J. Michael Bailey’s vulgar misuse of gender diverse children

In March 2003, J. Michael Bailey’s book The Man Who Would Be Queen was released. By the end of April, transgender people worldwide took unprecedented action to fight back against the academic exploitation of our community.

The trans community was galvanized in opposition following reports of Bailey’s lurid book tour lectures. In the lecture witnessed by Stanford evolutionary biologist Joan Roughgarden, Bailey was misusing images and video of very young gender diverse children without their knowledge or consent.

Bailey’s crass presentation of these children was punctuated with laughter from assembled psychology professors and future clinicians. It reminded many trans people of the abuse and reparative therapy they had endured as children from similar academics.

Bailey and his colleagues featured in his book are the main proponents of reparative therapy on small children to change their gender identity and expression. Historians consider the international transgender response to this book to be one of the most significant moments in the history of the global transgender rights movement.

The parts in bold led to our community’s unprecedented efforts to ban unethical practices that harm our children.

Stanford Daily newspaper logo

Stanford Daily, April 25, 2003
CAMPUS VIEWPOINT
Psychology lecture lacks sensitivity to sexual orientation
By JOAN ROUGHGARDEN GUEST COLUMNIST

On April 23, Psychology Prof. Michael Bailey from Northwestern University presented a lecture entitled “Gender Nonconformity and Sexual Orientation” to the Stanford University Psychology Department as part of its regularly scheduled departmental lecture series.

The audience, including about 10 faculty and 100 students, enjoyed laughing at pictures, quotations and voice recordings of gay, lesbian and transgendered people. The material consisted mostly of film clips and animated cartoons. At no point was the audience admonished to assume a professional decorum. No faculty challenged the scholarship, and criticism of the evidently limited sampling was left to several graduate students.

Bailey was introduced as “controversial,” someone whose work has important implications for law, medicine and social policy and as a successful teacher whose courses feature “Transsexuals stripping after class.” (First big laugh.) The initial photographs included a male-bodied child wearing her mother’s shoes, when the second round of laughter erupted. A female-bodied child was then shown in male clothes and quoted as saying she “wanted a penis,” again producing laughter. In another example, an older child in a clinical setting was given the choice of toys and chose a doll and a wig. She was quoted as saying, “1 hate my hair,” greatly amusing the audience.

Bailey’s main claim is that 75 percent of gender-variant male-bodied children grow up to be gay men. Furthermore, gay men questioned about their childhood report more feminine identification on the average than straight-identified men. A similar claim is made for gender-variant female-bodied children growing up to become lesbians, though with less certainty. Therefore, Bailey’s thesis is that gay men are more feminine than straight men, lesbians more masculine than straight women and that transgendered people do not exist as a distinct category but as an extreme gender-variant “subtype” of homosexuality.

Bailey did not present, much less do justice, to the many alternative theories and supporting data that conceptualize gender identity and sexual orientation as distinct axes of description.

Bailey followed this claim with more photographs and film clips. Two gay men were interviewed and the audience was invited to sharpen their ability to discern a gay male from a straight male — to train their “gaydar” (his word) and “pick up the vibes.” An animated cartoon showing effeminate gestures for a gay man was contrasted with one depicting a macho manner for a straight man, again sending the audience into peals of laughter. He then proceeded to show clips of a drag queen and a transgendered woman.

The transgendered woman was described as “an extremely feminine gay man who decided to become a woman.” Bailey would show bar graphs (without error bars) purporting to show that gay men and straight men prefer “casual sex” more than straight women, and straight women also prefer this type of sexual behavior more than lesbian women. The transgendered woman was claimed (though no data given) to be as sexually active in casual sex as a straight man or gay man, and for this reason had to be considered a gay man “himself.”

The lecture continued with a catalogue of diagnostic criteria to include in one’s “gaydar” for accurately discerning gay people from straight people, a project that drew an approving wisecrack from one faculty member. Using Northwestern undergraduates as subjects (“Northwestern has a good theater department”) he developed a rating for gay presentation, leading to the phrase, “the gayest-rated gay man.”

Then voices of two gay men and two straight men were played and the audience was asked to guess who was gay and who was straight. Those who guessed correctly grinned with joy and were applauded by their neighbors, leading to the conclusion that if a gay sounds really gay, then he probably is. If Bailey had presented a scholarly account of his theory in comparison with alternative theories of gender expression and sexuality, he would not have had to rely on a comical and vulgar performance to garner audience support.

Finally, Bailey presented the book, “The Man Who Would Be Queen,” in which he identifies the other “subtype” of transsexual as someone motivated by fetishistic body morphing, a largely obsolete idea that originated with Ray Blanchard. Bailey said his seminar had avoided the “really controversial” material that was available in his book. The official publicity for the book distributed at the Denver American Association for the Advancement of Science Convention in February, leads with the phrase “Gay, Straight, or Lying? Science Has the Answer” and ends with the claim that Bailey’s conclusions “may not always be politically correct, but they are scientifically accurate, thoroughly researched and occasionally startling.” Instead, many are now offering the book as the latest example of junk science and are appalled at the National Academy’s complicity in the sensationalizing of lesbian, gay and especially, transgendered people.

Bailey’s book is fulfilling the prophesy of being “controversial.” Gay, lesbian and transgendered people are organizing protests at bookstores around the country and are writing critiques in every media outlet possible.

To many observers, Bailey appears to be a rather dumb, stubborn, dense and possibly deceptive regular guy with some experience in locker-room humor. Meanwhile, the day before, on April 22, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the California State Assembly passed a bill extending California’s housing and employment nondiscrimination laws to cover gender-variant people, including transvestites and transsexuals. The bill will soon move to the state senate and will proceed to the governor. The political progress being made by gay, lesbian and now transgendered people greatly exceeds that in academia, if the homophobic and transphobic welcome to Bailey given by the Stanford Department of Psychology is any indication.

Joan Roughgarden is a professor of biological sciences at Stanford. She can be reached at joan.roughgarden@stanford.edu.

Stanford Daily, April 25, 2003 (Archive)

Stanford Daily newspaper logo

Stanford Daily, May 1, 2003
LETTERS
Psychology grad students respond to controversial lecture

This letter is in response to Joan Roughgarden’s guest column, “Psychology lecture lacks sensitivity to sexual orientation” (April 25). We regret that there were any misunderstandings on the part of Roughgarden regarding the Psychology Department’s colloquium. However, we feel that her recounting of the event was inaccurate, and we would like to offer our opinion from the perspective of graduate students in the Psychology Department.

Roughgarden makes two claims in her column. One, that the talk given by Northwestern University Michael Bailey was poorly presented and without merit. We have no dispute with this claim. The speaker’s data were poor, and his conclusions based on those data were severely lacking in merit and validity. No one we spoke with following the talk found his conclusions to be persuasive or scientifically valid, and that was made clear in the questions and critique he received from graduate students and faculty members following the talk. The second point Roughgarden makes is that the audience response was homophobic and supportive of Bailey’s view. She cites “peals of laughter” of the audience at several points within the talk, as well as a lack of criticism by those present as evidence of this support. There was, in fact, criticism by both professors and students regarding the scientific validity of the evidence presented. While the criticism was limited to the merit of the research, it was in no way supportive, and, in our view, was a clear indication of the critical and dismissive view of the audience toward this research. In addition, Roughgarden made the inaccurate assumption that the audience was laughing because it was reveling in some communal homophobic expression. The audience’s laughter was partially a reaction to the absurdity of some of Bailey’s claims, a reflection of embarrassed discomfort with the glib comments made by Bailey and unease about being asked to participate in Bailey’s guess-who’s-gay experiments.

The Psychology Department is committed to examining scholarly work documenting the true experience of different peoples and, in particular, of studying the processes that have heretofore been in large part omitted from psychological study, including the study of gender, race, social class and sexual orientation. We have a particularly strong research program in questioning stereotypes about marginalized groups. Bailey was included as a speaker in our colloquium series to further our understanding of the psychology of individuals in the gay, lesbian and transgendered communities. That his talk did nothing to elucidate our knowledge of those processes was extremely unfortunate, but we fully support the process that brought him to our campus.

KELLY MCGONIGAL Doctoral candidate, Psychology
JULIE MCGUIRE Doctoral candidate, Psychology
TECETA THOMAS Doctoral candidate, Psychology

References

Stanford Daily (archives.stanforddaily.com)

Psychology lecture lacks sensitivity to sexual orientation

Psychology grad students respond to controversial lecture