HomeFAQEssaysAboutScience BlogLinks

Book Review: The Man Who Would Be Queen

by S. Alejandra Velasquez

Dr. Michael Bailey's The Man Who Would Be Queen (tmwwbq for short) is about male femininity and about the ways that male femininty may be expressed by gay men, feminine gay boys and in mtf transsexuals, called homosexual transsexuals, whose etiology groups them with gay boys. Dr. Bailey believes that male homosexuality and femininity are correlational and that there is a continuum of femininity in males starting with masculine butch gay men and ending with gay boys incapable of presenting convincingly as males, who become homosexual transsexuals. These aren't really new ideas and tmwwbq is not a scholarly work of original research, it's more like a new look at some older ideas written in an accessable sympathetic style free of unnecessary political correcteness.

The most interesting and most controversial topic in tmwwbq is transsexuality and especially the two types of mtf transsexuals. Dr. Bailey's book is the first ever to explain clearly to a lay audience the differences between homosexual transsexuals (hsts) and autogynephilic transsexuals (agp). This typology isn't new either, it is based on the work of psychologist Dr. Ray Blanchard who first described the two transsexuals in a paper published in 1989. Dr. Blanchard's taxonomy describes transsexuals who are feminine from a very young age, unequivecably attracted to males and who "transition" and have surgery for advantageous social reasons as homosexual transexuals; those who are generally bi, heterosexual or asexual with a history of transvestism, who transition and have surgery for intense personal reasons related to their unusual sexuality are called autogynephilic. It's been well known that there are two very different types of m2f transsexuals since the word transsexual came into use but Dr. Blanchard's typology explains the differences etiologically, motivationally and behaviorly. Michael Bailey's book is unique, based on his friendships and experiences with transsexuals of both types. The Man Who Would Be Queen shows the differences between the two types of transsexuals very clearly and that is one reason why it is so upsetting to many transsexuals, but certainly not to all.

Most non-academic books about transsexuality have been either transsexual (auto)biographies or else they have portrayed transsexuals as suffering from a condition of "gender identity". Transsexual biographies have been with few exceptions about transsexuals who fit the autogynephilic model such as Jan Morris Conundrum, Dierdre McCloskey Crossings and Jennifer Boylan She's Not There. Books about m2f transsexuals like gender therapist Mildred Brown's True Selves have been oriented exclusively on explaining transsexuality as a monolithic condition, a dilemma of feeling trapped in the wrong physical gender (quoted from Amazon). Homosexual transsexuals are not acknowleged or described realistically in these books except as occassional supporting characters reinterpreted in terms of the standard transsexual narratives of being born in the wrong body and being motivationally asexual. Real understanding of the lives and issues of homosexual transsexuals is erased by these one sided portrayals. The Man Who Would Be Queen is the first book to place homosexual transsexuals back into the social dialog on transsexuality with accuracy and insight.

Michael Bailey gets a lot of things remarkabley right about hsts in his book. It's really very refreshing to read something that has some relevance and insight for once, compared to the endless books, television appearances and websites by agp transsexuals which all present exclusively one sided views. He is correct in understanding that homosexual transsexuals are remarkably similar in many ways and extremely homogenous in terms of their transsexuality and this holds true across cultural and socio-economic lines (transkids.us members come from all socio-economic backgrounds and are asian white and latina for instance). Dr. Bailey understands that homosexual transexuality is uncomplicated, a social problem involving social identity and sexuality, not a problem of "inner gender identity". He is correct that hsts and agp transsexuals very rarely even meet much less form friendships but those of us who have met agp transsexuals will probably recognize "Cher", who sees the difficult world at the bottom of the social ladder of the hsts girls she wants to become friends with as the "big leagues".

Some of the criticisms of tmwwbq seem somewhat amusing to hsts transsexuals. For instance it really doesn't seem at all unusual or objectifying for a straight male sexologist to write candidly about the attractiveness of the hsts transgirls in his book, since this is after all a major part of the decision process for homosexual transsexuals who are motivated to make their lives more socially and sexually meaningfull. People who have sexual attractions to other people are always making assessments of attractiveness in others. It seems like such an autogynephilic stance to complain that sexologists should not be concerned with sexual attraction or that "changing sex" has nothing to do with sexuality.

There's a lot of free conjecture in The Man Who Would Be Queen, both by Michael Bailey, he simply calls them his hunches, and by some of the sources he quotes. Transsexuality is a phenomenon which really has not been very scientifically examined and most of the prevailing ideas about transsexuals are more expressions of social class relationships than they are well thought out and studied examinations of human behavior. There's a lot to be speculative about and sometimes Dr. Bailey's hunches or those of his sources seem quite insightful and sometimes they seem more reflective of social attitudes than insightful. It doesn't seem very useful for instance to try and determine whether hsts transkids should be considered a good outcome or a bad outcome. We have to make the best of the world we are born into as the people we are and a humanistic society would simply allow for a naturally occuring human variation like homosexual transsexuality. It might seem paradoxical but a more accepting and understanding society for feminine boys who might become hsts teenagers would probably result in fewer transkids choosing transition and surgery not more, and that would be good not because homosexual transsexuality is a bad outcome but because it is a difficult one in the world we live in. Poor Latino hsts transkids often "transition" very young and this is not because Latinos have more transsexuality than other ethinic groups but because Latino culture is not tolerant at all of femininity in boys. A more understanding and accepting society would give children and teenagers more choices and make desperate behavior like running away at fourteen less common.

It's also not very insightfull to confuse the effects of the social and familial difficulties which homosexual transsexuals must face, often from very early childhood, with biological determinism which might, for instance, define us as more willing to engage in meaningless sex because we are biologically male. We would rather take Dr.Bailey at his word, that he believes in the value of science and research and encourage good research and understanding, not the imposition of biological imperitives which unfairly characterize those already at the very bottom rung of the social ladder.

Autogynephilic transsexuals have expressed rage both at the publication of The Man Who Would Be Queen and at Michael Bailey personally. That kind of unreasoned hatred does not come from people who are upset about inaccurate portrayals or muddy classification schemes, it comes from people who are facing the prospect of losing the privileges which they have gained through social manipulation and dishonesty. The problem with The Man Who Would Be Queen for some transsexuals is not that there is so much wrong, but that there is too much right.


Alejandra Velasquez


Love us? Hate us? Confused? We welcome your questions and comments. Write us at: (transkids.us)

Copyright 2004 transkids.us