A critique of J. Michael Bailey's "The Man who would be Queen: The Science of Gender Bending and Transsexualism" includes an examination of the way Bailey characterizes people he disagrees with. Bailey has a strikingly consistent cynical world-view of some psychologists, bisexual men, and social constructivists.

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The World according to J. Michael Bailey

When I read J. Michael Bailey's words, I worry that he feels the world is filled with people who purposely mislead others and people who willfully remain ignorant of truths. He tacitly approves gay men's skepticism of bisexual men. "You're either gay, straight, or lying." (Bailey, 2003, pg. 133). Psychological writers who do not put Blanchard's model at the center of their understanding of transsexuality are shallow, ignorant, or at best squeamish. There are scholars who do not agree with Bailey's essentialist interpretation of sexual orientation. According to Bailey, researchers who suggest sexual orientation is instead a social construction must be "trying to keep their eyes closed" from seeing his evidence (Bailey, 2003, pg. 133). In Bailey's world, the way transsexuals and crossdressers understand, and consequently present, themselves can be succinctly reduced to one quotation of an "ace" therapist, "Most gender patients lie." [1] Despite the failings of other people, Mike Bailey knows the truth. Indeed, the only way you can understand the truth about transsexuality is to learn through him. [2]

I have trouble understanding how Michael Bailey can tolerate being an academic when he views his colleagues and his research participants with such cynicism. Then again, I can appreciate how he might derive comfort in understanding the world in such black-and-white terms. Nevertheless, his world-view is only one perspective and this perspective can hurt other people. The remainder of this essay shows how psychological writers, social constructivists, and bisexual men can still be honest people with their own genuine perspectives when they disagree with Bailey. The following 3 essays show this is true for transgendered women as well.

Are Psychologists Ignorant and Shallow?

Bailey feels a need to explain why most psychologists do not unequivocally share his enthusiasm for Blanchard's work as the center-piece for understanding transsexuality:

The self-presentational deceptiveness of some autogynephiles is a main reason why autogynephilia was not understood until recently. Many clinicians - even some who write books - have taken the information transsexuals tell them at face value. (Bailey, 2003. pg 175) The current popular literature on transsexualism is noteworthy in its ignorance of the distinction between autogynephilic and homosexual transsexuals. ... This is also true of books about transsexuals and sex reassignment, such as True Selves (Mildred L. Brown and Chloe Ann Rounsley, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996). (Bailey, 2003, pg 217)

Since Bailey gives us a citation, we can ask if "True Selves" was written in ignorance of Blanchard's work? Consider when Mildred Brown and Ann Rounsley write, "These men [she-males] are less likely to pursue surgical sex reassignment than gender dysphoric men whose erotic self-image includes a vagina (Brown & Rounsley, 1996, pg. 16)." Wasn't that a reference to autogynephilic fantasies? To be sure, let's check their citation. They cite a paper by Blanchard (1993) about autogynephilia as their source (Brown & Rounsley, 1996, pg. 250) [3].

Bailey has made some strongly-worded claims about "ignorant" "shallow" "squeamish" psychologists. [4] But just because we do not all make Blanchard's model the center-piece of our understanding of transsexuality does not mean we are ignorant. We can still be honest informed scientists and psychologists without unequivocally agreeing with Bailey. In fact, Bailey's use of "True Selves" as an example demonstrates this point.

Are Social Constructivists Willfully Ignorant of the Truth?

There are scholars who do not agree with Bailey's essentialist interpretation of sexual orientation. According to Bailey, researchers who suggest sexual orientation is instead a social construction must be "trying to keep their eyes closed" from seeing his evidence (Bailey, 2003, pg. 133). Chapter 7 of Bailey's book is dedicated to refuting the social constructivist view, and promoting the essentialist view, of sexual orientation. According to Bailey (2003, pg. 126), "Social constructivists call those who disagree with their major points 'essentialists'. Essentialists believe that sexual orientation is essential to human nature. I am an essentialist." To be blunt, "essentialism" does not mean you feel something is "essential." When social constructivist say something is a "social construct" they are not saying it is unimportant. "Essentialism" is the idea that a phenomena has an underlying "essence" that makes it what it is. Over the last decade, essentialist biases in human thinking has been a major topic of psychological research (e.g., Keil, 1995). Aristotle first articulated essentialism as a philosophy (Popper, 1945) and the most well-known historical example of essentialism is the very famous "Allegory of the Cave" from Plato's "Republic." Bailey's misuse of a basic term might be amusing if he did not proceed to speak with authority for pages about homosexuality in ancient Greece, including a citation of Plato's "Symposium" (Bailey, 2003, pg. 128). Perhaps J. Michael Bailey is correct when he speculates social constructivists skip his talks because they incorrectly believe they know what he will say about Ancient Greece (Bailey, 2003, pg. 124)? Then again, given his mischaracterizations of essentialism and social constructivism, perhaps they skip his talks because they actually do know what he says?

Contrary to what Bailey says, social constructivists do not call "those who disagree with their major points" "essentialists" even if the debate over sexual orientation is pimarily between social constructivists and essentialists. For example, though I disagree with many of the key philosophical foundations of social constructivism, I also disregard essentialist explanations because I am a scientist in the classical sense (sometimes called "positivists") and science does not allow for essentialism (e.g., Popper, 1945). Classical scientists follow a tradition called "empiricism." Rather than believing there is a 'true' underlying nature to things (essentialism), classical scientists believe they should focus on explaining what can observed without treating some observations as somehow more 'true' or 'real' than others. One important skill for a classical scientist to develop is the ability to focus on observations rather than falling into non-scientific common-sense biases like essentialism. [5]

Gay, Straight, or Lying?

J. Michael Bailey provides an excellent example of essentializing sexual orientation when he discusses how men are either really heterosexual or really homosexual (Bailey, 2003, pg 131-133). Among his examples are prisoners who engage in homosexual behavior in prison but revert back to heterosexual behavior when released. To Bailey, these men are really heterosexual because their homosexual behavior was driven by circumstances but their thoughts were really with their girlfriends. Bailey operationally defines these thoughts as "men's erections to male versus female stimuli." (Bailey, 2003, pg 133). To Bailey, bisexual men should respond equally to both types of stimuli, something he finds in only 7% of men who identify themselves as bisexual. This research is very interesting and it illustrates one sense of what it means to have categorically specific physiological arousal.

Does categorical physiological arousal mean that men are "gay straight, or lying?" To reach that conclusion you have to say that physiological arousal to stimuli presented in the laboratory says who you 'really' are but how you respond to multi-dimensional people in the real world is 'just' circumstances. From Bailey's prisoner example I can appreciate why he would feel one source of data is more real. But consider everyday circumstances. Have you ever felt one way (sexually or otherwise) about a person after just seeing a picture or hearing about them? This is like being exposed to stimuli in Bailey's lab. Later, have you ever felt differently when you had the opportunity to dynamically interact in person? Which of your reactions conveys your 'real' feelings? Personally, I feel how I relate to people dynamically in the real world is far more real and true than how I react to their photograph. Likewise, this a personal thing for you to answer with your own feelings. Scientists would not try to answer such a question for you; we would simply note the different reactions as potentially interesting. What troubles me is Bailey's implicit assumption that he can answer this very personal matter for other people. Just because he essentializes sexual orientation in one way does not mean those men who see themselves as bisexual are lying. Bisexual men may simply not share Bailey's biases.

J. Michael Bailey and some of his closer colleagues have put forward a world-view that cynically characterizes the thoughts and feelings of those who disagree with them. I have shown that psychologists, bisexual men, and social constructivists can still have their own genuine perspectives even when they disagree with Bailey. In the process of writing this and other essays I have noted several non-scientific biases in the work of Bailey and colleagues. Ray Blanchard endorses a non-scientific teleological explanatory bias when he puts a value judgement on transsexuals' sex-drives. Ken Zucker says children with "Gender Identity Disorder" have a cognitive deficit because they lag behind their peers in essentializing gender. Mike Bailey essentializes sexual orientation. It is puzzling and disappointing that people who sharply delineate their "science" from others' "politics", have not invested the time and effort to think more scientifically. [6]

Footnote 1: This is a quotation of Maxine Petersen, a transsexual and the "ace gender clinician" at Ray Blanchard's clinic (Bailey, 2003, pg. 205, 172).

Footnote 2: An on-line book store, Amazon.com, includes a note "From the Author." In it Bailey says of his book: You can only understand the controversy - and you can only understand transsexualism - if you do read it."

Footnote 3: My copy of True Selves is a first edition (1996), the same one Bailey cites. The reprinted edition from 2003 is somewhat different. My citations of pages 16 and 250 in the first edition correspond to pages 16 and 246 in the 2003 edition.

Footnote 4: On page xii Bailey says, "Although transsexuals are a culturally hot commodity right now, writers have been either too shallow or too squeamish to give transsexual sexuality the attention it deserves."

Footnote 5: In writing these two paragraphs, I tried to write as simply as I could about the Philosophy of Science. I can appreciate that readers with a background in this topic might feel I have been overly simplistic. However, I am trying to avoid a significant digression from the topic at hand. If you feel anything I have said misrepresents philosophical thinking in a way that influences a discussion of J. Michael Bailey's work, please let me know. Otherwise, I hope you (reader) will not take this essay as your primary source for understanding any issues related to Philosophy of Science.

Footnote 6: An example of this politics versus science mind-set is illustrated by the abstract for J. Michael Bailey's talk at the 2003 conference of the International Academy of Sex Research. He suggests that his book provoked transgendered "identity politics" and this reaction is a "hindrance" to "scientific truth."

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