Book Review:

The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism, by J. Michael Bailey

Reviewed by Christine Johnson

The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism is a book that claims to explore “many of the stereotypes society typically associates with gay men and transsexuals (Pinnel, 2003).” Unfortunately, despite the claims of the publisher and the author, many of the conclusions that Bailey claims have been “proven” by science are little more than over-generalizations that are a veiled attempt to disparage transsexuals under the guise of providing a theory of understanding. By focusing entirely on feminine males and male-to-female transsexuals, the author is able to avoid many of the unpleasant complications that would clearly arise if he were required to explain the converse case: masculine females and female-to-male transsexuals.

The preface of the book is telling; Bailey begins by telling readers about an effeminate man, Edwin, who sells cosmetics at an upscale department store. Immediately we are told by the author that:

Knowing his occupation and observing him briefly and superficially were sufficient, together, for me to guess confidently about aspects of Edwin’s life that he never mentioned. I know what he was like as a boy. I know what kind of person he is sexually attracted to. I know what kinds of activities interest him and what kinds do not. …Although I am virtually certain that my conclusions are correct, they fly in the face of mainstream academic opinion. (Bailey, 2003, p. x)

While the author claims to know much, unfortunately he provides little evidence to support his claims. In most cases, the author simply states that such and such a fact is true, and that if you do not believe it, it is because you simply are not as educated as the author, or do not possess his deep level of insight into what makes people tick. For example, in the preface, he tells us more about Edwin, saying: “I do not ask Edwin about his childhood because I do not need to (Bailey, 2003, p. x).” He then goes on to relate what he believes happened in Edwin’s youth, but every reader should be aware that science is not the same as belief. Science requires facts, it requires evidence, and it requires constant integration of newly available data to ensure that existing hypotheses are still valid. Science is not about making blanket claims, unsupported by facts or evidence.

The evidence that is provided is very selective in terms of what is included and what is omitted. These omissions seem to be calculated to reinforce the conclusions of the author. For instance, Bailey discusses Simon LeVay’s research that demonstrated a difference between the brains of homosexual and heterosexual men (Bailey, 2003, pp. 119-121), but does not present similar findings in transsexuals that demonstrated a similarity between the brains of male-to-female transsexuals and women (Zhou et. al., 1995; Kruijver et. al., 2000). This omission is rather significant given the claim of Bailey that “there has been essentially no research on boys like Danny [potential transsexual] that is directly biological (Bailey, 2003, p. 54).”

While Bailey purports to provide an explanatory framework for understanding effeminate men and transsexuals, much of the text is aimed at social control of transsexuals. Drawing upon the opinions of so-called “experts” such as Ken Zucker, Ray Blanchard, and George Rekers, all of whom believe that transsexualism should be avoided at all costs, Bailey seems to concur that transsexualism is a mental pathology. In the section discussing Zucker’s views, Bailey tells us that “Zucker thinks that an important goal of treatment is to help children accept their birth sex and to avoid becoming transsexual (Bailey, 2003, p. 30).” Zucker’s treatment regimen reads very much like a brainwashing program: 1) use of united pressure from family members to repeatedly tell the child that they are a boy, not a girl, 2) help the boy adjust to the idea that “he cannot become a girl,” teach him and constantly reinforce male comportment, and 3) take away all toys such as Barbies and other items typically associated with girls (Bailey, 2003, pp. 30-31). That is, to make him become a man regardless of the results on the child’s self-esteem or identity conflicts introduced by this procedure. Bailey claims that Zucker’s approach is “less punitive” than other regimens, yet it is not possible to separate Zucker’s belief that transsexualism is a “bad outcome” from his desire to use manipulative techniques of behavior modification (Bailey, 2003, p. 31). In my view, these techniques border on child abuse.

I would find this idea humorous if the results were not potentially so tragic. Many authors have written about the use of psychology and sociology to mold members of society into “more desirable forms.” One of the most cogent was by Aldous Huxley, who wrote:

To the question quis custodiet custodies – Who will mount guard over our guardians, who will engineer the engineers?- the answer is a bland denial that they need any supervision. There seems to be a touching belief among certain Ph.D.’s in sociology that Ph.D.’s in sociology will never become corrupted by power. Like Sir Galahad’s, their strength is the strength of ten because their heart is pure – and their heart is pure because they have taken six thousand hours of social studies. (Huxley, 1958, p. 27)

What Huxley is referring to here is the abuse of power by so-called experts, who like Bailey, claim that they know the real truth and that if we simply were as able as they, we would come to the same conclusions. In terms of transsexuals, Bailey tells that us that there are only two types. There is the homosexual transsexual who has a history of overtly feminine behavior, a career or job that is stereotypically female, and is sexually attracted only to men. He claims that these individuals are simply gay men who have gone over the edge, as it were. The second type is the “autogynephilic” transsexual, who is generally older at the time of transition, has a career or job that is traditionally male, and who apparently is sexually attracted to herself.

Going back to Huxley, he asks: “Can we accept the theories on which the social engineers base their practice, and in terms of which they justify their manipulations of human beings? (Huxley, 1958, p. 27) This is an excellent question that is highly relevant in this case. Consider the following: “They [Bailey’s undergraduate students] are especially hesitant to support surgery for nonhomosexual transsexuals, once they learn about autogynephilia (Bailey, 2003, p. 206).” This begs several questions: Is there really a distinct category of people that are autogynephilic? Is it possible to distinguish between the two categories based on something more objective than career choices or sexual orientation? In my opinion, I think Bailey has over-generalized a bit too far, and this will likely have consequences for any transsexual who does not neatly fit his definition of homosexual transsexual. It will force those who do not fit into Bailey’s framework to lie in order to get surgery, thus creating a requirement for deception that is intimately related to these unproven and un-provable theories. Without the theory, there is no need to lie; the need to lie is a direct consequence of the existence of the theory, not a personality feature of transsexuals in general.

In one curious passage, Bailey claims that “learning more about the origins of transsexualism will not get us much closer to curing it (Bailey, 2003, p. 207).” This statement flies in the face of common sense. Knowing the cause of a particular condition is the basis for any cure. For example, cancer research is aimed at understanding the reasons why cells divide in an uncontrolled manner, and attempts to cure cancer are predicated upon this knowledge. Using the cancer analogy, Bailey’s claim would translate as: learning more about the origins of cancer will not get us much closer to curing it, which most people will find nonsensical. Unfortunately, Bailey’s views will likely garner widespread media attention, further stigmatizing all transsexuals, and in this regard, he has done the transsexual community a grave disservice by publishing this book of conjecture and innuendo which claims to be based upon science.

Christine Johnson
Olympia, Washington
http://www.transadvocate.org

Christine Johnson, BSEE '90, MSEE '95, is a Candidate in the Master of Environmental Studies Program at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.

References:

Pinnel, R. (2003). Gay, Straight Or Lying? Science Has The Answer. Retrieved March 26, 2003, from http://ad01.outinamerica.com/cgi-bin/advertpro/banners.fpl?region=301&bust=236667&keyword=NULL

Bailey, J. M. (2003). The Man Who Would Be Queen. Washington, D.C.: Joseph Henry Press.

Zhou, J.-N., Hofman, M. A., Gooren, L. J. G., & Swaab, D. F. (1995). A Sex Difference in the Human Brain and its Relation to Transsexuality. Nature, 378, 68-70.

Kruijver, F. P. M., Zhou, J.-N., Pool, C. W., Hofman, M. A., Gooren, L. J. G., & Swaab, D. F. (2000). Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleus. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 85(5), 2034-2041.

Huxley, A. (2000). Brave New World Revisited (Perennial Classics ed.). New York: HarperCollins. (Original work published 1958)