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Daniel Seligman vs. transgender people

Daniel “Dan” Seligman (1924–2009) was a Forbes columnist and member of the neo-eugenics group the Human Biodiversity Institute founded by Steve Sailer. As with other members, he praised J. Michael Bailey‘s anti-transgender book The Man Who Would Be Queen at Forbes in 2003.

Transsexuals And the Law (2003)

The legal uncertainties reflect widespread puzzlement about the basic science. What is transsexualism’s connection to homosexuality? Does it signify mental illness? The American Psychiatric Association long ago (1973) eliminated homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, but its fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) still lists “gender identity disorder,” also mystifying to many people. Why does it cause thousands of Americans to powerfully desire membership in the opposite sex, leading some subset of this population to undergo transformative genital surgery? 

A good recently published guide to all these questions is The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism, by J. Michael Bailey, 46, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University who teaches an undergraduate course in human sexuality. The book is mostly about effeminate boys and men and how they got that way, but its concluding chapters zero in on the world of transsexuals–not all of whom were effeminate. The book has ignited a firestorm of protest from some transsexuals. 

This despite the fact that Bailey, himself a standard-model male heterosexual, is warmly sympathetic to gays and transsexuals and argues persuasively that for the great majority of individuals taking the male-to-female route, the decision is rational.

The size of the transsexual population is itself a matter of controversy, and their propagandists endlessly seek to inflate the numbers. DSM-IV estimates that 1 in 30,000 males (and 1 in 100,000 females) opts for the surgery. Bailey’s estimate is 1 in 12,000 males, implying 8,000 gender-crossers now living in the country.

Transsexual Lynn Conway–who has been a computer scientist at IBM and is a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan–is now an activist for the cause. She says the figure is 30,000 to 40,000.

But the transsexuals’ attack on the Bailey book is not based on his population estimates. The main point of the protests is Bailey’s explanation of the roots of gender-crossing. Relying heavily on the work of Ray Blanchard, who heads the clinical sexology program at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry in Toronto, Bailey tells us that there are two different, quite distinct types of male-to-female transsexuals.

First is the “classic” homosexual type: the effeminate boy who, from early childhood, is profoundly convinced that he was meant to be a woman. A likely but still unproven interpretation of this feeling is that it traces back to an inadequate dose of male hormones six or seven weeks after conception. The result could be a young man sexually attracted to other men and gravitating toward a transsexual solution. 

The second type bears the label “autogynephilia,” a clunky term invented by Blanchard, who coined it to describe that sizable fraction (perhaps half) of male-to-female transsexuals that he found to have a different version of gender identity disorder. They are erotically stimulated not by other men, and not primarily by women, but by the image of themselves as women. Except for their cross-dressing propensities, these transsexuals tend to lead rather ordinary heterosexual lives.

I spoke recently with an eminent transsexual who Bailey believes to be autogynephilic. Deirdre McCloskey, 61, is distinguished professor of the liberal arts and sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is a quantitatively oriented Chicago-school economist, a huge fan of Milton Friedman, and a dazzling writer, who is also a professor in the university’s English and history departments. Until she underwent the sex change in the mid-1990s, her name was Donald McCloskey, and she was a cross-dresser with a wife and two grown kids.

It is Bailey’s impression that the first type–the homosexual gender-crossers–are relatively indifferent to his book and that the protest emanates mainly from the autogynephiles. It is possible to understand their rage. The Blanchard diagnosis is hard to live with: Cross-dressing strikes most Americans as ridiculous, and its specified erotic role only makes matters worse. McCloskey, for one, is furious about the book and told the Northwestern newspaper: “He’s saying ‘Look, they’re driven by sex, sex, sex. They’re men, men, men.'”

The Bailey book sheds some much-needed light on the topic of transsexualism. But it is not destined to end the debate, or the lawsuits. Expect this difficult topic to keep judges and equal-opportunity commissions busy for a long while to come.


Seligman, Dan (October 13, 2003). Transsexuals And the Law. Forbes