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

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #104, Winter 2004.

Review by Marisa Richmond, Ph.D.

Transsexuality has become an increasingly popular topic of study by many therapists. Many support groups are contacted, often by graduate students seeking to expand their knowledge in a field that is not well-understood by outsiders. More and more, members of the transgender community are speaking for themselves through books and journals, produced both for the transgender community and various professional communities. One new entry in this field is by
J. Michael Bailey, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Northwestern Univer-sity. Bailey?s contribution to the field is, however, marked by numerous snide remarks about transsexuals and shows an incredible disdain for the community he purports to support while simultaneously using very poor methodology in making his claims.
It does not take Bailey long to begin perpetuating negative stereotypes as if they are absolute reality. He begins by calling Ken Zucker?s Gender Identity Disorders in Children and Adolescents
?the most comprehensive text written
on this topic? (p. 29). ?Zucker thinks
that an important goal of treatment is
to help the children accept their birth
sex and avoid becoming transsexual?
(p. 30). Bailey continues by claiming,
?I have not heard anyone argue that transsexualism is an acceptable outcome for feminine boys? (pp. 31-32), but further states that Zucker ?is the first to acknowledge that no scientific studies currently support the effectiveness of what he does? (p. 34). If so, then it would seem Zucker?s work is not as comprehensive as Bailey claims and is thus suspect as a resource for therapists.

Bailey also repeatedly ignores intellectual debate on numerous issues. He stated that ?gay thinkers? (a term he does not define) reject the use of Gender Identity Disorder in DSM-IV (p. 23), but he does not mention the role of transgender therapists and physicians who share this view and are active professional participants in many relevant fields. Later, in presenting a couple of intersex cases, he ignores the growing debate over such surgery as groups like the Intersex Society of North America have become increasingly organized in expressing their opposition to it.

One key subject of Bailey?s book is a young man named Danny Ryan. Ryan, however, is not a patient of Bailey?s, and Bailey even acknowledges in the epilogue that he met Ryan only once. That does not prevent him from drawing conclusions. Before he ever met Danny Ryan, Bailey concluded that he was likely to grow up as a gay male. He based this upon second-hand descriptions. He believes this is sufficient, since ?many objective studies have been done on this question? (p. 61). In the book, he does not provide a single footnote. Through-out the book, he does not have any scientific studies, and lists only one autobiography, Quentin Crisp?s The Naked Civil Servant.

Bailey repeatedly draws conclusions without presenting any original research or supportive evidence for his claims. Among them are that ?we can conclude that gay men move in feminine ways? (p. 76), ?women are somewhat more neurotic than men,? and ?Gay men are also more neurotic than straight men? (both p. 82). He also continually makes claims without considering the societal pressures under which many people live and attempt to conform. When he states that gay men and women have high rates of depression, he rejects the idea that homophobia and sexism have anything to do with that (p. 82). He further claims that ?women have nothing to gain by becoming aroused at the sight of a naked man? (p. 94), discounting the more
permissive attitudes towards men viewing pictures of naked women while actively discouraging the reverse. When he stated, ?we haven?t seen flocks of gay men seeking to become parents? (p. 99), he ignores the facts that society not only discourages stable relationships by banning ?same-sex? marriages but that many states also have laws which effectively ban gay males from adopting. Most outrageous of all may be his claim, made without providing any demographic data to support this conclusion, that gay men are more sexually promiscuous and less monogamous than straight men or women of any orientation (p. 100).

Bailey seeks to define homosexuality in two broad categories: transgender and egalitarian (pp. 134-135). He argues that the former is more prevalent around the world than the latter. Such groups as the Native American Berdache, Hijras of India, Mahu of Tahiti, and the Xanith of Omani have been studied, but he does not even consider the possibility that ?egalitarian homosexuals? sometimes faces obstacles of their own in various cultures, which may permit more obvious expression by the ?transgender homosexuals.? Further-more, he says that when a ?transgender homosexual? is in a relationship, ?only one of the partners is truly gay? (p. 137). Here, Bailey shows a lack of understanding of the diversity of gender expression and sexual identity. Many cultures have recognized multiple categories of each, but Bailey does not.
It does not get any better when he turns his attention to transsexuality. He focuses on two categories of transsexuals?homosexual and autogynephilic?but these categories, which were first identified in 1991 by Ray Blanchard, are not universally recognized. He relegates any mention of debate on this matter to a half-page in his bibliography (p. 218).

He claims on two separate occasions
that most people do not know a transsexual (pp. 142 and 192) and claims transsexuals ?work as waitresses, hairdressers, receptionists, strippers and prostitutes,
as well as in many other occupations? (p. 142). He could have also included doctors, teachers, engineers, attorneys, peace officers, ministers, journalists, and many other professions instead of focusing his attention solely on service and sex industry jobs.

In his look at autogynephilic transsexuals, Bailey states many ?have claimed that they chose stereotypically masculine occupations to hide their feminine side, but I doubt this? (p. 168). Why? A true scholar who hears the same thing repeatedly has to follow the evidence. Bailey does not. He goes on: ?It should be clear by now that the ?gender, not sex? part of the transsexual narrative is false for autogynephiles, whether they are transsexuals or merely cross-dressers? (p. 180). Once again, he has demonstrated an unprofessional disdain for the feelings of those who identify as transsexual or are
?merely? cross-dressers.

Bailey?s analysis of homosexual transsexuals is based on his narrow approach to them. He admits that he found his subjects in Chicago area bars at 2 am (p. 141). He never even suggests that there can be limitations to a study group this narrow. He just assumes they are representative of all. Bailey says many live by criminal means, shoplifting evening gowns, since they could never afford to buy them otherwise (p. 185), ignoring the possibility that many have respectable day jobs, while others may have skills as seamstresses. He concludes by stating that ?nearly all the homosexual transsexuals I know work as escorts after they have their surgery? (p. 210), again discounting the possibility that many more do not interact within the community after surgery and may have assimilated successfully, making them less likely to be found through the bar scene.

Bailey?s point in writing this book is exposed near the end, when he states, ?Learning more about the origins of transsexualism will not get us much
closer to curing it? (p. 207). For a person who claims to be supportive, his notion that transsexualism or crossdressing is a mental illness in need of a cure makes this work one of the more offensive ones in recent years to come from one who hides behind the mask of academic respectability. Bailey?s book not only will not go down as one of the better works in the field, it will almost certainly be seen years from now, in many scholarly fields, as one of the worst.

If you are looking for a well-researched, informative book about transsexuals, one good work is the recent offering by Joanne Meyerowitz, How Sex Changed:
A History of Transsexuality in the United States (2002, Harvard University Press).