©Deirdre Nansen McCloskey | COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL


Queer Markets

by Deirdre McCloskey
Forthcoming in Kevin Barnhurst, ed. Media/Queered: Visibility and its Discontents, 2006
Filed under articles and gender crossing

The essays here illustrate what I regard as an exciting possibility for a new turn in queer studies. But it's one that will not please everyone. Most queer academics think of themselves as progressives, or socialists. Anything but advocates of free markets. Having been there myself --- a long time ago, and in another gender, I was a Joan-Baez, folk-singing version of a Trotskyist---I can understand the progressive point of view. I can remember its attractions. As one peruses the pages of The Nation or Noam Chomsky's latest it feels like one is doing good. Imagine that: you can do good just by reading, and nodding your head. .

And I know the charm of political opinions left or right as an identity. We acquire our political identities at the romantic age of young adulthood. Like gender, settled in one's personal theories at age 2 or so, most people don't trouble to rethink later their political opinions acquired at age 20 or so. Saul Bellow said of his early Trotskyism, "like everyone else who invests in doctrines at a young age, I couldn't give them up." People come as young people to hate the bourgeoisie or to love capitalism or to detest free markets or to believe passionately in the welfare and regulatory state. It becomes part of a cherished identity, a faith. I appeal to you to rethink your faith. .

Fair warning, then: I want to make the libertarian case in queer media studies. Consider the evidence here assembled. In all three essays, I claim, Sender, Doyle, and Kama show---often reluctantly---the power of the market for good. That is, they show the power of the market for advancing the project of human freedom, and in particular queer freedom. .

The focus is on the media, and it should be noted right away that the media examined do not depend on government handouts, or even a sweetly socialistic co-op of journalists. They are commercial outlets, as is especially clear in the essays by Sender and Doyle. And they are mass media, with a sovereign listener supplied with a TV clicker, or at worst an on-off switch. From a perch in Israel, Kama observes that a mediated discourse coming over various kinds of airwaves allows in practice more dignity and more genuine human contact than does person-to-person communication. Status, gender identity, an undeconstructed hierarchy of difference squat like a toad on a person-to-person conversation. Imagine you are dropped into a conversation about the "gay lifestyle" between Bill O'Reilly and George W. Bush. Set it in the Oval Office. Add a few TV cameras. As much as you can in private diss their opinions with eloquence, in a public one-on-one, or in this case two-on-one, you will be rendered speechless. The ethos of The President, the ignorant assurance, the skill at partisan shouting, all the other inequalities of the tÍte-a-tÍte, mano-a-mano, win. .

Academics often think of personal conversation between two honestly engaged individuals as the ideal: un-coerced, un-commercialized human communication. I love it, too, this ideal speech situation, and have practiced it clumsily over my life with a few people I love. Lloyd, Derek, Joanne, Arjo, Steve, John, Ralph, step forward. But without love, notice, a so-called personal conversation never sheds the burden of ethos, the who-you-are that oppresses every chat you have with your boss or every competitive sports-talk session you have with your straight male buddies. More room exists for queer talk and queer behavior and queer theorizing in a rich, commercial society than in a conversation between two people. .

Some worry that the commerce of media empires will stifle free speech. But as long as we are allowed to make up new media, like new printing presses or new mail services---witness the internet, the explosion of blogs and arm's-length conversations on e-mail with strangers---I doubt it. Now that we're on the subject, by the way, there's nothing bad about paying someone else to make your arguments, Colonel McCormick running the Chicago Tribune as a mouthpiece for reaction. That he didn't let New Dealers write in his newspaper was not "censorship," as is sometimes loosely claim. Arguing with people is not against the Constitution, nor is paying for the argument, as long as you don't rely on the state---that is, as long as you don't call in the cops. What the First Amendment says is that the government shall make no law abridging freedom of speech. It's not about being unable to get an audience of half a million readers for your side of the argument because you don't own a newspaper. You can say to yourself or your hubby, "Oh, that's a lot of nonsense. The Tribune is wrong again, and if it goes on saying that I'm not going to buy the bloody newspaper." That's argument in a free market society, as the blessed Adam Smith once remarked (and is in fact pretty much what happened to the Chicago Tribune, which nowadays is a left-Republican paper). .

Having a media problem is not the same thing as being disenfranchised or censored, not unless the state is involved. There's no ideal speech community of easy access to serve as the utopia relative to the actual, messy market for Google or newspapers or whatever. The transgender community, for example, faces a media problem in our battle against Michael Bailey, who was forced to step down as chair of psychology at Northwestern University after publishing The Man Who Would be Queen (2003). "Most gay men are feminine," Bailey writes, "or at least they are feminine in certain ways." The professor's gaydar can spot those Certain Ways from across the street-on the basis, for example, of the pronunciation a man gives the sound of S.. And from a long city block away Bailey can spot a real gender crosser-those are the pretty ones, the ones whom the professor finds sexually "attractive." According to his primitive theory they're just an extreme form of gay men. He can distinguish them from former men who are not attractive to him, type that, contrary to what they will say (they are all liars), experience "sexual arousal at the idea of themselves as women." .

It's really quite simple, Bailey says. Weird born men (he doesn't talk about born women in the book) are driven by sex. It's either sex with other men or sex with themselves. Sex, sex, sex. "Identity" has nothing to do with it. You can think of Bailey as an identity politician's worst nightmare. .

Bailey is attacking the by-now accepted scientific view that whom you love and who you identify yourself to be are not the same issue. Au contraire, says the professor. It's not that formerly male gender crossers have an identity of womanhood, felt or desired, the way you feel or desire that you want to be a lawyer, say, or a resident of Florida. Nor do the more feminine-looking (because earlier changed), pretty ones have such an identity. No "identity" about it. Both are driven by sex, because that's what men are interested in. Bailey calls gender crossers "men" throughout his book. Born a man. Too bad. Like certain second-wave feminists, such as Mary Daly or Germaine Greer, Bailey is an essentialist. As the guys down at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post have always known, men are men and women are women. Period. .

No one should be surprised that Bailey's ideas have been seized on by the religious right. John Derbyshire, a homophobe who contributes frequently to National Review in print and online, wrote a nice piece about the book, drawing the moral: "Male homosexuality, in particular, seems to possess some quality of being intrinsically subversive when let loose in long-established institutions, especially male dominated ones" (where is Roy Cohn when we need him?). For God's sake, let's not let the queers loose..

Believe me, this is a gay issue too. The gay press, again, hasn't quite caught on. My pastor, who is gay, allowed himself to be interviewed for Bailey's phony "research" because the gay press has not exposed the professor's nonsense. Kama's structural analysis of the careerism of the gay presses is relevant to this particular controversy. Members of the gay press think, "Oh well, it's about those trannies, who are anyway embarrassing in the Gay Pride parade. Let's not make too much of them.".

But I have no deep complaints about the capitalist media here. Reason magazine, a capitalist institution, let me rant against Bailey for seven pages. The internet campaign against him, run by Lynn Conway, an emerita professor of electrical engineering at the University of Michigan and a member of the National Academy of Engineering (she was fired by IBM for transitioning from male to female in 1967 and then went on to invent crucial pieces of modern computation), has been effective. My only complaint---and it should be yours---is that Bailey has been supported by the other National Academy of Science, by its Joseph Henry Press, which has been turned in recent years to the uses of homophobes in the Bush administration. That's censorship with a minus sign, the encouragement of hate speech by state-financed entities. .

What I'm saying is that the market is not the enemy of queers. The restaurants and bars from which the drag queens exploded in political action in the 1960s in San Francisco and then in New York were after all profit-making entities. The enemies were the gender cops, not the owners of coffee shops. States use conservative institutions, anti-queer institutions, anti-free institutions, institutions that keep citizens sitting where they can be taxed and won't cause trouble. .

There's a lot of talk on the left about coercion in the market place. But all three of these essays show market institutions working for queer rights. Imagine if the government ran all the newspapers and all the television stations and all of the internet and all the public forums. It's not too hard to imagine: China or Iran or Putin's Russia. It's been tried, you know. It doesn't work for queers. I have a sophisticated Polish friend who is straight but in other respects is among the most cool and clued-in people I know. She has worked since before Communism fell in Sweden as a distinguished professor of management. The issue of homosexuality in Poland came up. She said, "Oh, I don't think we have many homosexuals in Poland." "Dearest," I said, "what are you talking about? Poland like everywhere else has 5 or 10 percent of the population gay." She was stunned by this news. She had grown up in a non-market environment, where all the news, all the publications, everything came straight from the Polish communist party. Or from the Polish Catholic Church. .

I want to shake your age-21 political convictions a little. I want you, as Oliver Cromwell expressed it in vexation at the quarrelsome Presbyterians, to "consider in the bowels of Christ that you may be mistaken." A startling expression: in the seventeenth century "bowels" meant merely "your emotions, your heart." If you think that being progressive about matters of gender identity and of sexual preference fits just perfectly with being against the market, consider in your heart, I beg you, that you may be mistaken. .

The Polish communist party, or the Catholic Church, the House of Representatives, or whatever non-market institutions with a state backing it you have in mind are not good places for queers. The way forward is not more government. It is free societies. .

Works Cited

  1. Bailey, J. Michael. 2003. The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender Bending and Transsexualism. Washington, D.C.: Joseph Henry Press
  2. Bellow, Saul. 1994. It All Adds Up: From the Dim Past to an Uncertain Future. New York and London: Penguin