Dr. Sex: Letters to the Chronicle on Bailey

(06-20-2003) LINK: Dr. Sex (by Robin Wilson, Chronicle of Higher Education)

> From the issue dated 8/1/2003
> The Science Involved in a New Book About Transsexuals
> To the Editor:
> The Chronicle correctly reports that J. Michael Bailey's work
> on transsexuals is anecdotal and lacks data to back up his
> assertion that all transsexual women are either homosexual men
> or male sexual fetishists ("'Dr. Sex,'" June 20). Bailey's
> unscientific methodology and his resulting unsubstantiated
> characterizations pose a threat to transgender individuals,
> particularly as his book may be used to influence public
> policy. ... Bailey studiously ignores contemporary research on
> the etiology of transsexualism and the formulation of gender
> identity, and he extinguishes the voices of authentic lives.
> He vilifies as liars the many transsexuals who describe
> experiences and motivations for gender transition that are
> inconsistent with his narrow taxonomy. ...
> While Bailey is entitled to his opinion, the danger lies in
> his book's being deemed credible because of the reputation of
> its publisher, thus facilitating the incorporation of its
> uncritical and damaging assertions into the formulation of
> public policies opposing civil rights and social justice for
> transgender individuals.
> Barbara P. Nash
> Professor of Geology and Geophysics
> University of Utah
> Salt Lake City
> ***
> To the Editor:
> I found the article on J. Michael Bailey interesting, but I
> couldn't help feeling that he's working with incomplete
> information. While one certainly needn't look far for gay men
> who fit Mr. Bailey's image of gayness, those who don't fit the
> image outnumber those who do. Perhaps Mr. Bailey should spend
> some time in a leather bar to balance his perspective. I wish
> to point out the following pieces of information, which Mr.
> Bailey does not seem to have taken into account: Most gay bars
> are not frequented by transsexuals; like straight bars,
> particular gay bars attract particular types of people ... ;
> while the majority of men working as hairstylists, waiters,
> and florists may be gay, there is nothing inherently gay about
> these fields (I submit that any occupation in which
> individuality is accepted would have an overrepresentation of
> gay men). ...
> Oh, for the record: My partner loves football and has never
> had an interest in dolls.
> James McDermott
> Teacher of the Deaf
> Department of Education
> New York
> Ph.D. Candidate in Literacy Studies
> Hofstra University
> Hempstead, N.Y.
> ***
> To the Editor:
> Your article about J. Michael Bailey's new book perpetuates
> several ubiquitous misunderstandings about Bailey's prior
> research into the etiology of sexual orientation.
> The article states that Bailey "found a genetic component to
> homosexuality." The reality is much more complicated. Bailey's
> earlier studies have been qualified (one could justifiably say
> refuted) by his own later and superior work. Those earlier
> studies were flawed by volunteer sample bias. General
> conclusions about genetic influence on the causation of sexual
> orientation require that the sample studied be truly
> representative. Bailey secured the samples in those studies
> through advertisements in the homosexual community. Such
> convenience sampling leaves open the possibility of bias.
> Recognizing this potential weakness of his studies, Bailey did
> what a good scientist should: He sought to replicate his work
> with a better sample. ... Bailey owned up to the limitations
> of the earlier and more widely recognized studies, saying that
> his earlier findings were the result of biased samples. ...
> Far from being known as the researcher who "found a genetic
> component to homosexuality," then, Bailey should be known as
> the one who, using the best empirical methodology to date,
> failed to find that genetic factors are important in causing
> homosexual orientation.
> Further, your article reports that Bailey's earlier studies
> "found that 52 percent of the identical twins of homosexual
> men were also gay, compared with only 22 percent of the
> fraternal twins and 9.2 percent of the brothers who were not
> twins." ... Bailey did not report regular percentages but
> probandwise concordances.
> While there are tedious definitional and statistical issues
> here, simply put, probandwise concordances involve the double
> counting of every concordant (or matching) twin pair. So if we
> have two twin pairs, one with both twins gay (A and B, with A
> counting as a match for B and B counting as a match for A),
> and the other with only one gay twin (which counts as a
> nonmatch), we do not have a 50 percent probandwise concordance
> but rather a 67 percent probandwise concordance (two matches
> divided by three -- two matches plus one nonmatch).
> What the reporter stated is the common and incorrect
> understanding of Bailey's findings. It is commonly thought
> that he studied 56 total identical twin pairs, with 29 pairs
> matching for homosexuality and 27 not matching (29 divided by
> 56 equals 52 percent). But what Bailey really found in those
> early studies was 41 pairs, with 27 that did not match for
> sexual orientation, 13 that matched as twin gay pairs, and one
> set of triplets who all were gay. By double counting the twin
> pairs (13 times 2 equals 26) and counting the triplet set as
> three matches, and dividing the resulting 29 by 56 (29 matches
> plus 27 nonmatches), you get the 52 percent probandwise
> concordance.
> Stanton L. Jones
> Provost
> Professor of Psychology
> Wheaton College
> Wheaton, Ill.