Victoria Brownworth and J. Michael Bailey

Victoria Brownworth was on the 2003 selection committee for the Lambda Literary Awards. This committee voted to honor The Man Who Would Be Queen by J. Michael Bailey as a finalist for an award in the trans category in February 2004.

Victoria A. Brownworth

Author and critic
c/o Hazel McPhee
311 W. Seymour St. Philadelphia, PA 19144

On 24 February 2004, the selection committee inlcuding Victoria Brownworth voted to retain the nomination of this book over the objections of the trans community and other concerned parties around the world.

In March 2004, the committee reconsidered and withdrew this nomination.

I will publish any comments or responses from Victoria A. Brownworth regarding this matter as I receive them.

This is not the first time Ms. Brownworth has sided with anti-trans activists. Below is an article she published in 1981 after a trans woman was kicked out of a leadership position withing the local lesbian community. This parallels the same actions taken against Sandy Stone at Olivia Records, all done in the wake of Janice Raymond's The Transsexual Empire.

Philadelphia Gay News - May 29, 1981, pp, 22, 27

Transsexuals in the Lesbian Community: The Ultimate in Male Power-Tripping?

by Victoria A. Brownworth

On May 2, 1981 approximately 150 women met in West Philadelphia to vote in an emergency community meeting. The issue, which had been raised in March, was whether or not a post-operative transsexual, Leslie Phillips, could be a member of the leadership collective for the Lesbian Feminist Weekend (LFW) 1981. In a two-part vote it was decided that Phillips could neither be a member of the leadership collective nor could Phillips be a member of a committee for the LFW.

The vote seemed relatively decisive and simple: 75 percent of the group opposed Phillips. But in the course of the 3 1/2 –hour meeting many issues were raised and tempers and emotions ran hot. And a major question remains: Why did this meeting have to be called at all?

There are many who believe that gay men and women must band together in a show of solidarity of oppression. There are others who believe that all sexual minorities should band together. And there are still others who believe that all minority groups should band together against the common oppressor. But what are the facts? The most salient one is that oppression – the common denominator – finds its root in the original oppression, that of men over women. All other oppression within our culture devolves from that original act of enslavement. Every oppressed group in our society is “feminized” – that is, it is viewed as female. Gay men are oppressed because they are seen by the culture as having a feminine persona (no matter how “butch” they may appear). Women – politicized women – are aware of this evolution of power, of the hierarchy of oppression, and have attempted, within their own movement, to be sensitive to the needs of minority subgroups within that movement. The language of the women’s movement is inclusive, not exclusive.

And it is just that level of exclusivity that was raised as part of the Leslie Phillips issue. Should we, the lesbian community, allow a post-operative transsexual to rise to power within our lesbian ranks? If we say no are we being exclusive of another minority?

There were many women on Saturday afternoon who genuinely feared that. I believe that there were women who felt that this vote of what they saw as exclusivity could begin a trend, or at least set a precedent.

This is not what I believe. When we talk about the role of male-to-female transsexuals in the women’s movement as a whole and the lesbian movement in particular I feel we are talking about the ultimate in male power-tripping. It is difficult for me to believe in the principle of transsexualism in a culture in which the sexes are not equal. I believe that given the male-dominated state of society there are going to be men and women who do not identify with their given roles. But I cannot believe that a person who spends 30-some years reaping the benefits of being a white male in our society can understand what it has been – and is – for me, a woman, in this society. Phillips may be oppressed as a particular minority group but Phillips cannot know what i[t] was like for me or any other woman to grow up in a male-dominated culture where we are the lowest members in the caste system. I could not choose my oppression.

It is this issue, the issue of male privilege, which was ultimately what led many of the women at the meeting to vote as they did.

Many women asked the question: Is a post-operative transsexual really a woman?

The answer, of course, is yes and no. Phillips now has most of the physical components which the majority of the women at that meeting have, but does Phillips – can Phillips – understand what it is to be a woman simply because there has been a change in genitalia and secondary sexual characteristics? I think not. Phillips spent 30-some years acting in the role of the oppressor. I believe that it is in that role that Phillips continues to function. I believe that Phillips’ behavior in terms of Sisterspace and the LFW is manipulative in the same way that men manipulate women in every other culture. The question becomes: Why should the lesbian community allow itself to be manipulated by a man from within its own ranks?

The lesbian community in Philadelphia has a long and rather unhappy history as far as its ability to maintain organizations is concerned. Sisterspace and the LFW have managed to survive – but not without the very concerted and considerable effort of many women. Trust is a major issue for the community in Philadelphia and for those like myself who have been involved in that community for a long time we can remember back six years to Susan Saxe and the questions that her underground presence raised for us. We have been in contact with people with questionable motives before, but now we are strong enough to face the issues raised by the conflict.

I and many – 75 percent – of the women at the May 2 meeting had questions about Phillips’ motives. Why should Phillips want to be involved in the leadership of a lesbian group? Why, if Phillips is truly interested in the concerns of women, was this person not willing to work in a less sensitive position within the ranks of Sisterspace or LFW? Why would only a leadership position be sufficient? Is it because Phillips is used – as a man – to being able to be in power? Does Phillips feel that only a leadership in a lesbian group will be the final qualifies of “her” as a “woman”?

There are many of us within the community who are angry over this issue. The world is a male-dominated space, the minimal changes of the last 15 years notwithstanding. As a woman and as a lesbian – one who is not a separatist, per se, I might add – I feel that my space, my woman-only space, is a very precious commodity. (Not one white among us would consider intruding upon the space of blacks – yet men feel that they can intrude on women’s space, wherever it may be.) To me Phillips’ presence within my lesbian space is a violation. Women need to be concerned with the growth of women, the support of women, the strengthening of women. That is their – my – primary goal. Until we are strong within our own ranks we cannot effect change without. Until men recognize that the oppression of women comes from them and in turn causes their own oppression, there can be no lasting or meaningful humanity.

Final note: The facilitators of the May 2 meeting were excellent and helped to provide an atmosphere where women with very volatile feelings could express themselves without losing respect for one another. It was a painful and difficult meeting but we have learned from it and it shows how strong we can be when our interests, our welfare, is in question.

Ms. Brownworth is under the mistaken impression that Bailey is somehow being censored:

"Banning a book and censoring a book are two different things. While I hate to be the titular voice of the ACLU here, especially since I personally disagree with many aspects of Bailey's book, if we take the book off the list we are indeed censoring it. It doesn't matter what our reasons are."

Below is my 12 March 2004 thank-you note to Lambda Literary:

Thanks for revoking the Bailey nomination.

Please assure Victoria Brownworth that choosing not to honor a book does not constitute censorship. In fact, her earlier decision in honoring a book by a guy who claims gays are evolutionary mistakes and transwomen are a bunch of prostitutes and paraphilics has undoubtedly increased his sales and visibility. Renee Reed at the Minneapolis Public Library was motivated to add the book back to their LGBT pride list based on LLF’s February recommendation. See the letter below.

Ms. Brownworth should be very proud for making Bailey’s book more widely available and giving its eugenics ideology more credibility. She has personally helped to undo a lot of work undertaken to alert the public about the problems with this book.

The issue at hand is not censorship, but LLF’s commitment to recognizing quality. This book is not only defamatory, but does not even hold up to the minimal standards of scientific rigor. There were at least five more academically rigorous books on the topic last year. You made the right decision in not honoring Bailey’s.
I am sure this has been a harrowing ordeal, and I hope you feel the integrity of your process has remained intact.

Now I have to go fight a new battle— a couple of people on the Oscar nominating committee say Charlie's Angels 2: Full Throttle is being censored because it was passed up for Best Picture over their objections. Maybe I can put them in touch with Ms. Brownworth so they can commiserate.

Seriously, thanks again for doing the right thing.

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> > From: "Reed, Renee S" <RReed@mplib.org>
> > Subject: "The Man Who Would be Queen" and the MPL Pride booklist
> > Date: Wed, 10 Mar 2004 16:06:58 -0600
> > MIME-Version: 1.0
> > X-Mailer: Internet Mail Service (5.5.2653.19)
> > Content-Type: multipart/alternative;
> > boundary="----_=_NextPart_001_01C406EC.01A44D90"
> > Content-Length: 2266

Dear Correspondent,

Please forgive our delayed response. Your comments regarding the entry of the book entitled: The Man Who Would BE Queen by J. Michael Bailey on the Minneapolis Public Library "2003 Pride Booklist" were very much appreciated.

As the book was somewhat controversial, we received a variety of comments from readers causing the entry to be removed from the list momentarily and then reinstated. I have recently become aware that the Lambda Book Report has indicated that this same title is now a Lambda Literary Award finalist in the "transgender" category.

Your thoughtful and sensitive perspective was very much appreciated.

While we desire to be respectful and responsive to our readership, we also do not wish to present a singular view that suggests self-censoring. It is our hope that the annual "Pride Booklists" will be well-received by the GLBT Community as an acknowledgment of respect for a group of readers whose library needs and wishes are regarded as being important to us. Thank you for your communication and for sharing your feelings about a book title that elicited considerable emotional response amongst some who viewed the booklist. Your comments help us to better serve you and for that we are most grateful.

--- Renée Reed
Renée Reed
Patron Services Manager
Fine Arts, Social Sciences, Periodicals,
History & Special Collections
(612)630-6302
rreed@mplib.org
Minneapolis Public Library
250 S. Marquette Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55401-2188

Other resources

Lambda Literary Foundation index page

LINK: Full Lambda Literary Award coverage (by Professor Lynn Conway)