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Letter to the Editor, Archives of Sexual Behavior (1993)

Letter to the Editor, Archives of Sexual Behavior (1993)

©1993 by Dallas Denny

Source: Dallas Denny. (1993). Letter to the editor. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 22(2), 169-171.

When I read Charles Mate-Kole’s review of Anne Bolin’s In Search of Eve in Archives of Sexual Behavior, I wasted no time in writing this response.



Archives of Sexual Behavior Page (PDF)


Dear Editor:

I am writing in response to Charles Mate-Kole’s review of Anne Bolin’s work, In Search of Eve: Transsexual Rites of Passage in Archives of Sexual Behavior, 21(2), 1992.

Dr. Mate-Kole’s closing remark, that Dr. Bolin’s book “may offer greater assistance to the student or avid reader in sociology/anthropology than to the clinician or psychology/psychiatry student,” is extremely unfortunate, for it is precisely backwards: it is the clinician who has the most to gain by reading In Search of Eve.

The clinical treatment of transsexualism is a relatively new phenomenon, and it is not surprising and even to be expected that despite the best efforts of everyone involved, mistakes in treatment would occur. To perpetuate these mistakes would be a tragedy.

Archimedes once said that if he had a place to stand and a lever, he could move the Earth. Like Dr. Irving Goffman, in his insightful analysis of the workings of a mental hospital, Dr. Bolin provides a perspective outside the ordinary, and if one bothers to stand there and look, it is easy to see major problems with the literature of transsexualism and the treatment of transsexual people which continue to the present day. Ignoring these problems by continuing to look at them through clinical blinders will not make them go away.

Dr. William Verplanck, one of my graduate professors, was fond of saying that unlike biology, a science carefully built upon observation and classification, psychology began in a wild spate of theorizing which ultimately suffered (and still suffers) because of the lack of an empirical base. So, to, will the science of gender disorders—and transsexual people themselves—continue to suffer because of a clinical literature which is not rooted in the reality of the everyday lives of transsexual people, but in the treatment setting. What will result will not be so much a literature of a science as a collection of papers by clinicians explaining to other clinicians how to deal with such troublesome people.

Clinicians see transsexual people almost exclusively in a highly structured and artificial setting which is very little like real life. Both the clinician and the client have a very decided agenda, and the clinician holds all the cards. Dr. Bolin is not opposed to the HBIGDA Standards of Care, as Dr. Mate-Kole claims; she merely points out in Chapter 5 that the imbalance of power created by the Standards causes serious problems with the patient-caregiver relationship.

Stephen Jay Gould shows us in The Mismeasure of Man how the unconscious bias of even the best scientists permeates everything they do, from determining which research questions they ask to which findings they consider socially significant. It would be foolish to suppose that so controversial and emotional a subject as transsexualism is exempt from this bias. Unfortunately, because Bolin is not writing 50 or 100 years after the fact, as Gould did, it is more difficult to wrench oneself from the immediacy of one’s work and see today’s biases than it is to see the problems with Goddard’s classification of mass numbers of immigrants as “feeble-minded” (1917) or his treatment of the Kallikak family as genetically impure and debased (1912).

To those who are able to look at the phenomena of transsexualism from a broad perspective, it becomes apparent that although we have come a long way, something is terribly amiss. The literature is full of countertransference, which surfaces as name-calling, inaccuracy, misperceptions, opinion posing as fact, humor at the expense of transsexual people, and perhaps even some lies—and this literature influences treatment. The literature is further compromised by the fact that typically only those people let into the transsexual “club” by clinicians tend to show up in research papers—which may explain the findings of clincians that male-to-female transsexual people have effeminate childhoods (i.e., you must have this characteristic to be treated for transsexualism; therefore transsexual people have this characteristic). When an empirical study like Bolin’s tells us that our sampling methods are faulty, it’s time for a reality check.

We must face the fact that our biases remain, blinding us, just as they once blinded us to the facts that there are large numbers of female-to-male transsexual persons, that there are females who obtain erotic satisfaction from crossdressing, that many transsexual people show prior heterosexual orientation, and that there are many transgendered people who wish to cross-live, but who have no desire for genital surgery.

Sadly, we cannot even see where our biases lie unless we take advantage of the perspectives and insights offered by the Stephen Gay Goulds, the Irving Goffmans, and the Anne Bolins of this world. Although Dr. Mate-Kole’s review is fair and unbiased, he unfortunately seems to have missed the true significance of In Search of Eve.


Bolin, A. (1988). In search of Eve: Transsexual rites of passage. Boston: Bergin & Garvey.

Goddard, H.H. (1912). The Kallikak family: A study in the heredity of feeble-mindedness. New York: MacMillan.

Goddard, H.H. (1917). Mental tests and the immigrant. Journal of Delinquency, 2, 243-277.

Goffman, I. (1961). Asylums. New York: Doubleday & Co.

Gould, S.J. (1981). The mismeasure of man. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Mate-Kole, C. (1992). Review of In search of Eve: Transsexual rites of passage. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 21(2), 207-210.