Elizabeth Latty vs. transgender people

Elizabeth Latty is a Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology at Northwestern University. She has worked with eugenicist J. Michael Bailey and Anne Lawrence on plethysmograph quackery. Latty discusses her research interests:

In a broad sense, my research interests lie in the broad category of sexual arousal and sexual orientation, along with those of my advisor. My first year project involved studying the sexual arousal patterns of post-operative male-to-female transsexuals. Our lab was able to use the results we obtained to further support results we found for natal women, as reported in our controversial combined study including work done by Meredith Chivers, Gerulf Rieger, Mike Bailey and myself. (Latty 2004)

Latty and friends make sweeping unsubstantiated claims about sexuality in gender-variant women based on plethysmographic guesswork (Latty 2003):

To rule out the possibility that the differences between men’s and women’s genital sexual arousal patterns might be due to the different ways that genital arousal is measured in men and women, the Northwestern researchers identified a subset of subjects: postoperative transsexuals who began life as men but had surgery to construct artificial vaginas.

In a sense, those transsexuals have the brains of men but the genitals of women. Their psychological and genital arousal patterns matched those of men — those who like men were more aroused by male stimuli and those who like women were more aroused by the female stimuli — even though their genital arousal was measured in the same way women’s was.

“This shows that the sex difference that we found is real and almost certainly due to a sex difference in the brain,” said Bailey. (Tremmel 2003)

The authors of “Men trapped in men’s bodies” (Lawrence 1998) and The Man Who Would Be Queen (Bailey 2003) did not choose their titles just for provocation. They seek to prove that gender-variant women are really men, with “brains of men” (Tremmel 2003) who display “male-typical” sexual arousal (Lawrence 2003). They also want to use us to claim that sexual orientation is immutable by asserting gender-variant women who change their dating preferences after transition didn’t really change their orientation.

The results from Latty’s 11 transgender women are heralded as proof of several theories held by Bailey, Blanchard, and Lawrence, but the sample size and questionable methodology.

In May 2004, Latty presented a paper with Bailey and Liz Sullivan , M.S. Rosalind Franklin University:

Sexually explicit images were used in conjunction with the International Affective Picture System (IAPS). Self report ratings of these images resulted in significant differences for gender and sexual orientation in undergraduates. These results support previous research demonstrating category-specificity for men and provide further evidence of a more complex pattern of sexual arousal in women. (Latty 2004)

Latty was caught up in the publicity Bailey generated at the time The Man Who Would Be Queen came out. Below is a passage where Latty discusses the plethysmograph devices on which base their claims.

At Bailey’s sex lab, really a tiny office on the second floor of a tiny addition to Northwestern’s Swift Hall, Elizabeth Latty , one of his graduate students, shows clips of explicit seventies-era porn, intercut with more neutral stimuli like landscapes. Latty shows the vaginal probe used to measure lubrication during the female arousal study, then the penile gauge for the male portion. “It’s kind of like a fancy rubber band,” she says. Over the course of two years, Bailey and his team of Ph.D.s have run subjects, solicited first from ads in the paper, then drawn from Northwestern students, to test how much genital arousal plays in sexual orientation. The female portion of the study was funded through a controversial $147,000 grant from the federal National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development, paying women up to $75 to watch porn. (Zambreno 2003)

Photo by Theresa Kwok via Drier 2003: J. Michael Bailey, left, and graduate students Gerulf Rieger and Elizabeth Latty admiring Bailey and his book The Man Who Would Be Queen.

Elizabeth Latty


Research Interests

In a broad sense, my research interests lie in the broad category of sexual arousal and sexual orientation, along with those of my advisor. My first year project involved studying the sexual arousal patterns of post-operative male-to-female transsexuals. Our lab was able to use the results we obtained to further support results we found for natal women, as reported in our controversial combined study including work done by Meredith Chivers, Gerulf Rieger, Mike Bailey and myself.

Something more specific which interests me is WHY men and women respond differently to “nonpreferred” targets. In other words, why do straight women not get terribly offended like straight men seem to when someone of the same sex hits on them? Is there some innate mechanism that inhibits one sex from responding like the other? Along these lines, Mike and I have designed a study to investigate this idea. Acoustic startle response is a frequently used measurement of the emotional valence experienced by a subject in response to any stimulus in anxiety research. Startle is greater when the valence of the stimulus and the probe are similar and lesser when the valence of the stimulus and the probe oppose each other. When a subject is primed with an aversive stimulus, a sudden burst of noise results in a strong startle response; when a subject is primed with an appetitive stimulus, his startle response diminishes.

Since women have a bisexual response pattern to sexual stimuli, then we predict that they would show a decreased startle response when primed with any sexual stimuli, whereas men would show decreased startle response when primed with sexual stimuli representing their preferred target and increased startle when primed with sexual stimuli depicting their nonpreferred target. We will use acoustic startle probes to examine whether there is an effect of sex on magnitude of startle response when primed with various sexual stimuli, including gay, lesbian, and heterosexual depictions in still photographs. We hypothesize that men have some sort of built-in inhibitory mechanism that keeps them from responding positively to nonpreferred targets (i.e. keeps a straight guy from getting turned on to gay male sex acts).

In the future, I hope to concentrate more on women’s sexual orientation. What causes women to be more fluid in their orientation and attraction? And, given the work already done in our lab on sexual arousal patterns and the resulting suggestion that women are not primarily motivated by sexual arousal when determining their sexual orientation, what ARE they motivated by?


Bailey JM. The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism. Joseph Henry Press, 2003.

Drier S, Anderson K. Prof’s book challenges opinions of human sexuality. Daily Northwestern, 21 April 2003. http://www.dailynorthwestern.com/vnews/display.v/ART/2003/04/21/3ea39785e6cef?in_archive=1

James AJ. Plethysmograph: a disputed device. tsroadmap.com version of 16 May 2004.

Latty EM, Bailey J. Sexual arousal of male-to-female transsexuals: male-typical or temale-typical patterns? (unpublished, 2003) (PDF: requires reader) http://apsychoserver.psych.arizona.edu/SPRStudent/%20Awards/2002/latty.pdf

Latty EM. Research interests. J. Michael Bailey faculty website. Retrieved 17 May 2004. http://www.psych.nwu.edu/psych/people/faculty/bailey/latty.html

Latty EM, Sullivan EA, Bailey JM. Gender and Sexual Orientation Differences in Self-report Arousal to Sexually Explicit Images American Psychological Association meeting, 28 May 2004. http://www.psychologicalscience.org/convention/program/search/viewProgram.cfm?Abstract_ID=5940&AbType=&AbAuthor=40334&Subject_ID=&Day_ID=all&keyword=

Lawrence AA. Men trapped in men’s bodies: an introduction to the concept of autogynephilia. Web published at annelawerence.com 1999. http://home.swipnet.se/~w-13968/autogynephilia.html

Lawrence AA, Latty, EM., Chivers M, Bailey, JM. Measuring sexual arousal in postoperative male-to-female transsexuals using vaginal photoplethysmography. International Academy of Sex Research conference 2003. (PDF: requires reader) http://www.iasr.org/meeting/2003/Program%20booklet.pdf

Tremmel, PV. Study suggests difference between female and male sexuality. Northwestern University press release, 12 June 2003. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2003-06/nu-ssd061203.php

Zambreno K Dr. Sex: Michael Bailey gets into gay genes New City Chicago, 3 April 2003. http://www.newcitychicago.com/chicago/2392.html