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My Book



The most expert cosmetics salesperson at the local upscale department store is a man. A female friend told me about him and, intrigued, I went to see him. He was young, tall, and African American, and his head was shaven. His fingernails were long and covered with clear nail polish. I watched him as he helped a woman choose the right makeup. After he was done with her, I introduced myself. He was slightly taken aback that I, a psychologist, wanted to meet him, but he also appeared slightly flattered. He told me his name was Edwin.

Knowing his occupation and observing him briefly and superficially were sufficient, together, for me to guess confidently about aspects of Edwin’s life that he never mentioned. I know what he was like as a boy. I know what kind of person he is sexually attracted to. I know what kinds of activities interest him and what kinds do not. I am least sure what he will look like five years from now. Based upon his current appearance, there is a chance he will undergo a dramatic change.

Although I am virtually certain that my conclusions are correct, they fly in the face of mainstream academic opinion. If a current textbook discussed the basis of my intuitions–which many people share–it would do so in the context of stereotypes. It would neglect to explain that my intuitions are probably correct, and it wouldn’t discuss why. My book aims to do better.


Edwin is a feminine man, one of the most feminine men I have ever met. Any reasonable person who met him would agree with me, unless that person’s only source of knowledge was a contemporary social science textbook. The textbook would say that concepts like “femininity” and “masculinity” are hopelessly muddled concepts that have more to do with the observer than the observed. Presumably its author would disapprove of using the word “feminine.” It would be amusing to hear such a person trying to describe Edwin without it.

Scientifically, we have begun a renaissance period for taking femininity and masculinity seriously. This is partly because of men like Edwin, and partly because of boys like Edwin was. I do not ask Edwin about his childhood because I do not need to. I already know that Edwin played with dolls and loathed football, that his best friends were girls. I know that he was often teased by other boys, who called him “sissy.” I am fairly certain that his parents did not encourage his feminine behavior, and if I had to bet, I’d say that his father was unhappy about it. The source of Edwin’s femininity can be no obvious social influence. It might be a more subtle social influence, or it might be inborn. The fascinating question of what causes Edwin’s femininity can be asked only if we admit that femininity exists.


Although I didn’t ask him, I know that Edwin likes to have sex with men. Not all gay men are like Edwin, but almost all men like Edwin are gay. During the past twenty-five years, social scientists have tried to discount or minimize the relation between male homosexuality and femininity. The standard lecture is that sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender role behavior are separate, independent psychological traits; a feminine man is as likely to be straight as gay. But the standard lecture is wrong. It was written with good, but mistaken, intentions: to save gay men from the stigma of femininity. The problem is that most gay men are feminine, or at least they are feminine in certain ways. A better solution is to disagree with those who stigmatize male femininity. It is a false and shallow diversity that allows only differences that cannot be observed.

To say that femininity and homosexuality are closely bound together in men may be politically incorrect, but it is factually correct, and it has been known for a long time. The idea that some males are “women’s souls in men’s bodies” was originally offered in 1868 to explain gay men, not transsexuals (by Karl Ulrichs, who was describing men like himself). Because the idea has been “off limits” among scientists for several decades, there is a host of fascinating phenomena well known to gay men and their friends that have barely been touched by scientists: the gay voice, the gay gesture, and prejudice against “femmes,” to name a few. Scientifically demonstrating that these phenomena exist has been easy. The next step will be to try to understand why.


There is some chance that if I ever see Edwin again, his name and appearance will be changed to those of a woman. Even for a gay man, Edwin’s appearance and manner are exceedingly feminine. He would stand out in a gay bar. (But he’d receive little romantic attention there.) He is near the boundary of male and female, and someday he may cross it. If he does, one primarily motive will be lust.

The attempt to separate sexuality from gender has been especially misleading for transsexualism. Supposedly, male-to-female transsexuals are motivated solely by the deep-seated feeling that they have women’s souls. Furthermore, the fact that some transsexuals are sexually attracted to men and others to women allegedly means that sex has nothing to do with it. However, in this case the exception proves the rule. Heterosexual men who want to be women are not naturally feminine; there is no sense in which they have women’s souls. What they do have is fascinating, but even they have rarely discussed it openly.

One cannot understand transsexualism without studying transsexuals’ sexuality. Transsexuals lead remarkable sex lives. Those who love men become women to attract them. Those who love women become the women they love. Although transsexuals are cultural hot commodities right now, writers have been either too shallow or too squeamish to give transsexual sexuality the attention it deserves. No longer.


This book deals with feminine males and completely ignores masculine females. That was not my original attention. Butch women are fascinating too, and I have studied them. There are many analogies between very masculine women and very feminine men, but there are also important differences. Butch women are not simply the opposite of femme men. Rather than attempting to force them together, I decided to focus on males. Masculine females deserve their own book.


Completing this book required substantial assistance from many other people. Several scientists and scholars spent a good deal of their time discussing ideas with me: Ray Blanchard, Khytam Dawood, Anne Lawrence, Simon LeVay, Rictor Norton, Maxine Petersen, Bill Reiner, and Ken Zucker. Anjelica Kieltyka introduced me to the Chicago transsexual community, and taught me a great deal by being honest and open. My colleague, Joan Linsenmeier, read the entire manuscript and made sure that my thoughts were clear. My editor, Jeff Robbins, at Joseph Henry Press, made my writing better than I could. I am grateful to Daria Cooper for her support while finishing the book. Finally, I would never have thought of this book without Leslie Ryan and Cher Mondavi, both courageous women, in their own, different, ways.


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Northwestern University Department of Psychology