He suggests it is a paraphilia, lumping it in with sadomasochism, exhibitionism, necrophilia, besitality and pedophilia! Then, while he "hesitates" to link autogynephiliac transsexualism with these others, he believes them to have causes in common: paraphilias occur almost exclusively in men and they tend to go together. The implication is that autogynephiliacs may also be pedophiles, etc. As if this isn’t enough he spends six entire pages recounting the tale of a "research" subject he named "Cher" who, before transition, had conducted her identity quest with the aid of fetish wear. Bailey turns Cher's story into a prurient one, and then, admitting he “never met anyone like Cher before,” calls her a “wonderful example” of autogynephilia.
It all boils down to sex. On page 180 Bailey claims that transsexuals want to change their sex because they have "unusual sexual preferences that depend on sex change." Not even "homosexual" transsexualism is spared this erotic motive. The difference is that homosexual transsexuals are, in reality, very feminine gay men. And, like gay men, they crave a wide variety of sexual partners. Bailey claims the motive for this kind of transsexual person is that she can have the heterosexual men she would be denied as a gay man. Much of the book is spent on homosexuality, exhuming and dusting off stereotypes of gay men and holding them up in blatant generalizations.
In fact, the author’s next greatest flaw is revealed by all of the stereotyped characterizations that riddle this book like metastasized, inoperable cancer. He catalogues the likely occupations of transsexual people as "waitresses, hairdressers, receptionists, strippers and prostitutes, as well as in many other professions." Apparently Bailey has not spent any time at Lynn Conway’s Transsexual Women Successes website.
It’s difficult to decide which generalizations are more insulting. Aside from their outré sexual motivation, autogynephiles are "not especially feminine" either as children or adults, have to work at femininity, presumably even after transition, don’t look as good as homosexual transsexuals, and are more technically inclined than that other group. He states that a subject’s interest in cars and sports is sufficient to indicate that she is an autogynephiliac. He even states that "nearly all" the high tech websites are maintained by autogynephiliac transsexuals! Finally, the goal of the autogynephiliac is to be "presentable" while transsexuals of the homosexual stripe aspire to be "objects of desire."
While it’s a wonderful compliment to the second group to state they are much more feminine and presentable, they are also depicted as "boy crazy." This description was reported by Bailey’s subject Cher and duly recounted as fact. In addition, most homosexual transsexuals don’t know of the HBIGDA standards of care, "much less attempt to adhere to them." They are also apparently less "respectable" (my quotes). I swear to Goddess, I saw this right on page 184: "Most homosexual transsexuals have also learned how to live on the street. At one time or another many of them have resorted to shoplifting or prostitution or both."
This assassination of character continues unabated, and a few direct quotes illustrate it clearly. Homosexual transsexuals "tend to have a short time horizon with certain pleasure in the present being worth great risks for the future." And "as for shoplifting, homosexual transsexuals are not especially well suited as much as especially motivated. For many their taste in clothing is much more expensive than their income allows. . . . In female impersonator shows, transsexuals often wear designer gowns, which are widely believed (by other transsexuals) to have been acquired by the five-fingered discount." Finally, "Prostitution is the single most common occupation that homosexual transsexuals in our study admitted to [emphasis added]. About half have worked as prostitutes at some point." It is this last passage that reveals one of the worst flaws in Bailey’s "science." He’s extrapolated his limited research to an entire community.
In the same way that Bailey’s beliefs are an insult to transsexual women, the incorporation of "science" into the title is an insult to scientists everywhere. It’s doubtful that even Bailey believes the scientific method leans heavily on intuition, admittedly his chief diagnostic tool; there is precious little science in his book. Indeed, it lacks the kind of empirical data or serious studies one would expect, unless you recount Bailey’s lukewarm regurgitation and misapplication of earlier studies that are far from accepted on their own. No, the author expects us to buy his presentiments as the unassailable truth. And he’s not willing to listen to anything contrary to his own preconceptions.
Bailey’s smug self-confidence permeates his entire tone. He casually dismisses other people’s experiences, impressions and self-reports in favor of his own beliefs. When gay men do not discuss having a feminine childhood, they are avoiding the topic because of "femiphobia," a Bailey-coined word. Not even gender therapists escape his condescendence: "many ‘experts’ who make their livings working with them do not understand transsexuals very well." Except Blanchard, of course, whose ideas "have not received the widespread attention they deserve, in large part because sex researchers are not as scholarly as they should be and so don’t read the current scientific journals." These researchers must be comatose, because Blanchard first published on AG in 1989. Could it be that they just don’t take him as seriously as Bailey does? Naaaawww.
And while Bailey does not lend much credence to most gender specialists, he has complete disregard for the honesty and opinions of transsexual women. After quoting Clarke Institute’s (oh, there’s an unbiased source) Maxine Petersen - "Most gender patients lie" - Bailey spends the next five pages characterizing transsexuals as liars: to our providers and to ourselves. It is clear that such a mistrustful, close-minded, "intuitive" sexologist will never discover the truth about transsexual people because he believes he’s already found it. He knows in his heart that the "standard story" of a transsexual - of feeling like a member of the other sex, of feeling like a freak in her body and detesting her genitalia, of desiring SRS to make her body match her mind - that this is not really the "truth" about transsexuals. No, the real truth is that we just want to get laid, either by as many men as possible or by "robot man."
Bailey’s book is so farcical that it would be hilarious if it weren’t for the true threat to the social gains we’ve made, to the progress we’ve made with healthcare providers. For the last twenty years, especially the last ten, transsexual people have been getting the word out that we’re not a gang of perverts, that our transition and surgery is seldom motivated by sex. Our little bandwagon of Trans Pride has been gathering steam, and all of a sudden Bailey’s sideshow act comes along and starts slashing tires.
What is puzzling is: why have some serious researchers closed their eyes to this and applauded Bailey’s book? Though Bailey has appropriated and misapplied the autogynephilia theory, Blanchard and Lawrence still gives it two thumbs up. Given how Bailey practically deifies Blanchard, I suppose that is understandable, but why would a respected physician and transsexual woman like Anne Lawrence dignify this? Perhaps she overlooks the potential for harm?
And the potential for harm is great. Not only may more established providers and lay people begin to reexamine us through smut-colored glasses, even more than do now, there are the younger people whose attitudes may be shaped by this "scholarly" obscenity. On page 206, Bailey demonstrates that a part of him knows he is feeding intolerance. In his own classroom, when discussion turned to the coverage of SRS by medical insurance, even Bailey’s more liberal students balk at the notion that SRS should be "subsidized." He further states that his students are "especially hesitant to support surgery for nonhomosexual transsexuals, once they learn about autogynephilia." His students say: "But they don’t have the wrong body, they are mentally ill."
Imagine the effect that might have on a legislator who is on the fence about support for anti-discrimination legislation, on an employer who interviews a transsexual woman, on a woman next to you in a support group. Worst if all, imagine the effect on a teenage transsexual girl who mostly knows about her condition from watching Jerry Springer.
Now she has something new to be ashamed of.
Copyright 2003 by Christine Beatty, all rights reserved