The Ups and Downs of J. Michael Bailey

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #104, Winter 2004.

J. Michael Bailey is Chair of the Department of Psychology and Professor at Chicago?s prestigious Northwestern University.

A Ph.D. graduate of Louisiana?s Baylor University, he is trained in clinical psychology and known as a sexologist. The bulk of his research has concerned the behavioral and vocal mannerisms of gay men.
This year, Bailey made a play for the big time?if one considers the talk show and lecture circuit the big time?via a book published under the imprint of the prestigious National Academies of Science. The title is The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism.
This choice of title is unfortunate in any number of ways. First, despite Bailey?s claims otherwise, it is deliberately sensationalistic, misleading, and demeaning to the purported subject population. It seems designed to sell books rather than describe what Bailey?s book is about. There is, in fact, no man ?who would be queen.? Second, most of the book is devoted to male homosexuality rather than transsexualism; why does the subtitle not reflect this? Third, and far worse, both the author and publisher have touted the book as being based on science and research. It is not science. Fortunately, most reviewers have recognized this. Finally, both the subtitle and NAS imprint imply that Bailey has widespread knowledge of transsexualism. This is not true; Bailey met his (few) transsexual subjects in Chicago?s gay and trans bar scene at two in the morning. Moreover, according to at least five transsexual women who have filed complaints at Northwestern in regard to Bailey?s behavior, he misled them by not telling them that they were research subjects. Bailey is now under investigation by Northwestern?a most serious matter.
Bailey?s book is important because it has brought to the forefront two issues; gay femininity and autogynephilia. Gay men have been slow to react to the exaggerated and stereotypic pictures Bailey paints of them in his books and at his lectures, but transsexuals, outraged by Bailey?s blanket statements that he ?knows? their intimate psychologies and his intimations that if transsexuals disagree with his assessments of them, they?re lying, have been quick on the uptake. Reactions have been critical and in some cases personal.

The real importance of Bailey?s book is not that it paints a sloppy and inaccurate picture of transsexuals (it does), but that it hoists the petard of autogynephilia, a theory that depicts transsexuals as sexual fetishists and denies the existence of gender dysphoria?and that he has done so with the tacit approval of the National Academies of Science.

Here are the highlights of the controversy to date.

March TMWWBQ is released, with claims by the author and publisher that it is based on science. A cover blurb by Dr. Anne Lawrence calls the book ?... a wonderful book on an important subject.?

April University of Michigan Professor Emerita Lynn Conway fires the opening salvo to a group of trans friends via
e-mail, expressing her ?extreme concern about the publication of Bailey?s book by the National Academy Press?and her fears that the Academy imprimatur would mislead people into thinking the book was sound science, when in fact it was very one-sided and very defamatory of transsexual women.? Conway continues to document happenings on her website, updating it frequently.

25 April On Conway?s website, Stanford Professor of Biological Science Joan Roughgarden reviews a presentation by Bailey on 23 April at Stanford University; she describes Bailey as mocking and stereotyping gay men and transsexuals.

4 May Saralyn Chesnut, Ph.D., Director of the Office of GLBT Life at Emory University, describes a lecture by Bailey at Emory on 8 April. Chestnut writes, ?I found him to be arrogant, unprofessional (he smelled of alcohol at 4:00 in the afternoon) and absolutely boastful about how ?scandalous? and ?outrageous? his book is, as if that were more important than academic rigor. I?ve never heard an academic proudly use words like that to describe his/her work.? (from Conway?s website).

5 May The National Academies of Science begin to get letters of complaint about TMWWBQ. The Academies eventually receives letters from, among others, Christine Burns of Press for Change, Joan Roughgarden, Karen Guerney of the Australian W-O-M-A-N Network, Dallas Denny, editor of Transgender Tapestry, Monica Casper, Executive Director of the Intersex Society of North America, and faculty members of leading universities.

9 May Anjelica Kieltyka, ?Cher? in Bailey?s book, sends e-mail pleas to Andrea James and Lynn Conway, explaining what had happened to her and seeking their help.

20 June ?Dr. Sex,? an article on the TMWWBQ controversy, appears in The Chronicle of Higher Education; this is the first mention of the controversy in the mainstream press. ?Mr. Bailey?s work on transsexuals, unlike his scientific research on gay men, is anecdotal and his book doesn?t cite any figures to back up his claims. In his defense, he says he ?went every place I could think of that I?d find a decent chance of finding transsexuals? to talk to and observe. That often meant gay bars near his home...?

21 June The National Transgender Advocacy Coalition releases a press release criticizing Bailey?s book: see

23 June Conway sends an open letter to the administration of Northwestern University, alerting them to the NTAC press release.

23 June Andrea James, who has been tracking the Bailey brouhaha on her website, posts a blistering critique of Anne Lawrence, in which she describes Lawrence?s 1997 resignation from her position as an anesthesiologist after conducting an unauthorized and clearly unethical genital examination of an unconscious patient. This resulted in an investigation by the State of Washington Department of Health. James? website includes images of the Adverse Action Report generated by the investigation.

23 June James also alleges that Lawrence made unwanted sexual overtures to her while photographing James? genitalia.

3 July Kieltyka files a formal complaint with Northwestern University. Kieltyka had previously revealed that
she was the subject called ?Cher? in TMWWBQ. She states that she was misled by Bailey, who she had contacted years ago after seeing him on television, and who she says did not reveal to her or other transsexuals that he was doing research. By mid-July, four more subject-complainants have come forward.

17 July Articles in The Daily Northwestern and The Chronicle of Higher Education report that the university has begun investigatory proceedings in response to complaints about unauthorized use of human subjects.

17 July An article on Conway?s
website, posted on 29 July, reports that Kieltyka, who attended the annual meeting of the International Academy of Sex Research at Indiana State University to call attention to Bailey?s behavior, reports that she was prevented from handing out information there and was asked to leave by the police.

19 July According to an account from an attendee of the conference, posted on 28 July on Conway?s website, Kinsey Institute Director John Bancroft rises from the audience at the Q&A session after a presentation by Bailey at the national meeting of the International Academy of Sex Research and tells Bailey, ?Michael, I would caution you against calling this book ?science? because I have read it ... and I can tell you it is NOT

19 July Bailey ?vacates his position? as IASR Secretary-Treasurer.

29 July Lynn Conway and Dierdre McCloskey file a formal complaint with Northwestern about Bailey?s research behavior.

31 July Bailey tells The Daily Northwestern that he told IASR in February about his decision to resign. The article also reports that Bancroft would not confirm that he made the statement reported on Conway?s website. The Daily Northwestern article reports that two more transwomen have filed complaints against Bailey, bringing the total to five.

20 Oct. HBIGDA President Walter J. Meyer III, M.D. and HBIGDA Executive Director Bean Robinson, Ph.D. respond on behalf of the HBIGDA Board of Directors to a letter sent on 14 June by Drs. Lynn Conway, Dierdre McCloskey, Ben Barres, Barbara Nash, and Joan Roughgarden, expressing their concerns about Bailey. HBIGDA declines to investigate Bailey on the grounds that he is not a member of the association, and calls for all parties in the controversy to exercise professionalism. Meyer and Robinson write that HBIGDA has plans to express its concerns about Bailey directly to Northwestern University.

4 Nov. The Clarke?s Ray Blanchard, who coined the term autogynephilia based on his empirical work in the late 1980s and early 1990s, writes Meyer & Robinson, resigning from HBIGDA on the grounds of HBIGDA?s ?appalling decision... to intervene in Northwestern University?s investigation into the allegations... against Prof. J. Michael Bailey.?