“Illegal Immigrants” vs. the Border Patrol of Sex and Sexuality:

Giving shape to the debate at hand

The issues raised by J. Michael Bailey in his troubling book The Man Who Would Be Queen are extraordinarily complex and nuanced. It’s going to take a while to come up with a clear and concise summation of all the problems, but perhaps a good way to start thinking about all this is an immigration metaphor. Transsexual women who are accepted without question as women are extremely threatening to several systems that some people use to form their beliefs about how the world works. In that sense, those of us with "passing privilege" are “illegal immigrants,” living in a place where we have not been given permission to live under existing laws.

While a repressive state is always suspicious of immigrants, they concentrate the bulk of their wrath on illegal immigrants. They can contain a lot of the immigrants in ghettoes because they are easily identifiable, but some slip through their system and prosper right under their noses, invisibly, a fact which they find very threatening. As we've seen in many circumstances in this country and elsewhere, when faced with a threat, the fearful seek to contain the invisible threat with laws and enforcers.

Bailey and friends function as authoritarian lawmaker, border patrol, and INS agent all in one, using profiling and composite sketches to determine who are legitimate citizens, and even working with those in the ghetto to refine their search for the elusive threat. In that way, visibly gender variant people like Anne Lawrence are like sympathetic government informants, working to gain power for themselves by aligning themselves with the goals of the repressive state.

J. Michael Bailey and his fellow ideologues either lack the ability to see the larger systems in which they are complicit, or worse, they embrace these oppressive systems fully aware and seek to defend the borders they create and maintain.

Below are some thought-provoking quotations to help you start thinking about what their project is all about, and what it means to those of us who are “illegal immigrants” by being accepted as women in mainstream society.


[…] People who don’t conform to masculine or feminine stereotypes are probably more vulnerable to violence on the street, but queers who “pass” gender muster are still vulnerable to discrimination solely on the basis of their sexual activities. In fact, the reaction to such a person, who is viewed as a mole and a deceiver, a traitor and a liar, is sometimes much more intense than attempts to punish feminine gay men or butch dykes.

Patrick Califia-Rice
Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism 

Labeling someone a man or a woman is a social decision. We may use scientific knowledge to help us make the decision, but only our beliefs about gender--not science--can define our sex. Furthermore, our beliefs about gender affect what kinds of knowledge scientists produce about sex in the first place."

Anne Fausto-Sterling, Ph.D.
Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality

And as human nature does not abide by cultural rules, rigid and anatomically based conceptualizations of gender identity do not suffice to account for the authentic experiences of human beings being human.

Kate Scannell, MD
Engendering Differences, via Permanente Journal

Who was I now – woman or man? That question could never be answered as long as those were the only choices; it could never be answered if it had to be asked.

Leslie Feinberg
Stone Butch Blues 

The police become necessary in human society only at that junction in a society where it is split between those who have and those who ain't got.

Chairman Omali Yeshitela
As featured on “Police State” by Dead Prez 

As is frequently the case in discussions that are conducted with a great show of emotion, the down-to-earth interests of certain groups, whose excitement is entirely concerned with factual matters and who therefore try to distort the facts, become quickly and inextricably involved with the untrammeled inspirations of intellectuals who, on the contrary, are not in the least interested in facts but treat them merely as a springboard for “ideas.”

Hannah Arendt,
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil