Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Bailey Affair: Psychology Perverted

By Joan Roughgarden
Department of Biological Sciences
Stanford University
February 11, 2004


A long-simmering dispute pitting psychologists against others in academe has now boiled into public attention, receiving coverage in the Chronicle of Higher Education, ScienceNOW, the Associated Press and the Chicago Tribune, among others. On National Academies’ letterhead, a book’s advertisement reads: ``Gay, Straight, or Lying? Science Has the Answer", and conclusions promised that ``may not always be politically correct, but… are scientifically accurate, thoroughly researched and occasionally startling." Published by the National Academies, and written by Michael Bailey, professor and chair of the psychology department at Northwestern University, the title alone is considered inflammatory, The Man Who Would be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism. Transgendered people, outraged by the book, by the National Academies’ leadership, and by academic psychologists’ uncritical stance, have launched an unprecedented counterattack. The National Academies’ leadership as well as the author profess to be “surprised” by the continuing dispute.

This dispute won’t go away. The book isn’t an isolated instance of poor and prejudicial scholarship. The outrage of transgendered people against Bailey coincides with that of other scholars against psychologists who write about gender while pretending to be scientific.

Bailey’s thesis is that all transgendered women can be divided into exactly two mutually exclusive classes---extremely feminine homosexual men, and men who pursue a cross-dressing fetish to the point of modifying their bodies. This thesis is not new.

Since turn-of-the-century sexology in Europe, many manifestations of gender and sexuality variance have been distinguished. Then 20 years ago, the psychologist, Ray Blanchard of the Clarke Institute in Toronto, tried to argue that all varieties of gender/sexuality variance could be boiled down to the two classes that Bailey is trying to resurrect. Sexologists have not signed on to the Blanchard scheme. Bailey, upset about this, disparages his colleagues by writing, ``Blanchard's ideas have not yet received the widespread attention they deserve, in large part because sex researchers are not as scholarly as they should be." (p. 176)

Initial reaction to Bailey’s book was disappointment that no new ideas were proposed. Bailey’s elaboration of Blanchard’s two categories seems dubious on its face. Bailey profiles the “homosexual transsexual” as a young woman who comes out relatively early in life, is attractive, and is sexually oriented to men. To illustrate attractiveness, Bailey writes of one, ``She was stunning... My avowedly heterosexual male research assistant told me he would gladly have had sex with her, even knowing… [she] still possessed a penis." (p. 182) In contrast, Bailey writes of the cross-dressing variety, termed ``autogynephilic’’ by Blanchard, ``There is no way to say this as sensitively as I would prefer, so I will just go ahead. Most homosexual transsexuals are much better looking than most autogynephilic transsexuals." (p 180) Bailey profiles the cross-dressing transsexual as an older woman who comes out relatively late in life, is unattractive, and is sexually oriented to women.

From a transgender perspective, Bailey’s claim that all transgendered women match one of these two profiles is clearly counterfactual. Many transgendered women come out late in life and yet are sexually oriented to men, many come out early in life and yet are oriented to women, many who are oriented to women are attractive nonetheless, many have changed direction of sexual orientation when they transitioned, many are bisexual, and many are not sexually active. Transgendered women also encompass heterogeneity in occupation, presentation, temperament, sexual history, and ethnicity. Furthermore, transgendered people are not as fixated on sex as Bailey evidently is. The need to locate in the social and occupational space of one’s gender identity, to live as a woman, is a stronger motivation for many transgendered women than is attaining sexual pleasure. So, the initial dilemma faced by transgendered women was to discern how Bailey went wrong, why so far off course, and perhaps try to lend some accuracy to his account.

The plot thickens. As the two quotations above already suggest, Bailey uses sensational and pejorative language. Bailey writes, ``prostitution is the single most common occupation that homosexual transsexuals in our study admitted to... Juanita is a very attractive postoperative transsexual who has worked as a call girl both before and since her operation... she does not feel degraded and guilty about what she does for a living. I suspect that this reflects an aspect of her psychology that has remained male... her ability to enjoy emotionally meaningless sex appears male-typical. In this sense homosexual transsexuals might be especially suited to prostitution… Homosexual transsexuals... lust after men." (p. 184—185, 191)

Bailey gathers steam when turning to his other type of transsexual, those with a condition he calls ``autogynephilia, (pronounced Otto-guy-nuh-feel-ee-ya)," (p. 164) a ``type of paraphilia,... unusual sexual preferences that include autogynephilia, masochism, sadism, exhibitionism,... frotteurism,... necrophilia, bestiality, and pedophilia... Paraphelias tend to go together... The best established link is between autogynephilia and masochism. There is a dangerous masochistic practice called `autoerotic asphyxia,' in which a man strangles himself, usually by hanging, for sexual reasons... Perhaps about 100 American men per year dies this way. About one-fourth of the time, these men are found wearing some article of women's clothing, such as panties... Although most autogynephiles are not sexual sadists, they are more likely to be sadists compared with men who are not autogynephilic." (pp. 171--172) So according to Bailey, all transsexual women can be placed in either of two categories, one predisposed to prostitution and the other likely to be sexual sadists. No transgendered woman can read Bailey’s characterization and emerge with their dignity intact.

Bailey’s account is racist. He writes, ``about 60 percent of the homosexual transsexuals and drag queens we studied were Latina or Black." (p. 183, no sample size given.) Bailey noticed ``the large number of Latina transsexuals" (p. 183) and offered a conjecture that ``Hispanic people might have more transsexual genes than other ethnic groups do." (p. 183-184)

From a transgender perspective, the prospects for rapprochement seem remote. We’re scratching our heads wondering where such outlandish descriptions have come from. Whether say, 25 men hang themselves each year wearing panties is irrelevant to how tens of thousands of transgendered people live their lives. How could Bailey have mischaracterized a whole subpopulation so incorrectly? His writing is hate speech, detached from reality, and yet advertised as science and published by the National Academies.

Bailey also attacks gays and women. About gays, Bailey writes, ``the brains of homosexual people may be mosaics of male and female parts... this mixture explains much of what is unique in gay men's culture and lives." (p. 60) Bailey goes on to claim that ``gay men have tended to have more of certain psychological problems than straight men" (p. 81.) The disease of being gay is the disease of being a woman. ``Gay men's pattern of susceptibility to… mental problems reflects their femininity. The problems that gay men are most susceptible to---eating disorders, depression, and anxiety disorders---are the same problems that women also suffer from disproportionately" (p. 82) He continues, ``Learning why gay men are more easily depressed than straight men might tell us why women are also." (p. 83) Then he piously states, ``nothing I have written means that we should… again consider it a mental illness... the problems are being... depressed... [whereas] homosexuality, per se, is not a problem." (p. 83) Furthermore, ``Gay men will always have more sex partners than straight people do. Those who are attached will be less sexually monogamous." (p. 100) Then he follows with another pious disclaimer, ``Social conservatives will view this prediction as tantamount to an admission of the inferiority of the gay male lifestyle, but it is not." (p. 101). And he winds up raising the specter of eugenics, ``I certainly have no motive to change gay people or prevent them from being born." (p 113)

These disclaimers are disingenuous. Bailey is setting the stage for others to advocate the persecution of gays from a scientific perspective. This tack was used when setting up a biological argument for racially cleansing the Aryan race of Jews in Nazi Germany. His work is cited by homophobic groups such as NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality), a group dedicated to ``curing'' homosexuality with so-called reparative treatments. One of Bailey’s few favorable reviews is a homophobic piece in the National Review by John Derbyshire, also a National Academies’ Press author (June 30, 2003). According to Derbyshire, “conservatives remember... the AIDS plague spread in this country mainly by promiscuous homosexual buggery’’ and “the sacred texts of all three major Western monotheistic faiths proscribe homosexuality in unambiguous terms,” a claim incidentally, that is mistaken. Bailey writes with an eye toward a right-wing political agenda.

Perhaps these hateful politically-charged claims about transgendered women, other women, gays, Latinas and Blacks are all true. Perhaps we should celebrate Bailey’s honesty for bringing these painful “facts” into the open. Yet as already mentioned, Bailey’s claims are inaccurate, and so the source of the problem might lie somehow in his data. So, what does Bailey have to offer scientifically, leaving aside his pejorative rhetoric?

Bailey has no data, none at all. He offers no surveys, no data tables, no statistics, nothing. He doesn’t give the sample size for the “study" he refers to occasionally. No references are offered to primary literature either. Six transgendered people are mentioned by name (pseudonym). Bailey did not take detailed and rigorous notes when interviewing these subjects, and relies on his recollection of their meetings. This sample is highly non-representative because the women he interviewed he met while ``cruising" (p. 141) in ``the Baton, Chicago's premier female impersonator club,'' (p. 186) leading to an occupational and socio-economic bias.

Still, one may anticipate that Bailey has at least found a tiny non-representative sample, and offers a truthful account of the life-narratives from this selected group. No, Bailey has manipulated even the few narratives he has. Bailey admits to an ``ongoing argument'' (p. 161) with one of his subjects who will not agree to say what he wants. When his subjects disagree with him he calls them liars, ``Most gender patients lie."(p. 172) Also, gay males who don't report a feminine childhood are lying too (p.58) because they suffer from "internalized femiphobia" (p. 80). Therefore, Bailey is compromising his own data by putting words in the mouths of his interviewees.

And amazingly, four of his six subjects filed formal complaints with the administration at Northwestern University charging that Bailey did not notify them that their narratives were to be used as “research material” in his book (Jennifer Leopoldt, Transsexuals file 2 more claims against Bailey, The Daily Northwestern, August 2, 2003.) After reading accounts supposedly about them, the women reported being inaccurately transcribed. Furthermore, Bailey did not disclose that he was writing letters for these women to authorize sex-reassignment surgeries in return for their interviews, placing the women and Bailey in conflict of interest. As of December 2003, all six of the subjects have filed formal complaints that their consent was not obtained. And even more astonishingly, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that one of the women has formally charged Bailey with having sex with her at her apartment. Bailey has declined to comment, and the Northwestern University has declined to pursue this charge, although they are pursuing the charges about failure to obtain consent (Robin Wilson, Dec. 12, 2003, Northwestern U. psychologist is accused of having sex with research subject). At this time, all of Bailey’s narrative information is irretrievably compromised, and the circumstance in which the information was obtained is allegedly scandalous. Finally, the narrative that frames the section on transgendered women (the Danny narrative) is reportedly acknowledged to be completely fabricated.

Thus, Bailey does not report his sample size, the sample turns out to be small and unrepresentative, all of the narratives are compromised, elementary abuse of ethical protocol with human subjects has been alleged, Bailey does not disclose conflict of interest, all contradictory evidence is dismissed, and at least one of the narratives is apparently fabricated. Bailey’s study comes nowhere close to acceptable science. Yet it has been published by the National Academies and endorsed as “scientifically accurate” and “thoroughly researched.” [...]


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