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Ben Barres and transgender people

Ben A. Barres (1954–2017) was an American neurobiologist at Stanford University. He was also an important promoter of transgender people in science.


Barres was assigned female at birth and grew up in West Orange, New Jersey. Barres was denied access to courses in science and engineering during school despite asking often. He later earned a bachelor of science degree in biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1979, Barres completed a medical degree at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, and then a neurology residency at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. 

Barres left medicine to do a doctorate in neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, followed by a postdoctorate program in neurobiology at University College London. In 1993 he founded a neurobiology lab at Stanford University.

Barres served on the editorial boards of several leading journals including Neuron, the Journal of Neuroscience, and Development. He was a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. He won many research awards including a Life Sciences Research Fellowship, the Klingenstein Fellowship Award, a McKnight Investigator Award, and a Searle Scholar Award, as well as teaching awards including the Kaiser Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Kaiser Award for Innovative and Outstanding Contributions to Medical Education. He served on several advisory committees for the Society for Neuroscience, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders.

Barres and his lab made many important findings about the function of specialized brain cells. In 2013, Barres was the first openly trans member elected to the US National Academy of Sciences.

Criticism of The Man Who Would Be Queen

Barres was among the many prominent trans scientists who protested the 2003 publication of The Man Who Would Be Queen by J. Michael Bailey. Barres sais, “This is one of the most unsympathetic portrayals of transsexuality ever written.” 


Freeman Marc (22 October 2018). Ben Barres: neuroscience pioneer, gender champion. Nature

Huberman D (2 January 2018). Ben Barres (1954–2017). Nature

Holden, Constance (18 July 2003). Transsexuality Treatise Triggers Furor. Science Now