Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Getting His Due?

The New York Times ran an article yesterday about J. Michael Bailey, who's been the target of outrage among some transsexuals who feel like he made grossly inappropriate statements in his book, The Man Who Would Be Queen, in suggesting that the desire for some transsexuals to transition from male-to-female can be rooted in autogynophilia.

The whole controversy has lots of relevance for us because it centers around book publishing (the biggest controversy since James Frey?) and trans issues, one of the key areas we've been publishing in for the past couple years.

Today Forum with Michael Krasney had a panel discussion that included Bailey, along with Joan Roughgarden, professor of Biological Science at Stanford University and author of Evolution's Rainbow and Mara Keisling, Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. This is fascinating and absolutely worth listening to.

Bailey is portrayed, I think, somewhat sympathetically in The Times, and he comes off sympathetically on Forum, too. Then there's the fact that his book is popular science, and Publishers Weekly highlighted its shortcomings in its 2003 review: "Bailey tends towards overreaching, unsupported generalizations..."

But Keisling beautifully articulates several key points: 1) His book was marketed as science and it's not; 2) he drew his conclusions from a sample size of six; 3) the book was sensationalized for sales (comment based on the book cover, and I do know something about going with a cover you think will increase sales). This whole controversy is a perfect storm of factors: guy (who is a professor of science) who tends toward racist generalizations, publisher who capitalized on the sensationalism of the topic, and a handful of overzealous trans women whose attacks on Bailey make them look crazier than they really are. (Lynn Conway, in particular, compared Bailey's views to Nazi propaganda---never a good route to go if you want people to take your criticism as sound.)

We're expecting a post from Julia Serano, author of our book Whipping Girl, to post to tomorrow, so we'll be sure to provide the link as soon as it posts. Her insight is sure to be compelling, insightful, and rooted in her own very grounded experiences.

1 comment:

Lena Dahlstrom said...

This isn't about telling an unfortunate truth or unpopular ideas. There's a multitude of reasons why at a public meeting of sex researchers shortly after the publication of "The Man Who Would be Queen," Dr. John Bancroft, then director of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, said to Dr. Bailey, “Michael, I have read your book, and I do not think it is science.” Likewise Alice Dreger herself has said: "I should correct the misperception that I’m a defender of Professor Bailey." (panel discussion on KQED's "Forum" show, Aug. 22, 2007)

First, there's the major problems with Bailey's theoretical basis. There is a huge difference between a classification system and causality (what makes something happen). Bailey relies on the work of Raymond Blanchard, which at best (and this is/has been disputed) shows that the population of male-to-female transsexuals includes the following two groups: those who like to have sex with men, and those who are viewed to be aroused by cross-dressing. Blanchard makes a huge leap in asserting that wanting to have sex with men or some sort of autoeroticism is the cause of transsexualism in these two groups. (Blanchard did see these two groups as only a portion of the MTF transsexual population.) In the 20 some years since Blanchard started with this classification system, no one has replicated his work, a key part of the scientific process. In fact, Prof. Joan Roughgarden, Professor of Biological Science at Stanford University, author of "Evolution’s Rainbow," concluded: "if you go back to Blanchard’s work, you again do find that the existence of these two clean-cut categories is a figment of imagination… because Blanchard sent out a bunch of questionnaires, and he has three different studies in which the results of the questionnaires are tabulated, and you see a scattering of all sorts of answers to the questionnaires. And trying to find that they coalesce into two distinct clusters is really an exercise in pure imagination." (panel discussion on KQED's "Forum" show, Aug. 22, 2007) Perhaps this contributes to why prior to Bailey's book, Blanchard was only of interest to a few people at all and even specialists in transsexuality rarely cited his work.

Bailey goes further than Blanchard and asserts these are the two -- and only two -- causes of MTF transsexualism -- and that if you say that your life experience doesn't match these models, you're lying. Which needless to say, makes Bailey's theory un-disproveable -- taking it out of the realm of the "scientific," despite Bailey's repeated assertions in TMWWBQ and elsewhere about the scientific nature of his inquiry. For example, the book's subtitle is "The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism" and it's inside jacket promises "Based on his original research, Bailey's book is firmly in the scientific method."

Then there's the shoddy nature of Bailey's "field research" for the book, which in its entirety consisted of talking to a handful of transsexuals at a local bar, and the startling conclusions Bailey reached based on that. To make an analogy, imagine a researcher who:

- drew conclusions about the entire population of black women based on a half-dozen women he met while "cruising" a local bar (Pg. 141 of "The Man Who Would Be Queen") (because he didn't know how to locate other black women, despite the presence of several organization for black women) and based on that sampling

- argued that white women "aspire (with some success) to be presentable, while [black women] aspire (with equivalent success) to be objects of desire" (Pg. 180)

- argued black women "tend to have a short time horizon with certain pleasure in the present being worth great risks for the future" (Pg. 184)

- argued that black women "might be especially well suited to prostitution" (Pg. 185)

- argued the black women are "especially motivated" to shoplifting (Pg. 185)

- argued those who were black women "are much better looking than most" of those who aren't, and that he can tell the difference between light-skinned black women and dark-skinned white women based on whether he found them attractive (Pgs 141-142, 180-182)

I doubt we'd be debating whether those findings were politically incorrect and recognize the shoddy "research" for what it was.

The general public doesn't see the slight of hand that converts a questionable taxonomy into an non-scientific opinion about a reason why.  Nor the slight of hand that takes what is at most, anecdotes from a highly non-random sample, and turns them into assertions about an entire population.

Frankly, some transsexual advocates have hurt the case for the many justifiable criticisms of Bailey's work by their over-zealous behavior. But I hope one might see how assertions such as the ones above, might be enraging to a population that already is marginalized and discriminated against. People whose lives are affected by a book that says that the story they've been telling about themselves is a lie, and that asserts that they are especially suited to criminal activity, have clear reason to be concerned. They're right in thinking "with friends like Bailey, who needs enemies?" Especially when Bailey continues to make statements such as transsexuals are "better suited than genetic women are" for prostitution (panel discussion on KQED's "Forum" show, Aug. 22, 2007).