McCloskey - An Ideal Candidate for Womanhood

Commentary by Kim Painter

People often question what is legitimate news and what isn't. It's a fine question to ask, but beware: within one story, the answer can change over time. I have spent weeks investigating the story of University of Iowa (UI) Professor of Economics Donald McCloskey. After revealing his intent to undergo sex change surgery, McCloskey was besieged by reporters. He was apprehended on November 2 during a newspaper interview by officers who took him to a UI Hospitals and Clinics psychiatric ward. An involuntary commitment petition alleging mania had been filed with the Johnson County Clerk of Court.

Many unnerved people have expressed the opinion that his story was "private," and better left unprinted. Just how wrong they were has been revealed in the weeks since.

McCloskey was allowed to leave the UI facility on November 3 after a 7-hour hearing, during which time mental health referee Jay Stein weighed the evidence and found him to pose no "immediate danger to himself or others." He was released pending the hearing on the actual involuntary commitment.

The question came to mind - why on earth was this man apprehended in the first place? The answer is complicated, but in essence it seems that a good law was used in a bad way by distraught people with ill intentions. In this case, McCloskey's sister Laura and a distant colleague by the name of David Galenson, a University of Chicago economics professor, were the ones who petitioned the Court. Under the Iowa Code on involuntary commitment, they claimed McCloskey had displayed numerous alarming traits in recent months. McCloskey contends the claims of the petitioners were utterly fraudulent. Despite the fact that his sister had not seen him in over 3 months and lives on the East coast, and Galenson hardly knows him, the duo was able to work the legal machinery in such a way that McCloskey was taken into custody.

McCloskey and his legal counsel did not push for an immediate hearing, as McCloskey had a professional conference in Chicago to prepare for and attend. What do you suppose happened at that conference on November 17? In the middle of a session honoring and discussing his work, McCloskey was again taken away by police. The same two people had petitioned to commit him in Cook County, Illinois.

Having had more than enough of such embarrassing and potentially damaging nonsense, McCloskey engaged a lawyer in Chicago. He was found sane at 9 p.m. that night. In the wake of the Chicago ruling, Stein dismissed the case in Johnson County.

Iowa sees little traffic in transsexual surgery, which makes harassing commitment petitions filled with false claims doubly dangerous -- many of Iowa's most powerful legal and medical professionals practice in the shadows of a prejudice they have never confronted.

It may be hard to know what to make of the concept of changing one's gender, but it should not be difficult to know what to make of Donald McCloskey, soon to be Deirdre. His colleagues knew immediately how to respond as he was removed from the room in which they were conducting a serious consideration of his work. They rescheduled the session for after his release, quickly realizing they would have to move the event to a ballroom to accommodate all those who wished to attend. After hours of hassle, embarrassment, and enduring what can only be described as a form of terror, McCloskey walked into the ballroom, where those assembled greeted him with a standing ovation.

I know little of McCloskey's work, but what I hear from others indicates its excellence and importance. I have had the pleasure of a leisurely dinner and much electronic correspondence with the individual I now know as Deirdre, and I can say I think he's a much better candidate for womanhood than the Daily Iowan's old file photo indicates. He's taken time along this road, much more time than any interviews mentioned. He will live abroad for a year as a female professor, with minimal (reversible) surgeries to provide a more feminine voice and appearance. He has known for decades that he had a gender identity issue to resolve and tried many things before making the realization that he must change his gender.

Today he faces bizarre reactions to what many now regard as his act of gender treason. The machinery of the state has been used against him. It moved quickly and without hesitation despite his reputation, community standing, and the battery of medical professionals who could and did attest to his sanity.

McCloskey has become a gender radical whether she likes it or not, and she is one of the most refreshing individuals I have ever met. I still don't know when to use which pronoun, and Dee exhibits a newfound graciousness in not caring which pronouns are used. She looks good these days, better than she realizes. And if she ever receives the Nobel Prize some have intimated might one day come her way, it will be a real pleasure to see her walk down the long carpet to the podium in heels and formal dress to accept. After all that has happened, I know she will step surely as she goes.

Kim Painter is a columnist with The Daily Iowan student newspaper. Painter can be reached online at: kpainter@blue.weeg.uiowa.edu. The article, which ran Nov. 28, 1995, is reprinted with the author's permission.
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