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Group rescinds honor for disputed book
Patrick Letellier, / Network
Tuesday, March 16, 2004 / 04:53 PM


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    The Lambda Literary Foundation announced Friday that it was removing a controversial book about transsexuality, titled "The Man Who Would Be Queen," from a list of finalists for its annual literary awards.

    Written by J. Michael Bailey, chair of the psychology department at Northwestern University, and subtitled, "The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism," the book has been under fire from transgender activists and academics since its publication last April. Critics have derided it as lacking in science, perpetuating stereotypes about transgender women and casting gender-bending as a perversion.

    A panel of Lambda Literary Foundation (LLF) judges reviewed the finalists in the transgender category and deemed the book "not appropriate for the category." LLF then made the "difficult and humbling" decision to remove the book from consideration altogether, according to a press release on the LLF Web site.

    "We've never before had a case in which a book, whose author and publisher both affirm their support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual rights, has been opposed by those who say its content in fact is antithetical to those rights," said LLF director Jim Marks.

    "The specific issue was whether the book was transphobic," Marks told the Network. "The judges looked at the book more closely and decided it was."

    Transgender activists, however, assert that the book should never have made Lambda's list in the first place.

    "Whoever made this decision [to nominate the book for an award] needs to do a better job," said Deirdre McCloskey, a professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago whose book, "Crossing: A Memoir," was a Lambda finalist in the transgender category in 1999. "It would be like nominating 'Mein Kampf' for a literary prize in Jewish studies."

    In an open letter to the LLF, activist and author Jamison Green called the nomination "a horrible slap in the face to all previous and future nominees for Lambda Literary Awards in the transgender category." Green criticized the book as "negatively biased against transgendered people" and "derisive and insulting to gay men."

    Among the book's endorsers is the National Association of Therapy and Reparation of Homosexuality (NARTH), a leading proponent of "ex-gay" reparative therapy. A reviewer on the NARTH Web site "absolutely" recommends the book and said it would be useful for gay men dealing with "unwanted homosexuality."

    The decision to remove the book from consideration has generated charges of censorship from some LLF judges.

    "I personally disagree with many aspects of Bailey's book," said Finalist Committee member Victoria Brownsworth in the LLF press release. But "if we take the book off the list we are indeed censoring it. It doesn't matter what our reasons are," she added.

    The controversy is not likely to abate soon, since Bailey is under investigation by Northwestern University officials for ethics violations. Several of his research subjects have charged that Bailey distorted their stories to better fit his theories, and that they did not consent to have their stories used in his book. Others have publicly refuted his findings.

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