The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Vol. 20 No. 2 (Summer 2018)

Straight Man to Queer Woman: Untimely Meditations on Transitioning

Deirdre Nansen McCloskey

The Hedgehog Review

The Hedgehog Review: Summer 2018

(Volume 20 | Issue 2)

When the conversation turns, as it should more often, to the low percentage of women in economics, especially in academic life (in Sweden and the Netherlands, by the way, it’s worse), I’ll wait for a pause, and then drop in my usual joke: “Well, I’ve done my part.” It always gets a laugh, amused from the women and uncomfortable from the men. Ha, ha.

It didn’t seem so funny when in the fall of 1995 I started transitioning. Terror was more like it. The Des Moines Register put the news on the front page, repeatedly if not unsympathetically: “University of Iowa Economics and History Professor to Become a Woman.”

That, of course, is not possible. I’ll always have those pesky XY genes and can never have the life history of a girl and woman—never, for example, experience the hostility directed at an assertive female graduate student. At Harvard in the 1960s, Donald McCloskey was praised for such assertiveness. Ten years earlier, the economist Barbara Bergmann had, she told me, been thoroughly dispraised for it.

High school football player, tough-guy Chicago economist, I was married from 1965 to 1995, to the love of my life. When I was a guy I was a guy. I was straight. Well…since age eleven in strict privacy I had occasionally cross-dressed, but that little male peculiarity is pretty common, especially for some reason among engineers. Most of them are straight in affectional preferences, “heterosexual cross-dressers” being the term. And they don’t want to be women. For example, I didn’t, I thought. My wife caught on more quickly than I did in that turbulent year. When early in 1995 I discovered cross-dressing clubs, I was struck by the heavily male conversation at them; the engineers gathered in drag to talk in a meeting room at the local Holiday Inn about Iowa football. Regularly, the few GGs (genetic girls) at such gatherings, a handful of wives or hairdressers, would be serving the food and cleaning up afterward. Hmm, that’s odd, I would think. Don’t these guys realize we’re playing at being women? Then in August 1995 I twigged.

There was nothing false about my love over a third of a century for the woman who was first my girlfriend and then my wife. If she appeared at my front door today, I’d hug her and invite her in. (So too my son and daughter, who, alas, like my now ex-wife, have not knocked at my door since late 1995.) Affectional preference does not correlate with gender preference, contrary to the locker-room theory of people like the Northwestern University psychology professor Michael Bailey that queers are queers, and all the same, and that gay men want to be women. Incidentally, the “experiments” in Toronto on which his theory is based have no GG controls. And his “sample” for The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism (2003) consisted of six Chicana prostitutes from a bar in Chicago. Economics is not the only depressingly unscientific science in which ideology controls the show from behind the curtain.

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Deirdre Nansen McCloskey is Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, and English, University of Illinois at Chicago. She recently published the final volume of a trilogy, The Bourgeois Era (University of Chicago Press). An earlier version of this article was published in Maynard’s Notes: The Newsletter of the American Economic Association’s LGBTQ and Friends Community, in September 2017.

Reprinted from The Hedgehog Review 20.2 (Summer 2018). This essay may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission. Please contact The Hedgehog Review for further details.

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Published three times a year by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, The Hedgehog Review offers critical reflections on contemporary culture—how we shape it, and how it shapes us.

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