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The Man Who Would Be Queen



This book has three sections: the first is about boys who want to be girls; the second, is about gay men and how they are feminine and how they are masculine; the final is about men who become women.
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
J. Michael Bailey
Joseph Henry Press
Washington, D.C.
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Joseph Henry Press • 500 Fifth Street, N.W. • Washington, D.C. 20001
The Joseph Henry Press, an imprint of the National Academies Press, was created
with the goal of making books on science, technology, and health more widely avail-
able to professionals and the public. Joseph Henry was one of the early founders of the
National Academy of Sciences and a leader in early American science.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this volume are
those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Academy
of Sciences or its affiliated institutions.
The names of some of the people mentioned in this book—and selected details about
their lives—have been changed to protect the individuals’ identities.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Bailey, J. Michael
The man who would be queen : the science of gender-bending and
transsexualism / J. Michael Bailey.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-309-08418-0 (pbk. : alk. paper)
1. Gay men—United States—Psychology—Case studies. 2.
Transsexuals—United States—Psychology—Case studies. 3.
Homosexuality, Male—Psychological aspects. 4.
Transsexualism—Psychological aspects. 5. Gender
identity—Psychological aspects. 6. Sexual orientation—Psychological
aspects. 7. Nature and nurture. I. Title.
HQ76.2.U5 B35 2003
ISBN 0-309-08418-0
Copyright © 2003 by J. Michael Bailey. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America.
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
For Drew/Kate
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Preface ix
1 Princess Danny 3
2 Growing Pains 16
3 The Boy Who Would Not Be a Girl 39
4 Gay Femininity 61
5 Gay Masculinity 85
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The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
6 Dannys Uncle 103
7 Is Homosexuality a Recent Invention? 124
8 Terese and Cher 145
9 Men Trapped in Mens Bodies 157
10 In Search of Womanhood and Men 177
Autogynephilic and Homosexual Transsexuals:
How To Tell Them Apar t 192
11 Becoming a Woman 195
Epilogue 213
Further Reading 215
Index 221
viii Contents
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
he most expert cosmetics salesper-
son at the upscale department store
in my neighborhood is a man. A fe-
male friend told me about him and, intrigued, I went to see him. He
was young, tall, and African American, and his head was shaven. His
fingernails were long and covered with clear nail polish. I watched
him as he helped a woman choose the right makeup. After he was
done with her, I introduced myself. He was slightly taken aback that I,
a psychologist, wanted to meet him, but he also appeared slightly flat-
tered. He told me his name was Edwin.
Knowing his occupation and observing him briefly and superfi-
cially were sufficient, together, for me to guess confidently about as-
pects of Edwins life that he never mentioned. I know what he was
like as a boy. I know what kind of person he is sexually attracted to. I
know what kinds of activities interest him and what kinds do not. I am
least sure what he will look like five years from now. Based upon his
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The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
xThe Man Who Would Be Queen
current appearance, there is a chance he will undergo a dramatic
Although I am virtually certain that my conclusions are correct,
they fly in the face of mainstream academic opinion. If a current text-
book discussed the basis of my intuitionswhich many people share
it would do so in the context of stereotypes. It would neglect to ex-
plain that my intuitions are probably correct, and it wouldnt discuss
why. My book aims to do better.
Edwin is a feminine man, one of the most feminine men I have
ever met. Any reasonable person who met him would agree with me,
unless that persons only source of knowledge was a contemporary
social science textbook. The textbook would say that concepts like
femininity and masculinity are hopelessly muddled concepts that
have more to do with the observer than the observed. Presumably its
author would disapprove of using the word feminine. It would be
amusing to hear such a person trying to describe Edwin without it.
Scientifically, we have begun a renaissance period for taking femi-
ninity and masculinity seriously. This is partly because of men like
Edwin, and partly because of boys like Edwin was. I do not ask Edwin
about his childhood because I do not need to. I already know that
Edwin played with dolls and loathed football, that his best friends
were girls. I know that he was often teased by other boys, who called
him sissy. I am fairly certain that his parents did not encourage his
feminine behavior, and if I had to bet, Id say that his father was un-
happy about it. The source of Edwins femininity can be no obvious
social influence. It might be a more subtle social influence, or it might
be inborn. The fascinating question of what causes Edwins femininity
can be asked only if we admit that femininity exists.
Although I didnt ask him, I know that Edwin likes to have sex
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The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Preface xi
with men. Not all gay men are like Edwin, but almost all men like
Edwin are gay. During the past twenty-five years, social scientists have
tried to discount or minimize the relation between male homosexual-
ity and femininity. The standard lecture is that sexual orientation,
gender identity, and gender role behavior are separate, independent
psychological traits; a feminine man is as likely to be straight as gay.
But the standard lecture is wrong. It was written with good, but mis-
taken, intentions: to save gay men from the stigma of femininity. The
problem is that most gay men are feminine, or at least they are femi-
nine in certain ways. A better solution is to disagree with those who
stigmatize male femininity. It is a false and shallow diversity that allows
only differences that cannot be observed.
To say that femininity and homosexuality are closely bound to-
gether in men may be politically incorrect, but it is factually correct,
and it has been known for a long time. The idea that some males are
womens souls in mens bodies was originally offered in 1868 to
explain gay men, not transsexuals (by Karl Ulrichs, who was describ-
ing men like himself). Because the idea has been off limits among
scientists for several decades, there is a host of fascinating phenomena
well known to gay men and their friends that have barely been
touched by scientists: the gay voice, the gay gesture, and prejudice
against femmes, to name a few. Scientifically demonstrating that
these phenomena exist has been easy. The next step will be to try to
understand why.
There is some chance that if I ever see Edwin again, his name and
appearance will be changed to those of a woman. Even for a gay man,
Edwins appearance and manner are exceedingly feminine. He would
stand out in a gay bar. (But hed receive little romantic attention there.)
He is near the boundary of male and female, and someday he may
cross it. If he does, one primary motive will be lust.
The attempt to separate sexuality from gender has been especially
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The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
xii The Man Who Would Be Queen
misleading for transsexualism. Supposedly, male-to-female transsexuals
are motivated solely by the deep-seated feeling that they have womens
souls. Furthermore, the fact that some transsexuals are sexually at-
tracted to men and others to women allegedly means that sex has
nothing to do with it. However, in this case the exception proves the
rule. Heterosexual men who want to be women are not naturally
feminine; there is no sense in which they have womens souls. What
they do have is fascinating, but even they have rarely discussed it openly.
One cannot understand transsexualism without studying trans-
sexuals sexuality. Transsexuals lead remarkable sex lives. Those who
love men become women to attract them. Those who love women
become the women they love. Although transsexuals are cultural hot
commodities right now, writers have been either too shallow or too
squeamish to give transsexual sexuality the attention it deserves. No
This book deals with feminine males and completely ignores mas-
culine females. That was not my original attention. Butch women are
fascinating too, and I have studied them. There are many analogies
between very masculine women and very feminine men, but there are
also important differences. Butch women are not simply the opposite
of femme men. Rather than attempting to force them together, I de-
cided to focus on males. Masculine females deserve their own book.
Completing this book required substantial assistance from many
other people. Several scientists and scholars spent a good deal of their
time discussing ideas with me: Ray Blanchard, Khytam Dawood, Anne
Lawrence, Simon LeVay, Rictor Norton, Maxine Petersen, Bill Reiner,
and Ken Zucker. Anjelica Kieltyka introduced me to the Chicago
transsexual community and taught me a great deal by being honest
and open. My colleague, Joan Linsenmeier, read the entire manuscript
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The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Preface xiii
and made sure that my thoughts were clear. My editor, Jeff Robbins,
at Joseph Henry Press, made my writing better than I could. I am
grateful to Daria Cooper for her support while finishing the book.
Finally, I would never have thought of this book without Leslie Ryan
and Cher Mondavi, both courageous women, in their own, different,
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Part I
The Boy Who Would
Be Princess
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Princess Danny
chapter 1
t started with the shoes. After Danny
Ryan became a proficient walker,
not much more than a year old, he
ventured into his mom’s closet. He came out with a pair of strappy
heels and struggled to put them on. Bemused, she helped him, and
when he stood up in them, grasping her hand, he bounced with joy.
This became something of a preoccupation for Danny. Often when he
came into the bedroom, he went right for the closet. When it was
closed, he pressed up against the door and whined. When she indulged
him, he would pick out a pair of shoes, preferring the more feminine
styles. One day, Danny came into the room with a sheet over his head
and ran straight for the closet. He seemed more eager than usual to try
on her shoes, and when he stood up in them and spread his arms, she
was startled to realize, at last, the meaning of the sheet. It represented a
dress. Danny was trying to dress like a girl.
Although Leslie Ryan felt intellectually satisfied with that simple
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The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
4The Man Who Would Be Queen
explanation of Dannys behavior, she began to feel uneasy too. When
she contemplated the reasons for her concern, she realized guiltily
that she was falling prey to the same attitudes held by the bullies she
loathed in junior high. It is surely common and harmless for children
to explore the clothes and activities that society had assigned to the
other sex. Why shouldnt they? Still, she found herself hesitating when
Danny asked for help putting on her shoes. She encouraged alterna-
tive activities, such as reading or assembling puzzles or playing with
the toys he was given. This tactic worked for a while, but invariably, he
returned to the closet. She decided that she would neither encourage
nor discourage his cross-dressing, as she had begun to call it.
However, when Dannys father, Patrick, first saw Danny in high
heels clutching a purse, he did not share Leslies tolerant attitude. He
raised his voice: Danny, get out of those shoes! Danny liked neither
his fathers tone nor his message and, after a moment of stunned silence,
began to cry. Leslie shot her husband a scathing glance and immedi-
ately picked Danny up to soothe him. Later, Dannys parents had a
heated discussion. Dannys father said that it made him feel creepy to
see Danny dressed as a female and thought that allowing him to do so
set the wrong example. Patrick believed that parents are an important
influence on whether a child becomes homosexual or heterosexual,
and he wanted a heterosexual son. Leslie insisted that trying on female
clothing at age 18 months could not make Danny a gay man, that
children like to pretend to be lots of things, and that Patrick should
just relax. She dared not tell him how often Danny was cross-dressing.
Patricks consulting job kept him on the road nearly five days a week,
and when he was home, he was not the most attentive father. Leslie
hoped that Dannys fascination with womens clothes would pass
before his father had a chance to see it again. And for a while this
seemed possible.
By age two, Danny had begun to follow his mother everywhere as
she went about her daily routine, from cooking in the kitchen to
dusting the living room, to talking on the phone to peeing in the
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The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Princess Danny 5
bathroom. When she tried to get some time alone by turning on one
of Dannys favorite videos (The Little Mermaid was his absolute favor-
ite), Danny insisted that she watch with him. When other adults were
around, Danny was particularly clingy. Once a friend brought over her
rambunctious three-year-old son, and Danny was terrified of him.
When the two boys were left alone together, Danny began calling
Mommy! Mommy!, ran to her, and buried his head between her
legs. His mother did not remember Dannys older sister, Mary (now
six and in school), being so afraid of being separated from her.
When Danny was about two and a half, he discovered his sisters
room, with its dolls, dress-up clothes, pretend make-up kits, and espe-
cially, the tutu that she had long outgrown and that was only a bit too
large on him. Mary rapidly lost patience with Dannys intrusions into
her room and his fascination with her feminine things. She did not
share her mothers reluctance to judge Dannys girlish behavior: No
Danny! Dresses are for girls. You are a boy. These altercations left
Danny weeping in frustration and Mary furious, and so their parents
framed the controversy in terms of territory and forbade Danny to
enter Marys room without permission. As a concession to Danny, his
mother bought him his own Barbie doll and gingerly took his side
when Mary criticized his feminine choices: Danny can play with
dolls if he wants to, as long as he stays away from yours. Everybodys
During the year after Dannys third birthday, his mother hired a
regular babysitter for the afternoons in order to take an art history
class. The sitter, Jennifer, was an attractive college student, a sorority
girl who loved both children and fashion, and both Danny and Mary
quickly idolized her. Leslie briefed her on Dannys unique behavior
and reassured her that it was okay to indulge him. Soon Jennifer (at
Dannys urging) was painting Dannys fingernails and letting him wear
her bracelet. She introduced him to Barbie online, a website where
they could dress up Barbie in an assortment of outfits. They also played
Princess Danielle, with Danny the princess and Jennifer the prince,
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The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
6The Man Who Would Be Queen
wizard, king, or whatever male role the drama at hand required. Alter-
natively, they would produce sequels to Aladdin (with Danny playing
the role of Jasmine), or Beauty and the Beast (with Danny playing Belle),
or the latest video fascination with a beautiful female protagonist. Jen-
nifer was amused to think that she had found a playmate so feminine
that even she was relegated to the male roleand that this playmate
was a boy.
It was about this time that Dannys parents had their second
Danny crisis. Patrick found Danny playing with his Barbie while
wearing his sisters tutu, and furiously snatched the doll away. Then he
picked up Danny, who was frightened, and carried him to the living
room, where he accused Dannys mother Look what your son is
doing! As she looked at their facesDannys ashen with fear and her
husbands red with rageLeslie felt her heart sink. She reached out
for Danny, who practically leapt to her from his father and immedi-
ately began to cry loudly. She took him to his room and laid him on
his bed, told him that she loved him and would be back in a little
while, and returned to the living room to face her husband. In the
ensuing discussion, she had to admit that Danny was cross-dressing
regularly, but she thought that he was merely going through a phase.
She made her husband realize how devastated Danny was by the scene,
and she saw his anger transform into guilty regret.
This was the last time they fought about Danny. After that day, the
Ryans seemed to work out a silent compromise, in which Leslie tried
to keep Dannys feminine side from her husband, and he let Danny
alone. Danny helped, because he seemed to understand that his father
was not as receptive as his mother to his feminine activities. Some-
times, despite their unspoken efforts, Patrick saw something not in-
tended for his eyesfor example, Danny playing with Barbie. Al-
though Patrick no longer stopped Danny or criticized him, these
moments were usually awkward and tense. Danny would hesitate, as if
he thought he might get in trouble, until Patrick left or looked away.
Patrick would become cold and quiet, and Leslie would become espe-
cially attentive to him. But no one spoke up about Danny.
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The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Princess Danny 7
During Dannys fourth year, he came out to his block, going
outside to play with the neighborhood kids, wearing or bringing what-
ever he wanted. Unlike his sister, the younger kids did not give him a
hard time at first although some commented, Hes wearing girls
clothes. Danny gravitated toward the girls, who accepted him as a
skilled participant in their activities, but he became visibly anxious
when boys started playing rough around him, as they typically did. As
the other boys began to shout, shoot each other with toy guns, and
collide with each other, Danny shrank by the side of his guardian,
usually Jennifer or his mother.
On his fourth birthday Danny had a party attended by several
neighborhood kids and their mothers, his sister, Jennifer, and his
mother. He wore his tutu, a bridal veil he had recently persuaded his
mother to buy him, and black patent leather shoes that his sister had
outgrown. Jennifer did his nails and fixed his hair (with a bow), and
Danny was radiant. His gifts included a baseball bat and glove and a
toy car (his mother and perhaps Danny too wondered why anyone
would give these to him), some puzzles and books, a doll, a toy make-
up kit, and, best of all, a charm bracelet from Jennifer. Leslie realized
that the other mothers probably saw Danny as odd, but no one re-
marked about his outfit or the unusual gifts. Danny was ecstatic. He
was on top of the world, happier than he would be for a long time.
Dannys fifth year was a turning point, the year of unhappy aware-
ness. This was the year that other children, his mother, and Danny
himself began to realize that his behavior was not only unusual, but
also in some sense unacceptable. It was the year that Danny learned
how cruelly our world can treat boys like him.
A new family with two older boys, ages 8 and 11, moved in down
the street. The first time the boys met Danny, he was playing house
with several girls. They studied him with increasing amazement before
pronouncing him a sissy and a fag, and they laughed at him deri-
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The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
8The Man Who Would Be Queen
sively. Stunned, Danny ran home to his mother, who calmly explained
to him the meaning of these words. Seeing the tears in his eyes as he
struggled with the sissy accusationafter all, he does like girls
thingsshe was both furious at the boys and heartbroken for Danny.
She realized that to that point, he had had an easy time with his
femininity and that even if she could still intervene with these particu-
lar boys, there would be others with whom she couldnt. When she
defined a fag to Danny as a boy who loves other boys, Danny
protested, But I dont even like boys!
Next time Danny went to play at the house where the boys had
harassed him, his mother made sure she accompanied him. This pre-
vented a repeatthe boys knew enough not to be mean to Danny in
front of herbut it could not reverse serious damage to Dannys so-
cial situation. For one, she could not always be with him, and when-
ever Danny was on his own and saw his detractors, they made sure to
tease him: Fag! or Sissy! or Dannys gay! or Dannys a girl!
(Leslie thought it ironic that in other times and circumstances, the
latter accusation would have made Danny happy.) Even more disturb-
ing was the response of the other children, who began to question
Dannys play preferences: Danny, you shouldnt wear dresses. Youre a
boy. Occasionally, they rejected him outright: You cant play with
us. A couple of the older girls often protected Danny and scolded the
others for picking on him, but the damage had been done. Even when
Danny was allowed to play, there was now tension where before there
had been none. Difference that had been ignored now mattered.
Leslie seethed with anger at the two boys who had spoiled Dannys
world. She made an indignant phone call to their mother, who apolo-
gized, but nothing changed. She had violent fantasies of intimidating
them into stopping. But she simultaneously realized that sooner or
later Danny was destined to confront intolerance. Even if those boys
had never clouded Dannys life, someone would have. Events soon
proved her right.
Although Danny strongly preferred the company of girls, he had
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The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Princess Danny 9
befriended one boy. Martin was not feminine like Danny, but he was
on the quiet side, somewhat passive, and not rough. He didnt mind
taking orders from Danny or playing the roles that Danny cast him in,
which were, after all, invariably male roles. Dannys parents were
pleased that he had found a male friend. Once Martin spent the night,
and Danny spent several hours at Martins one day the next week.
Soon Danny asked his mother if he could have Martin over again.
Leslie called Martins parents to arrange something, and Martins
mother sounded strange as she said, You need to talk to Martins dad.
Martins father stammered a bit but otherwise sounded forceful as he
explained: We have a problem with the way that Danny plays. Last
time he was here, he wanted to be the wife and he got Martin to play
the husband. We dont think thats something our son should be a part
of. So for now, I dont think that Martin and Danny should play to-
gether. She couldnt bear to tell Danny the truth and so told him that
Martin was sick. When she told Dannys father later, she broke down
sobbing to think of her son, four and a half years old, banned from his
best friends company.
It was becoming increasingly clear to Leslie that she would have
to take a more active role in helping Danny negotiate his increasingly
difficult world. She had never liked the idea of squashing Dannys
feminine interests. Rather, she decided to help him become aware of
the potential consequences of his choices. The outstanding issue, she
decided, was cross-dressing in public. And so the next time Danny
wanted to go outside wearing his tutu, his mother stopped him, I
dont think you should wear that, Danny.
Because if you do, the other kids might be mean to you.
But I want to.
I dont think you should.
I just told you. If you want to wear that, fine, but only in here. If
you want to go outside, I want you to change into jeans.
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The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
10 The Man Who Would Be Queen
By this time, Danny was crying and ran into his room slamming
the door after him. She knew that she had hurt him, but what choice
did she have? Could a four and a half-year-old boy reconcile the fact
that there is nothing wrong with his strongest preferences with the
conflicting fact that he must nevertheless hide them from most of the
world? Could she reconcile these facts in her own mind?
Halloween approached, and she dreaded the unavoidable confron-
tation. When Leslie took her children to the store to get costumes,
Mary chose Jasmine (from Aladdin). Initially, Danny tried to choose
the same costume, but his mother said no. Danny thought her refusal
meant that he should choose a different costume from his sisters. But
when he selected a princess costume, his mother said, I dont think
thats best, honey, and suggested a cowboy costume. Disappointment
flashed in his face, followed by shame. They eventually resolved that he
would be a magician with top hat and cape and wand, but she had no
illusions that this was Dannys first choice.
Danny asked for a bicycle for his fifth birthday, and they went to
pick one out. Danny immediately chose a pink bike with streamers,
and with Barbie painted on it. His mother said that this was probably
not the best choice and tried to steer him toward a plain bike in blue
or red or green. This time, however, Danny was in no mood to com-
promise. In the end, he chose not to get a bike at all rather than get
one he did not want.
Leslie became increasingly sad and worried about Danny and be-
lieved she was depressed. She decided to go to a psychiatrist who
described himself as psychodynamically oriented and she told him
all about Danny. The psychiatrist also wanted to know about her
marriage, her own family, and her childhood. He seemed to focus on
the period around the time when Danny was born, a period she had
tried to forget. She had become depressed about her job. She found
accounting unrewarding, but she had invested so much time and effort
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The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Princess Danny 11
in taking courses and passing exams to be an accountant. Would she
have to abandon her career goals to become a housewife? For the first
year or so after Danny was born, she had been unenergetic and was
not the attentive mother she should have been to either child. Gradu-
ally, she had accepted that being a homemaker to young children is a
valuable job in itself, and that abandoning a career in accounting hardly
made her a failure. Her energy returned, and she became a better
mother to her children.
After a couple of months, the psychiatrist told her that he had
reached an understanding of her case. He explained that Dannys femi-
nine behavior was a direct consequence of her being unavailable to
him during his first yearthat because she was an absent mother,
Danny had reconstructed a substitute woman in himself. Although he
did not say so outright, it was clear that the psychiatrist believed that
Dannys atypical behavior was all her fault. His primary recommenda-
tion was that she continue in psychotherapy with him, perhaps in-
creasing to two visits a week. This feedback provoked a mixture of
feelings in her. She had always felt guilty about her maternal behavior
during this time and was now being confronted with the likelihood
that, indeed, she had harmed her child. At the same time, something
about the psychiatrists formulation seemed a bit of a stretch to her.
Can children really resort to such complicated solutions to their con-
flicts? At one year of age? And how is her psychotherapy going to help
Danny cope with the intolerant reactions of other people?
She sought a school psychologist for a second opinion, thinking
that a school psychologist had probably encountered boys like Danny
and would have practical advice, especially because Danny was about
to start kindergarten. She told their story to the school psychologist,
who wrote a report. When the psychologist summarized the report to
Leslie, she seemed more harshly judgmental than she had been during
the interview. Giving Danny Barbies and letting him cross-dress were
inappropriate parenting behavior, she said. Dannys parents had been
neither willing nor able to set reasonable limits on his feminine
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
12 The Man Who Would Be Queen
strivings, the report continued. The psychologist advised that if imme-
diate steps were not taken, Danny faced social ostracism and would
probably develop a homosexual preference. Although this was cer-
tainly not the first time Leslie had considered his future sexual orien-
tation, it was the first time that someone else had mentioned the issue
so directly. She did not like the way the psychologist seemed to assume
that homosexuality would be a bad outcome. In her own mind, the
issue was more complicatedshe wanted Danny to be happy, and if
he could be both happy and gay, she would love and accept him all the
same. And compared with Dannys current predicament, homosexual-
ity seemed a minor consideration. By the time the school psychologist
finished presenting her report, Leslie was in tears. Noticing this, the
psychologist said: I understand that this is difficult for you to hear, but
we both want what is best for Danny.
Around this time, Leslie learned something about her family that
she felt must be relevant. Her 40-year-old brother, Mark, called to say
that he was divorcing his wife because he was gay. Mark said that he
had recognized homosexual feelings in himself from childhood and
had had sex with men beginning in adolescence and even through his
marriage. But he had felt Catholic guilt and tried, at least intermit-
tently, to suppress his gay feelings. After falling in love with a man,
Mark realized that he could never be happy unless he followed his
heart, and this required self-acceptance. Leslie was stunned by his rev-
elation but managed to reassure her brother that it would not hurt
their relationship. Later, discussing this with her own mother, she made
a connection. She asked her mother whether Mark had been a femi-
nine boy. Her mother, who knew about Danny, revealed that, indeed,
he had been. When Mark was very young, he liked dolls and even
cross-dressed a couple of times. Their father had disliked these behav-
iors and wouldnt allow them. He had worried that Mark was becom-
ing a sissy and made him play sports, which Mark detested. She hadnt
mentioned this before because Mark seemed ashamed to be reminded
of his feminine past, and so she didnt want to bring it up. She had
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Princess Danny 13
always assumed that because Mark outgrew this behavior, Danny
would also. Leslie could not believe that the similarity between Danny
and Mark was merely a coincidence, but if not, what did it mean? Was
there something about their family that produced feminine boys? A
gene perhaps? Would Danny become a gay man, like Mark?
Kindergarten started off well enough. Leslie met with Dannys
teacher a week before school began. She said that Danny was special,
and then explained how. The teacher insisted that she would not
permit other children to give Danny a hard time, and her attitude was
confident and reassuring.
Leslie also talked to Danny, in order to prepare him. As delicately
as she could, she suggested that Danny not talk to the other children
about girl stuff for the time being, that Danny shouldnt bring dolls
or girls toys to school. She took Danny to Nordstrom to pick out
clothes for the first day of school. With her guidance, they selected a
red Ralph Lauren polo shirt (with the polo logo), navy khakis (pleated
and cuffed), and black tasseled loafers. Danny looked proud when the
salesman said, Yo u re going to be the best dressed boy in your school.
They had a bit of a conflict about Dannys lunchbox. He went straight
for a lavender Aladdin and Jasmine number, but she sadly refused. She
saw a blue one, featuring Aladdin and the genie, and Danny objected,
disappointed that there was no Jasmine. They settled, eventually, on a
red Aladdin version, sans Jasmine.
Leslie had been dreading the moment when she dropped Danny
off at class the first time. He had always been unusually attached to her,
and this separation would be for several hours in a new, potentially
scary, environment. They had discussed various scenarios that con-
cerned him: what if he got sick at school, what if she forgot to pick
him up, what if he got lost in the building. But at the moment of truth
in early September, Danny gave her a quick hug, said Bye, and
marched in. Leslie watched for a moment, then turned on her heel
and rushed out of the room so that Danny wouldnt see her cry.
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
14 The Man Who Would Be Queen
The first day was a short one, for orientation purposes, and three
hours later she anxiously re-entered the room and Danny ran to her
smiling. She felt immensely relieved. Maybe this could work. Maybe it
was even good for Danny. And for a while, it seemed so.
Then one afternoon about a month later, Leslie was called to pick
Danny up from school early. He had had a problem during recess, and
he had been crying nonstop ever since. When she picked him up, he
fell into her arms, and he couldnt stop sobbing long enough to ex-
plain what had happened. She took him home, and all he wanted to
do was sit in her lap quietly and watch television, periodically wailing
and crying, while she soothed him, quietly insisting that everything
was okay. Eventually, he calmed down enough to tell her what had
He had been playing with some girl friends on the playground.
Suddenly, a group of boys swooped in, shoved him to the ground, and
for good measure, a large one jumped on him, knocking the wind out
of him. Leslie could imagine just how he felt, because she believed she
felt the same way: betrayed for no apparent reason, with no warning.
She wondered if this was some kind of random careless act or if they
had specifically targeted Danny. She also wondered how Dannys be-
havior had registered with the other kids. His teacher had seemed
sympathetic but surprised at how Danny had reacted. The next morn-
ing before dropping him off, she assured Danny that he would be safe.
That afternoon, she learned that things had only gotten worse. At
recess three boys followed him around calling him girlfriend, fairy,
and faggot, until he latched onto the teacher and she scolded them.
Leslie arranged to talk to the teacher, who said she was angry with
the offending boys and promised to protect Danny. But she added:
Im concerned that Danny is doing some things that make other kids
dislike him. Hes bossy and demanding. He tells the girls he plays with
what they have to do and say. He tattles. And when other kids tease
him, instead of ignoring them, he talks back to them in ways that egg
them on. The other day, someone called him a girl, and he said: Id
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Princess Danny 15
rather be a girl than a stupid ugly boy. On the one hand, I admired his
chutzpah, but on the other hand, I knew that this would only make
things harder for him. Leslies hopes for Dannys easy adjustment to
kindergarten were destroyed.
Danny no longer wanted to go to school, but his mother managed
to get him there anyway. She considered any uneventful day a good
day. Whenever anything happened, it was usually bad. He had become
an outcast at school, and he also seemed to enjoy his life outside of
school less. She worried that he was depressed. When she raised the
possibility of taking Danny to a therapist (to talk to about things that
bother you), he initially resisted. He assumed that the therapist would
want to talk only about his femininity, and he was ashamed and defen-
sive. But his mother reassured him that he could talk about whatever
he wanted, and that she didnt want to change him. He eventually
agreed to see a child psychologist, who in turn gave Leslie the name of
a therapist she could see for the depression that she felt returning.
Current events gave Leslie one more concern. A teacher in one
of the wealthy suburbs made all the newspapers because he ended one
school year as a man and began the next as a woman. Danny found
outone of the kids at school told him that he should follow suit
and was very interested. (What happened to his penis? Can she have
babies? Is she pretty?) Transsexualism had always been in the back of
Leslies mind, albeit distantly, but Dannys reaction made her more
anxious. Even if she could handle Danny becoming gay, the possibility
that he would get surgery to become a woman was not something she
could tolerate.
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Growing Pains
chapter 2
n spring of 1996 Leslie Ryan came
to my Northwestern University of-
fice to seek yet another opinion. Jen-
nifer, Danny’s sitter, was a student in my human sexuality class and was
working in my laboratory on studies of sexual orientation. I had lec-
tured in class and spoken in lab meetings about feminine boys, and
Jennifer thought that I might be able to give Leslie more definitive
answers than those she had obtained thus far. Danny’s mother had
three general questions: Most importantly, What is the best way to
raise feminine boys to be happy boys? For the sake of curiosity, Where
do boys like Danny come from? For the sake of both curiosity and
helping Danny, What becomes of feminine boys? I could easily an-
swer only one of her questions. I have a good idea what Danny will be
like when he grows up.
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Growing Pains 17
Leslie insisted to me that she would love Danny no less if he grew
up to be gay. At the same time, she was curious whether he would, and
she also realistically thought that his life would be more difficult if he
were gay. And she knew that Dannys father desperately wanted Danny
to grow into a heterosexual man.
Many people believe that feminine boys become gay men. When
Danny was only three, the Ryans had discussed the possibility that he
might become gay. Of course, the children who had tormented
Dannycalling him fag”—were already convinced that Danny was
gay. That was undoubtedly why they wanted to torment him. Most
people Leslie has confided in have also broached the issue with her.
They seemed to be divided between two general opinions. Some
people recognized that the belief that feminine boys become gay is a
stereotype and so rejected it the same way they rejected most stereo-
types, which, they felt, are the product of unenlightened thinking.
Others wondered if there might well be something to the ideajust
as many people speculate (most often in private) about the truth of
other stereotypes. Social scientists have studied what becomes of boys
like Danny, and it is the one question about the boys that they have
effectively answered, one area in which even responsible social scien-
tists can give an answer that is more than a highfalutin way of saying I
dont know.
Several scientists have followed nearly 100 feminine boys from
childhood into early adulthood. Because of their work, we can make
educated predictions regarding Dannys adult sexuality. Most likely,
Danny will become a gay man. It is also possible, although less likely,
that he will grow up to be heterosexual. The final possible outcome is
that Danny will decide to become a woman, and in this case, he will
also be attracted to men.
The largest, most famous, and best study on this issue was con-
ducted by Richard Green, then a psychiatrist at UCLA. Green began
with 66 feminine boys, mostly referred by therapists. He also recruited
a control group of 56 typically masculine boys. The boys average age
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
18 The Man Who Would Be Queen
was about seven years old when Green first saw them, although some
were as young as four and others were as old as twelve.
The feminine boys exhibited a variety of feminine behaviors:
Cross-dressing: Nearly 70 percent did this frequently, com-
pared to none of the boys in the control group.
Playing with dolls: More than 50 percent did this frequently,
compared to less than 5 percent of the control group.
Taking female roles in games such as playing house: Nearly 60
percent took the female role, compared to none of the control group.
Relating better to girls rather than boys as peers: About 80
percent did so, compared to less than 5 percent of the control group.
Wishing to be girls: More than 80 percent stated such a wish
occasionally, compared to less than 10 percent of the control group.
Having below-average interest in rough-and-tumble play and
sports participation: Nearly 80 percent had below-average interest,
compared to 20 percent of the control group.
These were clearly two very different groups of boys, and the
feminine group was on the extreme side. Danny showed 5 of the 6
behaviors; he has never expressed outright the wish to be a girl.
The boys parents reported that their sons feminine behaviors
emerged quite early. For instance, more than half of them said that
cross-dressing had begun before age 3 and virtually all cross-dressing
began by age 6. Parents varied considerably in their initial reactions to
the feminine behavior. Some parents were horrified and intolerant.
Others seemed to have found the behavior cute, at least at first. They
showed Green photographs of their sons wearing high-heeled shoes
and dresses, and they admitted that they had bought their sons dolls.
Mothers who remembered reacting more positively had sons who
were slightly more feminine at the time Green first saw them. How-
ever, this effect was small, and one wonders how much mothers
memories might be biased by their sons present behavior. Leslies ini-
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Growing Pains 19
tial reaction was neither positive nor negative. Although emotionally
she was more concerned than delighted, her overt response to Danny
was to tolerate his femininity, if not to encourage it.
Green tried to stay in touch with the boys as they became teenag-
ers and adults. At the final follow-up he collected data from about
two-thirds of the boysit is practically impossible to maintain contact
with subjects in long-term studies such as Greens. On average, the
boys were 19 years old during their final interviews, the youngest
being 14 and the oldest 24.
The results of Greens study are among the clearest and the most
striking in all of developmental psychology. About 75 percent of the
young men who had been feminine boys said that they were attracted
to men, compared with only one young man who had been a typical,
masculine boy. The odds against these results being due to chance are
The other 25 percent of the young men who had begun as femi-
nine boys denied attraction to men. Green does not seem very skepti-
cal about these denials, but I am. For one, the 25 percent who claimed
to be heterosexual were three years younger, on average, than the 75
percent who admitted attraction to men. Coming out as gay to others,
or even to oneself, sometimes takes time, and it is likely that at least
some of the 25 percent who claimed to be heterosexual would even-
tually become gay men. Green himself wrote of some subjects who
denied homosexuality at earlier ages and then admitted later that they
had not been completely honest. It is conceivable that every one of
the feminine boys grew up to be attracted to men. I am not arguing
strongly that this is truewe simply do not know.
At his final interview, Todd, one of the young men from the femi-
nine group, said he wanted to become a woman. Nothing clearly dis-
tinguished Todds childhood from that of the other feminine boys. His
parents reacted negatively to his femininity. His father, in particular,
was angry about it, sometimes telling Todd to stop and sometimes
ignoring his cross-dressing and playing with dolls. At puberty, as Todd
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
20 The Man Who Would Be Queen
began to mature physically, he realized that he wanted to do so in the
female direction. He was somewhat small for his age. At age 17 he said
that he wished he had breasts and a vagina and, although he knew it
was impossible, wished he could give birth. He was attracted only to
men. At his final interview at age 18, he said that his mother had given
him a book about Christine Jorgensen, the first person ever to have a
sex change operation, and he had become obsessed with it.
We dont know whether Todd ever became a woman, but lets
assume he did. It might seem that if only one of the feminine boys
grew up to be transsexual, then being a feminine boy is not very
strongly related to adult transsexualism. But transsexualism is a very
rare outcome; in Western countries, only about 1 in 12,000 males
undergoes a sex change. Even if Todd was the only one, the rate of
transsexualism among the feminine boys was about 400 times higher
than we would expect in the general population. And conceivably
some of the feminine boys Green lost touch with became trans-
sexualfeminine boys who become transsexuals are often estranged
from their families and so are more difficult to contact. Some other
scientists believe that Greens transsexualism rate was on the low side,
although no one believes that transsexualism is nearly as common an
outcome as homosexuality is.
When I told Leslie about the prospective data on boys like Danny,
she said that she didnt care that he will probably become gay, that she
only wanted him to be happy. I believed her, but in any case, her
attitude is sensible. There is no reason to believe that we could alter
Dannys future sexual orientation even if we tried. Several boys in
Greens sample were treated for their feminine behavior, sometimes by
therapists who believed that homosexuality would be a bad outcome.
But the rate of homosexuality among the treated boys was no differ-
ent than among the others.
Still, she worried how she should act toward Danny, what would
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Growing Pains 21
help him have the happiest possible life. Should she accept his femi-
nine tendencies completely and indulge his atypical desires? Should
she have bought him the Barbie bike? Or should she do the opposite,
firmly and consistently discourage the behavior that has led him to
ostracism? Should she even discourage his private sex-atypical behav-
iorthrow out his girls clothes, for example?
Increasingly, Leslie felt torn. When she tolerated Dannys girl-like
behavior, she did so uncomfortably, wondering whether she was being
overly tolerant. After all, children dont get to do everything they want
to do. They dont get to eat candy, stay up late, or stay home from
school whenever they want. Was she failing Danny by not setting firm
limits on behavior that was ultimately self-destructive? But when she
did set limits, she felt more than just discomfort. When she saw the
disappointment, anger, and shame in Dannys eyes, invariably followed
by tears, she felt heartbroken. At those moments she wanted to tell
him that she loved him just as he was, that he should do whatever
made him happy, that she would always protect him from the reactions
of others. But she knew this was impossible.
If she knew that in the long run Dannys happiness would be
maximized by the short-term misery of squashing his femininity, she
could do it. Or if the opposite were truethat Danny would be hap-
piest if allowed to flourish in his own way, and that preventing this
would only damage himher inner conflict would cease; if she only
knew what to do.
Unfortunately for Leslie, psychologists dont always know what is
best, and we probably will not know for the foreseeable future. How-
ever, it is conceptually simple to design a scientific study to answer the
question. First, identify a group of boys like Danny. Next, randomly
assign them to be treated differently, with half the boys being indulged
and the other half discouraged in their femininity. Follow them into
adolescence and on to adulthood, and see if they differ in their out-
come. However, besides taking years to complete, such a study would
require that parents be indifferent to having their feminine boys
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
22 The Man Who Would Be Queen
assigned to either of two radically different treatments, with the possi-
bility of harm. (Of course, parents actions may already be harming the
boys, but at least the parents themselves are choosing how to treat
them.) It would also require serious research funding, to pay therapists
and researchers, but the issue has become the kind of ideological battle-
ground that funding agencies do not like to touch.
So I do not know what to tell Dannys mother about the best way
to treat Danny. I can only tell her what several experts, who have
studied and treated boys like Danny, recommend, and why. Unfortu-
nately, the experts disagree among themselves, some of them passion-
ately so. Indeed, the controversy concerning what to do about chil-
dren like Danny has become one of psychiatrys hottest potatoes.
According to the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the
American Psychiatric Association (DSM-IV-TR)which represents a kind
of official list of mental disordersDanny has a mental illness: child-
hood gender identity disorder (or GID for short). Gender identity
refers to the subjective internal feeling that one is male or female.
Most of us rarely, if ever, think about our gender identities. But if we
imagined that others were treating us as the opposite sexinsisted
that we were the opposite sexmost could get an idea of the mental
anguish a child with GID may feel.
To be diagnosed with GID, a boy must meet four major criteria.
(These are similar criteria to those for GID girls, although obviously,
girls and boys with GID behave nearly oppositely.) First, he must be-
have in very feminine ways. Second, he must show signs of being
unhappy as a boy. Third, his life must be substantially and negatively
affected by his symptoms. Fourth, his atypical behavior cannot be due
to a known medical syndrome that interferes with sexual differentia-
tion, or the process of becoming male or female. (One example of this
would be Kleinfelters syndrome, a condition in which boys are born
with an extra X chromosome.)
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Growing Pains 23
The controversy focuses on the first two criteria, and particularly
on the second. So lets look at them more closely. In order to meet
the first, behavioral, criterion a boy must show at least four of the
A repeatedly stated desire to be, or insistence that he is, a girl
A preference for cross-dressing or simulating female attire
Strong and persistent preferences for female roles in make-
believe play or persistent fantasies of being female
An intense desire to participate in stereotypically feminine
games and pastimes
A strong preference for female playmates
The second major criterion concerns feelings, and in particular
gender dysphoria, or discomfort with ones biological sex. Children
are not very articulate about their feelings, and so we often infer their
feelings indirectly. The DSM gives a range of behaviors that can pro-
vide evidence of gender dysphoria. In boys, the most extreme forms
of gender dysphoria include the wish not to have a penis. But a boy
can also pass the gender dysphoria hurdle if he shows aversion toward
rough-and-tumble play and rejection of stereotypically male toys,
games, and activities.
Regarding the behavioral criteria, Danny has at least 4 of the 5
behaviors. (A few times when he was younger, he playfully insisted
that he was a girl. This doesnt qualify as a repeatedly stated insis-
tence.) Regarding gender dysphoria, he has never complained about
his penis, but he certainly dislikes rough-and-tumble play and rejects
stereotypically male activities. Danny is not even a close call, diagnos-
tically speaking.
The current controversy in the mental health professions regard-
ing what to do with boys like Danny is strongly related to attitudes
toward the GID diagnosis. Some experts think that it is obvious that
boys like Danny have mental problems that need to be treated. In
contrast, an emerging group of mostly (but not entirely) gay thinkers
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
24 The Man Who Would Be Queen
believe that the childhood GID diagnosis should not exist. They be-
lieve that the diagnosis does far more harm than good. The two groups
of experts would give very different recommendations to Dannys
Leslie knows about GID, and she unhesitatingly rejects the idea
that Danny is mentally ill. But that does not resolve her dilemma, nor
does it ease her mind. Danny is not mentally ill because he is feminine,
but he is having problems and is too often unhappy, and she does not
know how to help him.
One approach that some clinicians have taken to boys like Danny
is socially conservative. Its most visible advocate is George Rekers,
who is a member of the ultra-conservative Leadership U, a virtual
university on the Web. Rekers is an academic psychologist who held
positions at Harvard and the University of California, Los Angeles,
before assuming his present position at the University of South Caro-
lina. He has published numerous academic articles and several books,
and at one point he was funded by the National Institutes of Health to
research the treatment of children with GID. Yet there are disturbing
aspects of Rekers work that are peculiarly unscientific, such as his
writings invoking religious arguments for the superiority of hetero-
sexuality. His assertion that homosexuality is an unfortunate perver-
sion was, even in 1982, certainly out of fashion in academia, which
tends to be socially liberal. Rekers represents the right wing of gender
theorists and therapists.
Rekers position seems to be essentially the same as that of the
National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality
(NARTH): homosexuality is inferior sexuality; homosexual people
can sometimes be successfully changed into heterosexual people; ho-
mosexuality is the result of faulty learning and abnormal family dy-
namics, so the earlier the intervention the better; feminine boys are
sick and at risk for homosexuality; feminine behavior can be elimi-
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Growing Pains 25
nated the way that many other undesirable behaviors can, by consis-
tent application of reward and punishment.
Rekers has published vivid case histories of some of his patients,
and perhaps the most interesting was known by the pseudonym
Kraig. Kraig was especially important because he was a member of
Greens long-term study (Green named him Kyle), and so we know
something about how Kraig turned out.
Kraig entered therapy when he was about five years old. Both his
parents were quite worried about, and his father was in fact intolerant
of, Kraigs feminine behavior. At least once prior to therapy his father
spanked Kraig for putting female clothes on his stuffed animals. Kraigs
therapy involved the application of behavior-modification principles
that are familiar to many psychologists, teachers, and parents. For ex-
ample, Kraigs mother was trained to ignore him whenever he dis-
played feminine behavior. This was initially quite traumatic for both of
them. Kraig screamed so loudly in the laboratory during one session
that he had to be removed by a laboratory assistant. Kraig was also put
on a token economy, in which he was given different colored tokens
for masculine and feminine behavior. The blue tokens he earned for
masculine behavior could be exchanged for treats such as candy bars.
The red tokens he earned when he was bad”—femininehad bad
consequences ranging from loss of blue tokens to loss of television
time to the most effective punishment: being spanked by his father.
Although training occurred in the laboratory, these techniques were
applied in all areas of Kraigs life, for example, including his choice of
male versus female playmates.
According to Rekers, after 60 sessions Kraig engaged exclusively
in male-typical behavior. Rekers treatment team noticed, however,
that in the laboratory Kraig seemed to be acting. He would approach
the table of toys and say something like Oh look at those girls toys.
Yuck. I dont want to play with those. Where are the good boys toys?
Still, Rekers convinced himself that Kraig was a clear success. Indeed,
two years after treatment ended, his mother was concerned that Kraig
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
26 The Man Who Would Be Queen
had become too rough and destructive. Rekers advised her that this
problem also was treatable and was preferable to the excessive femi-
ninity that Kraig initially displayed.
Green saw Kraig periodically between the ages of 5 and 18. When
Kraig was 17, his mother was interviewed and said she was thankful
that he had had the therapy; that without it he would have doubtless
become homosexual or worse. Unfortunately, however, the therapy
had not rescued Kraigs relationship with his father, which had only
gotten worse. (It seems that Kraig never learned to enjoy hunting with
his father and preferred art and theater to sports.) At age 17 Kraig was
telling a story similar to his mothers, indicating his disgust with ho-
mosexuality and men who behaved in a feminine way. A year later,
however, Kraig admitted that he not only had homosexual feelings but
that he had acted on themwith a complete stranger in a restroom in
a convention center. He felt in his mind that the experience was un-
real, and shortly afterwards took an overdose of aspirin. (He survived.)
He believed that his parents would be disappointed and upset if they
found out that he was not heterosexual. In general, Kraig appeared to
be ashamed and deeply conflicted about his homosexuality. But he no
longer enjoyed dressing or acting like a girl.
Opposite Rekers on the gender political spectrum is a group of
increasingly vocal clinicians, writers, and theorists, who believe that
boys like Danny are healthy victims of a sick society. They include
psychiatrists Richard Isay, Ken Corbett, and Justin Richardson, psy-
chologist Clinton Anderson, scientist Simon LeVay, and journalist
Phyllis Burke, author of Gender Shock. (All these individuals are homo-
sexual, but this movement also includes some heterosexual support-
ers.) They argue that there is nothing inherently wrong with children
who behave like the opposite sex. Most of these writers accept that
there is a strong correlation, in boys at least, between early sex-
atypicality and later homosexuality. (Burke is an exception.) Because
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Growing Pains 27
homosexuality is normal and healthy, feminine pre-homosexual boys
should not be labeled sick any more than gay men should be. (This
argument is closely analogous to the one that Rekers uses to generate
the conclusion that homosexuality is a form of mental illness.) The
problem that feminine boys face is that of an ignorant, intolerant soci-
ety, a society that allows people to be cruel to them for no good
reason. Treating a man or boy for femininity does more harm than
Isay, for example, says that virtually all the gay men he has seen in
his clinical practice had some feminine traits in boyhood, and a few of
them were sent by their parents for psychological treatment. Accord-
ing to Isay, his gay patients who had been treated during childhood for
being prone to cry easily were now uncomfortable with emotional
expression. Treated for excessive femininity, they now tried to distance
themselves from all things feminine, despite the fact that femininity is
part of their nature. The result can only be unhealthy inner conflict.
LeVay and Burke both point to Rekers patient, Kraig, as a kind of
poster child of the harm that the GID notion produces. To them, the
primary results of Kraigs treatment were damage to his self-esteem
and the crippling of his ability to express his romantic and sexual
feelings toward men.
A recurring theme among the critics of the childhood gender
identity diagnosis is that it includes children who simply do not con-
form to stereotypes of the other sex, whether or not the children have
deeper gender identity problems. In other words, a boy who acts like a
girl but is happy being a boy could still earn a diagnosis of GID. Al-
though gender dysphoria is ostensibly a core component of the syn-
drome, in order to meet the criterion it is sufficient that a boy avoid
typical boys activities. This would make sense if boys who strongly
preferred acting like girls to acting like boys invariably did so because
they wanted to be girls and disliked being boys. They think that deep
inside, Danny Ryan wants to become a girl, whether or not he says so.
The critics of the childhood gender identity diagnosis believe that,
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
28 The Man Who Would Be Queen
often, feminine boys just like to be feminine boys, and no more. Simi-
larly, most of these critics downplay any association between symp-
toms of childhood GID and later transsexualism. They do not believe
that the femininity of boys like Danny implies a fundamental gender
dysphoria that typifies transsexual adults. They think that Danny Ryan
just likes to act like girls do, but that he would be content being a
feminine boy.
The anti-GID folks have a logically consistent treatment recom-
mendation: no diagnosis, no treatment. They do not believe that Danny
needs psychotherapy to help him become more masculine or satisfied
with being a boy. Rather, they believe that most boys with GID
even boys who declare that they are girlswill grow out of it on their
own. And they are uniformly horrified by the behavioral techniques
applied by Rekers. To be sure, they do not think that boys with GID
have easy lives, and they do not believe the boys should be ignored.
Rather, they want to change society so that feminine boys are treated
less badly. I initially was quite skeptical about this position, because it
seemed to smack of ideological grandstanding at the expense of femi-
nine boys. Who can really hope to change society? I once challenged
LeVay on this, and he told me about a teacher friend of his who had a
GID boy in class, and who helped the class come to terms with the
boys odd behavior and appearance. And he reminded me of how
dramatically some other societal beliefs had recently changed. So I
became less skeptical, if not yet convinced.
Ken Zucker, head of the Child and Adolescent Gender Identity
Clinic in Toronto, has criticized the right-wing position on GID, and
he has recently clashed with the left-wing. Therefore, and perhaps
because I find his position especially balanced, I consider him to be
the moderate. With his thick gray beard and his contemplative man-
ner, Zucker appears rabbinical. He has certainly acquired a Talmudic
knowledge of the literature concerning childhood GID, about which
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Growing Pains 29
he is the worlds leading expert. His book Gender Identity Disorders in
Children and Adolescents is surely the most comprehensive text ever
written on this topic. To say that Zucker is knowledgeable is an under-
statement. To say that he is obsessive about certain subjects, including
GID and sexual orientation, is only a slight overstatement. I have seen
Zucker in academic action for a number of years. He has reviewed my
articles, for example, and now he is editor of the prestigious journal,
Archives of Sexual Behavior, and decides whether articles should be pub-
lished there. Invariably, he has pointed out several mistakes in my pa-
pers, from omissions of prior research I had been unfamiliar with, to
punctuation mistakes in my reference list (!). For this reason, I tend to
give Zucker the benefit of the doubt in certain respects. For example,
I do not think he is prone to make mistakes due to being uninformed
or rushing to decisions. This is not to say that he is always right.
So what is Zuckers position? First, he believes that the diagnosis
of childhood GID is useful and valid, and the diagnosis is not merely a
value judgment that boys who like girls activities (or girls who like
boys activities) are sick or wrong. This is due to his conviction that
children with GID suffer, and that the suffering is not only attribut-
able to bullying by closed-minded peers and adults. Second, Zucker
thinks that kids with GID often need to be treated with psycho-
therapy, and that their families do as well. These beliefs obviously dis-
tinguish Zuckers opinion from that of the left—“leave masculine girls
and feminine boys alone”—crowd, but Zucker also disagrees with the
rights emphasis on preventing homosexuality. Zucker does not con-
sider this an important clinical goal, because he thinks that homo-
sexual people can be as happy as heterosexual people, and regardless,
he doubts that therapy to prevent homosexuality works.
However, when I spoke to Zucker about the current debate about
childhood GID, I came away with the impression that these days, he
feels besieged primarily on the left. He has had several recent ex-
changes in academic journals on the issue of GID, all with critics who
believe that the GID diagnosis is essentially gender repression; his
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
30 The Man Who Would Be Queen
tone in some of these exchanges has seemed irritable. He has argued,
among other things, that the notion that a boy might be diagnosed
simply for liking dolls is completely wrong. All the children referred
to his clinic for GID have had significant cross-gender behavior.
More importantly, he has scoffed at the idea that children with
GID are unhappy only because they are socially ostracized. He re-
members cases in which children were unhappy primarily because
they couldnt become the other sex. For example, he recalls parents of
a boy with GID telling him: Every night before going to bed, he
prays to God to turn him into a girl. Another mother of a six-year-
old boy with GID told Zucker that the boy cried himself to sleep
every night, softly singing, My dreams will never come true. These
boys are unhappy because they arent girls, regardless of whether oth-
ers call them sissy. Zucker thinks that an important goal of treatment
is to help the children accept their birth sex and to avoid becoming
transsexual. His experience has convinced him that if a boy with GID
becomes an adolescent with GID, the chances that he will become an
adult with GID and seek a sex change are much higher. And he thinks
that the kind of therapy he practices helps reduce this risk.
Zucker emphasizes a three-pronged treatment approach for boys
with GID. First, he thinks that family dynamics play a large role in
childhood GIDnot necessarily in the origins of cross-gendered be-
havior, but in their persistence. It is the disordered and chaotic family,
according to Zucker, that cant get its act together to present a consis-
tent and sensible reaction to the child, which would be something like
the following: We love you, but you are a boy, not a girl. Wishing to
be a girl will only make you unhappy in the long run, and pretending
to be a girl will only make your life around others harder. So the first
prong of Zuckers approach is family therapy. Whatever conflicts or
issues that parents have that prevent them from uniting to help their
child must be addressed.
The second prong is therapy for the boy, to help him adjust to the
idea that he cannot become a girl, and to help teach him how to
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Growing Pains 31
minimize social ostracism. Zucker does not teach boys how to walk in
a manly fashion, but he does give them feedback about the likely
consequences of taking a doll to school.
The third prong is key. Zucker says simply: The Barbies have to
go. He has nothing against Barbie dolls, of course. He means some-
thing more general. Feminine toys and accoutrementsincluding
Barbie dolls, girls shoes, dresses, purses, and princess gownsare no
longer to be tolerated at home, much less bought for the child. Zucker
believes that toleration and encouragement of feminine play and dress
prevents the child from accepting his maleness. Common sense says
that a boy who wants to play with dolls so much that he is willing to
risk his fathers wrath and his peers scorn is unlikely to change his
behavior due to inconsistent feedback, sometimes forbidding, some-
times tolerating, and sometimes even encouraging it. Inconsistent
parenting like this is ineffective in stamping out any kind of unwanted
Compared with the therapy of the right-wingers, Zuckers therapy
is more psychologically focused and less punitive. Although Zucker
encourages parents of GID boys to set limits on their sons feminine
activities, he also encourages parents to discuss their gender concerns
openly with their sons. Still, there is no denying that both moderate
Zucker and right-winger Rekers think that parents should not just sit
back and let their sons express their feminine sides. This view draws
the wrath of the left-wingers, who insist that there is nothing wrong
with boys who like girls things. The central difference between
Zucker and his critics on the left is that Zucker believes that most
boys who play with girls things often enough to earn a diagnosis of
GID would become girls if they could. Failure to intervene increases
the chances of transsexualism in adulthood, which Zucker considers a
bad outcome. For one, sex change surgery is major and permanent,
and can have serious side effects. Why put boys at risk for this when
they can become gay men happy to be men?
I have not heard anyone argue that transsexualism is an acceptable
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
32 The Man Who Would Be Queen
outcome for feminine boys. This possibility is worth thinking about,
though, and in a moment I will. For now, lets assume that we dont
want boys to become girls and consider whether Zuckers methods
are necessary. One leftist, the scientist Simon LeVay, has argued that
most boys with GID grow up as normal gay men without therapy, and
so the discouragement of femininity that Zucker recommends is un-
necessary and even cruel.
One bone of contention is the rate of untreated boys with GID
who would become transsexual. Because Richard Greens prospective
study is so famous, it is common for people to cite his transsexual
outcome rate of 2 percent (one boy out of fifty). However, a more
comprehensive review found a rate of 6 percent, and the authors
(Zucker was one) believe that this may have been an underestimate.
Transsexual adults are more likely than gay men to be estranged from
their families and unable to be found for a follow-up study. So maybe
transsexualism is a more common outcome than some people believe.
Recent experience in the Netherlands, where attitudes towards
transsexualism are quite liberal, also suggests this. Peggy Cohen-
Kettenis, a psychologist at the gender clinic for children and adoles-
cents at the University Medical Center in Utrecht, recently reported
that 23 percent of the clinics adolescent patients who had been evalu-
ated for gender identity problems as children went on to request sex
reassignment when they became eligible to do so at age 12.
Still, most boys who want to be girls become men who dont
want to be women. In the Zucker-LeVay exchange, LeVay didnt say
how he thinks this happens. But he did imply that it is unnecessary to
try to make boys with GID more like other boys. Somehow, perhaps
through psychological maturity alone, they will lose their desire to be
girls and their unhappiness to be boys. The problem with this analysis
is that it ignores what happens in the lives of these boys, even those
who get no therapy. In contemporary America (and in every other
culture I know), very feminine boys simply cannot avoid encounter-
ing strong pressure to stop being feminine. Boys who wear dresses or
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Growing Pains 33
play openly with Barbies are ostracized by at least some of their peers,
for example. This means that we cant know how they would grow up
if we left them alone. Boys with GID are not left alone.
Imagine that we could create a world in which very feminine
boys were not persecuted by other children and their parents allowed
them to play however they wanted. Do we really think that boys with
GID would have the same low rate of transsexual outcome that they
do in our crueler, less tolerant world? As much as I would like to
arrange such a world, I think that it might well come with the cost of
more transsexual adults.
Maybe it would be worth it, though. It is conceivable to me that
transsexuals who avoided the trauma and shame of social ostracism
and parental criticism would be happier and better adjusted than the
gay men whose masculinity came at the expense of shame and disap-
pointment. Certainly their childhoods and adolescences would be. Per-
haps it would be more humane if we educated boys with GID early
on that if they wanted, they could eventually become women. If they
still wished to become women when puberty began, we could put
them on hormones to prevent their bodies from becoming very mas-
culine, so that they would be more realistic and attractive women once
they made the change. At age 16, boys who had retained their cross-
gender wishes could opt for surgery. I can imagine that this world
would be more humane than ours, although we cannot know it with-
out conducting an experiment that will probably never be possible.
In our world very feminine boys must contend with peers who
despise sissies, fathers who get squeamish seeing them pick up a doll,
parents who have a difficult enough time accepting that their sons will
be gay, much less that they might become women. For the most part,
people do not just keep these attitudes to themselves but convey them
to the boys. So even the boys with GID whose parents dont bring
them to therapy are getting at least some therapeutic components.
They are getting a regimen of behavioral modification, heavy on pun-
ishment. Compared with this, Zuckers therapy seems kinder and more
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
34 The Man Who Would Be Queen
consistent, and thus more likely to be effective. Zucker believes that it
is, although he is the first to acknowledge that no scientific studies
currently support the effectiveness of what he does. Designing a study
that would decide whether his therapy works, over and above the
social influence that all feminine boys are guaranteed, is conceptually
simple: Randomly assign boys with GID (along with their families)
either to receive Zuckers therapy or to receive no therapy at all. See if
those Zucker treats are less likely to become transsexual. Or see if the
boys Zucker sees are happier in some other way. These are the types of
questions that Dannys mother most wanted to know the answers to
the day she came to my office. But I could not tell her, because no one
knows. Furthermore, given the squeamishness of funding agencies
about these kinds of questions, I doubt that we will know the answer
for decades, if ever. Which means that parents of very feminine boys
are sentenced to acting in ignorance, trusting their instincts, hoping
their decisions turn out for the best. Although this is similar to the
situation of all parents much of the time, the stakes seem higher for the
GID boys.
I am fairly certain that when he grows up, Danny Ryan will be-
come a man rather than changing into a woman. I am more certain
that no matter what Danny becomes, his sexual desires will be for
men. Now eight years old, Danny probably has not yet had clear sexual
desires. Recall that at age five he claimed to dislike boyshe meant
that he didnt like their personalities and activities, not that he disliked
them sexually. Certainly at age five, Danny had no unambiguous sexual
feelings. But he will.
We know very little about how childrens sexual feelings develop.
Our society is very squeamish about childrens sexuality. I am not sure
that a study proposing to ask children about their sexual knowledge
and feelings could even be conducted in this country at the beginning
of the twenty-first century. This would be true especially of a study
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Growing Pains 35
that aimed to ask about homosexuality. I cannot imagine Congress
approving funding for such a project, and many parents wouldnt let
their children participate. That is too bad, both for science and for boys
like Danny.
Try to remember how ignorant of sex you once were. Well into
grade school, I had no idea what a vagina was (despite having two
sisters). I thought that intercourse involved the penis going into the
anus, or perhaps the navel, or perhaps that sperm crawled from the
penis into the woman while people sleptI believed all these things
at one time or another. I learned more accurate information gradually,
and mostly from peers and experience. But I could count on many
peers knowing more than I did, because they were nearly all hetero-
sexual. And regardless of my knowledge of sexual anatomy, I knew
that men and women, and many boys and girls, had romantic rela-
tionships. I saw evidence for this everywhere: at school, on television,
in the movies. My friends and I talked about girls we liked (or pre-
tended not to like).
I didnt know about homosexuality until after grade school, per-
haps just before high school, and I had very little idea what it involved.
Looking back, I see now that a boy I sat next to and befriended during
high school French class was flaming, but I didnt know that at the
time. I may have been a slow learner, but my point is that for straight
kids, only the graphic details are kept from themand they have many
opportunities to learn these from friends. By comparison, gay kids
must feel like Martians. Until very recently, there were no openly gay
characters on television or in the movies. Even today, when children
hear about homosexuality, it is usually in a derisive way. The gay
humorist, David Sedaris, wrote about how important it was for gay
children to join straight kids in picking on anyone accused of being
gay, in order to direct attention away from themselves. Although there
are probably some liberal communities where this would no longer
happen, there are many more where anti-gay sentiments are virulent.
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
36 The Man Who Would Be Queen
Many boys must simultaneously learn that they are gay and that they
are despised.
How will Danny learn that he likes men? Commonly, gay men
remember that they felt vaguely different from other children. This
difference doubtless has something to do with gender nonconformity,
but it probably also has to do with sexuality. Even before I knew the
correct details about sex, I had crushes on girls. Gay boys presumably
have crushes on other boys, and these crushes make them behave and
feel different from other boys. Most people recall that they had their
first sexual attraction at about age 10, or fifth grade.
A couple of years later genital arousal kicks in, so that boys cannot
easily hide their sexual preferences from themselves. Their penises in-
sist on being heard. This is sexual desire. Even here, though, motivated
boys can fool themselves. A gay friend told me that he always fanta-
sized about a man and a woman having sex, often with accompanying
pornography. He thought this meant he was straight. When he finally
admitted to himself that he was gay, he was able to see that he had
always been aroused by the men in the fantasies, not the women.
Ones first sexual experience is variable in timing, because it de-
pends so much on circumstances. A gay adolescent in a small, conser-
vative community might have no potential sexual outlet. If he is in a
large, urban setting, he almost certainly will. On average, gay men have
their first homosexual experience at about age 14.
Very feminine gay boys tend to know they are gay earlier than
masculine gay boys do. They have been called gay, fag, queer,
homo, and so on, since before they knew the meanings of such
words. They are outed at an early, pre-sexual, age. When they start
having erections around attractive males during puberty, feminine boys
need only connect some close dots. In some ways, it might be easier
for feminine boys to accept their homosexuality. For example, they
do not have to worry about ruining their image. Their image is
already gay.
They might also have sex earlier. This is partly because they are
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Growing Pains 37
quicker to acknowledge their homosexual desire, but it might also be
because they are easier for other gay people to recognize. A gay male
must be careful about approaching other males sexually, but very femi-
nine boys are a safer bet. I would wager that among the many highly
publicized cases of predatory men having sex with adolescent boys, a
non-trivial percentage of the boys were recognizably feminine. The
older men had reason to think that their advances would succeed.
Early awareness of homosexuality is not necessarily beneficial. Gay
men who were gender nonconforming boys and who came out early
are more likely to say that they contemplated or attempted suicide
than masculine gay men who came out later. We dont know why, but
it seems likely to have something to do with the stigmatization of
gender nonconformity.
If any feminine boy is likely to have an easy time coming out, it is
Danny Ryan. His mother already knows he will probably be gayI
told herand she says that this wont be a problem for her. She will
have to run some interference with her husband, who is much less
accepting of the possibility, but she has already learned to do that
regarding Dannys feminine behavior. It is odd for me to think that
many people would think that Leslie Ryan is shirking her maternal
duty by helping Danny feel okay to be gay. I think he is blessed to
have her.
Leslie Ryan says that Danny is going into the closet more. She
doesnt mean the literal closet where he used to seek her shoes. She
means that more and more, he is hiding his femininity. Patrick has
taken to playing catch with Danny, and Danny apparently enjoys
spending this time with his father. But he is not very good at playing
catch, and his mother thinks he would rather be doing something else.
He will no longer talk willingly about his feminine ways. Jennifer,
his old babysitter, recently visited him. She recalled playing Barbie
with him, and Danny said: We dont talk about those things any
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
38 The Man Who Would Be Queen
more. He seems ashamed to have others know or talk about his un-
usual behavior.
He continues to see a therapist, and his mother worries somewhat
less about him than she used to. She thinks he has accepted that he will
grow up to be a man, if a feminine man. She knows that there are
problems ahead too. If Danny becomes a gay man, as seems likely, he
will encounter more intolerance. Still, she thinks that at age eight,
Danny has left his most difficult times behind him.
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
The Boy Who Would
Not Be a Girl
chapter 3
t is difficult to see a boy like Danny
Ryan without wondering why he
exists. He is so unusual, and there is
no obvious explanation. When Mrs. Ryan came to my office, her main
concern was Danny’s well being, but even she expressed profound
curiosity about where Danny’s femininity came from. Of course, her
curiosity is tinged with the possibility of guilt. Mothers are the first to
be accused of causing their children’s problems.
Most people Mrs. Ryan has encountered have probably looked at
her first as the likely cause. American views on gender development
have been dominated for decades by the idea that differences between
boys and girls are rooted in socialization, and socialization begins at
home. If a boy thinks he is a girl, the parents must have done some-
thing wrong. This has been the commonest view of both scientists,
such as developmental psychologists, and laypeople.
The prevailing view is probably incorrect. Danny’s atypical behav-
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
40 The Man Who Would Be Queen
ior is best explained as the result of feelings that began within him and
persisted with little encouragement. Recent dramatic scientific find-
ings have suggested that we couldnt socialize a boy to behave like
Danny even if we tried.
When she was six months pregnant, Jessica Johnson got news that
every expectant mother dreads: something was wrong with her baby.
It was not growing fast enough, and when the doctors did an ultra-
sound, they saw a mass on the babys stomach. They told her that the
babys intestines were at least partially outside its body; but when it
was born, this problem could be surgically repaired. Although the con-
sulting surgeon knew Jessica was worried, he reassured her that soon
after the baby was born, it would be all over, and she would never
look back.
Mrs. Johnson saw the surgeon again soon after the baby was deliv-
ered by cesarean section. He had lost his reassuring demeanor and told
her grimly: Your sons problems are much worse than we expected.
He has a very rare and serious problem, called cloacal exstrophy. His
bowels are poorly formed and open into his bladder. He needs surgery
right now. If they survive, kids like this will need several major surger-
ies during childhood.
If they survive? Mrs. Johnson said to herself, but before she
could ask him about this, the surgeon added: There is something else
you need to know. Boys with this condition are born with poorly
formed penises, and in order to give them the best possible outcome
later in life, the standards of care are to surgically reassign them as girls.
This means that right away, you need to start thinking of your baby as
a girl. He went on to explain that her baby would be castrated and
eventually would be given female hormones and have a surgically
constructed vagina. She looked at her husband, who seemed dazed,
and she burst into tears.
When they talked privately later, they decided that they could live
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
The Boy Who Would Not Be a Girl 41
with changing the baby into a girl. They had been planning to call
him Jason, but now they agreed to call her Amanda. They would tell
no one, and because they had never known Jason, they would not miss
him. Although the sex reassignment had been shocking initially, it
seemed less important now, in the scheme of things. Amanda had sur-
gery to close her bladder and to correct several other severe problems
with her digestive tract. An ileostomy was created, in order for waste
to drain. The testes were removed. During the first week, the doctors
became more optimistic that Amanda would live.
Her mother tried to find out as much as she could about cloacal
exstrophy, its causes and its prognosis. It is very rare, occurring once in
every 400,000 live births. The surgeon had seen only one other case.
No one knows what causes it. It isnt hereditary, and so if Mrs. Johnson
has another child, it will almost certainly not have it. Until the early
1970s babies born with cloacal exstrophy died shortly after birth. When
she learned this, Mrs. Johnson briefly wondered whether this would
have been a better outcome, but she banished this thought. Children
with cloacal exstrophy spend a good part of their childhoods in the
hospital, having and recovering from surgeries. And if she and her
husband treated Amanda like a normal girl, there was every reason to
expect her to become one.
They brought Amanda home when she was a month old. She was
their first child, so they had nothing to compare her to, but she seemed
to be a happy, easy baby. Aside from the countless trips to the doctor,
that is. Mrs. Johnson grew increasingly attached to her.
By age two Amanda had begun to develop a strong personality.
She was assertive, loud, and active. When she played with her dolls
and cuddly toys, she did so in a very non-maternal way. She would
throw them, tear them apart, and carry them by their hair. She
enjoyed cartoons meant for boys. By age four, Amanda had begun
to balk at being dressed in dresses or in anything pink. She played
more with the boys she met than with the girls. On her fourth
birthday she had a party, and the mother of one of Amandas friends
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
42 The Man Who Would Be Queen
said I think that girl was meant to be a boy. She meant it jok-
ingly, but Mr. and Mrs. Johnson glanced at each other knowingly.
Later, for the first time, her husband raised the question that she
had not dared to speak: Do you think we did the right thing?
During their discussion they agreed that Amanda might be a tom-
boy, but she was a happy child. Neither of them wished her to be
different than she was.
Mrs. Johnson brought up the subject of Amandas behavior with
the surgeon the next time she saw him. He told her that it is common
for girls like Amandathat is, girls who were born boysto have
tomboyish traits. Before she was born, Amanda got a male dose of
testosterone, and this is going to have some effect on her brain. But
he reassured her that girls like Amanda appear to adjust fine as girls.
Mrs. Johnson wondered how certain he could be of this if he had only
seen one other patient with cloacal exstrophy, but she didnt want to
appear difficult. The surgeon ended their meeting with the warning
that it was important that the parents stick to the plan of rearing
Amanda unambiguously as a girl. Life is hard enough for her. You
dont want to confuse her.
When Amanda entered school, she became even more masculine.
During recess she played with the boys, and she began to play sports.
She especially liked baseball and basketball. She was a good athlete, as
good as the better boys. With her short hair and masculine ways
of moving and talking, strangers often mistook her for a boy. Her
classmates accepted and liked her, but they recognized that she was
When she was seven years old, Amandas parents began to worry
that it was wrong to hide the truth of her birth from her. They felt
guilty, and they also worried that when she became an adult she would
have access to her medical records and would discover the truth. They
worried that she would hate them for not telling her, or worse, that
she would not be able to cope with the discovery and would have a
breakdown. They decided to tell her.
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
The Boy Who Would Not Be a Girl 43
Although it might seem to be a heavy load to drop on a child, this
was no ordinary seven year old. They reasoned that she was probably
already wondering why she was so different. Besides, children younger
than Amanda learn all kinds of things that others might find disturb-
ing. Mrs. Johnson knew of young children who discovered that they
were adopted or who learned that their parents were criminals.
Amanda was basically a happy kid, with two loving and supportive
parents, and she would be okay.
Amandas parents told her that they had a big secret that they
thought she was finally old enough to know. She was, understandably,
intrigued. Her mother spoke: Amanda, when you were born, you
were a boy. But the cloacal exstrophy had made it so that you didnt
have a normal penis. So the doctors said that you had to become a girl.
They operated on you to make you a girl, and they told us that we
should raise you as one. I know that is a lot for you to take in, so Im
going to stop and let you think and ask any questions you want.
Amanda sat, still, stunned, expressionless. As her mother and father
watched her, they ached inside. She asked: If I was born a boy, then
why cant I still be a boy? They looked at each other, hesitatingly. She
said, more insistently: I am still a boy. Her parents neither agreed nor
argued. She ran to her room.
Her parents discussed what they would do. Neither felt certain
what the best course of action was. Both were suddenly feeling very
disenchanted with the strategy prescribed by Amandas doctors, to
insist that she is a normal girl. Before they could decide a course of
action, she emerged from her room and told them that she wanted a
boys name. Mrs. Johnson shrugged and said When you were born,
we were going to call you Jason. Amanda/Jason said: I like that name.
It was July, and school was out, so Mr. and Mrs. Johnson felt that
they had a bit of time to reach a resolution. Their child was deter-
mined to stay a boy, and when they forgot and called her Amanda,
she corrected them impatiently: Jason! They were surprised at how
easily they stopped making that mistake. By August, they were firmly
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
44 The Man Who Would Be Queen
on Jasons side. Jason brought up the question of how they would let
his classmates and friends know about his change, and he decided that
they would tell everyone on the first day of school. They told his
teacher beforehand. (When they told her they had a serious issue to
discuss, she insisted that she had heard everything before. When they
told her, she changed her mind.) It was a small class, and parents were
told ahead of time that an important announcement would be made.
So the room was full of curious parents and children on the first day.
Mr. Johnson began: Many of you know that our child has always
seemed more like a boy than a girl. Well, actually, Amanda was born a
boy, and changed into a girl due to medical problems. But Amanda has
decided to be a boy after all, and his new name is Jason. Any ques-
tions? The class sat in awkward silence until one parent said: Jason,
whats your favorite sport?
The children seemed to adjust quickly. It was as if people change
sex all the time. A few days later Jason said, The day I became a boy
was the happiest day of my life. He has said that many times since. He
is the best player on his junior high school basketball team, and he has
a girlfriend. His parents say that it is difficult to imagine him as Amanda.
They have no doubts that they did the right thing.
Suppose we wanted to do the perfect experiment to determine
whether the essence of boyhood and girlhood is inborn or learned,
the perfect nature-nurture study of gender. What would we do?
Just after conception, male and female fetuses are quite similar.
What make them differ are the direct and indirect effects of testoster-
one, which is present in much higher levels in males. This is why, for
example, males develop penises and females clitorises. Many scientists
believe that there are important brain differences between newborn
boys and girls that contribute to later behavioral differences. Other
scientists believe that at birth the brains of boys and girls are essentially
identical, and that girls and boys behave differently entirely due to the
socialization they receive.
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
The Boy Who Would Not Be a Girl 45
So to the perfect experiment: First we would take normal new-
born boys from their mothers. We would castrate the boys and surgi-
cally give the babies vaginas. Next, we would give them away to un-
suspecting parents, whom we would lead to believe were adopting
girls. We would watch the children to see how they develop.
What would we watch for? One obvious thing would be to see
whether the children behave more like boys or girls: whether they had
more stereotypically masculine or feminine interests; whether they
played rough; whether they had boys or girls as friends; whether they
liked wearing frills and having long hair or preferred pants and short
hair. The degree to which children behave like stereotypical boys or
girls is sometimes called gender role behavior. A second important out-
come to assess, when the kids got old enough, would be sexual orienta-
tion. Do the adolescent boys-changed-to-girls develop crushes on boys
or girls? We would also want to know whether the children were
satisfied being girls, or whether they would prefer returning to their
male state. This depends on gender identity, which we have already en-
Unfortunately for scientific progressbut fortunately for those of
us who prefer humane societiesthe definitive experiment can never
be performed. It can, however, be approximated, due to misfortune.
For example, science and the media have given a great deal of atten-
tion to two cases of boys who lost their penises in infancy and who
were reared as girls.
The first, more famous, case is that of David Reimer. (Before he
publicly revealed his name, the case was known as the John/Joan case.)
As an eight-month-old baby, David lost his penis in a surgical acci-
dent. The prevailing scientific belief at the time was that children were
psychosexually neutral at birth. That is, both boys and girls could be
changed into the other sex, with the right upbringing and the right
surgery. However, it was, and still is, beyond surgeons abilities to con-
struct penises that function acceptably. On the other hand, surgeons
have become expert at constructing vaginas. And so Davids parents
were given the choice of whether to raise him as a boy without a
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
46 The Man Who Would Be Queen
penis or a girl with a functioning vagina. With medical advice, they
decided to raise David as a girl. This case was especially exotic because
Reimer has an identical twin brother who was raised alongside David
as a normal boy.
Early scientific reports asserted that this boy-turned-girl was func-
tioning well as a slightly tomboyish girl. However, we know now that
David Reimer experienced a great deal of inner and external torment
while being reared as a girl. Other children called her Cavewoman,
because she moved in such an ungraceful manner. She disliked the
feminine accoutrements forced on her by her mother. After receiving
estrogen therapy at age 12 she grew breasts, but this only contrasted
more with her hypermasculine appearance and made her feel more
freakish. When she was 14, she became completely fed up and stopped
trying to conform to a feminine stereotype. For example, she began to
urinate standing up. This caused great friction with her female high
school classmates, who stopped allowing her to use the girls bath-
room. She also refused to cooperate with further medical efforts to
feminize her. One of the physicians involved advised her parents that
it was time to tell her about her past. When they did, she felt stunned,
but oddly justified: Suddenly it all made sense why I felt the way I
did. I wasnt some sort of weirdo. Immediately, she decided to change
back into a male, and became David again. Although he had some
difficulties adjusting (sexual relationships were initially embarrassing
and difficult), he never regretted his decision, and is currently marr ied
to a woman.
The Reimer case diverged from the perfect experiment in at least
one important respect. Reimer lost his penis at age 8 months, and it
was not until he was 17 months old that the family decided to rear
him as a girl. Although David does not remember anything from that
time, it is very likely that he had already begun learning, including
about his sex. Perhaps he was simply too old to make the transition. A
second very similar case, with sex reassignment before age 6 months,
appears to have had a different outcome. In this case, the boy-who-
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
The Boy Who Would Not Be a Girl 47
became-a-girl has stayed that way. (On the other hand, she is a lesbian
with very masculine interests.) With just these two cases, the position
that gender identity, at least, is a matter of very early upbringing is
Cloacal exstrophy, Jason Johnsons condition, is even closer to the
perfect experiment than surgical accidents. There are three main rea-
sons. First, for 20 years or so, most boys born with cloacal exstrophy
were castrated and reassigned to girls within days after birth. Second,
cloacal exstrophy is such a serious condition, with so many different
medical consequences, that parents are less likely to obsess about the
sex reassignment than they would be if that were the only problem a
child had to face. So it is less plausible that the parents of a cloacal boy-
to-girl would have a problem seeing and raising their child as a girl.
The third reason is that cloacal exstrophy, although very rare, is much
more common than accidents (penile ablation) that cause infant boys
to be reassigned as girls. There are only two cases of penile ablation
that are reasonably well documented in the scientific literature. Al-
though the results of these two cases are fascinating, they are too easily
dismissed as just two cases.
In contrast, one scientist has been studying boys born with cloacal
exstrophy who have (mostly) been reassigned as girls, and he has fol-
lowed a number of them into childhood, and some beyond. His results
are likely to provoke a revolution in the science of gender identity.
Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, is one of the
worlds greatest academic hospitals. This is where psychologist John
Money did most of his work on the development of gender identity.
Money was one of the most important scientists of the twentieth cen-
tury, and his work on pseudo-hermaphrodites”—people whose bio-
logical sex is neither clearly male nor clearly femaleled him to be-
lieve in psychosexual neutrality at birth. Money is the intellectual
father of reassigning boys with damaged penises as girls, provided it is
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
48 The Man Who Would Be Queen
done early enough. In fact, Money advised David Reimers parents to
reassign him a girl. Reimers anguish as a girl and return to the male
role, and the cases publicity, have seriously damaged Moneys reputa-
tion, but this does not diminish his importance in the history of the
science of sex and gender.
Like Money, William Reiner is at Hopkins. This is an ironic coin-
cidence, because his work threatens to undermine Moneys theory of
psychosexual neutrality at birth. Reiner originally trained as a urolo-
gist, and for 12 years was a practicing surgeon. During this time he
gained experience reconstructing anomalous genitalia of children and
adolescents with conditions including cloacal exstrophy. He became
increasingly fascinated by the psychological development of these chil-
dren, so much so that he retrained in psychiatry. Says Reiner: I no
longer wished to fix childrens genital abnormalitiesI wanted to
find what makes them grow, mature, and figure out who they are,
regardless of their genital realities. And anyway, the pre-op and post-op
anxiety was killing me. He began studying the psychosexual develop-
ment of children with cloacal exstrophy in 1993. Today he heads the
Gender Identity and Psychosexual Disorders Clinic (Child and Ado-
lescent) at Johns Hopkins. His style is direct and passionate, and along
with his groundbreaking scientific study, this has made him a contro-
versial figure.
Reiner recently submitted a major scientific article on the out-
come of boys with cloacal exstrophy reassigned at birth as girls. Most
of the children were teenagers (ages 14-20) at last follow-up. Of 14
female-assigned children, 7 have declared that they are boys. Five of
these 7 did this spontaneously. For example, one child refused at age
12 to begin estrogen therapy, saying I am a boy. In another case, the
child was hospitalized for depression before declaring that she was
male and wanted a penis. In the non-spontaneous cases, the change
occurred as it did with Jason, after the parents came clean about the
childs birth.
In two cases in which the children spontaneously declared they
were boys, the parents refused to acquiesce to the childs wishes to
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
The Boy Who Would Not Be a Girl 49
change sex. These children remain girls to their parents, but maintain
male identities elsewhere. This will presumably change when they
grow up and assume complete control of their identities.
What about the children who maintain their female identities?
One had wished to become a boy but accepted her status as a girl.
Later, her parents told her about her past, and she became angry and
withdrawn, refusing to discuss the matter. Parents of the others are
determined that the girls will never find out about their birth status.
Three have become withdrawn, and a fourth has no friends.
Two other children that Reiner has followed were reared as boys
because their parents refused sex reassignment. (Not all parents had
this choice. One of the parents I spoke with was threatened with child
protective services if he refused to allow his child to be reassigned.)
Both of these boys are happy, typically masculine boys, although one is
concerned about his sex life without a normal penis.
All Reiners cases who have talked about sexual and romantic
feelings are attracted to females; however, several have not revealed
anything about these feelings. All cases have unfeminine interests and
behavior, and some are quite masculine. One who returned to the
male role has been arrested for assault.
What do we make of these results? Just looking at the numbers
7 of 14 reassigned children returning to the male role, 7 of 14 remain-
ing femaleone might be tempted to conclude that no generalization
is possible. But it is very rare for a girl to renounce her biological sex
in the insistent way that the first 7 did. The 50 percent rate so far
among Reiners kids is extraordinarily high.
And even though half the children remain girls, what is our best
guess about their state of mind? Do they represent successful adjust-
ment to the female role? Lets assume that none of these children will
renounce her status as a female and that in adulthood all will consider
themselves women. Does this mean that they have normal female gen-
der identity? Will they be happier as women with functioning vaginas
than they would be as men with non-functioning (or absent) penises?
In their pursuit of the perfect nature-nurture experiment, scien-
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
50 The Man Who Would Be Queen
tists have thought too little about how to assess outcome. Cleary, if a
male infant is reassigned as a girl and later declares that he is a boy, the
initial reassignment was a mistake. But if the child does not openly
renounce the female role, does this mean that the decision to reassign
to the female role was correct? For the most part, scientists such as
John Money have acted as if this was a correct inference. But scientists
have not fully appreciated how complicated a trait gender identity
likely is, or how little we know about it. One expert told me, bluntly:
Gender identity is defined as the inner sense of oneself as male or
female. What the hell does that mean?
One under-appreciated complication is that gender identity is
probably not a binary, black-and-white characteristic. Scientists con-
tinue to measure gender identity as male or female, despite the fact
that there are undoubtedly gradations in inner experience between
the girl who loves pink frilly dresses and cannot imagine becoming a
boy and the extremely masculine boy who shudders to think of be-
coming a girl.
A second complication is the translation of inner experience to
words. Of course scientists recognize that sometimes people dont re-
veal everything that is on their minds, and so a cloacal exstrophy child
might not openly admit the preference to become a boy. But how
would a girl even know if she had the same inner experience as a
typical boy? If she had been reared from birth as a girl and had no
notion that sometimes boys become girls and vice versa, would she
still have the conscious realization that she was a boy inside? I think
that the answer to this latter question is quite possibly, no. If I am
right, then scientists have been using a very biased definition of errors
in gender identity. The bias is toward missing mistakes.
The perfect nature-nurture experiment requires a better way of
measuring the outcome than merely waiting to see if a child sponta-
neously asks for a sex change. What we really want to know is whether
a particular child would be happier being reared as a male or as a
female. Of course, no one can go back in time, and so we cant get a
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
The Boy Who Would Not Be a Girl 51
complete replay of anyones life as both a male and a female. However,
Reiners results all point to the superiority of male assignment for
cloacal exstrophy cases born male. This is obvious for those who
changed back to boys. I spoke to parents of three of these children, and
all said their children were much happier as boys than they had been as
girls. Interestingly, only one of these parents said her child had seemed
unhappy as a girl. The other two characterized their children as basi-
cally happy before and yet much happier after becoming boys. Both of
these cases were non-spontaneous changesthe children changed
back to boys after their parents told them about their childhoods. It is
certainly possible that these children would have stayed girls without
their parents revelation. If this happened, scientists who studied them
would probably say that they had successfully adjusted to the female
role. But this would have been misleading in a serious way.
The children who remain girls are especially poignant. With one
exception, none knows her birth status. Reiners descriptions of them
suggest that they are less than happy. Indeed, Reiner thinks that all the
cloacal cases born as boys would be happier as boys rather than girls,
because their brains have been biologically prepared for the male role.
He thinks that those who remain girls are at best missing out, and at
worst are experiencing great inner torment. He thinks their parents
should tell them and, essentially, let them choose their sex.
Reiners results, on top of the publicity surrounding the David
Reimer case, have provoked a reconsideration of the practices and
beliefs of the past 25 years. This is not to say that Reiner has persuaded
everyone. Reiners results are so contrary to expectations that some
scientists have privately questioned them. The skeptics dont think that
Reiner is making up his results. Rather, their complaint is that he must
be doing something to cause the high rate of gender identity change
in the cloacal exstrophy children he has studied. Perhaps he asks lead-
ing questions that cause children to question their gender identity
more than they otherwise would. Perhaps he encourages parents to
reconsider the wisdom of rearing the children as girls. (However, the
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
52 The Man Who Would Be Queen
parents I spoke to denied that Reiner did this.) I find it difficult to
imagine anything Reiner might have done that could have been so
extreme as to make an otherwise happily adjusted child want to re-
verse sex. I think of my own daughter and cannot imagine her decid-
ing to be a boy, even if I lied to her and told her that she was born one.
If Reiner has gone further than other researchersand at this point
there is no evidence that he hasit has had the result of providing a
more accurate scientific picture and a more humane outcome for boys
born with cloacal exstrophy.
I imagine introducing the Ryan and Johnson families to each
other. I would like Mrs. Ryan to meet Jason Johnson, to hear about his
history, to see him now. Id like to see Danny and Jason together. Id
like to show them to a stranger and ask Which of these boys do you
think was raised as a girl?
Jason Johnson was castrated at birth, told he was a girl named
Amanda, and at least initially, treated like a girl. But it didnt take, and
now he is Jason again. Danny Ryan was raised as a boy, and at times
harshly punished for not acting like one. He has arguably become
more boy-like, at least on the surface. But where did Dannys extreme
femininity come from in the first place?
Theories about boys like Danny range from nurture to nature.
The nurture hypotheses include the idea that Dannys mother con-
sciously or unconsciously wanted a girl and so undermined his mas-
culine development; that Mrs. Ryan was so unavailable to Danny dur-
ing infancy that Danny became his mother, in effect, in order to always
have her with him; and that more generally, Dannys parents socializa-
tion of Danny as a boy was inconsistent and ambivalent.
I find these ideas to be implausible, and I have named their ilk
Looked at em funny theories of gender identity. According to these
theories, you can call a child a girl (or boy), give her (or him) a sex-
typical name and the stereotypical toys and clothing associated with
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
The Boy Who Would Not Be a Girl 53
her (his) sex, but what really matters are very subtle features of parent-
child interaction. These subtle features are not usually well specified,
and when they are, they dont appear to be that unusual or specifically
linked to gender identity problems. For example, Mrs. Ryan was de-
pressed and inattentive when Danny was born, but most depressed,
inattentive mothers dont have sons like Danny. If gender identity de-
velopment could be undermined by subtle miscommunication be-
tween parents and their children, then gender identity problems would
not be rare. But they are rare, except in cases of boys castrated at birth
and reared as girls.
What about nature theories? In general, the theory that Dannys
femininity is inborn would begin with the idea that prior to birth his
brain was not masculinized the same way that Jason Johnsons was.
Because male hormones such as testosterone are probably responsible
for making boys brains masculine, we would infer that Dannys brain
was either exposed to low levels of testosterone or insensitive to
testosterones effects.
The one difficulty with this hypothesis is that anatomically, Danny
appears to be a normal boy. If Dannys body had little or no testoster-
one during all of prenatal life, it would show. Danny wouldnt have a
normal penis, for example. It is possible that hormonal effects on the
brain occur after penile development. Classic research on monkeys
shows how this might work. When female rhesus monkeys were given
testosterone in the womb, effects depended on the timing. If they
received the hormone during their first trimester they had enlarged
clitorises but played like female monkeys. If they received only a late
dose, they had normal female genitalia but played rough, like male
monkeys. Perhaps Dannys testosterone levels were normal during his
early prenatal life but low, for a boy, during later prenatal life.
The fact is that we dont know enough about hormonal effects on
the human brain to have a very specific theory of how Dannys brain
could have developed in a feminine direction while his body devel-
oped masculine. If Dannys body also showed signs of feminine devel-
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
54 The Man Who Would Be Queen
opment, this would support nature theory, but the lack of anatomical
femininity does not disprove it.
There has been essentially no research on boys like Danny that is
directly biological. Short of dissecting the brain of a feminine boy and
comparing it with normal boys and girls brains, it is unclear what we
would even look for. However, the best conceivable direct test of nur-
ture theory has been tried, and it failed. Amanda became Jason again.
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Part II
The Man
He Might Become
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
he six men addressing my under-
graduate sexuality class have two
things in common. First, they all
look fabulous: fit, muscular men, with square jaws, short neat hair, and
stylish masculine clothes. They look like models from J. Crew or Ba-
nana Republic catalogues, which may be one reason why many more
female than male students are asking them questions. I see the looks
on the women’s faces as they listen to the panel, and they convey
wistful attraction. This is due to the hopeless nature of the attraction—
hopeless not because the men are 10 years older than my students, but
because of the second thing the men have in common: they are all gay.
Because the class’s subject is sexuality, I have asked my students
not to hold back from asking questions of interest even if the ques-
tions are personal or explicit. (The men on the panel have assured me
that such questions are okay.) The students eagerly oblige.
“How and when did you come out to your family?” Answers ranged
from Rick’s “I haven’t yet” to Ben’s humorous account of telling his
mother: “She was visiting me at college and I took her out to dinner. I
told her ‘I have something to tell you, and she looked very worried. At
that point the waiter leaned over and said to me ‘Just tell her honey!’
When I told her, she was relieved and said that she had been afraid I was
angry at her.”
“Did you ever have sex with a woman?” Four of the guys have (two
enjoyed it, and two did not), and two have not.
“Can you give the girls in the class some oral sex tips?” The men agreed
that it is important to actually enjoy giving oral sex, and not to use one’s
“Do you really enjoy it when a man with a large penis has anal sex
with you?” Answer: “Honey, you don’t know what you’re missing.”
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
58 The Man Who Would Be Queen
Professor Bailey says that gay men are usually feminine during
childhood. Does that describe your childhoods? I am happy that
someone has brought this up, and I am eager to hear the panels re-
sponses. Ben says, I wasnt much different than other boys. What about
the rest of you guys? Anyone want to say anything? For a few mo-
ments the remaining men look at each other and shrug, and then Ben
says Next question?
I am disappointed with the lost opportunity to hear recollections
of childhood femininity. To be sure, many gay men do not recall being
markedly feminine boys, and a few even recall being more masculine
than average. But I suspect that this panel does not consist only of gay
men with masculine boyhoods. Rather, I think the guys avoided the
question. This explanation is consistent with their body language and
their eagerness to go on to the next question. It is also consistent with
my past experience talking with many gay men about femininity, es-
pecially femininity during childhood.
I immediately think of two episodes during my career as a scien-
tist studying this issue. The earliest occurred in Dallas, where I had
traveled to interview gay twins for a study regarding the genetics of
sexual orientation. I had a standard interview, which included ques-
tions about childhood gender nonconformity. (Were you ever called
a sissy? Did you ever dress up in girls clothes? and so on.) I had
noticed that during this part of the interview some of the gay twins
looked uncomfortable. One twin in Dallas took a long time to an-
swerhe had, in fact, been a very feminine boyand then he told
me, I havent thought about those things in years. I think he wished
I hadnt made him remember.
The second incident occurred recently when I gave a talk at a
conference on sexual orientation. During my talk I showed a short
video of a feminine boy dressing in girls clothes and playing with
dolls. Afterwards, a local gay politician approached me, smiling un-
comfortably. He thanked me for my presentation and said that he
thought it was extremely important work. But he confessed that
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
The Man He Might Become 59
watching the boy in the video was a wrenching, obscene experience
for him. He had just revisited his own childhood from his present
perspective and found it disturbing.
Reactions like these have been common among the gay men Ive
spoken to about childhood femininity. In fact, of all the controversial
topics related to male homosexuality, the contention that gay men
tend to have been feminine boys (and may be feminine men) has
provoked the most discomfort and dispute. Initially, I found this odd,
because the link between childhood gender nonconformity and adult
homosexuality is one of the largest and best established associations
regarding sexual orientation. But after repeatedly encountering this
kind of reaction, I began to think something interesting was going on.
I made up a word to describe gay mens attitude: femiphobia. (Inde-
pendently, the writer Tim Bergling came up with sissyphobia.)
Why are gay men femiphobic? Part of it is adverse childhood
experience. I dont think that either the gay twin or the gay politician
would endorse the belief that childhood femininity is a bad thing, but
both behaved as if it were something to be ashamed of. I inferred that
as boys, both men had been subject to the shame-inducing disapproval
of others, including parents and peers. To be reminded of this is unset-
tling. But I have come to realize that it is not only childhood mistreat-
ment that causes gay men to react negatively to the suggestion that
they are, or were, feminine. To explain the other reasons requires some
additional knowledge, and so I will return to them.
I live in a section of Chicago called Wrigleyville, due to its
proximity to Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs. I live
between two major streets. Half a block to the west is Clark Street,
which borders Wrigley Field, and which contains scores of singles bars
filled with young heterosexual people. Half a block to the east is
Halsted Street, which is the central artery of Boys Town, Chicagos
historic gay district. Halsted is lined with gay bars, filled mainly with
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
60 The Man Who Would Be Queen
gay men. (My favorite names are Manhole and Cocktail.) I visit
with friends in both places, sometimes during the same evening, and it
is difficult for me to do so without my scientist hat. On some nights I
am struck by the differences between gay and heterosexual men. On
other nights I am impressed by their similarity. It all depends on which
aspects of behavior I am focusing on.
Gay men are comprised of a mixture of male-typical and female-
typical characteristics. The idea that gay and straight men differ only in
their preferred sex partners is wrong. The most general way in which
they differ is that many gay men are somewhat feminine in certain
respects. But even the most feminine gay men are not merely women
with penises. There are ways in which gay men are every bit as mascu-
line as heterosexual men, and indeed, may even appear more mascu-
line. Psychologist Sandra Witelson has hypothesized that the brains of
homosexual people may be mosaics of male and female parts, and I
think she is right. This mixture explains much of what is unique in gay
mens culture and lives.
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Gay Femininity
chapter 4
anny Ryan (the boy from Part I) will
probably grow up to be a gay man,
but does this mean that most gay
men were boys like Danny Ryan? Not necessarily. Perhaps men who
were very feminine boys comprise only a very small subgroup of gay
men, the rest of whom had been just like other boys.
The easiest way to address this is to ask gay and straight men
about their childhoods. I have by now discussed childhood behavior
with hundreds of gay men, and my general impression is that the
typical gay man is noticeably more feminine than the typical straight
man, but that the degree of femininity that Danny Ryan displayed is
rare. (At least few gay men remember or acknowledge that degree of
We dont have to rely on my impressions, however, because many
objective studies have been done on this question. In these studies, gay
and straight men are asked about their childhoods using questions like
those below.
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
62 The Man Who Would Be Queen
Rate your agreement with each item, from 1 (strongly disagree)
to 7 (strongly agree).
As a child I was called a sissy by my peers.
As a child I sometimes wished I had been born a girl rather than a boy.
As a child I preferred playing with girls rather than boys.
As a child I often felt that I had more in common with girls than boys.
As a child I sometimes wore feminine clothing (such as dresses), makeup,
or jewelry.
As a child I disliked competitive sports such as football, baseball, and
I was a feminine boy.
In 1995, Ken Zucker and I reviewed more than 30 studies that
had given questionnaires like this to gay and straight men. We found
that, on average, gay men were much more feminine in their memo-
ries than straight men. The size of d (the effect size, which shows how
large a difference between two groups is) was 1.3, which is considered
quite large by conventional scientists. Few interesting findings in the
behavioral sciences are this large. We estimated that the typical gay
man was more feminine than about 90 percent of straight men. On
the questions above, the average straight man gets an average of less
than 2 (on the 7-point scale); the average gay man gets about a 4.
Of course, memories can be wrong. If there was some tendency
for gay men to exaggerate how feminine they were, or for straight
men to understate how feminine they were, these numbers could be
off. I have already suggested that gay men tend not to embrace the
idea that they are, or were, feminine, so I dont think that gay men are
likely to be exaggerating. Moreover, we have both prospective studies
like Richard Greens showing that feminine boys become gay men, as
well as retrospective studies like ours showing that many gay men
were feminine boys. The simplest explanation is that both of these
findings are true.
One interesting observation about gay mens memories is that
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Gay Femininity 63
they are noticeably more variable than straight mens. For example, on
the items above, straight men tend to be bunched up at the low end of
the scale, meaning that they are denying any significant femininity
during childhood. In contrast, gay men show more range in their
scores. Perhaps 20 percent of gay men have scores similar to the straight
men, but a significant minority has scores around 6, meaning that they
are agreeing to every feminine item. If we can trust gay mens memo-
ries, then some were feminine boys and others masculine. This could
mean that there are different types of gay men. At the very least it
means that we should be aware of potential variation. For example,
gay men who were feminine boys are likely to differ from gay men
who were masculine boys in adulthood as well. Anyone who knows a
few gay men has noticed that they vary considerably in how gay-
stereotypical their behavior is. This variation may well begin in child-
It is a crisp October Sunday, and I am meeting Ben (the leader of
the gay guys panel who spoke to my human sexuality class) and
some other friends at Sidetracks on Halsted Street. It is about 3:30 PM,
and the Chicago Bears are playing. On Clark Street, a block away,
countless sports bars have the game on their large-screen projectors,
while men wearing Bears jerseys flirt with similarly dressed women.
But not at Sidetracks. Here, the largely male crowd is watching video
performances of show tunes and singing along with Fred Astaire, John
Travolta, and Gordon MacRae. (Instead of Oklahoma OK! they
sing Im a homo, OK!) I imagine switching channels at Sidetracks
and some Clark Street sports bar so that the straight guys have to
watch Gene Kelley and the gay guys have to watch the Monsters of
the Midway, and I find the thought amusing.
Stereotypes about gay menand about straight menstart with
their interests. Gay men enjoy show tunes, acting (more generally, the
arts), fashion, decorating, dancing, and lots of sex. Heterosexual men
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The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
64 The Man Who Would Be Queen
enjoy football, baseball, basketball, hockey, shopping for stereo equip-
ment and cars, and lots of sex. For about 30 years, from the late 1960s
until the late 1990s, it was de rigueur to scoff at these stereotypes and
look askance at those who believed them. But recently, science has
provided support for the stereotypes, in the only way that stereotypes
are ever true: on average.
Of course, not all gay men like fashion, and some heterosexual
men do. Let me save us a lot of tedious qualification by admitting that
not all gay men are alike, and not all straight men are alike, and some
gay men are very much like straight men (except, by definition, in
their sexual orientation). This is important to keep in mind, but it does
not invalidate the fact that there are some large differences between
typical gay men and typical straight men.
The leading researcher in this domain has been the psychologist,
Richard Lippa. Lippas contribution has been doubly reactionary, be-
cause he has confirmed stereotypes about differences both between
men and women and between heterosexual and homosexual people.
Lippa devised questionnaire measures of both occupational and recre-
ational interests. (Rate your interest in being a jet pilot, nurse, fashion
designer, physicist.; going to art galleries, surfing, computers, aero-
bics.) Altogether, more than 100 occupations and hobbies are rated.
One can then compute a total score on the questionnaire, that I will
call Feminine Interests, by adding all the ratings for stereotypically
feminine interests and subtracting all the ratings for masculine inter-
ests. He originally studied male and female college students, who might
be expected to be less subject to stereotypes than other people. For
example, few of my students, male or female, would say that men and
women should be encouraged to pursue different careers. Many of
them doubt that their interests diverge from those of the other sex.
From my classes at Northwestern University, few women will become
nurses, and few men will become jet pilots. Still, even at Northwest-
ern, Lippas scales yielded huge differences. Conventionally, sex differ-
ences (and more generally, differences between two groups) are mea-
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Gay Femininity 65
sured as d: d values of 0.2 or less are considered small; ds up to 0.8 are
considered moderate; and ds above 0.8 are considered large. The sex
difference in height is about 2.0, which is whopping. One would have
to be perverse to deny that the sexes differ in height, on average,
although of course (for the last time), some women are taller than
some men. Lippas scale usually yields a d between men and women
that approximates the size of the sex difference in height.
Stereotypes about gay men (and thus, necessarily, straight men)
include occupational and recreational differences. (Quick: One man is
a hairdresser, and the other is a Marine sergeant. Which one is gay?) In
one sense, then, it is obvious that Lippa would use his questionnaire to
study sexual orientation differences. Knowing the sensibility of aca-
demic psychology in the late 1990s, however, Lippas research seems
bold. In several studies, he has found that gay men are midway be-
tween heterosexual men and women in their sex-typed interests. The
sexual orientation differences are large, although only half the sex dif-
ference. I have found similar results using Lippas questionnaire with a
non-student sample. Furthermore, the gay men who were most femi-
nine during boyhood tend to have the most feminine interests as adults.
Perhaps not surprisingly, feminine occupational interests appear to be
the continuation of feminine childhood interests.
There is more than one take on these findings, however. Many
people find the idea of intrinsically feminine interests to be preposter-
ous. They think that what men find interesting and what women find
interesting are socially arbitrary. Somehow, society decides that cer-
tain tasks are masculine and others feminine, and because of this deci-
sion, men and women are socialized to do different things, in order to
conform. Differences, both between men and women and between
gay and heterosexual men, reflect historical accidents rather than more
fundamental differences. I call the idea that men and women (and gay
and straight men) have cross-culturally consistent (and probably in-
nate) differences in interests the psychological hypothesis. This is
because it suggests that the sexes, and the sexual orientations, are really
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
66 The Man Who Would Be Queen
psychologically different. The competing idea, that these differences
are largely arbitrary, is known as the sociological hypothesis. This
hypothesis implies that men and women, or gay and straight men, are
the same psychologically, and that behavioral differences between them
reflect sociological factors such as group identity. Obviously, the ques-
tion is at least somewhat amenable to scientific study. For example, we
can see whether the kind of activities preferred by gay men has some
consistency across cultures.
But before we study gay men in other cultures, it is useful to
know what they are like in ours. Here in Chicago just past the turn of
the century, I think I observe a preponderance of gay men in the
following occupations: florists, waiters, hair stylists, actors (or at least
acting students), classical musicians (but not rock musicians), psycholo-
gists (or at least psychology students) and psychiatrists, antique sellers,
fashion and interior designers, yoga and aerobics instructors, masseurs,
librarians, flight attendants, nurses, clothing retail salesmen (e.g., at the
Gap and Banana Republic), web designers (but not software or hard-
ware designers), and Catholic priests. Assuming Im rightand I may
not be in some casesdo these occupations have anything in com-
mon? One main thing is that with the exception of the priesthood
(from which they are barred), women express higher than average
interest in them. Another piece of the picture, noticed by Lippa, is that
many (but not all) of these occupations require interacting in a social
context. A major distinction between different occupations is that
some require interacting with people while others are more focused
on inanimate things such as machines. On average, the occupations I
listedespecially nursing, retail sales, psychology, waiting tables, and
flight attendingare relatively high on the people side of this dis-
tinction. But that hardly captures everything. There is also an aes-
thetic/artistic component (acting, designing, and even collecting an-
tiques reflect this). The other distinction I think figures in some of
them (clothing retail sales, hair styling, aerobics) is a concern with
physical appearance.
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Gay Femininity 67
Although I am fairly certain that a well-done scientific study
would find disproportionate numbers of gay men in the occupations I
listed, the definitive, comprehensive study hasnt been done. I have
done the only study I know of about a particular occupation. It is an
occupation I purposefully omitted from the list above. Did you notice
something missing?
Around 1995 a Northwestern undergraduate who was interested
in a question related to homosexuality approached me. The under-
graduate, Michael Oberschneider, was somewhat older, in his late
twenties, and appeared to be straight. (Among other indications he
mentioned a girlfriend.) He explained that he was delayed en route to
college by a career in ballet, including a stint in the Boston Ballet
Company. He had long wondered why so many of his fellow male
dancers were gay. I had wondered about this, too, and suggested col-
laborating. Michael agreed, and he embarked on a most ambitious
study. Before it was over, he had interviewed 136 professional dancers
from around the country, including several well-known choreogra-
phers: 48 gay men, 42 heterosexual men, 45 heterosexual women, and
1 lesbian.
We got our participants haphazardly, primarily from Michaels pro-
fessional connections and their connections, and so on, and therefore,
they do not comprise a random or representative sample. Still, we
presumed that they knew much more about the sexual orientation of
professional dancers in general than other people did. We asked each
participant to give an estimate of the percentage of male dancers who
are gay. On average, they estimated 58 percent; the smallest percentage
anyone gave was 25 percent. Compared with a rate of 2-4 percent in
the general population, this is a huge difference. The average propor-
tion of gay men in the dancers own companieswhich presumably
they could estimate fairly accuratelywas 53 percent.
We interviewed only one lesbian dancer, because she was the only
one we could find. Consistent with this, all dancers gave low estimates
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
68 The Man Who Would Be Queen
for the rate of lesbianism among female dancers, for an average of 3
percent. Professional dance is not generally a homosexual occupation;
it is a gay male occupation.
We also asked participants how and when they got interested in
dancing. The gay men actually got started a couple of years later than
straight men (age 13 compared to 11). When asked what initially mo-
tivated them, about 60 percent of heterosexual dancers said that their
parents had encouraged them. (Heterosexual men and women gave
similar responses.) In contrast, only 13 percent of gay men said they
got into dance this way. Instead, half the gay men said they got inter-
ested in dance by themselves, compared with only 19 percent of the
straight dancers. For example, one gay dancer recalled watching the
Jackie Gleason show at age 6 and seeing the June Taylor Dancers.
Immediately, he decided that was his career goal. Although he was
unable to obtain a position with the June Taylor Dancers (who were
all women), he became a prominent choreographer.
We also gave the male dancers questionnaires about memories of
childhood femininity. We expected to find smaller sexual orientation
differences than usual, because we thought that straight male dancers
probably were not the most masculine boys. Instead, we found larger
differences than usual. Contrary to our expectations, the straight male
dancers were similar to other heterosexual men to whom we have
given the questionnaire. The gay male dancers recalled especially femi-
nine childhoods compared with the straight dancers, but also with
other samples of gay men we have studied.
Overall, our study suggests that many gay dancers were very femi-
nine boys who discovered dance on their own. Pursuing a career in
dance requires a great deal of both talent and dedication. What is it
about feminine boys that ensures that as adults, they will be over-
represented in professional dance by about a factor of twenty? It is
possible that such boys possess some innate talent that makes them
good dancers. Because I do not have an ounce of relevant ability, it is
difficult for me to imagine a specific hypothesis. I think that the more
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Gay Femininity 69
significant part of the story must be the intense early interest that
feminine boys have. My son was 10 years old when we began our
dance study. One day I explained what we were studying, and I asked
him why I might expect to find a high rate of gay male dancers. He
immediately answered, Because dancing is feminine, and gay men
tend to be feminine. I was pleased by his answer, which was also mine.
It seemed to me that if a 10-year-old boy could come up with the
hypothesis, then scientific reviewers of our study would not find it far-
fetched. (Indeed, some of my friends made fun of me for studying
something they already considered to be an obvious fact.)
Danny Ryan (our feminine boy from Chapter 1) has recently
begun ballet lessons. He has also been to the opera, and he enjoyed it.
(How many eight-year-old boys enjoy the opera?) He has attended
mass and has already asked to become an altar boy when he is old
enough. (His mother thinks that this has to do with the altar boys
costumes, which look like dresses.) Because of the intense competi-
tion for these careers, he will probably not become an opera singer,
ballet dancer, or priest. He is more likely to become an accountant.
Still, twenty years from now on any October Sunday, he is more likely
to be singing show tunes somewhere than to be cheering for the
Chicago Bears.
The actor from the Second City comedy troupe plays several roles
this evening, and one of them is a gay man. We know almost instantly
when the actor becomes that characternot because he says Im
gay or puts the moves on any men or mentions a feminine occupa-
tion. Its the way he talks. Male comedians in the United States are
often adept at affecting, for wont of a better term, a gay accent. This
suggests two things. First, people recognize the accent, and so perhaps
some gay men really do speak that way. Second, people must think
that a character with a gay accent is funny.
Another anecdote involving my son: When he was 10 years old,
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
70 The Man Who Would Be Queen
we were sitting in a theater waiting for the movie to start. A man
behind us was speaking, and my son leaned over and said, Dad, theres
someone for you to study. My son knows that I study sexual orienta-
tion, and this was his way of suggesting that the man sounded gay. The
content of the mans speech was unremarkable, and so the only clue
my son had was the way the man was speaking. Immediately before
my son made his remark, I had had the same intuition. I was struck
that a 10-year-old boy could have absorbed this cultural stereotype
I had never talked with him about it. Of course, I did not get the
opportunity to check the accuracy of our judgments by asking the
man about his sexuality.
I cannot imitate the gay accent, and I cannot even describe it, but
chances are, you know what Im talking about. Done well, it does not
include a lisp, which is the lazy straight mans way of pretending to
speak like a gay man. Before worrying much what the gay accent is, it
seems more important to determine whether there is any truth in the
notion that gay men speak differently. And so I did the following
We recruited homosexual and heterosexual men and women to
the lab to provide several types of data. We got approximately 30 from
each group; the relevant groups here are gay and heterosexual men.
The relevant data, for now, consisted of short speech samples. Every
subject read the Harvard Sentences, a collection of sentences that are
interesting to linguists because they contain all the phonemes (el-
emental sounds) of the English language. Some example sentences
Its easy to tell the depth of a well.
Four hours of steady work faced us.
Help the woman get back to her feet.
The soft cushion broke the mans fall.
Subjects read the sentences into a microphone connected to a
computer, which stored the recordings. Next, we recruited an entirely
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Gay Femininity 71
different sample of homosexual and heterosexual men and women to
listen to the four sentences given above. This new sample (Listeners)
rated each person in the first sample (Speakers) on a scale from 1 (very
heterosexual sounding) to 7 (very gay sounding).
Results were striking. The size of d (the effect size) was about 2.0,
as large a difference between gay and heterosexual men as I have ob-
served (except, of course, when we ask about their sexual orienta-
tions). Only 10 percent of the heterosexual men were rated above 4,
on average4 represents a neutral score of neither gay nor hetero-
sexual. In contrast, 75 percent of the gay men were rated above 4.
Excluding one very unusual straight speaker (rated a 4.9), two-thirds
of gay speakers were rated as gayer sounding than any straight speaker.
By these data we would conclude that if a man sounds gay, he prob-
ably is.
The qualifications here are interesting. About 25 percent of gay
men were rated well within the typical range of straight speakers. Fur-
thermore, there was more than twice as much variation (in statistical
language, variance) among the gay speakers than among the straight
speakers. Clearly, not all gay men speak in a recognizable pattern.
There is something to the stereotype that many gay men speak in
a characteristic way. What is that way? Although some laypeople might
have sufficiently skilled ears to discern the precise differences between
gay and straight male speech, I do not. In the present stage of research,
therefore, I am collaborating with linguists (more specifically,
phoneticists), who make their living by listening for, identifying, and
studying such differences. My collaborator has said this:
Generally speaking, Id say that the vowels appear to be shifted in a direc-
tion that would suggest a more fronted articulation. (For women, the vocal
tract is shorter and differently proportioned, and the vowel shift may reflect
modeling on the characteristic patterns of womens vowels.) In addition, we
think we may be hearing more careful or precise articulation. We also think
we may be hearing an articulation of /s/ that has the tongue positioned
more towards the teeth, as opposed to the alveolar ridge (which is that hard
ridge behind your upper teeth).
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
72 The Man Who Would Be Queen
For the non-linguists among us, there are three main ideas here.
First, gay men might pronounce vowels with their tongues more for-
ward and to the top of the mouths than straight men do. Second, gay
men might speak more precisely, articulating the sounds that straight
men pronounce lazily. (Try reading this sentence both in your normal
speaking voice and then in a carefully articulated voice. Does the latter
sound more gay?) Third, gay men might produce sibilant s sounds,
sounding somewhat hiss-like. If true, this observation may account for
the idea that gay men lisp. All these hypotheses are testable, and soon
we will know whether they are correct. Whether or not these particu-
lar ideas are correct, something makes a large subset of gay men readily
identifiable by the way they speak just a few words.
How do gay men come to speak differently than straight men?
Consistent with the central theme of this book, the first hypothesis
that comes to my mind is that gay men are speaking in a feminine
manner. That is, to the extent that gay men have recognizable speech
patterns, those patterns may be somewhat like those of women or
girls. Both straight and gay people tend to label the gay accent as a
feminine speech pattern. However, it is unclear at this time what the
gay accent is, much less whether it is feminine. If gay men wanted to
speak like women, the most obvious way to do this would be to speak
in a higher pitch, the way that many transsexuals and drag queens (in
their female persona) do. But no one thinks they hear gay men speak-
ing in a higher pitch. The idea that gay speech is feminine speech
remains a hypothesis, for now.
If it is true, then there are at least two ways that gay men could
come to speak in a feminine way. One is through (perhaps uncon-
scious) imitation. This is particularly plausible if the gay accent is ac-
quired during childhood, when feminine boys are most likely to have
strong wishes to be the other sex. Perhaps they are attending to the
ways that girls and women speak differently than boys and men, and
imitating the former. The alternative hypothesis is that human males
and females speak differently in part because their brains are innately
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Gay Femininity 73
different (due to early hormonal influences, for example), and that the
brain centers affecting articulation are somewhat feminized in gay men.
The gay humorist David Sedaris wrote a story about being treated
by a speech therapist for a year during grade school. He wrote that
virtually all the boys seen by the therapist were sissies, like him. If this
is even partly true, it suggests that some features of the gay accent
begin during childhood. However, both Ken Zucker and Richard
Green, who have worked extensively with feminine boys, have told
me that young boys do not show it. They think it begins during late
childhood or adolescence. This is an unusual time to acquire an accent,
and it raises the possibility of cultural influence. If my 10-year-old son
knows what it means to sound gay, so can these feminine boys who are
becoming gay men. Could they be embracing and expressing their
future identity? If so, the gay accent might not be feminine at all.
Rather, it might be the product of the same kinds of semi-random
factors that, for example, make Americans living below the Mason-
Dixon Line speak in a southern drawl. If this is true, there is still an
important and puzzling distinction between the acquisition of a south-
ern accent and a gay accent: Southerners grow up amidst people who
speak with a southern accent; gay men do not grow up amidst people
who speak with a gay accent.
I often dont have to hear a man talk or know what he does in
order to have a strong suspicion hes gay. Sometimes its enough just to
see him move. If I see a man walking and displaying serious hip action,
or keeping his elbow in while moving his forearm around; or if I see
him standing with arms crossed and hands on shoulders; or if I see him
sitting and waving his hands around a certain way when telling a story,
my gaydar is likely to go off.
In 1999 psychologist Nalini Ambady of Harvard University pub-
lished a study suggesting that homosexual people do in fact move
differently than heterosexual people. In this study, she recruited ho-
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The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
74 The Man Who Would Be Queen
mosexual and heterosexual men and women (targets) to be video-
taped. Then she recruited a second set of homosexual and hetero-
sexual people (judges) to view photographs, 1-second videotape seg-
ments, or 10-second videotape segments of the targets and try to
estimate the targets sexual orientation using this information. The
three types of visual stimuli differ in the amount of dynamic infor-
mation”—the amount of information about movement. Photographs
obviously contain little information about movement (although they
might conceivably give some clues about posture), 1-second clips a bit
more, and 10-second clips the most. She found that peoples accuracy
in estimating mens sexual orientation increased with the amount of
dynamic information. Furthermore, even when she removed all static
informationclothing, hairstyle, and so onby using a computer to
generate only the outline of the targets during their 10-second clips
people could judge mens sexual orientation better than by chance
alone. However, Ambady didnt try to identify the specific compo-
nents of targets movement that judges used to make their decision.
Indeed, she refrains from even speculating that the relevant informa-
tion has anything to do with femininity.
Our lab took a slightly different approach. We used the same sub-
jects who were the targets in our gay speech study, and we videotaped
them walking down the hall, standing briefly, and then sitting briefly
while conversing with one of us. Rather than recruiting new subjects
to rate the targets, we found an existing rating scale that had been
developed during the 1970s to study sex role motor behavior. The
table on the right shows some of the items that raters considered. Two
students in my lab watched the videotapes and rated the subjects using
the scale.
The results were quite similar to the results of the gay speech
study. There was a large difference between gay and straight men.
Again, there was much more variation among the gay than among the
straight men. Only one straight man exhibited marked feminine move-
ments. Him aside, 40 percent of the gay men were rated as more
feminine than the most feminine heterosexual man.
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Gay Femininity 75
One important difference between our movement study and our
speech study is that we were able to use the same movement scale to
score both men and women. Not surprisingly, the scale yielded a huge
sex difference. Gay men scored in the direction of heterosexual
women, although they were much closer to heterosexual men. Al-
though we dont know yet whether a gay accent is a feminine accent,
Masculine and Feminine Traits
Masculine Feminine
Long strides, free knee action Short strides, controlled knee action
Minimum hip movements Pronounced hip movements
Foot placement straddling a line Stepping on a line
Arm movements from shoulder Arm movements from elbow
Firm wrist action Limp wrist action
Arms hang loosely from shoulders Upper arms held fairly close to body
Masculine Feminine
Feet apart Feet together
Arm movements from shoulder Arm movements from elbow
Firm wrist action Limp wrist action
Hand(s) in pocket Hands on hips
Masculine Feminine
Buttocks away from chair back Buttocks close to chair back
Leg not crossed or ankle on knee Legs crossed, knee on knee
Precise hand motions Graceful hand motions
Arm movements from shoulder Arm movements from elbow
Firm wrist action Limp wrist action
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
76 The Man Who Would Be Queen
we can conclude that gay men move in feminine ways. And this starts
early, at least for some gay men.
Richard Green videotaped some of his feminine and masculine
boys, and some girls, wearing clothes that concealed their sex (a bath-
ing cap, for example). Masculine boys were clearly distinguishable from
girls; feminine boys were not. Some of the feminine boys were as
young as four years old.
In our study of sexual orientation and dance, we asked whether
dancers could distinguish gay and straight male dancers by the way
they dance, and most responded that they could. They elaborated that
gay men were more feminine, and perhaps more dramatic, in their
The main characters of the movie, The Birdcage (originally a French
Film, La Cage aux Folles) are a gay couple. One of them is a very
masculine man, and the other is a flamboyant drag queen. In the movie,
they clearly take separate roles as husband and wife, and this is a com-
mon stereotype about gay relationships. In this chapter I have been
arguing for the accuracy of some stereotypes about gay men. What
about this one?
In 1995 I became interested in using personal advertisements to
study gay mens mating psychology. One can learn a lot about what
people want in mates by studying these ads. They cost money, for one
thing, and when people have to pay for each word, they try to make
every word count. When describing whom theyre looking for, people
often have a mixture of idiosyncratic desires (likes opera or enjoys
camping), but when the same preferences recur in ad after ad (tall,
dark, handsome, and rich or attractive, sexy, and fit), you know
these are commodities that most people want. For example, psycholo-
gists have analyzed personal ads to show that straight men are much
more concerned than straight women about a potential mates looks;
straight women are more concerned about resources and the ability to
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
Gay Femininity 77
acquire them: income, wealth, ambition, a good job, and intelligence.
You can also tell a lot about the mating market by the way advertisers
describe themselves. Advertisers want to entice readers to answer their
ads, and are sometimes quite creative in their self-description. So the
self-descriptive adjectives also tend to be those that are highly valued.
When my lab first started looking at gay personal advertisements,
we were struck by a couple of differences from straight ones. First, gay
mens ads were much more explicitly sexual than straight mens were
I will explain why I think this is so in the next chapter. The other
difference was that gay mens ads used many more words related to
gender conformity and nonconformity, such as masculine, feminine,
butch, femme, straight-acting, straight-appearing, and flaming. This
suggested that these traits were important to many gay men, but how
so? If gay men tended to pair off as in The Birdcage, we would expect to
see both advertisements in which the advertiser described himself as
masculine (or butch or straight-acting or something similar) and
requested a feminine (or femme or flaming) partner; and adver-
tisements with the reverse pattern (Flamer looking for butch guy.).
We would expect to see similar numbers of both types. In order to
check our expectation, we looked at more than 2,700 personal ads
placed by gay men. For each ad, we looked for gender-related words
and we kept count of how often the advertiser: (a) requested a mascu-
line partner, (b) requested a feminine partner, (c) described himself as
masculine, and (d) described himself as feminine. Forty one percent of
all the ads had some gender-related word.
What we learned suggested that The Birdcage is indeed fiction.
When advertisers requested either masculine or feminine characteris-
tics in a partner, they requested masculine traits 96 percent of the time.
Furthermore, when they described themselves as masculine or femi-
nine, it was masculine 98 percent of the time. Both what gay men seek
and how they represent themselves suggest that they are massively
biased in favor of masculinity. Or is it a bias against femininity? In all
72 ads in which an advertiser was explicit about what kind of gender-
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism
78 The Man Who Would Be Queen
related trait he did not want, it was a feminine trait; no femmes was
the most common request.
These results raise at least a couple of questions. First, if gay men
are almost all so masculine (as their self-descriptions imply), why do
they bother requesting masculinity in partners? After all, most personal
advertisers dont waste money asking for someone with four limbs,
because even if they have this preference, they can reasonably assume
that it applies to almost everyone. The answer isand this will not
surprise most people who have answered a personal adthat people
sometimes misrepresent themselves in a favorable way. How often do
advertisers describe themselves as having below average looks, even
though half the world should? This consideration, as well as ev