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The J. Michael Bailey Controversy Over Transsexuality

J. Michael BaileyJ. Michael Bailey wrote the book The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism, which was published in 2003. Dr. Bailey and the transgender community have both been dealing with the shockwaves ever since publication.

Reviving the controversy in the past few weeks, Alice D. Dreger, Ph.D., wrote a paper for the Archives of Sexual Behavior entitled The Controversy Surrounding The Man Who Would Be Queen: A Case History of the Politics of Science, Identity, and Sex in the Internet Age, with the New York Times reporting on the controversies surrounding Bailey’s book and on Dreger’s paper in their article Criticism of a Gender Theory, and a Scientist Under Siege.

The general spin in the blogosphere since the New York Times article has been published echoes the sentiments expressed in the Times article:

To many of Dr. Bailey’s peers, his story is a morality play about the corrosive effects of political correctness on academic freedom. Some scientists say that it has become increasingly treacherous to discuss politically sensitive issues.

What makes Bailey’s perspectives on transsexuality a particularly sensitive issue for transpeople is found in his theories of why transsexuals exist: Either a male-to-female (M2F) transsexual has autogynephilia (is sexually aroused by the idea of being female), or “he” is a male homosexual who needs to be a woman to be comfortable being sexually attracted men. {Bailey’s book completely ignores the existence of female-to-male (F2M) transsexuals}. That’s it — if you’re a M2F transsexual, Bailey says it’s solely because of your sex drive, and you’re either one type or the other.And, given that perspective of what one of two conditions must exist for one to identify as a male-to-female transsexual, it should come as no surprise that he consistently refers to transwomen like me as “transsexual men.” Bailey has essentially relegated transsexuality to the functional status of a paraphilia, stigmatizes transsexuals and the accepted treatments for transsexuals, and exposes transpeople, like me again, who want civil rights furthered for transpeople to further societal resistance.

Adding to Bailey’s impact on transgender civil rights activism, Gary Barlow (in a 2005 Chicago Free Press article) said of the Bailey book:

…Bailey alleged that transgenders are “especially motivated” to shoplift and that prostitution is “the single most common occupation” among transgenders.

Sandra L. Samons, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., said this of Bailey in response to the recent New York Times article:

Not only did I find his premise and many of this comments and conclusions to be questionable or outright erroneous and offensive to transgender people, but also to therapist colleagues, in that he essentially stated that any therapists who did not agree with him had been duped by transgender people, who are generally manipulative in their efforts to accomplish their ends and naive therapists (meaning anyone who did not concur with his premises) had been taken in by them.

…I think it should not be overlooked that by making the kinds of assertions he made, negating and invalidating the opinions of any colleague who disagreed with him, he too engaged in this kind of approach, and did so before others reciprocated in kind. On that basis, I found many of his comments and assertions to have gone beyond offensive to being unprofessional.

Samons, like many others, recognizes that some of Bailey’s critics have stepped out of bounds in their impassioned reaction to what he wrote, but at the same time believes he should have been able to anticipate the firestorm he would bring down upon himself by making the assertions he made — one has to wonder if at least on a certain level, that was exactly what Bailey hoped to accomplish with his book.

Frankly, I’m concerned that Bailey’s “rehabilitation” in the mainstream press will have the secondary effect of his transsexuality theories being accepted as gospel — not because the theories are tested, but because a number of transactivists were passionate to the point of overzealousness in attacking his theories. Bailey — the author and researcher — should have his theories on transsexuality evaluated based upon whether Bailey’s psychological construct for transsexuals holds up when compared to a statistical samplings of actual transgender people. My guess, given recent studies on the brain structures of transpeople and recent genetic studies on mice that indicate gender is based on more than one’s natal genitalia, is that Bailey’s dichotomic model of transsexuality won’t hold true for all transsexuals. I know it doesn’t hold true for me.

Next month, the World Professional Association For Transgender Health (WPATH) holds their Biennial Symposium. It’ll be interesting to see if any statements about the Dreger paper and/or the New York Times article comes out of that event.

Joanne Herman, columnist for The Advocate, contributed significantly to this article.

Further information regarding J. Michael Bailey:

* KQED (Public Radio): Transgender Theories
(Update: Transcript of radio broadcast)
* Northwestern Chronicle/J. Michael Bailey: Academic McCarthyism
* Aaron S. Greenberg, JD and J. Michael Bailey, PhD: Parental Selection of Children’s Sexual Orientation
* New York Times: Gay, Straight, Or Lying: Bisexuality Revisited
* Washington Blade: Report on bisexuality study angers gay activists
* The Advocate: Kinder, gentler homophobia

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