The Man Who Would Be A Scientist

Michael Bailey's recent book, "The Man Who Would Be Queen", is without merit.

Putting aside for the moment any discussion of the merits of "autogynephilia" itself as a theory, Bailey's own work fails to make a proper distinction between description and explanation, and compounds this error with pre-conclusion. Far from publishing "science", he has in fact forgotten - or deliberately dispensed with - its first principles.

When one advances a theory based on bias, such as this is, there is a basic tactic to make it always fit: make reproduction of the supporting data so selective as to be self-fulfilling, sidestepping falsifiability - all contraries are somehow reclassed as erroneous by definition (in this case, as lies and delusions... an all-too-easy gambit in psychology). This renders the theory tautological, and the subject powerless: "well of course she doesn't think she's crazy, because she's crazy."

Such is often the ultimate outcome of any medicalization of deviance.

An ad hoc or received category cannot be its own explanation. It may be legitimate to say "these people who exhibit this behavior we will call "autogynephiles," but it is not thus legitimate to say that "these people exhibit this behavior because they are 'autogynephiles.'" One may as well answer the question "why do I walk" with "because I have walkism"... there is no explanatory power here.

TGs and TSs are a common voyeuristic trope in this culture. Seen as deviant, they appear to invite a constant search for a "cause". Bailey's own prurience in that search is evidenced by the (literally) prejudicial classes of motivation into which he pre-sorts his subjects: gay men who dress up, and sex freaks (for which he had a convenient readymade in "autogynephilia").

Any good ethnographer knows, however, that you do not approach a community, or indeed any unknown collection of people, with pre-defined categories. You allow them to tell you who they are, and pay at least as much attention to the subtle, sometimes hidden distinctions and dynamics, as to the overt features and differences.

Bailey's assumption of the mantle of "psychologist" as opposed to "anthropologist" does not confer any special authority to his "research" or writing, nor does it relieve his error. Like so many others who see us and speak from a position of entitlement, he presumes to supplant the wide spectrum of our identities with his own facile and contemptuous oversimplification.

His contempt for his subjects is made plain by his assumption that his limited experience of them must necessarily define them; by his use of them as objects of curiosity and ridicule in his public appearances; by his efforts to pass off the significant and growing objections of a large portion of the community as the reactionary ravings of a very few self-appointed leaders; in short by his utter lack of respect for anything other than his own opinion and status.

As a scientist, Bailey is a failure in this instance. As an observer, he is arrogant. That his work should have been published with the endorsement of the Academy is a travesty.

- Gwyneth Rhian Morgan
- Silver Spring, MD