Selected letters and comments from correspondents

I am very happy to announce that I'm getting inundated with email on this matter. All of it is very welcome, but I feel some of it is worth sharing with everyone. This page puts forth wisdom and insight from readers just like you, and my responses when applicable.

Please note that I do not necessarily agree with all the comments below, but I felt they might be helpful or interesting for others who are working to deal with this issue.

Excerpts from V__'s letter on "autogynephilia" and its flaws:

But before I get too lengthy, I want to get to the heart of my purpose for this e-mail. And that is the concept of "Autogynephilia". I've recently come to believe that this concept is the result of research that didn't quite go far enough. A few months ago I attended a lecture about sexual addictions given by a prominent local Psychologist who specializes in addictions of all kinds. Additionally, in a brief follow-up, I attended a few group-therapy sessions of men with various sexual addictions. In this lecture he came to a point of describing his own sexual addiction throughout much of his adolescence and early adulthood - compulsive masturbation. In tying this anecdote to his patient-studies, he illustrated what to me was a very lucid observation and one which I feel could shed new light on the whole concept of Autogynephilia.

The observation is/was that, like many other addictions, sexual addictions can be born out of deep suppression and/or internal self-loathing, primarily as secondary to things such as trauma or over-controlling parents/spouses, for examples. The causes of suppression and self-loathing are, of course, virtually innumerable, so he didn't go much into that except to describe his own awful upbringing and how, indirectly, compulsive masturbation became an escape? a way of self-medicating, if you will. Not that this was a conscious effort. Rather, he explains it as a subconscious process.

Without going into much more extensive detail, I feel that I cannot do this the justice it deserves, but I hope what I've described can offer you some idea of the conclusion I'd LIKE to draw - that perhaps erotic arousal associated with cross-dressing has much more to do with internal conflict and suppression than with some skewed sexual proclivity. I have to say that, as I sat in this lecture, the lights started coming on. Add to that the credible research found in more recent publications and I feel that the issue of autogynephilia is one which needs to be revisited and, hopefully revised.

Excerpts from R__'s letter on Bailey, with my reply on "social canalization":

The transsexual portion of this book dwells on the path taken. Does this mean they started from different places? Maybe. But maybe it is based on the decisions we make at a young age. Those who decide to hide their differences at a young age to try and fit in and those who don't. The crux of that decision can flavor the rest of someone's life. Someone who doesn't try to suppress it will have a rougher time socially, hence a rougher time in schoolwork and at home, and THAT causes the situation where they end up in the different job roles. One who suppresses and tries to fit in, may shut inside themselves a lot more. They apply themselves to schoolwork or some other safe activity. Being too social is opening the opportunity for the hidden information to slip out. To hide in a world of controllable logic (computers) is a natural reaction to a fear of socialization. Further attempts at suppression lead to military careers and/or marriage. Okay, its just a theory, but it covers the split.

My reply:

This is an extremely important issue, and one I would love to hear more on. Here’s something I’ve been reading on the matter:

According to Valsiner (Valsiner, 1985; Valsiner & Hill, 1989), children are socialized into culturally acceptable ways of acting in given situations through a process of social canalization. In Valsiner's framework, children's development of acting and of thinking is explained through the mutually related functioning of three zones. The first zone is called the "zone of freedom of movement" (ZFM) and refers to the structure of the environment that is functionally available to the developing child at a given time. The limits of this zone are negotiated with the caregivers and change as the child develops or moves into an area with a different physical structure. For example, the ZFM of a child may be the playpen or the front yard.

The second zone is the zone of promoted action (ZPA). This term refers to the set of objects and actions that the child's social environment actively promotes to the child to use and perform. The ZPA may be observed in the parents' and other people's preference structure of the child's different actions. This preference structure includes the actions and social expectancies that others promote as desirable for the child. As the child develops, he or she internalizes the social expectancies and gains knowledge about the acceptable and expected way of acting in a given situation. Once gained, this knowledge may be used in any way by the child. Valsiner and Hill (1989) give the example of an adolescent who in a social situation knows the rules of courtesy well but decides to not act appropriately and instead "cuts" another (p. 165). Valsiner (1985) calls the ZPA an important "selective canalizer of the child's actions" but also says that the structure of the ZPA can undergo dynamic transformation because it is negotiated in adult-child interaction.

The third zone is the well-known Vygotskian zone of proximal development (ZPD) and refers to the subset of ZPA actions that could be actualized with the help of other people. According to Valsiner (1985), the difficulty with this zone is that often one cannot know which actions actually constitute the ZPD because the existing structure of the ZFM and ZPA may restrict the opportunities of testing the limits of the ZPD. For instance, if the act of holding a fork is not within the ZPA or ZFM of a 16-month-old, it may not be possible to see if the 16-month-old child is physically capable of holding the fork. Thus, the ZPD-ZPA relationship is seen to determine what can or cannot be performed next by the child.

Valsiner, Jaan. (1985). Parental organization of children's cognitive development within the home environment. Psychologia, 28, 131-143.
Valsiner, Jaan, & Hill, Paula E. (1989). Socialization of American toddlers for social courtesy. In Jaan Valsiner (Ed.), Child development in cultural context (pp. 163-179). Toronto: Hogrefe & Huber.

An e-mail from a Jewish transgender woman concerning her reactions to Bailey's lectures [ 4-30-03 ]:

Frankly, the report of Bailey's lecture disgusts me more than almost anything else I've read about him. As a Jew whose mother grew up in Nazi Germany, it reminds me of nothing more than one of those lectures by Nazi "experts" on "physiognomy" about how you tell someone's a Jew -- by their big hooked noses, naturally. Just like you tell gay people by how they talk. I'm sure such lectures were accompanied by similar gales of laughter.

I (and the wonderful woman who is my partner) had such strong personal reactions to the whole idea of trying to identify and single people out in that disgusting way, that I felt I had to say something. I still remember my mother's story about how when she was a child in Germany, after Hitler came to power but before she was prohibited from attending school with non-Jewish children, a Nazi party official came to her school one day to lecture on the "Aryan" ideal -- and, out of the whole class, actually selected my mother, who had light hair, green eyes, and "Aryan" features, as the perfect example of Aryan girlhood. As you can imagine, he wasn't pleased when he found out she was Jewish. So, you can see, sometimes the "experts" are wrong.


Is this what research about gay sexuality has come to? This is from a Chronicles of Higher Education piece on J. Michael Bailey, author of The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism:Gay men have more feminine traits than straight men, he writes, including their interests in fashion and show tunes and their choice of occupations, including florist, waiter, and hair stylist. If a man is feminine, says Mr. Bailey, it is a key sign that he is gay. And if a man is gay, Mr. Bailey says he can tell a lot about what that man's childhood was like. He "played with dolls and loathed football" and "his best friends were girls," he writes in the book.

Um, maybe the problem here is that Bailey refined his so-called theory "during his visits to gay bars near his home" in a gay neighborhood in Chicago. Would he have found men with different interests and experiences in a different neighborhood? At leather bars or biker bars? Mightn't the gay men who "played football and loathed dolls" have been at a baseball game, or at home watching a Blackhawks game, or changing their transmission fluid? Maybe visiting bars at one time and place isn't the best way to gather information about a phenomenon that has transcended particular times and places?

From The Guardian

Steven Pinker

J Michael Bailey's The Man Who Would Be Queen (Joseph Henry) is an engaging book on the science of sexual orientation. Though highly sympathetic to gay and transsexual men, it has ignited a firestorm by claiming that transsexuals are not women trapped in men's bodies but have either homosexual or autoerotic motives.,12084,986174,00.html

From K on 15 June 2003

I'm thinking that a point being missed in all of the discssion is that this isn't just about transphobia.

Let's say J. Michael is describing non-transsexual women. It might look like this:

"There are two types of women - the first are pretty, feminine love to please their man and are limited quite naturally to occupations such as hairdressers, entertainers and prostitutes." One can imagine it not being far off for him to advise this group that to keep her man happy; she should meet him when he comes home from work everyday with a martini and wearing a neglegee'

"The other are "mannish looking", work in fields like science, law enforcement and construction. They are attracted to other women and the defining point of their existence is this deviant compulsive sexual thought and behavior"

Sound familiar?

Besides the horrible transphobia - the misogyny is appalling!!! Let's remember this is a guy who states he doesn't understand female sexuality at all. Not transwoman or non-transwoman - he certainly seems to feel a need to define and control it though; doesn't he? Again - sounds familiar.

Faculty members show off talents at DM fund-raiser

"Hansen said DM[Dance Marathon] hopes to have more faculty performers at future talent shows. For example, if students raise $3,000, Fenrich and psychology Prof. Michael Bailey will dress in drag and sing a duet together during DM."

Daily Northwestern 3 March 2003