Queer Science

A data-bending psychologist confirms what he already knew about gays and transsexuals.

The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism, by J. Michael Bailey, Washington, D.C.: Joseph Henry Press, 256 pages, $24.95

The primitive idea about gay men, shared by many Christian fundamentalists and other lovers of freedom, is that gays really want to be girls, or girlish. And the primitive idea about men who want to cross over to be girls is that they're really just gay, or just crazy.

Got it?

Gays are faggots, right? And former men like me who have changed gender, well...they're just extreme faggots, or sex-mad nut cases. Northwestern University psychologist J. Michael Bailey, whose new book has created quite a stir, believes both of these ideas.

Most gay men are feminine," Bailey declares in The Man Who Would Be Queen, "or at least they are feminine in certain ways." The professor's gaydar can spot those
Certain Ways from across the street -- on the basis, for example, of the pronunciation a man gives the sound s: closer to the front of the mouth, like a woman's. OK, so it turns out Bailey is talking about most gay men...in America...in the late 20th century...or maybe just the ones he was able to find by asking around in Chicago bars. Fortunately, there are other tell-tale signs of homosexuality, such as a deep interest in clothing and show tunes -- or, when it comes right down to it, a sexual interest in other men.

And from a long city block away Bailey can spot a real gender crosser -- those are the pretty ones, the ones whom the professor feels are sexually "attractive." They're just an extreme form of gay men. He can distinguish them from former men who are not attractive to him, a type that, contrary to what they will say (they are all liars), experience "sexual arousal at the idea of themselves as women."

It's really quite simple, Bailey says. Weird born men (he doesn't talk about born women in the book) are driven by sex. It's either sex with other men or sex with themselves. Sex, sex, sex. "Identity" has nothing to do with it. You can think of Bailey as an identity politician's worst nightmare.

Bailey is attacking the by-now accepted scientific view that whom you love and who you identify yourself to be are not the same issue. Au contraire, says the professor. It's not that formerly male gender crossers have an identity of womanhood, felt or desired, the way you feel or desire that you want to be a lawyer, say, or a resident of Florida. Nor do the more feminine-looking (because earlier changed), pretty ones have such an identity. No "identity" about it. Both are driven by sex, because that's what men are ultimately interested in. Bailey calls gender crossers "men" throughout his book. Born a man, too bad. Like certain second-wave feminists, such as Mary Daly or Germaine Greer, Bailey is an essentialist. As the guys down at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post have always known, men are men and women are women. Period.

No one is surprised that Bailey's ideas have been seized on by the religious right. John Derbyshire, a homophobe who contributes frequently to National Review, wrote a nice piece about the book, drawing the moral: "Male homosexuality, in particular, seems to possess some quality of being intrinsically subversive when let loose in long-established institutions, especially male dominated ones." (Where is Roy Cohn when we need him?) For God's sake, let's not let the queers loose.

If you hated the 1960s and its "homosexual agenda" (thank you, Justice Scalia), you are going to love Bailey's theory. As the guys down at the VFW hall say, queers are just sissy guys; and a guy who wants to become a woman is either just another homo or just another loony. Bailey, to be fair, doesn't share all the scientific and political ideas of his allies the veterans, the homophobes, and the religious right. He wouldn't attack gays and gender crossers with a lead pipe, and I guess he doesn't think God hates fags. Some of his best buddies, after all, are gay or transgendered. Bailey is a very feeling guy. In fact, he spends a lot of time hanging around the less reputable gay bars in Chicago's Boys' Town. Doing research.

Bailey gets his research ideas from an outfit in Toronto called the Clarke Institute. The institute is one dusty corner of the academic study of gender, and until Bailey came along it wasn't doing very well. In 1985 the head of its clinical sexology program, one Ray Blanchard, a rat psychologist by training, devised a theory of "autogynephilia," a word and notion that ever since then he has been trying to float. According to Blanchard and his few but loyal fans (among them Bailey), unpretty, late-changing, nonhomosexual gender crossers (me, for instance) have internalized a female love object (that is, they are still men wanting to have sex, sex, sex with women) and confused it with themselves. They aren't "really" women. Bailey summarizes it flatly in the book: "Autogynephilia can be considered a disorder."

The word disorder is meant to evoke the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the so-called DSM-IV. (The Roman numerals are for the edition, like the Super Bowl.) Bailey and his conservative friends hope to get "autogynephilia" into the next edition of the DSM (Roman numeral V), in order, I suppose, to prevent free people from doing what they harmlessly please. Great idea.

Until the 1973 edition of the DSM, homosexuality was such a "disorder," justifying electroshock therapy for queer kids in the 1950s and early '60s; it did not entirely recover from its illness until the 1986 edition. We let homosexuals get away with it after 1986, say the conservatives; lest the gender crossers get away with it, too...well, it's a little unclear what Bailey would recommend. He's been running away from his book in the months since its publication in April.

But there's no doubt what Bailey's conservative friends want, and will try to get through the book and its sponsorship by the National Academy of Sciences (on that last point hangs a tale; stay tuned). The conservatives want to return to the 1950s in a 2003 form, with summer camps to butch up the sissy boys and feminize the tomboys, with psychiatrists closing down gender reassignment programs (thus the sad case of Johns Hopkins), with gays back in the closet. Bailey is part of the conservative revolt against the "permissive" society -- that is, a society in which you can do what you want if it doesn't harm someone else. Sexual conservatives are not libertarians.

At the time, 20 years ago, that the Clarke Institute up in Toronto really got going on Preventing Them, no one paid much attention, except the unfortunate Canadian gender-variant kids and adults who fell into its clutches and were subjected to "cures" by any "therapy" that came to mind. Bailey has some long, sweet passages warmly praising the institute's "therapists." He notes, without suggesting he would disagree, that many people, including his students (he asked them: it was part of his scientific study), declare "autogynephiles" inappropriate for gender change. Stop 'em.

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