Dear editor:

Dennis Rodkin [“Sex and Transsexuals,” December 12] writes as an advocate for the antitranssexual theories in Professor J. Michael Bailey’s recent, widely attacked book. Mr. Rodkin wants your readers to believe that gender crossers are pathetic nutcases. He wants you to believe that Professor Bailey’s views, by contrast, are “scientific.”

The crucial point, which Rodkin omits, is that practically no one in the scientific community believes the “science” in Professor Bailey’s Silly Theory (let me be as slanted as Rodkin is, OK?). At the July meeting in Bloomington, Indiana, of the International Academy of Sex Research, John Bancroft, director of the Kinsey Institute and one of the most respected sexologists in the world, stood up after Bailey’s abbreviated talk and said sternly, “Michael, I would caution you against calling this book ‘science’ because I have read it, and I can tell you it is not science.” Then he sat down, to stunned silence.

Bailey portrays himself according to Rodkin as an “impartial social scientist,” who looks at “aggregates,” “lots of similar cases.” According to Rodkin, Professor Bailey “has the goal of finding the commonalities among groups of individuals.”

You bet. Professor Bailey’s “lots of similar cases” were a half dozen Hispanics he met in bars in Chicago. That’s it. He threw out of the “sample” the one woman who was working as a real estate broker rather than in the sex trades. Don’t let facts get in the way of the ST (remember: Silly Theory) that such people are motivated by sex, sex, sex. The “commonalities” are derived from biased samples, ignoring most of the evidence, the evidence for instance of personal testimony or common sense or accurate accounting. The “aggregates” with which Bailey’s Canadian guru works are a few dozen people required to believe the ST to be allowed to change genders: that’s how the Clarke Institute in Toronto works: vee have vays of making you believe. It’s how Bailey works too. (He is accused of having sex with a member of his “sample,” by the way, something Rodkin knew but did not report; the Chronicle of Higher Education reported it last Friday.) Bailey got the women in his “sample” to spill their guts by promising to write them a letter for their surgery. Vee have vays of making you testify. I can tell you it is not science.

Rodkin has fallen for Bailey big-time (despite the horrible picture of Bailey on the front page, worse even than mine: but love knows no reason). So he gets the core criticism of Bailey’s methods wrong. I never said, as Rodkin claims, that “no one’s more capable of understanding the phenomenon than the person who’s been through it.” Mr. Rodkin needs to check his tape. Lots of people, such as the overwhelming majority of gender scientists who reject the ST, understand the phenomenon. Randi Ettner, the Evanston psychologist and writer on the subject, for example, does. Read her excellent book, Gender Loving Care.

But Bailey and his little group of right-wing admirers claim that nothing can be learned from people who have been through it. Unless gender crossers agree with the ST, you see, they are liars or self-deluded. So much for their evidence. That’s why Bailey feels no responsibility as a scholar to read anything or listen to anyone. He claims for example to have read my own book, Crossing: A Memoir (1999; available on cheap; great read). But you can tell right away from his brief description of it in his own book that he hasn’t. He repeats the lie in the interview: “Deirdre says he [get it: “he”] was really a woman inside. What does that mean really? What does it mean to say you were a man but you ‘felt like a woman’?”

I said nothing of the kind. Yeah, I know: the ten-second take on gender crossers is that they are “women trapped in a man’s body.” But I’m telling you (and my book tells at greater length) that’s not how I felt. (And no gender crosser I know tells me they felt the ten-second way; journalists impose it, Bailey adopts it; but it ain’t science.) When I was a man I felt like one.

What it means to want to be something you are not is the commonest human experience, not “really” that difficult to understand. You were once a child, did not know “really” what it was like to be an adult, but wanted to be one. Got it? Not so difficult after all. Someone born in France doesn’t “really” know what it’s like to live in the United States, but immigrates. Someone who wants a better job doesn’t “really” know what it’s like to have an MBA, but goes to UIC to get one. And so forth.

Bailey defends himself from the charge of being a homo- and transphobe by noting that his sex research has attracted unfavorable notice from some conservatives–who don’t like any government-funded research into who gets horny from what. He doesn’t mention (Rodkin does) that the right wing loves his opinions about homosexual men. And Bailey claims that he explicitly says in the book that he favors transsexuals. Uh-huh. It would be as though he spoke of heterosexual women thus: “They are driven by sex, sex, sex. But I favor them. They are inclined to enter prostitution. But I favor them. They need professional supervision. But I favor them. They are crazy fetishists. But I favor them.” In the article Bailey’s MO is well illustrated by the way he defends keeping gender crossing close to pedophilia in the manual of mental “disorders.” Heh, there’s nothing “immoral or harmful” about gender crossing at an advanced age, but there are “scientific reasons” for speaking of pedophilia in the same breath. Sure.

Mr. Rodkin’s article is prurient without being honestly informative. A lot like Professor Bailey’s book. The ST, which Rodkin swallows, is awfully silly. The genital surgery, for example, is in fact a minor matter for most gender crossers. If it is, how can love of one’s own vagina motivate gender crossing? (And while we’re at it, does that make born women into “autogynephiliacs”?) There’s just a lot of such silliness in Bailey’s book and Rodkin’s article. The claim that getting the ST into the manual of mental “disorders” will “help” gender crossers in Canada by letting insurance pay for it, to give another instance, runs up against a pretty simple fact, which Rodkin and Bailey could have got right if they would actually listen: Dog Day Afternoon to the contrary, notwithstanding, the genetic surgery is cheap; in the U.S. it costs less than a small automobile; in Thailand it costs less than most digital cameras. And on and on. Bailey is not a Respected Scientist Bravely Speaking Out. He literally doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

I, among many other people, have made numerous scientific points against the ST (see my article in Reason last month, at Bailey doesn’t have answers. So he goes on diagnosing me and others at a distance. He means it to defame: if Deirdre “shows all the hallmarks” of “autogynephilia,” well, then her scientific arguments do not require an answer.

I’m going to sue Bailey for defamation if he calls me an “autogynephile” in print one more time. And the point here is that I’m going to win the case: the “diagnosis” is not accepted by most sex scientists; it’s a dead theory that Bailey in his sad way goes on espousing and using to attack people who won’t go along with the ST. The correct theory is that some people want to be who they are not and become so, harmlessly: adult, American, UIC MBAs, women.

The ST is not science. It’s defamation, pure and simple.

Deirdre McCloskey

UIC distinguished professor of economics, history, English, and communication

University of Illinois at Chicago

Tinbergen Gasthoogleraar van Wijsbegeerte, Economie, en Kunst en Cultuurwetenschapen

Erasmusuniversiteit Rotterdam

Dennis Rodkin replies:

The “no one’s more capable” statement is not marked as a direct quote in the story, but it’s a fair summary of what McCloskey told me.