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Why the Bailey
controversy won't die soon

Why the Bailey
controversy won't die soon


To focus on the overzealous response of some trans activists is to miss the bigger picture -- that transsexuals are fed up with non-trans "experts" claiming to know us better than we do

To refresh: Transsexuals are those who live or seek to live as the gender opposite the one assigned at birth, sometimes utilizing hormones and surgery to help do so, and as such they represent only part of the large and diverse transgender community. I am a male-to-female (MTF) transsexual. And J. Michael Bailey, the psychologist who authored the controversial 2003 book The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism, is not.

Bailey concluded, based largely on interviews of transsexuals in a gay bar, that MTF transsexuals transition solely to satisfy their sex drive. Bailey claimed that some of us are really gay men believing that being a woman will normalize our attraction to men; that some of us are men sexually aroused by the idea of having a female body; and the rest of us are lying when we say we don't fit those two categories. Noticeably absent is a discussion of female-to-male (FTM) transsexuals.

But I and most other MTF transsexuals do feel strongly that we don't fit Bailey's two categories. And we are furious to be called liars by a nontransgender "expert." While most trans people were deeply closeted in years past, that's no longer the case, so the backlash by trans activists in 2003, when his book came out, was intense.

That backlash was recently rekindled on word that another nontransgender "expert" is about to publish an article in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, asserting that the personal attacks on Bailey by trans activists presented "problems not only for science but free expression itself."

This defense sounds very much like the rhetoric of nongay psychiatrist Charles Socarides after he ended up on the wrong side of the vote to remove homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in the early 1970s. Socarides felt the APA's decision was not based on any empirical evidence but influenced by gays, both within and without the organization, who had their own agenda.

Focusing on the personal attacks against Bailey is like discussing the clashes between protesters and police in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention without emphasizing the incredible wave of social change sweeping the nation at the time. Trans people have reached the point where they are fed up with any nontrans "expert" -- not just Bailey -- who's dismissing our opinions. Our view is that, much like a nongay person can't possibly imagine loving someone of the same sex, a nontransgender person can't possibly imagine the feeling of living in the wrong gender.

Trans people are venting years of frustration. Julia Serano has written a crisp summary of the latest Bailey developments on the Feministing blog. But more important, this rising star's new book, Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, has shed much-needed light on the bigger picture.

It starts with the observation that MTF transsexuals pose a problem for the patriarchy. We actually prefer to be female and go through a huge number of hoops to get there. This very fact subverts the idea of male superiority: How can anyone possibly not think being male is better? On the other hand, FTM transsexuals transition in the "right" direction, so the patriarchy rarely manages to conduct research about them.

As treatment started becoming available in this country in the 1970s, the nontransgender men running the gender clinics set the femininity requirement very high to limit the number the number of "subversives" admitted. Some clinics even limited treatment, reserving it for MTFs who aroused the male doctor sexually, thereby objectifying them as sex objects.

When nontransgender second-wave feminists saw these uber-feminine products of the clinics, they assumed that no thinking person could willingly choose to so actively embrace that level of femininity. They labeled us as dupes of the patriarchy who had been deployed to preserve feminine stereotypes. In reality, we knew full well what we were doing -- we were embracing excessive femininity because it was the only route open to us that would allow us to live in our perceived gender.

Treatment standards today are set by the largely male, largely nontransgender World Professional Association for Transgender Health. The standards may have softened a bit based on some transgender input but nonetheless remain some of the most rigorous prequalification guidelines of any medical condition.

Of course, the largely male-run insurance industry does its part to limit the number of "subversives" by excluding transgender health coverage from most private insurance. And the IRS is in on it too, currently challenging in federal tax court in Boston a trans woman's deduction for sex-reassignment surgery, an expense she incurred because her insurance did not cover it despite her meeting the WPATH standards.

It will be interesting to see how this latest chapter of the Bailey controversy plays out at the WPATH biennial symposium occurring September 5-8. According to trans blogger Autumn Sandeen in her post on Pam's House Blend, noted gender therapist Sandra Samons recently voiced to other WPATH members her objection to Bailey's implication "that any therapists who did not agree with him had been duped by transgender people."

Accused of lying, treated as sex objects, labeled dupes and dupers, subjected to excessive pretreatment requirements, denied insurance, and denied our voice--is it any wonder that transsexuals are upset? Even the rest of the transgender community -- the part that is not transsexual -- gets on our case from time to time for all of the "attention" we attract for issues that are not theirs.

Bailey and his nontransgender cronies should have realized the risk in offending such a long-oppressed group. His book just happened to arrive when we had reached our last straw. In the words of Howard Beale in the 1976 movie Network, we're now "mad as hell and...not going to take this anymore!"

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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Joanne Herman