Interview with Prof. Deirdre Nansen McCloskey - Part 2

Monika: Usually it is in Thailand that transwomen choose to have their GRS done…
Prof. McCloskey: Sure, and if I had been going to Thailand to speak at an academic conference I might have done it there! Seriously, I needed the assurance of a more familiar sort of country (I knew Australia well already).
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Prof. McCloskey: A number. Principally, concerning people whom I actually met, the Australian pioneer Katherine Cummings, whom I still love and visit. What a sweetie she is! Read her memoir, Katherine's Diary.
And my friend Susan Marshall, the domestic bursar of Exeter College, Oxford, late of the Royal Navy, a commander and barrister when named "Simon." I went to Susan's wonderful wedding in the chapel of Exeter.
But then also a few who had written about their transition, especially Jan Morris, whose book Conundrum is a little vague, but inspiring.
The point is that these were all serious professional women: Katherine was a university librarian, Susan a university administrator, Morris (whom I have not met) a successful writer of non-fiction.

From Donald to Deirdre: name changing day.

Monika: Are there any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Prof. McCloskey: All of the above, such as Lynn Conway—-who was outed some years ago and decided then to become a brilliant advocate for transpeople worldwide. But now it's becoming commonplace. I like the graceful way that Caitlyn Jenner handles it, allowing for the somewhat bizarre situation of rich party-goers she has lived in for decades.
Monika: The transgender community is said to be thriving now. Teenage girls become models and dancers, talented ladies become writers, singers, and actresses. Those ladies with an interest in politics, science, and business become successful politicians, academics, and businesswomen. What do you think in general about the present situation of transgender women in American society? Are we just scratching the surface or the change is really happening?
Prof. McCloskey: Oh, it's really happening. When I transitioned twenty years ago people thought of it as sex, sex, sex. My wife thought I would become a prostitute. Now, people do not think that way. But liberalism can be reversed—as again Polish people do not need to be told. Weimar Berlin was highly tolerant of all sorts of queerness, and then . . . 
So the defense of liberty requires eternal vigilance. If Poland falls back into fascism, as Hungary has, watch out. The Catholic Church in Poland, like the Orthodox in Russia, has not been helpful.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out? The loss of family, friends…? 
Prof. McCloskey: Before I did it I greatly exaggerated how many people would react badly. I used to declare, "I am willing to abandon my scientific career and become a secretary in an agricultural region if I can be a woman." For someone as career-driven as me such a declaration was startling. But in the event very few rejected me. Yet it is unpredictable.
The people I thought would have a hard time, such as my mother or my brother or my colleagues in economics, had no problem. People I thought would find it easy, such as my wife or my sister or my colleagues in history, did have a problem.
Sadly, as I mentioned, my marriage family has rejected me. My two children have not spoken to me for 21 years. I have three grandchildren I have never seen. But into each life, some rain must fall. Aside from that, the news is good. And even if I had known that my wife and children would reject me, I would have gone ahead, sad but determined.

Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
Prof. McCloskey: Note that Q is actually the last. The LBGs "added the T" with some reluctance. In my experience gays and lesbians are no better informed about trans issues than straight people. They were embarrassed by the drag queens at parades. But now the T is there, and the startling emergence of sympathetic trans themes in the popular culture (Trans-America movie, Trans-Parent TV series; Caitlyn Jenner; Oprah's shows) will keep it there.
Monika: What do you think in general about transgender news stories or characters which have been featured in films, newspapers, or books so far?
Prof. McCloskey: It's how real social change happens. Pop culture is where we do our thinking as a society. Until, say, 1990 in US popular culture the trans person was a dangerous freak (see for example the movie Dressed to Kill (1980). Then it started to soften with a movie like To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995). Oprah used to have a trans show every so often (I was on one in 2000).
Monika: Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Prof. McCloskey: We're a pretty small group! Not as small as was once thought (the desire to change, whether MtF or FtM, affects about 1 in 400 or so births, according to Lynn Conway's sensible figures). But too small to matter in politics, except to anger the fascists.


Monika: What do the recent political changes in the US mean for the transgender cause? The previous President was very supportive of the LGBTQ community …
Prof. McCloskey: That's true, he was. But he was also once a Democrat, supporting the Clintons and in favor of a woman's right to choose abortion. So I think we have to conclude that he actually has no political convictions at all, and will go with whatever he thinks is popular. So he will not be a defense. His daughter is more supportive.
Monika: So far we have been very serious. Time for lighter questions … Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion designs, colors, or trends?
Prof. McCloskey: I had to explore a lot of different looks, as though I were some 14-year old girl! I finally settled on sober but elegant clothing—-long tops, for example; blue jeans when I can. For years after 1995, I would not wear pants! Now I don't get out of them.
Monika: What do you think about transgender beauty pageants?
Prof. McCloskey: Just what I think about non-trans beauty pageants: Ugh!
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Prof. McCloskey: I love many people and they love me. But I have no romance. When I complain to my girl friends, they reply, "Look, dear: join the group! We tall, successful, professional women of a Certain Age can't get a date, either. And you have that Other Matter!"
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Prof. McCloskey: Accept who you are, find a safe place away from thugs and the Church, start taking hormones as early as you can (but not so many as to have a stroke).
Monika: My pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transsexuals and transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Prof. McCloskey: Is Gina trans? She is? Well, I wish she would not say such things! You can't make dreams without a bit of reality in them—if you have a big, male nose, get rid of it! 
Monika: Prof. McCloskey, thank you for the interview! 

All the photos: courtesy of Prof. Deirdre McCloskey.
© 2017 - Monika Kowalska

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