Denise Magner aka Kiira Triea: fabrications and hoaxes

This was written in November 2012 in response to published eulogies repeating lies and unsubstantiated claims made by Denise Magner.

Denise Magner, one of the handful of transgender people active in the “autogynephilia” movement, died in November 2012. I had to hold publication of this piece until Magner’s death could be independently confirmed. Magner was also known as Kiira Triea, and Denise Tree, and a host of fake online personae centered around the hoax website transkids.us. Anything Magner ever said or wrote needs to be independently confirmed by an uninvolved party before it is believed. Basic information she claimed about herself that I fact-checked against government and medical records turned out to be false. Even basic facts she claimed about herself that were printed in books and articles have turned out to be false. Throughout her life, she lied to journalists, to academics, to activists, to her closest friends, to her family, and to herself.

I’m sure the sexologists who exploited Magner are rushing to eulogize her in their house organ, the Archives of Sexual Behavior, so I thought I’d pre-emptively refute their testimonial about her as some teller of great truths. I have much more to say on this down the road, but this summary will suffice for now. Magner’s fraud is very complicated and spanned decades, so bear with me as I try to summarize.

Background: exploitation of transgender youth

Autogynephilia” is a disease made up by gay psychologist Ray Blanchard in 1989. Blanchard ran one of the last “gender clinics” in North America until his retirement. Blanchard’s mentor was preoccupied with dividing people into “homosexual” and “non-homosexual” categories, and Blanchard extended that preoccupation to his own studies of “male gender dysphorics, paedophiles, and fetishists.”

Blanchard claims transgender women are either “homosexual” men or “non-homosexual” men. He believes the second group in this two-type taxonomy is motivated to transition by “autogynephilia,” the thought or image of themselves as women, a paraphilia similar to sexual attraction to children (pedophilia), animals (zoophilia), corpses (necrophilia), rape (biastophilia), etc. The idea that transsexualism is fetishistic is not new; second-wave feminists like Janice Raymond claim that trans women “rape women's bodies by reducing the real female form to an artifact, appropriating this body for themselves.”

Blanchard did not get a lot of notice until his ideas were popularized in the 2003 book The Man Who Would Be Queen by J. Michael Bailey. You may recall Bailey is that professor at Northwestern University who used to teach their intro course on sexuality until he held an exploitative live “fucksaw” demonstration in 2011 as part of a course. The intro course is now taught in the gender studies department, because Northwestern’s entire psychology department has consistently demonstrated that they are unable to maintain an acceptable level of academic rigor or ethics in matters of human sexuality.

Bailey’s book is framed by the case of Danny Ryan, the world’s most famous published case report about a gender-nonconforming child. Bailey witnesses that Danny is no longer gender-nonconforming at the end of the book, suggesting that gender non-conformity is either just a phase or something that can be fixed through “curing” with reparative therapy espoused by Bailey and Blanchard’s colleague Kenneth Zucker. Danny’s case is used to bolster Bailey’s theories. Bailey’s ideological nemesis, sexologist John Money, also exploited a child with a similar case report that made his career. Money reported for decades on the successful case report of David Reimer, a boy raised as a girl after a circumcision accident in infancy destroyed his penis. Money used his famous case report to bolster his theories that gender roles are socially conditioned. Bailey holds the opposite view, so he created a case report with the opposite conclusion of Money’s. Money was later exposed as a fraud whose results were fabricated. Bailey’s case report has not been independently fact-checked by anyone to date. Given the remarkable parallels with Money, there’s an extremely strong likelihood that Bailey’s case report is a fabrication as well, although he denies it. Sexology is not well-respected inside or outside academia because the few ethical researchers in their field are apparently unwilling or unable to stop unethical ideologues from making things up out of whole cloth in order to promote themselves and their careers.

During his book tour, Bailey was giving an exploitative lecture using images of gender-variant children that provoked laughter from attendees. The book and Bailey’s exploitation of our children were a galvanizing moment for the trans community; we almost universally condemned both. One book on LGBT history said the successful protests against the book "represented one of the most organized and unified examples of transgender activism seen to date."

I played a role in the protests, and I have since been branded an enemy of “academic freedom” by Bailey’s allies for going after everyone involved and working to expose the facts in this sordid affair. The whole thing had pretty much died down until Bailey’s colleague, “ethicist” Alice Dreger, got mad that I was invited to speak at Northwestern University in 2006. Dreger unsuccessfully tried to suppress my speech (so much for “academic freedom”). After I mocked her attempts to stop me, she went nuts, spending over a year trying to get back at me by constructing her own version of the book protest. In 2008, Dreger unsuccessfully tried to suppress a panel refuting her version of the facts at an academic conference (so much for “academic freedom”).

In Bailey and Dreger’s world, “academic freedom” apparently means “being able to make up anything you want without consequence.” That explains why both were closely tied to Magner.

Denise Magner, the self-hating trans woman

Bailey did have a few supporters among transgender people. The backlash against our backlash was spearheaded by Magner. She and a few others found Blanchard’s transgender taxonomy appealing, usually because they believed it put them in a category that is more socially desirable. This taxonomy appeals to three small subgroups of transgender people:

1. People who would be considered “non-transsexual” under other taxonomies but self-identify as transsexual.

2. People who would be considered “non-homosexual” by proponents of this taxonomy but self-identify as “homosexual transsexual.”

3. People who would be considered “non-intersex” but self-identify as intersex.

Magner was part of the second and third subgroups, depending on when you asked her. Trans supporters of this taxonomy believe it improves their social standing, because these terms create a false hierarchy, from best to worst:

1. Intersex

2. “Homosexual transsexual” (or "primary" or "true" transsexual)

3. “Non-homosexual transsexual” (or "autogynephilic" or "secondary" transsexual)

4. “Pseudotranssexual”

Magner’s bogus life story changed so often you need a scorecard. She has always reminded me of a poor man’s Laura Albert, the middle-aged non-trans woman who made up transkid JT Leroy out of whole cloth and created an elaborate series of identities to keep her literary hoax going. When I saw the film Catfish I was again reminded that many people like Magner exist in the world. Magner was highly dysphoric and deeply troubled. That’s about all that can be said with certainty.

Will the real Denise Magner please stand up?

Magner, like most of the major figures in the “autogynephilia” movement, was a hoarder living in abject poverty, but she had an extra level of idiosyncrasy. When she would fixate on something, she would appropriate it as her identity. When she got fixated on the computer programming language Linux, she claimed to be from Finland, where the Linux founder is from, and took a Finnish-sounding name. She created fake friends with Finnish names. When she was into music, she created fake bands she claimed to be in. When she got fixated on intersex issues, she started insinuating herself into that community, creating fake personae like Kiira Triea and Arika Aeirt. When she got fixated on underage and young adult transgender youth, she created several she claimed to know, even going so far as to set up multiple USENET and LiveJournal accounts and ultimately the website transkids.us, to entice them to contact her and befriend her.

Transkids.us quickly became a repository of attacks on Bailey’s enemies, and Bailey and his allies referred to it heavily in their work, as if it were legitimate. Bailey didn’t limit his exploitation to unconsenting trans youth. He actively sought out attention-craving eccentric adults like Magner to exploit, in order to further his argument that transgender people are mentally disordered. Bailey ultimately co-authored a paper with Magner, mainly a rehashing of the attacks found on transkids.us.

Magner was part of the “lost generation” of transgender people; those who transitioned between the late 1960s to the late 1980s. Many of these people were forced to go through one of a few regressive “gender clinic” programs in North America. Before the rise of the gender clinic, trans people found a sympathetic physician and got the health services they requested. These centralized clinics were started by people who had various agendas. Many of these clinics were interested in sex offenders and were looking for data on chemical and surgical castration while skirting the ethical problems of unconsented castration. Others had various “nature vs. nurture” theories about sexuality, sex roles, or gender roles, and they saw trans people as a great way to further their aims.

One such clinic was the Johns Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic. John Money, who ran the Clinic, invented the term “gender role” and had a major role in promoting the term paraphilia for non-normative sexual interests. It’s not clear whether Magner actually attended the clinic as an adult, but she was certainly not there as an adolescent. Magner’s aunt Nancy Henley studied at Johns Hopkins, so Magner may have just fixated on Hopkins and appropriated the identity as symbolic of her alienation. One of these days I may get around to writing a piece called “How HIPAA Helps Hoaxers” to discuss the problem of people like Magner who appropriate intersex identities because they see it as socially desirable. Because of the way medical privacy laws are now structured, people like Magner and Bailey and Zucker know they can make up whatever they want and no one will be able to refute them. At any rate, Magner was connected with Johns Hopkins via her aunt and via her computing skills, and she had an email account there in the early days of the internet. That’s when she first started creating fake online “friends,” a habit that was a full-blown compulsion within a decade.

Besides being a compulsive liar and compulsive hoarder, Magner had other compulsions as well. She did a stint with Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems. Her drug use led to a pattern of idealizing, then devaluing relationships. Like many unstable people, Magner lived on the verge of homelessness at times.  She had some sort of self-described breakdown in 1993, and things continued to get worse from there, exacerbated by her ability to use the internet to play out her anger via multiple personae. I had not had a lot of dealings with low-functioning people like Magner until Bailey’s book fiasco, but they really came out of the woodwork for that dramafest.

The eulogies

The first eulogy of Magner I read was by a transgender woman in the “autogynephilia” movement named Candice Brown Elliott. Elliott, also known as "Cloudy," promotes “autogynephilia” via the website transkids.us and via a blog called Sillyolme. The transkids.us site was initially started by Magner and a couple of other transgender women in the “autogynephilia” movement, and it is currently maintained by Elliott. Magner and Elliott are kindred spirits: both have been heavily involved in computing and technology, a hallmark of “autogynephilia” according to their psychologist friend Bailey (see page 192 of his book and run your own test score for Elliott). Both Magner and Elliott are part of the “lost generation” and both claim to have attended gender clinics around the same time. Both have insisted they represent transgender youth and insisted they would not be classified as “autogynephilic,” even though it’s painfully obvious both would be labeled as such by proponents of Blanchard’s taxonomy. Elliott describes a sad encounter when she flew Magner out for a visit. Elliott is clearly not the best judge of character. One of her other “friends” stole one of her airplanes a couple of days after I wrote about Elliott’s involvement in the transkids hoax, eventually ditching it hundreds of miles away and being arrested.

Dreger wrote the other eulogy I read: http://alicedreger.com/losing_kiira.html

Dreger and Magner are also kindred spirits. Both are not-too-clever charlatans who have managed to dupe some people with their assertions. Dreger wrote a book about intersex issues (she nicknamed herself “the hermaphrodite monger”). Magner became fixated on intersex as a concept at the same time Dreger was doing her work, and Magner assumed intersex as an identity in the early 1990s.

Magner sought and got attention and money from Elliott and Dreger through skillful manipulation. Dreger is the kind of gullible chump that people like Magner seek out. Blinded to the truth by their own incompetence. Highly susceptible to flattery. Extremely thin-skinned. Willing to believe anything from anyone who agrees with them. Willing to believe anything from anyone who disagrees with a perceived enemy.

Magner claimed she was born in 1964. She was actually born in 1951. She claimed she was at Johns Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic in the mid-1970s, having genital surgery at age 14. She was not at Johns Hopkins at age 14. She did not have surgery at age 14.  She did not know or interact with John Money’s famous case report David Reimer in any way. There is no independent evidence that Magner was ever even at the Johns Hopkins clinic or the Psychohormonal Research Unit. It’s entirely possible Magner cobbled together her story from the work of her aunt, Nancy Henley, who got her Ph.D. there and went on to research women’s issues as a career. Magner made countless other bogus claims about herself, many of which she later tried to scrub from the internet when the lies piled up so deep they began to contradict each other.

I have received many letters from people duped and manipulated by Magner, and I have published a few previously. Here’s what one person told me when she met Magner at her home, expecting to meet an edgy artist and activist and her many young trans friends like Janelle, Inoue, and Magner’s main fake persona, Stephanie Alejandra Velasquez, or Ale. Here’s how she described what she found upon arriving at Magner’s:

I think Kiira is quite pitiful actually, her house was in a huge mess and she probably suffers from depression. I had to put in quite abit of effort to help her clean it up :X But essentially me and my friend cut ties because we felt disturbed as the whole fracas drew on. I wouldn't be surprised if Kiira roped in others after us... but yeah. I think she's like a lonely old lady in some respects. :(

The one thing I always remember being shocked by together with my friend was that how old Ale sounded on the phone. She did do an about turn after admitting both ale and janie were fake... I'd be honestly surprised if both ale and janie are real. Its just a little disturbing though that she goes through so much effort to maintain so many identities. :X

I think she's essentially a nice person who messed around with drugs and alcohol and just spiralled into some bipolar, schizo state.

Its complicating but... I'm not sure why after Kiira/Ale talked to me I got convinced on stuff and like somehow my mind was mentally framed to like side her views. She's very good in asking questions about me and deflecting those about her. Its weird now, instead of feeling *hateful* i actually pity her. She's extremely perceptive in picking out my insecurities? And like somehow I told her everything about my life etc. I feel, it might be some convenient attempt to find "a place".

I seriously don't understand why Kiira does why she does. The weird thing I feel though as much as she is a scam, she actually believes what she talks about *despite* all appearances and behavior. But yes, she is quite good in manipulating people with pseudo empathy of sorts, that you'd want to believe the good in her.

This brings me back to Dreger, the incompetent patsy who desperately wanted to believe Magner because it helped her career. Dreger plied her with attention and money, the two things Magner needed most, right up to the end in exchange for helping her with her career by giving her a veneer of legitimacy. Dreger even cited Magner and her fake personae in her published work as if they were different people. Dreger is the kind of needy person who loses her virginity to an exploitative high school teacher. Bailey is also very good at this form of seduction with former students, and his manipulation of Dreger and her desire to please him seem very similar to her high school behavior. More on Dreger's weird fixation with presenting herself as sexually desirable in the future.

Sadly, Dreger is what passes for an academic these days. A clueless hack who allows people like Bailey and Magner to continue their lies unchallenged because she is too incompetent or lazy to do the most rudimentary fact-checking. She’s also blinded by her own histrionic self-righteousness. She has made a name for herself in the age of trolling with academic drive-bys, where she tries to stir up old controversies to make a quick buck and get the attention she craves as much as Magner did. Daddy was probably a strict disciplinarian, and Dreger found the best way to get attention was to get in trouble. (I’ll tell you a funny story about Dreger’s brief undergraduate stint at Georgetown one day.) Dreger, like a lot of Christians, thrives on feeling persecuted. That's why she keeps picking fights. She can’t get anything done unless she feels persecuted/angry, so she tries to pick fights with people who threaten her livelihood or veneer of credibility.

Magner’s manipulation from beyond the grave

It’s probably bad to laugh out loud at a eulogy, but I am amazed at how Magner is able to play Dreger like a fiddle even from beyond the grave. When Dreger tried to pick a fight with another person, Heino Meyer-Bahlburg of Columbia University, Magner knew just how to manipulate Dreger, who writes:

“Kiira and her bandmates recorded a version of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” that exactly captured the terror and anger we both felt. I must have listened to it a thousand times, especially the part we both knew was about the way she felt toward Money and Heino.”

Because Magner was such a pathological liar, I immediately determined that this cover song was not recorded by Magner and her friends. Magner had no lasting friends, and she never recorded music professionally (she just hoarded second-hand gear). Magner appropriated the song she gave to Dreger from the metal band Nonpoint. In fact, here’s the version Dreger has on her playlist:

That’s right, Dreger listened to “Magner’s” song “a thousand times,” never once stopping to wonder how a 60-something reclusive hoarder and drug addict might be able to create a professionally-produced studio recording. That’s a perfect analogy for what’s going on here. Magner was such a skillful liar and fraud, and Dreger is so incompetent and blinded to the truth, that it didn’t even occur to Dreger she’s been duped by Magner for over 20 years (and counting). Dreger asks rhetorically,

“How many times did we talk about the ‘pack of lies,’ Kiira?”

Such staggering irony. Magner made no deathbed confession of her lies, apparently, and Dreger will of course never bother finding the truth because it will make her look like an even bigger dimwit.

Why is Dreger so easy to exploit? Why is she so eager to spread misinformation and lies without checking them? Everything Magner claimed about her life was a lie or exaggeration designed to manipulate people like Dreger. Apparently Magner’s first lie was such a big success that she had an encore performance of playing Dreger like a fool. Dreger writes in her hagiography of Magner:

“A couple of months before they finally made the terrible diagnosis of cancer all through her body, she wrote and recorded a new song, “Kali’s Day,” a song she told me was about her and progestin, and simultaneously about me and dex. I’m crying too hard to explain that whole song. I’ll just say here that the refrain is this:

Is this the end of the story finally coming?
Is this the end of the story, finally?
It’s the longest way to the shortest ending.
It’s the longest way to the shortest ending.”

I will chuckle the rest of my life when I hear either song, which any simpleton with an internet connection could quickly ascertain Magner stole from the same band who did the Phil Collins cover. Magner’s song “Kali’s Day” is of course “The Shortest Ending,” also recorded by Nonpoint:
 

When I think of Dreger crying as she pecked out that fact-free eulogy of Magner to this song, I marvel at what a virtuouso scam artist Magner was. Magner appropriated these songs just as she appropriated her fake intersex identity and the biographical details of young trans women she tricked into befriending her. Dreger then makes up a fake history for the song, like so many other fake histories she has concocted in the past few years. It’s the perfect analogy for Dreger’s life's work.

Looking ahead

Magner’s lifetime of lies is over, a sad end to a pathetic, angry life. I take no joy in her suffering or death, and I would not wish cancer on anyone. However, I am not going to whitewash the fact that she was a very troubled person who caused a lot of harm to the youth in my community, certainly more harm than good, and she continually hurt the people who wanted to help her the most by lying to them and manipulating them. There’s no nice way to say that.

To quote Nonpoint, Is this the end of the story, finally? Not yet, I’m afraid. J. Michael Bailey is an even bigger and better liar than Magner, and he’s been playing Dreger even more masterfully. Maybe Dreger will soon wake up to the sunk cost fallacy of doubling down on Bailey, and she’ll rat him out to save herself. Or maybe she’ll wait to go down with him. Time will tell. I have some other truths to divulge on all this, but I am holding it back for now. There’s going to be a moment in the future when the time is right. To quote Phil Collins, I can feel it coming in the air...

In the meantime, I’ll end with what I told Dreger to her face in 2008 when she tried to suppress an academic panel refuting her bogus “history” of the Bailey affair:

Danny Ryan doesn’t exist, and when all that comes out, that’s when your career is over.

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Originally published 12 November 2012