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One Woman's Adventures in Gender Crossing and Civil Disobedience

Sex, Shrinks, and the State

I've been a woman since age 53, starting on Thanksgiving Day 1995.

The concept of gender transition has burrowed into our culture—recently in a surprisingly cheerful way, as in Transparent, the funny, award-winning TV series in which the only sane person is the man becoming a woman, or Transamerica, the sweet 2005 movie for which Felicity Huffman playing male-to-female got a Best Actress Oscar nomination.

But things weren't always so happy-go-lucky.

In northern Europe and its offshoots, starting with the birth of psychiatry in the late 19th century, governments came to have a deep interest in pushing people around in order to punish unconventional expressions of gender and unapproved sexual orientations. While you're binge-watching those modern uplifting trans tales, don't miss 2014's The Imitation Game. It's about the governmental ruination of Alan Turing, the gay man who saved Britain from German submarines and received chemical castration as a thank you.

The unrelenting terror of the 1950s ruined the queer and unprotected. Turing. State Department homosexuals. A dear friend of my family who taught at Harvard. But not Sen. Joe McCarthy's pal Roy Cohn and his boyfriends, of course.

I didn't get pushed around nearly as much as I might have. I got lucky, beginning my transition as a well-to-do tenured professor of economics in the United States just when that reign of gender-and-sexuality terror was beginning to relent.

But the state remained inappropriately, and sometimes violently, involved in the question of my gender. In 1995, standing in court in gentle Iowa to get my name changed from Donald, the judge had seen such requests before and saw no state interest in preventing it. When a month later I needed female documentation to travel without embarrassment to the Netherlands to teach for a year, I wept over the phone to a sympathetic official in the New Hampshire passport office, and she relented.

And in the fall of that same crazy year, I had $8,000 ready to throw at defense lawyers when my younger sister, along with a University of Chicago colleague, tried three times to have me committed for psychiatric observation. They succeeded twice, first in Iowa City and then in Chicago.

Let me be clear: If being trans is a psychiatric disorder, I've got it.

The libertarian psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, who chronicled my adventures in one of the last books he wrote before his death, fought to stop such "mental health" persecutions all his career, without much effect. In most states even now, if two people who don't know you from Adam (or Eve, for that matter) are willing to claim falsely, and without penalty, that they heard you threaten to kill yourself—or in my case, threaten to have a nose job—sheriff's deputies will escort you in handcuffs to the local locked ward for three to five days of observation.

What's worse, they might keep you there indefinitely, particularly if you let them drug you on admission. No kidding. If you are accused of murder you at least have a chance of getting free sometime, especially if you are innocent. If you are accused of being crazy, the government can put you away forever on the say-so of one psychiatrist.

Bonus tip: If this does happen to you, do not tell a joke. The psychiatrist won't laugh. He'll write it down, alongside the notation "Shows little insight."

How, you might ask, did shrinks wind up in the business of helping busybodies and their government henchmen police gender expression?

The church inquisitors handed Joan of Arc to the English occupying army to burn at the stake, which the army for its own reasons was very willing to do. The charges were heresy ("Shows little insight") and especially her unwillingness to dress in women's clothing.

Psychiatrists took up the role of inquisitors with an unseemly enthusiasm. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has grown notably thicker with every edition since its first in 1952, with more and more items added to the list of disorders. Homosexuality was removed from the DSM-II in 1974; gender identity disorder was added in the DSM-III in 1980. I suggest in the next edition that the psychiatrists add a diagnosis of "Unhealthy Obsession with Other People's Gender Expression."

Nowadays, the psychological establishment, and the even more authoritarian psychiatric establishment, frown on counseling people against transitioning. The unwieldy DSM-5 says that only gender dysphoria is a disorder these days—it's a problem if your gender identity causes you discontent, but not if it misaligns with your chromosomes. That's good, because like the butching-up camps for gay boys that were so popular in the mid-20th century, bullying people into standard gender expression doesn't work. If your little girl keeps saying she wants to be a boy, maybe in freedom you ought to let her. After all, contrary to the myth on the lips of transphobes, it's reversible. If the new boy decides later to go back to girlhood, he can.

But psychiatrists remain the ever-vigilant guards at the gates of trans freedom. The mores of the profession are friendlier, but people like me remain at the mercy of the highly credentialed owners of fainting couches for favors like certificates of mental health, signatures on paperwork for medical procedures, and testimony before judges who approve gender changes on official documents.

And the state remains always alert against predatory locker room bogeymen (bogeywomen?), seeing sex wherever gender is mentioned, as the Texas Bathroom Bill of 2017 shows. I reckon the solons of the Lone Star State, who claim fiercely to admire free societies, are contemplating putting a genetic scientist equipped with an electron microscope and police powers outside every public bathroom.

Deirdre McCloskey is emerita professor of economics, history, English, and communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the author most recently of Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World

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  • jwharm||

    "Lord save us from illiberal libertarians." Namely the author, who seems to think she can impose her beliefs on everyone else. You can cut off your nose to spite your face. I recognize that right and will not stop you. That does not mean you are correct or that I believe you are correct. I do believe in the freedom of association and that means I have the right to decide whether or not to associate with you. You do not have to accept my reasons but you should recognize my right to have them and you damn well better respect my right to (dis)associate.

  • Grumpy Old Timer||

    You are spot on with association. Why can't people separate government use of force to en force compliance from individual choice? I guess when those choices by others don't fit their agenda?
    The article is a great insight to human nature. Freedom of association only goes MY way. Funny and sad all at the same time.

  • NCBlueJay||

    Freedom of association only goes MY way.

    Did she say that? She mostly just sounds hurt that her son has disassociated herself from her. It doesn't sound like she's trying to force him to talk to her. Just because he has a right not to talk to her doesn't mean that his actions aren't hurtful. And just because she's a libertarian doesn't mean she has to ignore that hurt. Libertarians have families and relationships, often painful ones, just like everyone else.

  • Sevo||

    ^ +many.
    She made no claim of government-enforced association. None.
    In all of his/her writings (and he/she has been writing for Reason for quite a while, I have one gripe:
    Where she disputed her insurance company's refusal to cover the costs of the tranny work.
    If you are to claim the insurance should pay, you're going to have to show how that procedure is covered under that contract.

  • NCBlueJay||

    Where did the author seek to impose her beliefs on everyone else? It seems like she respects her son's right to disassociate from her. She's not trying to use the government to force him to love her. You seem to be arguing against a straw man.

  • Diane Merriam||

    She doesn't seem to be trying to "impose" anything on anyone. While I agree there are many people who are militantly trans, I've never found her to be that way.

    I also have no problem with someone being different from what their chromosomal pattern is expected to produce. Personally, although I've always been a tomboy and lived and worked in men's professions most of my life, I've never thought of myself as anything but a woman. However, I could see that difference going farther in some cases than my own. I've also had a lot of friends who are gay/lesbian. It's just more points in the range of human nature.

    Sure, to be honest (and maybe it's just my age - 60), I usually have an initial discomfort when someone isn't in my "normal" expectation pattern, but it doesn't last. These days it's usually only a matter of minutes before I adjust. Who somebody is and does is far more important than who they have sex with or what gender they are comfortable with.

    Yes, you have the right to disassociate from anyone you wish. That may or may not be your loss. It may or may not be sad that they have to miss knowing you as well.

  • Roger McKinney||

    She wrote: "And the state remains always alert against predatory locker room bogeymen (bogeywomen?), seeing sex wherever gender is mentioned, as the Texas Bathroom Bill of 2017 shows."

    This implies she supports Obama's executive orders forcing people to associate with transgender people in their restrooms.

  • ipsum||

    Until science can help explain this to me, you have the right to be left alone. And for the most part it sounds like you are... alone.

  • FlyoverCountry||

    As an Iowan, I guess I'm most shocked to learn that a Dean at the University of Iowa was (is?) a libertarian!

  • Conchfritters||

    Yeah, I went to school and had Donald as a professor at the U of I in 1993, and I am pretty sure the Dean was not Libertarian. There was one political science professor from Alabama there at the time, and I think he was the only token Republican in the whole town.

  • Radioactive||

    You can glue an antler to your forehead, but that doesn't make you a unicorn, no matter how badly you want it.

  • ipsum||

    I think she's trying to cut the antler off? Or doesn't want the antler or....anyway. Antler means penis right?

  • Radioactive||

    nope, just an example of wishful thinking not making something a reality...

  • Cloudbuster||

    Transparent, the funny, award-winning TV series in which the only sane person is the man becoming a woman

    Fiction is fiction.

  • tommyboy||

    The whole idea of liberalism is to have freedom to do what makes you happy. There are reasonable boundaries that align with mental state and maturity. The mental health angle is a dangerously blurry line. Social science is not so much a science as a religion with prophets whose influence wax and wane with the fickle beliefs of the adherents.

    I do think it's a bit misguided and dishonest to suggest that physical changes such as surgery are easily reversible and should be taken lightly. There is a fad going on right now for outcast adolescents looking for acceptance to claim to be transgendered or bisexual/homosexual. It's instant victim status with built-in protections and acceptance - at least on the surface. There is nothing more heinous in society today than to be a privileged white kid. Kids are willing to go to extreme lengths to not be outcast and will often double down rather than admit they are making stuff up for attention / acceptance.

    Do what you want with your body if you are an adult and are paying for your own treatments. Just be careful when you are understating the long term consequences of your actions.

  • Radioactive||

    long term consequences of your actions????? what the fuck is that? you must think you're an adult or some other mythical creature....

  • tommyboy||

    The whole idea of liberalism is to have freedom to do what makes you happy. There are reasonable boundaries that align with mental state and maturity. The mental health angle is a dangerously blurry line. Social science is not so much a science as a religion with prophets whose influence wax and wane with the fickle beliefs of the adherents.

    I do think it's a bit misguided and dishonest to suggest that physical changes such as surgery are easily reversible and should be taken lightly. There is a fad going on right now for outcast adolescents looking for acceptance to claim to be transgendered or bisexual/homosexual. It's instant victim status with built-in protections and acceptance - at least on the surface. There is nothing more heinous in society today than to be a privileged white kid. Kids are willing to go to extreme lengths to not be outcast and will often double down rather than admit they are making stuff up for attention / acceptance.

    Do what you want with your body if you are an adult and are paying for your own treatments. Just be careful when you are understating the long term consequences of your actions.

  • Rational Exuberance||

    The mental health angle is a dangerously blurry line.

    Like pretty much everything surrounding sex and religion, the "mental health angle" is only an issue because mental health "professionals" are recognized by the government and by law.

  • Cloudbuster||

    I just want the freedom to call trans people nutjobs without the force of government power behind my words -- and for them to have the freedom to call me a bigoted hater without the force of government power behind their words. And, the concordance right for both sides not to be forced to interact with each other in any way.

  • ChipToBeSquare||

    You mean it's wrong for either side to have men with guns backing up their words? I have to choose who I associate with for myself? What a novel concept

  • Cloudbuster||

    I know. Crazy, right?

  • Radioactive||

    fucking loony is what it is....

  • ||

    Haters gonna hate. The above comments prove this. But for some reason I feel like libertarians who've been in the game a long time don't have any problems with trans folk. A lot of those who've joined more recently, generally from the right, have a lot of problems with them. And they have to make a big fuss about it any time the issue is broached.

  • Rational Exuberance||

    Haters gonna hate. The above comments prove this.

    Libertarianism (and classical liberalism) says that people should have the liberty to make their own choices as long as they don't harm others. It doesn't say that people need to accept, tolerate, or like each other's choices. In fact, the freedom to disapprove, criticize, and ostracize is essential to a free society and libertarianism.

    So, yes, it is perfectly consistent to be a conservative Christian and a libertarian while "having problems with" trans folks. Just like it is perfectly consistent to be an atheist and a libertarian while "hating" conservative Christians. Libertarianism isn't a social club where people like each other, or approve of each other, it's people who believe that government should stay out of their lives.

  • Threedoor||

    Slow clap.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Anyone who wants to dress and act like another gender, species, whatever, I'm onboard with it. You were born a boy, and want to wear a prom dress? More power to you.

    'Gender reassignment surgery' is another matter. I suppose adults have a right to mutilate themselves if they want to, though I would like to refuse anyone who voluntarily amputated working legs any disability payments. But to my nose there is more than a whiff of scam about these surgeries. They are cosmetic. They do not change the sex of the patient. If gender is in the head, they do not change the gender either. They DO significantly enrich a small class of surgeons, and on the whole my interactions with surgeons have not impressed me with their altruism or ethics.

    The author of the article is right about one thing; we grant far too mich power to the various Psych professions. Psychology and Psychiatry are not sciences. They are arts, or crafts, or both. They are very NECESSARY crafts, my life and the life of my dear Lady would be drastically different without them. But they are far too much deferred to.

  • damikesc||

    "I've been a woman since age 53"

    No, you have not. Your desire to play pretend doesn't require me to play along with your delusion.

  • Rational Exuberance||

    A lot of people who think they love freedom balk at gender crossing.

    I really don't care what dangly bits you chop off your body. And I think the state should stay out of such issues.

    Having said that, that doesn't mean that I have an obligation not to "balk" at gender crossing. If I don't want you using the bathroom in my restaurant or business, if I make the disclosure of your biological sex a prerequisite for associating with you, etc., that's my business and my right, and the state shouldn't interfere with that either.

  • Bob Meyer||

    Since I will probably never meet Deidre McCloskey, I don't care what her personal proclivities are, whether or not she is "really" a woman or whether or not she's "really" a man. The economic writings are my only concern and those are pretty strongly free market. That make her an ally.

    Her arguments are important. Her plumbing is not.

  • Rational Exuberance||

    Her arguments are important. Her plumbing is not.

    But her arguments about her plumbing may be important, namely when she tries to use the state to force others to associate with her against her will, or when she hurts parties and politicians who are pro-free-market with bogus arguments.

    Viz, the Texas Bathroom Bill of 2017, which, as far as I can tell, simply codifies that you should pick a gender for legal purposes and act accordingly. That is, it's fine to transition from man to woman, change your birth certificate, and use a women's bathroom. It's not fine for someone who is legally male to use the women's bathroom whenever he feels like it.

  • Sevo||

    "But her arguments about her plumbing may be important, namely when she tries to use the state to force others to associate with her against her will, or when she hurts parties and politicians who are pro-free-market with bogus arguments."

    You probably ought to show that SHE did, not pick some random example of what others are doing.
    It would make your argument less "she's icky!"

  • Radioactive||

    but she is, icky I mean...or is it he/she/it is icky?

  • Radioactive||

    oh, oh wait...it's "xer is icky"!!!

  • EscherEnigma||

    "That is, it's fine to transition from man to woman, change your birth certificate [...]"
    Cool.

    So the rights of trans* folk depends on the benevolence of wherever they were born. Born in Kentucky? Well too bad.

    That said, it's really funny to see so-called libertarians trumping the importance of a government document.

  • TJ_Friedman||

    We're talking about government building bathrooms only; hence, there is northing un-libertarian about following government rules on who can use them.

  • Rational Exuberance||

    And the state remains always alert against predatory locker room bogeymen (bogeywomen?), seeing sex wherever gender is mentioned, as the Texas Bathroom Bill of 2017 shows. I reckon the solons of the Lone Star State, who claim fiercely to admire free societies, are contemplating putting a genetic scientist equipped with an electron microscope and police powers outside every public bathroom.

    Not at all. All it requires is that you choose a gender for legal purposes. So, if someone complains that you are a man in a woman's bathroom, the police can look at your driver's license and resolve the issue. The Texas Bathroom Bill does that by requiring your gender to match your "birth certificate", but that is something you can have changed to reflect your current gender.

    Now, I'm not sure that any level of government should get involved in how sex, gender, and bathroom interacts at all; but as long as the law requires separate bathrooms, there needs to be a clear and simple rule, and the Texas Bathroom Bill of 2017 is just that. There is nothing hateful, discriminatory, or odd about it. It's, incidentally, also the way it works pretty much everywhere else in the world: you pick a legal gender, your legal documents reflect it, and where there are gender-specific laws, that's the gender you use.

  • Slocum||

    My middle-aged son, who says he's a libertarian, has not spoken to me for 20 years because of my transition. I have three grandchildren I've never been allowed to meet.

    I have no idea of the family dynamics -- perhaps the son is a bigot, but maybe there's more to it than that? In any case, I suspect publicly flogging him is not the route to a reconciliation. Especially when he -- not being a well known figure -- can hardly defend himself on an equal footing. Other accounts have her saying that the ex-wife and two adult children have not spoken to her since her transition. Which might suggest that the fault is not entirely on one side.

  • Radioactive||

    cause xer is icky?

  • WakaWaka||

    McCloskey is a national treasure, a true iconoclast. She gets crap from people who should be her natural allies in terms of economic positions and she gets crap from the Left for being transgender while dissenting from their orthodoxy.

    I may not agree with her lifestyle choices, but I don't care how someone chooses to live their life. The real issue is when law is used to impose bathroom rules and gender pronoun requirements (which Reason never mentions, but those laws are far more common nationally than the occasional so called 'bathroom bill' to maintain private sector bathroom policies).

    I don't know what McCloskey's position is on Leviathan's bathroom and gender pronoun mandates, but I appreciate her work and feel sorry for the ostracism she's received because of her deeply held lifestyle choices.

    Her books and the occasional lecture (which I've attended) are some of the best defenses for liberal markets today.

  • Sevo||

    "(which Reason never mentions, but those laws are far more common nationally than the occasional so called 'bathroom bill' to maintain private sector bathroom policies)."

    Which is a pretty good reason to presume there has been no position taken.
    If you assume otherwise, please cite.

  • WakaWaka||

    When governments are mandating bathroom policy for private businesses and instituting fines for using the wrong pronoun, I think the silence by so called 'libertarians' speaks for itself.

  • Rufus T. Firefly.||

    Can you stop sucking her cock? KTHX

  • WakaWaka||

    I think you misread the article. She no longer has a penis. Why don't you read something by her before dismissing my comment

  • AlgerHiss||

    I'm expected to believe that someone, who chooses to have their genitalia radically transformed surgically, is just as sane and rationale as the next person.

    Other than this one little issue, why, they are not only balanced, they are far more balanced than I. In fact, they are actually a better human being.

    THESE are the notions that are shoved down my throat every single day. And each time, I call bullshit.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Let me be clear: If being trans is a psychiatric disorder, I've got it.

    Yes, it is, and yes you do.

    You think you're something you're not--and you think slicing parts of yourself off and stitching artificial parts on, or creating elaborate scarifications will help you.

    That is not sane. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

    You clearly have a psychiatric disorder.

    Why is that so hard to admit?

    You, who walk around post surgery, who considers herself sane, would have no problem thinking that people who are anorexic, who have body issues that cause them to think they should be disabled in some way, who have conditions that have them thinking that they're animals among many other disorders, would have no problem seeing their psychiatric disorders as disorders.

    But yours is different. Yours should be accepted --coddled, even. Your insanity is great. People should stop bothering you and just accept the truth--that trans people are normal people just like everyone else.

    You don't realize how crazy that sounds, do you?

    Know why?

    Because you're crazy..

  • Radioactive||

    and icky!!!

  • damikesc||

    I've long said there is not a smidgeon of difference between a tranny and an anorexic. They both see things in their body that aren't real and believe in it in spite of all evidence to the contrary. We just don't CELEBRATE anorexia...yet.

  • NCBlueJay||

    The difference is that there is no form of psychotherapy that has been shown to help individuals with severe gender dysphoria. While surgical transition is only a palliative treatment -- it doesn't make you a "real woman" or a "real man" -- it has been shown to help at least somewhat. It might be an illusion, but so is any form of plastic surgery. There is no way for an anorexic to starve herself and live a healthy life.

    I think honest transsexuals (like Miranda Yardley or Blaire White) admit that they are biological men with mental illnesses, and transitioning was the treatment for that illness. The idea that a therapist can wave a wand and make a transgender person feel comfortable with his or her birth sex is mythical. Conservatives always suggest it, but it simply doesn't work that way, and it hasn't worked that way since the days of Lili Elbe and Christine Jorgensen.

  • ||

  • Roger McKinney||

    McCloskey is a great economist and I will forever be grateful for his series of books on bourgeois virtues. But he is simply wrong about gender. Gender confusion is a mental disorder and people like him need counseling, not support. McCloskey would be outraged if a socialist pulled the stunt he carries off in this article: he conflates state abuse of the issue with its morality and personal choice. No, we shouldn't use the power of the state to enforce traditional gender compliance. That is the correct libertarian position on the issue. But libertarians should have no say in the morality of the issue or in personal preferences. Libertarianism isn't the abandonment of all morality or personal preferences. That is libertinism, which people already confuse with libertarianism. Under libertarianism people are free to disagree on such issues as long as they don't try to use the state to force others to comply.

  • NCBlueJay||

    Gender confusion is a mental disorder and people like him need counseling, not support.

    But there is no proven form of counseling that has been shown to alleviate severe gender identity disorder in adults. It just doesn't exist. Gender nonconforming children often grow into healthy gay men and lesbians, which is why pumping them full of cross-sex hormones is dangerous and shameful, but adults whose gender dysphoria has persisted into adulthood aren't going to feel better just by talking to a counselor. Even trans-critical researchers and physicians like Ray Blanchard, Anne Lawrence, Kenneth Zucker, and Alice Dreger (who have all been mercilessly smeared by the leftist transgender lobby for their sensible positions) admit that transitioning is, in most adult cases, the only form of effective palliative care for people who experience the severe distress associated with gender dysphoria. Conservatives with little knowledge of the issue often act like there's some form of mythical counseling that will cure this illness. The research just doesn't back that claim up.

    This is not to say that trans women are "real women." As Anne Lawrence, a transsexual herself, wrote, they are "men trapped in men's bodies." Taking on the social role or the appearance of a certain gender doesn't make you that gender, and honest transsexuals like Lawrence, writer Miranda Yardley, and blogger Blaire White seem to understand that.

  • Roger McKinney||

    McCloskey does great damage to her cause for freedom. As the Polish professor Ryszard Legutko wrote in "The Demon in Democracy," communists always understood that Christianity was their greatest obstacle. Legutko is a modern day Tocqueville and Christianity is still the left's greatest roadblock. McCloskey seriously undermines Christianity with her argument. And Legutko points out that only under communism and democratic socialism (he calls it liberal democracy) are people forced to agree on every issue no matter how small.

    Ignoring the damage he does to Christianity, he undermines morality in general. Traditional morality always upheld the sanctity of private property, which is another reason socialists want to destroy traditional morality and invent their own. If private property has no moral foundation, then it is easily discarded for other values, such as equality of wealth. McCloskey's complaint that property and free markets produce wealth then has little value for those who hold equality of wealth as the highest morality.

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