Friday, February 15, 2019

The Transition: When Donald McCloskey Became Deirdre McCloskey

Deirdre Nansen McCloskey 
Deirdre McCloskey is the Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

She is also adjunct professor of Philosophy and Classics there, and for five years was a visiting Professor of philosophy at Erasmus University, Rotterdam.

Since October 2007 she has received six honorary doctorates. In 2013, she received the Julian L. Simon Memorial Award from the Competitive Enterprise Institute for her work examining factors in history that led to advancement in human achievement and prosperity. Her main research interests include the origins of the modern world, the misuse of statistical significance in economics and other sciences, and the study of capitalism, among many others.

Forthcoming is a 20th anniversary edition of her book, now titled, "Crossing: A Transgender Memoir," with a new Afterword.

Target Liberty was provided a copy of the Afterword via a third party.

Here are some snippets:
It’s been a long time now since, at age 53, I became a woman. Actually, I’m an old woman more than twenty years on, who walks sometimes with a nice fold-up cane, and has had two hip-joint replacements, and lives in a loft in downtown Chicago with 8,000 books, delighting in her dogs, her birth family, her friends scattered from Chile to China, her Episcopal church across the street, her eating club near the Art Institute, and above all her teaching and writing as a professor...

But of course one can’t “really” change gender, can one? The “really” comes up when an angry conservative man or an angry essentialist feminist writes in a blog or an editorial or a comment page. The angry folk are correct, biologically speaking. That’s why their anger sounds to them like common sense. Every cell in my body shouts XY, XY, XY! I do wish they would shut up. Wretched little chromosomes. In some magical future I suppose we’ll be able to change XYs into XXs. But not now...

What questions, then, after Crossing?

Has your marriage-family come around?


If you are one of the angry folk you will say, “Serves you right. You did a terrible, selfish thing to your wife. And your two grown children have righteously taken her side. Good for them.” A handful people have said such things to me, and a few more probably feel so. I guess my marriage family feels it still, two decades on. But I don’t know what is meant by “selfish” here. I guess the angry folk believe I changed for pleasure rather than happiness. Are those two the same? Worth thinking about, I reckon...

 My wife soon remarried, and lives with her new husband and still enjoys the square dancing she and I loved in the last five years of our happy if sometimes tempestuous thirty years of marriage. Bless ‘em. She’s not spoken to me. In that autumn of first realization in 1995I left to my wife—stupidly, husband-style—the task of telling my children, my grown son and my college-freshman daughter. Women do emotional work, Donald must have thought, if he thought at all, which I don’t recall he did. I should have gone myself in Donald drag to my
children. Not that gender change is a theorem, to be “explained” with the snap shut of a proof. It’s a story, and in October 1995 it was in the middle of Act 1. But my confused and self- absorbed neglect was an awful mistake.

My daughter still lives in the Midwest; she is married and has a child. I’ve told in Crossing about how, a year later, when she was still in college, I saw her that one time, very early in my transition, a weeping father in a dress begging for a hug. My friend Patty had advised against the meeting, wisely. Later I occasionally wrote to her, fruitlessly, and a long time afterwards helped her financially. Her lone letter in reply said “Thanks for the money. I still don’t want you in my life.”...

 My son lives not too far from me. He too won’t speak. None of my marriage-family, out to cousins, is permitted to speak to any of my birth family, out to cousins. Is my son enforcing the embargo with threats? I don’t know...

In 2000 I had moved from sweet Iowa City to a new job at the University of Illinois at Chicago, deciding to live downtown. I learned that a neighbor on the very same hallway was also a well-known libertarian, someone who wrote blazingly on human freedom. True, I noted, he and his wife were strangely distant towards me. Odd. I heard that every month the man hosted a soirée of free-market types. Oh, nice. Natural for me, I thought. But a note I left suggesting I might join got no response. Hmm. Oh, well. I’ve got plenty to do. 
Then one day I learned with a jolt from another libertarian economist that son came to the very same soirée, and knew that I lived thirty feet down the hallway. Good Lord. My Episcopal God was tapping me on the shoulder, hard. In the same hallway. Hope flared.

Huzzah!! With the strange neighbor’s help, surely, I thought, I can get back my marriage family, my children, my grandchildren. After all, the neighbor believes in freedom. True, my son had chosen not to knock on the door down the hall. But, well, hope. I left a wrapped copy of Crossing at the neighbor’s door.

Next morning I opened my own door to get the newspaper. The package, unopened, lay on the welcome mat, a message scribbled on it, “We don’t want to have anything to do with you.”...

Have you had romance?


Is it about sex?


Do you care?


When I moved from Iowa City to Chicago in 2000 I decided to do some video dating. I was not sexually attracted to women any more. Try men, I thought. Maybe some Big Joop will come along. Truth to tell, my surgery had left me without physical sexual feelings, which was no loss. It’s a relief, actually, to stop the biological yearning. But it seemed appropriate and interesting, so I signed up with a respectable service downtown in Chicago, at which you made a video of yourself and the men chose you, like one of those hideous mixer dances we used to have at Harvard with Wellesley in the 1960s. I leveled with the consultant, but she saw nothing wrong with keeping The Secret, at least on the video itself.

So I had some dates. One was with a guy who drove me to dinner in his Cadillac and spent the whole evening talking, talking, about (1.) his dead wife and (2.) his business. He didn’t ask me anything. Not a word. Any woman here had that experience? He drove me back to my building, parked the car and waited for me to invite him up for, well, you know, we’re all adults here. But I’m an old fashioned girl, and said Thank you for a lovely evening. Not. And scurried out of his car.

I had another date, with a guy who played the ponies, and I fantasized about becoming the girlfriend of a race-track man. I could do that. Another was a life coach. As soon as we met for lunch across the street from my place I could tell he didn’t warm to me, though he was insightful and intelligent, as one might expect from his job. My problem was that I always told the men the next day, and they never came back.

The life coach replied to my email saying,“Oh, that’s why I didn’t find you attractive.” Well, thanks.

Finally I gave up. My girlfriends remind me that a tall, successful professional woman of a certain age will find it hard to get dates. Basically, impossible. Men are such dopes...

During the late 1990s shortly after my transition I had called up a male dean at Harvard and asked him if Harvard could change my degree to the women’s college, Radcliffe. “Oh, I don’t think we can do that.” “But the U. S. State Department,” I whined, “had no trouble changing my passport from male to female.” Pause. Then with a smile in his voice, “Yes. But Harvard is older than the U.S. Department of State.” Goodness. Some things never change...

Gender change I reckon is a freedom thing, one of a long line of liberations from 1776 on. My writings are increasingly focused on the slow decline since then of the privileged classes, who get irritated or worse by the actions of the non-privileged. In 1776 John Adams, who was no democrat,worried about opening the Pandora’s box of, as the historian Alan Taylor put it, “promising equal rights in an unequal society”: “There will be no end of it. New claims will arise. Women will demand a vote. Lads from 12 to 21 will think their rights not enough attended to, and every man who has not a farthing will demand an equal voice.” He was right. The box could not be closed.

I’ve claimed in long books from the University of Chicago Press (2006, 2010, 2018, cheap on Amazon) that a change in ideology came over northwestern Europe in the 1700s and made the modern world, entire. Thus in America and slowly worldwide, 1800 to the present, a new liberalism gradually liberated poor white men, American Patriots (not Loyalists), Catholics, slaves, women, Irish, Jews, hillbillies, subjects of fascist tyrannies, colonized peoples, former slaves (again), women (again), other immigrants, gays, handicapped, subjects of socialist tyrannies, Chicanos, native Americans, East Asians, and, amazingly, transgender. More and more people were allowed to have a go. The result was a fantastic flowering of creativity, from jazz to Steve Jobs, from the novel to Huffington.

Liberty made us rich and made us pretty good, too. People will say that slavery and Indian removal and worker exploitation also made us rich. No, they didn’t. You’re mistaken.

Feel guilty about the evils, but do not think they were contributions to riches. I am an American humane libertarian—what is called elsewhere a “liberal” in the style of Adam Smith or Mary Wollstonecraft or Henry David Thoreau. I join, and I hope you do, with the African-American poet Langston Hughes, singing in 1935: “O, let America be America again — / The land that never has been yet / —And yet must be—the land where every man is free.”

And every woman, dear.


  1. I am one of those who doesn't believe that one can really change gender, and yet I'm not an "angry folk." I simply think it's all a sad and tragic instance of mental illness, and that it's a shame both sides---she and her "marriage family"---don't come to that realization. Especially her children. Jesus, what a sad situation.

    1. What is mental illness? And why is she mentally ill? Because you don’t approve of what she did? She is fortunate that sex change operations aren’t officially labeled as indicating a mental illness by the psychiatric industry or she very well might have been jailed in some mental asylum for being a danger to herself. Masturbation and homosexuality were once officially “mental illnesses”.

      She made a choice, for better or worse.

    2. Having the feeling that you are not in the body that you are supposed to be is a textbook case of mental illness or mental disorder. Disorder: When two or more things are not in harmony with each other. It very well may be that having a sex change operation may be the best solution for some people to deal with this disorder, but it is still a disorder. Comparing this to the other two is a bit of a stretch. It is inherently a subjective or felt sense of disorder that doesn't require social stigma to make it feel like a disorder. Phantom limb illusion is also a type of disorder, similar to gender dysphoria. Interestingly, one of the methods for treating phantom limb pains is prosthetic substitutes for the missing real limb.

    3. “Disorder: When two or more things are not in harmony with each other.”

      My nose is not in harmony with what I want it to be. So I seek plastic surgery. Am I mentally ill?

      My body type is not in harmony with my image of it so I load up on HGH and other muscle building chemicals. Am I mentally ill?

      Labeling someone mentally ill when done by psychiatrist is dangerous because the person so labeled can be incarcerated against his will, having committed no crime. The label is used against people in the name of helping them.

    4. Bunny this is the Elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge. This touches on a live and let live libertarian stance that not all can agree with. IT directly confronts ones belief system and when that occurs with human nature and moral social systems, a judgement is made and terms like disorder are tossed around.

      No matter how they want to explain it, it is wrong to tag it

    5. DesertBunny, I never said I disapprove of gender-dysphoria of transgenderism. I merely expressed pity for all involved.
      And yes, it is a mental illness, when you have delusions that deny reality. If you went around insisting you are really a desert bunny, or that you can speak with Martians, then you'd be mentally ill too.


    6. “Elephant in the room”

      How true. Especially regarding suicide.

      I had a friend who believed suicide was the ultimate freedom whose grown daughter had a skin disease, Lupus, that was driving her mad. She told him she was considering suicide. He pointed out other alternatives, but never intervened. She learned how to cope and ultimately the disease went in to remission, as I recall. He committed the ultimate “sin” at age 92 when he fell and broke his back and decided not have an operation.

    7. Yes, those are examples of disorders and are only different by degree and by the extent to which the problem can be fixed surgically. I realize that the terms mental illness and mental disorder are loaded with all sorts of moral connotations and you seem to be under the impression that I am expressing this opinion out of some kind of moral revulsion or condemnation. If your point is that we should not reify the things we call "disorders", I more or less agree. I never implied that I favor forced interventions by psychiatrists in such cases any more than I would favor forced treatment for people with physical illnesses. My position is that people with disorders of any kind have been given a bad break in life and they have to figure out the best way to deal with the problem; hopefully surrounded by people who will be compassionate and helpful to them. Perhaps someday gender dysphoria can be dealt with by having a complete sex change down to the level of genes.

    8. Suis-Juris,

      No, I’d just be strange. Just as someone who believes in the virgin birth or that he is talking to a divine being, not himself, would be thinking strangely to me. Are you ready to call the Pope and most Christians mentally ill?

      Do you understand the threat to individual liberty labeling a person “mentally ill” is and has been?

    9. Sean:

      I didn’t mean to imply that you favored forced intervention. I was pointing out this was often a consequence of labeling strange, disgusting, annoying, incomprehensible behavior “ mental illness”. When used benignally the term is a metaphor, like “she broke my heart” is one.

    10. DesertBunny:
      Labeling a person "mentally ill" doesn't HAVE to be a threat to liberty, no more than labeling a person physically ill (e.g. in need of an appendectomy, a penicillin shot for VD, or excision of a brain tumor) is a threat to their liberty. It's not like we're forcing them to wear a star-of-David armband to designate their designation or status or something. And I assume sick people---physically or mentally---are rendered a service and benefit when they are diagnosed, as it's the early step toward a prescription for treatment, rehabilitation, healing, etc. The alternative is to stick your head in the sand, take a Pollyanna approach to problems in the world, and deny reality; Nobody gets helped, nothing gets better, etc. if there's a stigma surrounding negative, unpopular news. Are we to have a politically-correct, social-justice world, where there are no negative characterizations, no negativity, nobody's feelings get hurt, no "bad vibes" etc---?
      Anyway, this is a ridiculous topic. Am I allowed to at least say that this individual displays aberrant, abnormal behavior and is an outlier in society? Or would you censor that too?


    11. A brain tumor is a real medical disease,and you cannot be incarcerated if you refuse treatment. Likewise the treatment of mental problems ought to be done with the permission of the person being treated. But as I as I’ve said, precisely because his mental problems are labeled mental illnesses by a psychiatrist he can be incarcerated against his will.

  2. Living all that time in Santa Cruz, I was acquainted with a few trans folks, who were pretty rare back then. We got along fine. I can't judge them; it's their life, not mine. But, like Peterson, I refuse to change MY life to accommodate some trans's whims, but like he says: "Hey their life is gonna be tough enough. Why pile on" (rough paraphrase).

  3. "What is mental illness? And why is she mentally ill? Because you don’t approve of what she did?"

    Your third question answers the first two.

    The best definition of mental illness I ever came across was that mental illness is a coping mechanism society doesn't approve of.

    People don't like examining things to root cause. It's easier to say people are mentally ill or criminal. It's easier to create new laws, new programs, new prohibitions, new allowances, new privileges, and so on than make an examination of how things got the way they are or what conditions society has constructed that drive choices and behaviors.

    1. "coping mechanism" implies that mental illness is voluntary. Neuroses might be, but not psychoses, and not schizophrenia.
      BTW, my mother was a schizophrenic, and she struggled with it for decades, and didn't choose it, and wasn't using it as a vehicle to cope---certainly not when she jumped off a 10-story building at the behest of the voices in her head.

    2. Why would a coping mechanism necessarily be voluntary? It could be completely voluntary to completely involuntary. Anywhere a long the range.

    3. True enough. I see your point.

  4. You can't change your gender. Surgery is just cosmetic. A biological male will always have male DNA and a male skeletal structure, and will always be a male.

    They can refer to themselves as whatever they want, I don't care, but I don't want to be forced to accept it. I don't want to go to jail for "misgendering" someone.

  5. I don't think society had anything to do with this gender transformation and object to McCloskey's identification of his transformation as part of the "freedom thing." Libertine would be a more appropriate description of McCloskey. In fact I don't think that his transformation was a choice but a compulsion. Even now McCloskey complains the chromosomes shout "XY,XY.XY." Clearly the inner conflict continues. I cannot imagine what would compel one to so mutilate your body that "no sexual feelings" remain. This person is neither male nor female. And I suspect the physical transformation was only the trigger for the marriage family to reject McCloskey. McCloskey's description of 30 years of marriage as "sometimes tempestuous" would likely be described more negatively by the marriage family. A non-sexual narcissus if there is such a thing but certainly an anomaly of nature.

    1. I worked with a man undergoing hormone therapy prior to surgery. He told me it made him weak and he didin’t like it, and that he was still attracted to women. In the course of our conversations he said that his mother raised him as a girl until age six. Ultimately he chose to remain a man.

  6. "Gender change I reckon is a freedom thing" true enough, but I'm more curious to know whether the author also admits that rejecting gender change is also a freedom thing. In other words, Donald should be free to change to Deidre and Henry should be free to reject Deidre's claim that she's a woman.

    More importantly, hopefully other trans folk (and academics for that matter) convert to libertarianism as result of reading McCloskey's work.

  7. I have a transgender cousin. He was sexually abused as a very young child. My guess is a lot of these people have similarly horrific stories. I think they have difficult lives and deserve patience and sympathy.

    Libertarians should be careful to distinguish between transgender people and the people using them as props. If you internalize some hostility toward transgender people because they are the cause of the week for dems, something evil has won a victory over you.