The Man Who Would Be Queen

The Man Who Would Be Queen by Michael Bailey, about male homosexuality, is easily the best book about psychology ever written. It is emotional, persuasive, non-obvious, important, and well-written. Few books manage three of these adjectives. One sign of its emotion, persuasiveness, importance, and non-obviousness is the vilification Bailey underwent for writing it — led by people as smart as Deirdre McCloskey and Lynn Conway. Their campaign against it risked drawing more attention to it, of course. Now you can read it for free.

Can professors say the truth?. My correspondence with Deirdre McCloskey: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6. Alice Dreger’s article about the controversy, including a short version of my correspondence with McCloskey.

8 Replies to “The Man Who Would Be Queen

  1. Prof, thanks for re-opening this – you are a brave man. It’s interesting that what really drives the passion on this book, in the case of Deirdre McCloskey and at least one other commenter in your 2007 threads is – if I may generalize – the desire to shift the blame from a) close family members – parents or children – who (b) had a violently negative reaction to the “transition” to another sex (there’s a (c) coming – to a third party – that is, poor Professor Bailey.
    The (c) is that the violently negative reaction on the part of parents or children, while deplorable, while to my knowledge by no means universal – though I have no idea of its frequency in such cases – is entirely predictable and almost inevitable – at least in a non-violent, repressed, perhaps never mentioned way.
    And while the naive young person who thinks that her mother was changed by Bailey’s book may be naive, surely McCloskey is enough of a grown-up to realize that her children might well react that way – not to forgive them, not to wish that they didn’t – but on some level to understand that they would have such a reaction.
    The sheer unfeelingness on the part of someone like McCloskey in refusing to acknowledge that Bailey, his opinions, your opinions, etc., have nothing to do with the private tragedy that is being enacted within the McCloskey family (according to her own account) and many others. It’s ironic: from the accounts of the transgendered that one reads, and even in McCloskey’s emails, it is clear that transgendered people experience more than their share of misunderstanding at the hands of others. It’s a pity that they can’t pity and at least inwardly forgive others – their parents or children particularly – for feeling the same way. And it’s a particular kind of blindness to blame one poor shnook for the very human kind of fallibility and unintentional cruelty that they experience at the hands of people who, wrongly, feel themselves betrayed. Bailey, if wrong, surely has something to teach them about how others might feel – if they cared to. Instead, McCloskey and that other, much more dreadful woman, tried to turn what they might have seen as an intellectual sin into a family romance. Refuting him would not be enough – they immediately embarked on the enterprise of trying to get “the authorities” to turn Bailey out of an imagined family.
    People don’t need to read Bailey or to find him persuasive to be loathsome. They do quite well on their own, as the amazing behavior of McCloskey demonstrates.

  2. I don’t know anything about this book, but Seth’s post reminds me of the controversies (and vilification) surrounding Elizabeth Loftus and her work debunking recovered-memories. And I remember the big brouhaha that erupted when A Natural History of Rape was published in 2000. And then there’s also Susan Clancy’s recent book, The Trauma Myth. Lots of psychology research seems to touch a raw nerve with people.

  3. Thank you so much for posting a link to the .pdf file of Bailey’s book. It’s nice to have it available since the book itself is out of print.

  4. I haven’t read the book. Is he saying all trans women fall into those two categories? ‘Cause I know of ones who don’t. I did find his explanation I read here, of Michael Jackson — as someone who fetishized imagining himself pre-pubescent — as illuminating as I can conceive of anything on the subject being. It seemed to make sense of many other cases.

    Seth: “All” trans women? No. Just most of them.

  5. Dears:

    The blogosphere, which has enriched conversation so splendidly, has the one flaw that people tend to stay in it, and accept as an unquestioned basis for the conversation the accounts given there–as Mark Rutherford does in his sensible remark. I do not blame Professor Bailey for my troubles, small as they are (the only bad news in my transition was the attitude of my marriage family: otherwise I lived as Donald and now live as Deirdre a very happy life). My complaint about Bailey is that his book adds a little to the burden that gender variant people have, especially poor and ignorant ones who cannot defend themselves against power (thankfully I can, and have). Bailey is no big deal in the larger scheme, and his writings will result in the deaths of only a few additional transgendered people. My only point is that adding to the burden is not the direction a liberal society should want to be going. We should be increasing tolerance, not reducing it by introducing a locker-room theory of queers. That’s Professor Bailey’s theory: male to female gender crossers are homosexuals; and homosexuals are all girlie. (About born women he and his group have nothing to say.)

    I do not understand the unreasoning passion that our good host Seth has about all this. He fell early on for the Bailey-camp claim that complaining about Bailey’s “research” was some sort of out-of-line “censorship.” Now he won’t modify his views, regardless of new evidence. If you ever get to see his exchange with me (“What Exchange Seth Doesn’t Want You To See,” to borrow his amazing courtroom tactic in attacking me) you’ll see that he is uninterested in quiet, serious exchange. That’s worrisome in a scientist.

    The power is all on the other side, yet Lynn Conway and I in Seth’s fevered account are the toughs. Bailey was the chair of Psychology at Northwestern. Bailey’s mentor in Toronto (from whom he got his ideas) is the current chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s subcommittee on gender dysphoria for rewriting the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, version five (according to which, btw, most of the people listening to this blog, if a random sample of humans, are in urgent need of mental health attention). The DSM-V will therefore regress from a liberal position, such as the one the Association took in 1973 when it banished homosexuality from the list of disorders.

    I didn’t file a human subjects complaint against Professor Bailey because I didn’t like his work—altho I freely admit to not liking it. I filed it because he violated elementary standards in the treatment of human subjects, one of whom was a personal friend. He got away with it, as far as an outsider can judge, because he agreed to resign from being Department Chair and because the women he abused were frightened and strange. He got away with practicing psychology without a state license (he used as bait for getting material for his book a signature on a letter for gender reassignment surgery) because by the time people savvy in such matters found out about it the statute of limitations (written you will not be surprised to hear by the psychologists themselves) had run out. Nice guy: powerful but irresponsible.

    But I don’t expect much from trying to be reasonable. It hasn’t worked very often about this subject in the past, and never on Seth’s Blog.


    Deirdre McCloskey

  6. Again, Professor McCloskey, I am glad to hear from you. Seriously.

    “[Bailey’s] writings will result in the deaths of only a few additional transgendered people.” As you say, nothing like “quiet serious exchange” to help us find the truth of things.

    “The power is all on the other side.” If Lynn Conway sees herself as powerless, why did she do so much? For example, her massive website.

    As for the “Exchange [between us] Seth Doesn’t Want You to See” I’ve done everything I could to publicize it, including putting the published version

    on my website and linking to it (in this post). If there’s more I can do to publicize it, let me know.

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