Four years later, the controversy over 2003‚Äôs The Man Who Would Be Queen by J. Michael Bailey, is still boiling over.¬† With an impressive CV and two documentary films to her credit, Joelle Ruby Ryan - a graduate student at Bowling Green University - recently became the first MTF-spectrum trans person to receive a prestigious Point Foundation Scholarship.¬† She inadvertently stumbled into the fray around Bailey‚Äôs book, when she posted a call for proposals on a women‚Äôs studies listserv.
Even before questions were raised about the Northwestern University psych professor‚Äôs research methods and alleged professional misconduct, The Man raised the ire of trans women by re-asserting Ray Blanchard‚Äôs theory that transsexual women are either ‚Äúfeminine homosexual males who want to be women‚ÄĚ or they suffer from ‚Äúautogynephilia: a sexual attraction to, and love of, the idea of oneself as a woman.‚ÄĚ
Ryan (joellerubyryan.com), who identifies as a transgender woman and a genderqueer, pansexual trans-feminist, says Bailey‚Äôs taxonomies are ‚Äúpatently ridiculous. People don‚Äôt transition for sexual reasons - they transition because of their gender identity.‚ÄĚ Furthermore, she argues, ‚ÄúHis theories on male bisexuality (it does not exist), his endorsement of gay gene selection (eugenics) and his connection to Kenneth Zucker (who supports reparative therapy for gender-variant youth) [also] taint him as an enemy to [the LGBT] community.‚ÄĚ
This summer the Bailey controversy resurfaced when intersex researcher/activist Alice Dreger (alicedreger.com) released a 62-page paper (to be published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior next year) defending Bailey and accusing several trans women of attempting to¬† ‚Äúruin‚ÄĚ him.¬†
In that light, Ryan proposed a panel for 2008‚Äôs National Women Studies Association conference entitled ‚ÄúThe Bailey Brouhaha: Community Members Speak Out on Resisting Transphobia and Sexism in Academia and Beyond.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúTrans people have repeatedly been silenced by powerful elites,‚ÄĚ Ryan argues. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve been endlessly researched and talked about by others. We‚Äôve been objectified and gazed at like a butterfly pinned to a wall. [Now] we refuse to let others define us in ways that we know to be harmful, specious and destructive.‚ÄĚ
After posting on an international women‚Äôs studies listserv, Ryan was surprised when Dreger responded, calling Ryan‚Äôs post ‚Äúladen with factual errors and misrepresentations,‚ÄĚ and, in reference to another post, noting, ‚ÄúI also appreciate your advising Joelle Ruby Ryan ‚Äėthat she was putting herself at risk‚Ä¶within a controversial field (trans issues) by tolerating tactics that breed fear and stifle academic freedom.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI was floored to be so viciously attacked by,‚ÄĚ Ryan says.¬† ‚ÄúClearly, Dreger has used her considerable power as a tenured professor at a prestigious university, as a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as her privilege as a middle-class, white, cisgendered woman to bear on someone with less cultural and institutional power than her.¬† Such actions are appalling and unethical and absolutely anathema to feminist principles.‚ÄĚ
When she‚Äôs not raising the ire of senior colleagues, Ryan is working on her PhD dissertation, Reel Gender: Representations of Trans People in Film and Television, exposing, ‚Äúwhat the images reveal about mainstream America‚Äôs ambivalent relationship to the trans community [and using] film and TV as a benchmark to see how far transgender liberation has come.‚ÄĚ
Having co-produced two autobiographical documentaries - 1995‚Äôs A Transgender Path and 2003‚Äôs TransAmazon: A Gender Queer Journey - Ryan has had an insiders view to medium. In addition to authoring the 2005 poetry collection, Gender Quake, Ryan is a well-seasoned trans activist and speaker.¬† She‚Äôs the founder of the grass-roots organization New Hampshire Transgender Resources for Education and Empowerment, and formed the Bowling Green State University student group Transcendence.
‚ÄúTo me, trying to promote radical change in society is my reason for living.¬† Gender is much more about power, privilege and oppression than hormones, genitals or chromosomes. ‚Äú ¬†
Trans writer, Jacob Anderson-Minshall, co-authored Blind Leap, the second book in the Blind Eye Mystery series, available in October. Contact email@example.com or visit Anderson-minshall.com for more information.
Correction:¬† Last week I inadvertently referred to the World Track Cycling Championships as the World Track & Field Championships.