Report on a J. Michael Bailey Lecture at Emory University

Editor's note: An almost invariable aspect of a Bailey lecture or interview is that he asserts at the onset that he is heterosexual. Throughout his writings on transsexual women (which read like parodies of wildlife documentary narrators), Bailey frequently mentions that his response to transsexuals is different or distinct from how others might perceive us. From the very first page in his chapter on transsexuals: "It is difficult to avoid viewing Kim from two perspectives: as a researcher but also as a single, heterosexual man." (Bailey, p. 141)

I will have much, much more to say on this later. Thanks to Saralyn for the report below!

Bailey spoke here at Emory on April 8th, 2003, after his publisher contacted us to say he'd be in Atlanta anyway and would appear here for free. I went to his talk; fortunately, there were only a handful of people there. He made it clear right away that he is heterosexual, as if that were relevant to his talk.

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.

I'm glad others are onto him and will take steps if they can to discredit him and his "research." I argued with him on points that I know something about, and at one point he admitted that much of his data are "anecdotal," but then went on to say that anecdotal evidence is as rigorous as data from controlled studies(!!).

He also acknowledged that his research subjects were not randomly chosen--can't remember exactly how he recruited them, but I remember being amazed that he would claim to have arrived at valid conclusions about anything. In fact, his book has virtually no footnotes or bibliography, and does not give any data; it consists mainly of stories about individuals and summaries of studies he and other people have done.

Bailey also claimed that his findings would apply in any culture, at any point in history, citing John Boswell and seemingly unaware of any of the more recent scholarship on lgbt/queer history. (In his book he writes, "How can we know anything about the sex lives of Greeks who lived 2,500 years ago?" to dismiss the "social constructionist" argument that a gay identity is a relatively recent phenomenon. Of course, he totally misrepresents the constructionist point of view in general; it's unclear whether he's being disingenuous or just is really clueless about constructionism. I suspect the latter.)

I had a hard time believing that this guy teaches at a university, and that his work is widely published and disseminated. It's truly scary, and I urge any of you who know more than I do about psychology and biology to familiarize yourselves with his work and do what you can to raise awareness of his astonishingly shoddy scholarship.

Saralyn Chesnut, Ph.D.
Director, Office of LGBT Life
Emory University