Posts Tagged ‘the man who would be queen’

Gender Born, Gender Made

May 29, 2011

Did you know that about a month ago I made a promise to myself to update this blog twice a week with at least five hundred words to ensure that people would read it regularly- so it didn’t become another bead on the necklace (it goes around the earth FIVE TIMES) of blogs I’ve started and then abandoned- wrote that last post, and immediately started a hundred books, ensuring that I wouldn’t post anything ever again? It’s true. Way to provide free content in order to hook readers so you’ve got a built-in audience for when you get around to publishing a book, Imogen. Keep your bridges ROTTING, more like.

Anyway, I wanted to tell you that I did finish Gender Born, Gender Made, and I’m not sure what to do except to tell you that it is fantastic and I want it to become a big deal but now that Oprah’s cancelled, I don’t know how to make that happen. Maybe have Ms Ehrensaft go on NPR and argue with Ken Zucker again? I know I wouldn’t want to do that. And Dr Phil isn’t gonna have her on, if he’s still got a show. But despite some pretty astounding missteps that all fall under the heading “Diane Ehrensaft is writing about trans/gender variant/gender creative children, not adults”- she doesn’t really understand what hormones do, she pretty much sucks at pronouns, and at one point she quotes a fantastically misogynistic/transmisogynistic endocrinologist saying some pretty gross shit about women who transition after puberty, doing a pretty bad job of making the point that folks should be allowed to transition young if they want to, instead of forced to repress it until their bodies have matured into a gender they’re not stoked about- her book still made me cry weepy “I can’t believe we’re making this kind of progress” tears on the Megabus from Boston to Philadelphia, like, lots of times.

It’s interesting to read her make a lot of arguments that social scientists, cultural studies folks and queer theorists have been making for at least the decade I’ve been keeping up with this stuff, but for her to put it into a psychological perspective. Like, some of the way she describes some pretty nuanced stuff is very bull in a china shop, but she still comes around to pretty much the correct conclusions (correctness, of course, being relative in situations where there’s rational debate- which this is not, as Ms. Ehrensaft points out in her scathing and satisfying critiques of the anti-scientific, appalling, basically aversion therapy techniques that Ken Zucker and his colleagues sell) with respect to giving kids, youth and folks under 18 agency, trusting that they are not idiots, and acknowledging that even if a kid *was* wrong when they said they wanted to try out a new gender, then decided to switch back, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.


“Hey remember that time we called you ‘he’ for six months?”

“Haha, oh yeah.”

Who cares, y’know? Especially since Ms Ehrensaft takes the time to talk about how most of the things you’re going to do for a gender creative (I’m not gonna lie: while I agree with her that the term ‘gender creative’ does a better job of decentralizing cissexual experiences than ‘gender variant,’ it also still feels kinda hippie in my mouth) are not permanent- like for example that most surgeons won’t perform trans surgeries on people under 18, which is complicated for sure and also y’know. Something to talk about.

So by the end of her book, she’s built a convincing argument for trusting kids whose genders aren’t the ones assigned to them at birth: kids are not stupid, being trans does not have to be framed as a negative thing, here is what puberty postponement looks like, and here are a bunch of specific stories about what real trans kids are like.

This is not what J Mike Bailey writes about in The Man Who Would Be Queen; it’s a sober, non-sensationalistic popular psychology book about actual trans and genderqueer youth. While it touches on sexuality, it’s not *about* sexuality, and it doesn’t frame transsexuality as *about* fucking, either. It’s clear that Ms Ehrensaft has, like, spent time in rooms, listening to these kids, instead of making demands on them.

So how do we make it blow up? I dunno, man, go fuckin buy one, read it, and give it to somebody when you’re done with it. Borrow my copy and give it a glowing review on goodreads and librarything. Demand a second edition without the fuckin ‘Tootsie’ comment. Write Ms Ehrensaft and say thank you. Whatevs.

I think the feeling I’m left with is one of relief: that this book finally exists. It’s not perfect but it feels like a huge step in a direction I’d given up on hoping we’d go in. Like, okay, do you want to hear a story? This is how busted health care for trans people is. Anecdotally.

Lots of trans folks get their hormones from a pharmacy called Strohecker’s, in Portland OR. They compound their own testosterone and estrogen, and when you inject, you can stretch a forty dollar bottle out for a few months, which keeps hormone costs, y’know, more manageable than they might otherwise be, especially considering the fact that it’s a pain to convince insurance to cover them. So, a friend called me up the other day to ask, “when you get your prescription filled at Strohecker’s, do you need to send a prescription for needles, too?”

We talked about it for a minute and I was like “I don’t remember ever sending a needle prescription to them, but my doctor might just have included it” before I realized: uh, we could just ask them. Like, call the pharmacy and ask. The process of getting ahold of hormones and getting them into our bodies- medicine- is so occult, mysterious, and shot through with mystery, manipulation and scamming the system that two people who’ve been doing it for years are still more used to getting our information from each other than we are from our health care providers that it took us a ten-minute phone conversation to realize that it was even an option.


Things like that just make a clear-eyed reevaluation of the way trans healthcare gets done so vital. Because she’s writing about minors, the subject of sex (as in fucking) is pretty much off the table, which means Ms Ehrensaft has written a particularly effective critique of primary transsexual/secondary transsexual/autogynephilic theories of boring old patriarchal, het cis dude-centered trans health care. So thanks.


The Man Who Would Be Queen

July 8, 2010

You guys. Oh. My. God. Do you know this book? Okay, basically, this guy- J Michael Bailey- and a couple other people who blurb this book, or whom he cites in this book, they are in charge of deciding how to frame and classify transsexuality in the upcoming DSM V, ie the official Dungeon Master’s Guide of Psychology. Okay.

So, notoriously, to anyone who cares at all about trans people, these folks are clearly wingnuts. But since they have PhDs in psychology from respectable schools, and people who are trans/care about trans people don’t, these people get to just make shit up and call it science. You guys, it is AMAZING. This book? Apparently this book is still, seven years later, considered the definitive study/work on transsexuality. But seriously?


This book is like the fucking I Ching of heterosexist, cissupremicist bullshit. You can turn to pretty much any page and find something completely fucked up, based on the assumptions you can expect from a straight white guy who really, really thinks he’s doing good work but who really, really actually is just propping up his own place in the hierarchy of gender and sexuality.

It’s amazing.

In the introduction, he’s like “there’s this guy who works at the makeup counter in a store near where I live, and you can tell by looking at him that he’s a total fag, and that he totally takes it in the ass, and that he got beat up when he was little, and all this other stuff. And maybe this guy is going to become a girl!” Because when you take out the cusswords, that makes it science! What the fuck is that “maybe this guy is going to become a girl” part, you are asking yourself, and I’m asking myself, too, because it doesn’t go anywhere. This person doesn’t transition in the book. J Mike is just thinking that maybe it’ll happen, because one kind of trans women is just gay men- like J Mike- assumes this guy is- who are SOSOSO feminine that they have to become women. And they were that feminine when they were little. Or something.

The he tells us about how, in the last couple decades, different fields of science have separated out gender and sexuality, but that’s wrong, and actually gender and sexuality are pretty much the same thing. He backs up his point not with any numbers or science, but just ’cause he can tell. It’s obvious! Come on! Well, okay, actually, he does back it up at one point with this evidential gem: one time he and his ten-year-old son went to the movies, and his son heard some dude talking like a fag behind them, and he (the son) was like “dude! Dad! That guy’s a fag!” And J Mike was like, “I know, son, I know, and maybe he will transition.”

That’s the kind of evidence we get in this book. Like sometimes J Mike will make up a survey, and give it to some gay men he met in bars, or through personal ads, or he will make up a survey and then give it to some trans women he met in a bar, and that will suffice for evidence for him. Except, y’know, 1. Self-reporting is WEAK SCIENCE, and two, when the self-reporting doesn’t support the privileged things J Mike is trying to argue, he just explains that the gay men and trans women (who are men, by the way; “hang out and you’ll get used to it”) are LYING and that his thesis is right. Which is WEAK SCIENCE.

We could talk about how in the introduction he says “somebody should write a book about masculine women and trans men, but this is not that book,” except then he brings up masculine women/trans men whenever his ideas about them support his theories, but I don’t want to talk about it.

The first third of the book is about boys who are feminine, and the main thing we learn is that J Mike thinks queer scientists who are actually invested in these kids’ lives are too wishy washy, arguing that these kids are fine and it’s the culture that oppresses them, but that also right wing people who think these kids’ parents should just make ’em man up are also wrong, so the correct thing to do with a feminine son- the middle path, the neither conservative nor liberal answer, the only fair thing to do- is to absolutely refuse to let these kids express any kind of femininity at all, no matter how much they beg or cry, no matter how much it breaks their parents’ hearts to see the pain in their children’s eyes. This, somehow, is different from the right-wing/conservative idea that you shouldn’t let boy children express femininity. Also, the reason that the parents he’s talking about are talking to him about this stuff in the first place is that they’ve TRIED that and it didn’t work, and also, the main proponent of refusing to support your feminine sons, this guy Zucker, he’s quite happy to admit that he has no idea whether being mean to your kid will work.

Also, J Mike and Zucker, they’re not sure what “working” would even look like. Your kid growing up straight? Your kid not growing up trans? Here J Mike asserts that “nobody is arguing that it’s okay for kids to grow up and transition.” HEY J MIKE I AM ARGUING THAT. Are you a callous asshole who thought it was okay for your kid to be inconsolable when you refused to let him do things he liked to do, or do you just think other people should be?

So that’s nice, and then in the second third of the book, J Mike explains to us about gay men, from his position of authority as someone who hangs out in gay bars and posts personal ads. This is stupid. Dear J Mike: you’ve done sociological research on the gay men who hang out in bars and answer personal ads, not an actual representative sample of gay men. I’m sorry to have to break that to you. The only, only reason I can think of that other scientists haven’t called him out on this- unless they have and he just doesn’t care- is that other scientists care little enough about gay people to consider J Mike’s findings critically. Because, oh my god. OH MY GOD J MIKE.

He makes tons of generalizations, then he takes a minute to cut down the cardboard cutout version of social constructionism without actually looking deeply into it, and then he just basically calls gay men fags in academic language for a while. Good times.

So then in the last third of the book, he ties the first two together. First, and most famously, he tells us that there are two kinds of transsexual women: one, the hot kind, who are feminine as hell when they are little, and then giant fags, and then SUCH giant fags that they become women. So they can have sex with straight men. Then there are the other kind of trans women: “autogynephilic” trans women, or trans women who aren’t hot for anybody except themselves. As women. (And then, toward the end of the book, there’s a throwaway line about how after “autogynephilic” transsexuals transition, they tend to become lesbians. HOWEVER that has NOTHING TO DO WITH ANYTHING, OBVIOUSLY, and if we are making up categories in which to place trans women, it makes a lot more sense to go “trans women who like men vs. trans women who like, uh, themselves” than it does “trans women who like men vs. trans women who like women,” doesn’t it, J Mike? NO.)

Now, autogynephilia has long been a controversial thing, with its supporters and self-identifiers as well as those- like me- who think it’s a pretty transparent logical trap to force trans women into. I mean, here is something that seems like it would BLOW J MIKE’S FUCKING MIND: lots of cis women are sexually into the idea of being women! Inconceivable, right? J Mike’s whole argument- and his friends Anne Lawrence, who’s been kicked out of medicine for conducting inappropriately sexual examinations of her patients, and K Zuck, the one who thinks you should be mean to your kid all the time without exception- is that “autogynelphilic transsexuals” transition because they’re SO SO SO HOT for the feeling of being women. And that “homosexual transsexuals only transition because they’re SO SO SO HOT for straight dude cock (eg J Mike Bailey cock).

This makes sense if you believe that trans women transition for sexual or paraphilic reasons- y’know, if you believe that thing that J Mike asserted in the first couple pages and then never really backed up?

I don’t know whether it just didn’t occur to J Mike that trans women might transition AND ALSO have sexualities, instead of transitioning solely because of their sexualities, but I kinda don’t care, either. Well, that’s not true. I care. But I’m so, so jaded to this kind of thing that it’s hard for me to even muster a bunch of capital letters, because do you want to know the root of this failure to even think about women’s sexualities? It’s patriarchy. It’s misogyny. Women don’t have sexualities, right, J Mike? And anyway, trans women are a kind of men, right, J Mike?

So basically, all of J Mike’s arguments are built on platforms that don’t work, or are full of shit. I mean, here is another thing to think about: trans women are actually women. They transition because, in some real, legitimate way, they are women whose bodies developed (or tried to develop) into bodies that look like men’s bodies, which felt wrong because they are women. See, logically, how much easier that is? FUCKING OCCAM, J MIKE. The only reason I can think of for this not to be completely, super a hundred percent obvious to J Mike is that, when he looks at a trans woman, all he can think about is her cock: whether she has one, whether she’s gotten rid of it, how big it was, what she did with it, if she has any videos of what she did with it, or still pictures or anything… I mean, he goes pretty deep into some titillating descriptions of one trans woman- the only one he seems to know who fits into his “autogynephile” category.

I mean, people are obsessed with trans women because of their junk, right? That’s what everybody who doesn’t know any trans women wants to talk about all the time. And J Mike? You don’t know anything about trans women. You know about this one woman, who I won’t name because oh yeah! You never said you were gonna change anybody’s name anywhere, so as far as I know you used her real name. And then you know about some trans women she introduced you to, and you know about some other trans women you met in bars, saw and decided were trans women, approached, and got consent to interview. That is called a “nonrepresentative sample.”

You have not described me or anyone I know in your book, J Mike. You have created and supported catch-22 categories for you to lump trans women into, with no regard for their lived experiences unless their self-reports of those experiences support your theory.

So… so yeah, I guess I digressed there a little. I mean, the last third of the book is J Mike talking about how, once you accept that trans women all fall into these two categories based on who they are wanting to fuck- to be clear: men or themselves, with absolutely no acknowledgment of the fact that, actually, many trans women he studied often prefer women, and also, with absolutely no acknowledgment of the fact that lots of trans women (I am talking about myself here) are queers who will and have fucked men and women- then these categories make so much sense, and clarifying his categories, and jacking off over how smart he and Ken Zucker- the guy who thinks that making children cry as often as possible is good parenting- are. He gives no consideration to the fact that his two categories are MADE UP.

So it just blows my mind that this counts as reputable science- or, if (hopefully) this has been reputed (which seems unlikely as this fucker is, as of this writing, in charge of telling the psychological community about me), then that it ever did count as reputable science. It’s bad science, and it’s science based on cissexism and patriarchy and misogyny, which, let’s be clear, are all on the same basketball team.

Fuuuuck, somebody who knows what they’re doing, write me a grant proposal so I can not work for a month and write critical annotations to this ridiculous, appalling piece of writing. I bought it from a used book store because hopefully in twenty years it will be a hilarious, campy relic of the bad old days. And I do feel optimistic that that will happen, if only because I know so many trans women who are smart, strong, activism-oriented, and- most importantly- don’t hang out in fucking bars all the time.

Okay. Edited to acknowledge that it looks like there WAS some controversy around this book. I think the points that I made still stand, though, since, y’know, people who think that The Man Who Would Be Queen makes a lot of sense and is full of rigorous science are still in positions of authority in the psychological community. So.

(this is copied from my old goodreads account.)