A second go around with the Lambda Literary FoundationTrans Progressive Thursday, March 17th, 2016
Commentary: Trans Progressive
The Lambda Literary Foundation (LLF) appears to want to repeat history over a publicly painful 2004 book nomination that, after about five weeks, was withdrawn.
Feb. 2, 2004, J. Michael Bailey’s The Man Who Would Be Queen was nominated for a Lambda Literary Award – a Lammy – in the Transgender/Genderqueer category. The selection was made by a “baker’s dozen” of judges, and galvanized transsexual people worldwide. By Feb. 3, there were already emails expressing strong criticism of the nomination.
“Whoever made this decision needs to do a better job. A much better job. It would be like nominating Mein Kampf for a literary prize in Jewish studies,” wrote Deirdre McCloskey in a Feb. 3 email to LLF Executive Director Jim Marks. McCloskey’s book Crossing: A Memoir was a 1999 finalist in the same Transgender/ Genderqueer category.
Other prominent transsexual people of the time who wrote Marks included Karen Gurney and Kate Clarke (Australian trans rights advocates), Christine Burns (United Kingdom trans rights advocate) and Caitlyn Antrim (Law of the Sea Treaty expert).
An online petition was started by Burns demanding the book be removed from consideration. The petition collected 1,000 trans people’s signatures in its first six days online.
In a Feb. 9 interview on Boston’s Gender Talk, Jim Marks, then executive director of the Lambda Literary Foundation said “This is the first time an issue like this has come up because people generally don’t nominate or suggest titles that are not sympathetic to our point of view.” As an example of how unsympathetic the point of view was, one the book’s endorsers was the National Association of Therapy and Reparation of Homosexuality (NARTH): an organization that advocates reparative therapy.
Feb. 13, Marks wrote in an open letter that the book, by “suggestion of one finalists committee member,” was going to be re-evaluated by the entire Lambda Literary selection committee. He then added that the results of that re-evaluation were going to be released in their March newsletter.
However, Feb. 24 Marks announced The Man Who Would Be Queen was going to remain on the nominations list.
That didn’t hold long. The LLF announced that the book was removed as an award finalist March 12. When asked by PlanetOut.com if the book was removed because it was transphobic, Marks replied “the judges looked at the book more closely and decided it was.”
Which brings us to this year’s Lammy nominations announced March 8. In the LGBT Nonfiction category’s list of nominees is Alice Dreger’s book Galileo’s Middle Finger, and that book has within it an essay entitled Tangled Web. That essay is about what trans people would characterize as the bad science, and the trans activism surrounding the Lammy nomination, of The Man Who Would Be Queen. The essay is Dreger’s defense of the author, J. Michael Baily.
“This non-scientist [Dreger] … admits that Bailey’s work on the trans community is not based on his own research, but is just his contribution to promoting the work of a Dr. Ray Blanchard,” wrote Dana Beyer, M.D., in her Huffington Post critique of Dreger’s essay. “Dreger writes that the trans community organized against Bailey because his exposition of Blanchard’s thesis was so potent and accessible to the general population that it was far more dangerous than Blanchard’s dry clinical research.”
“Dr. Blanchard’s typology of transsexualism, based on nothing more than his personal mode of classification, divides trans women into two categories – extremely feminine gay men and perversely erotically-driven cross-dressing men,” Beyer also wrote in the critique.
By nominating Dreger’s book for an award, the LLF surprisingly appears to be relitigating their 2004 history of whether Bailey’s and Blanchard’s viewpoint is transphobic, as well as whether trans activism in defense of gender identity is legitimate.
It is, to say the least, astonishing.
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