Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Controversy dogs sexuality researcher


Researcher Alice Dreger. Photo: Harley Seeley
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A recent examination into methods used by researcher and psychologist J. Michael Bailey, Ph.D., is resurrecting the controversy around his 2003 book The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism and transgender women's anger about who gets to speak for them.

A forthcoming article, "The Controversy Surrounding The Man Who Would Be Queen: A Case History of the Politics of Science, Identity, and Sex in the Internet Age," by Alice D. Dreger, Ph.D., an ethics scholar and patients' rights advocate, to be published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, explores in-depth the reported Internet war waged against Bailey by transgender activists Lynn Conway, Andrea James, and Deirdre McCloskey after his book was published. The attacks included the alleged posting of pictures of Bailey's children and his former girlfriend online with derogatory comments, allegations of Bailey's sexual misconduct with one of his research participants, and his failure to disclose to research subjects his intentions to use them in a book.

The Man Who Would Be Queen has a titillating cover showing a hairy man in heels from the calves down. The subtitle uses the word "science" and promotes Canadian sexologist Ray Blanchard's theories about transsexual women through the stories of transsexual women that Bailey befriended in Chicago. Blanchard believes that there are two types of transsexual women, autogynephilias, or men who are sexually aroused by the thought of being women, and "homosexual transsexual," effeminate gay men who should be women.

The book has been controversial since it was published, and questions were soon raised about Bailey's research. According to a recent article in the New York Times, Dreger said that the allegation of sexual misconduct came five years after the fact and was not possible to refute or confirm.

"Dr. Dreger makes a great deal of Andrea James's satire on Bailey's views, which Ms. James hastily withdrew when many of us complained about its bad taste," said McCloskey, a professor of economics, history, English, and communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and one of the transgender women embroiled in the controversy. "Satire is a legitimate and ancient device in political disputes, which is what this is. Even satire in bad taste has long been accepted as fair comment on people who enter of their own accord the public arena."

Bailey, 50, denies the allegations, and he believes that Dreger's article supports his position. But the accusations prompted an investigation into his research practices at Northwestern University in Chicago. Bailey didn't lose his position as a professor in the psychology department at Northwestern, but he told the Bay Area Reporter he wasn't happy that the university didn't support him.

"My university did not do what I wish they had done," said Bailey. "What they did do is take the accusations against me very seriously without examining them very closely and they conducted a formal examination of me."

Bailey added, "I still have my job, they didn't do anything that affected my job. Certainly my university – I think that they should have taken my side a lot more energetically than they did."

Bailey stepped down from his position as chair of the psychology department in October 2004, two months before the investigation concluded.

Dreger, an associate professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University who has worked in the intersex movement for over 10 years, was persuaded to research the controversy after being introduced to Bailey by a colleague, Paul Vasey, a researcher and a mutual friend.

It wasn't until Dreger experienced similar attacks, that included alleged defamation of her son and James visiting and leaving messages such as "bad move mommy" at her office, that she decided to investigate the issue. Dreger told the B.A.R. that James's attacks were in response to a blog post Dreger wrote about James being an invited guest speaker of Northwestern's Rainbow Alliance. Dreger believed James's speaking to the student group at the university was "inappropriate," given James's attacks on Bailey.

"I thought, my word, if posting one blog saying that I don't think that this person should be invited leads to this kind of attack, what really happened in this case?" said Dreger.

James and McCloskey denied Dreger's allegations of being on the receiving end of "Bailey-like" attacks.

"Dreger's angry mommy routine seems to be affecting her memory and grip on reality," wrote James in an e-mail last month, and who said that Dreger refused to interview her for the article. "Dreger is an irrelevant troll in this controversy."

James told the B.A.R. that she simply dropped off her business card with a note offering to meet with Dreger while she was visiting the campus.

"No one seriously physically threatened Dr. Dreger," wrote McCloskey in an e-mail to the B.A.R . "Her claims that people did so are part of her self-dramatization. She tells a fairy tale."

McCloskey added, "Dr. Dreger herself engaged in exactly the same behavior she indignantly accuses other people of using on Bailey."

After James's campus visit, Dreger delved into the heated controversy as a part of her university-paid research projects as a part-time associate professor. She attempted to examine every angle possible in the 62-page article. In the end, she came out supporting Bailey, arguing for academic freedom in light of what she called "intellectual terrorism" against Bailey over the book.

Controversial research

Dreger is well aware of Bailey's controversial research. Dreger told the B.A.R. that she doesn't agree with all of his conclusions. But when it comes to academic freedom to seek answers to questions, she is adamant about researchers' freedom to conduct research, even when it produces unpopular results.

"I support his right to do research and to speak in a way where he is free of personal harassment," said Dreger. "Do I think that everything he's done is a good study? No ... this is a case where there was unjust harassment, where they just went over the top and tried somebody just because they didn't like his idea. That, to me, is reprehensible."

Dreger added that Bailey has done research that many transsexuals would be happy to hear about, pointing to his research about sexual stimulation from neo vaginas – surgically reconstructed vaginas some transgender women have opted for – but that research is not well known.

James and McCloskey disagreed with Dreger's assessment.

"Bailey's 'science' amounts to modern phrenology [the discredited study of shapes and protruding forms on human skulls to determine a person's character and mental capacity]," wrote James.

Transgender response

Susan Stryker, a queer historian, filmmaker, and author, told the B.A.R. that she considers Dreger a friend and reviewed the unpublished manuscript of the article. Stryker said she advised Dreger to "significantly revise and to think" about the article because she disagreed with Dreger's "interpretation of the controversy." She believes that Dreger is taking some of the heat from Bailey with the article by asserting her academic position and not taking into account the validity of how transgender women feel about Bailey's book an

Researcher J. Michael Bailey
d research.

"[She] doesn't address what the people are actually angry about and a part of that anger comes from ... other people putting themselves in a situation to define and determine the truth or authenticity of a transgender person's life," said Stryker.

Stryker felt that Dreger had a "genuine desire" to "shed some light on this place where there's a lot of heat," but that it was "misguided and misframed" and in the end "what Alice does is reproduce the very things that people are angry about."

It doesn't help, as author Julia Serano and Stryker point out, that Bailey and Blanchard are on the editorial board of the Archives of Sexual Behavior, where the article is being published.

Stryker is currently writing a response to Dreger's article for the journal.

Bailey doesn't believe that his position on the editorial board matters, because he told the B.A.R. that he did not review the manuscript. Dreger agreed that Bailey's position on the editorial board didn't matter.

Stryker told the B.A.R. that the transgender women who are angry about the book are scientists who think that The Man Who Would Be Queen is "bad science." What's worse, according to Stryker, is that bad science is being promoted in a popular book as "science" about transsexual women. Therefore, it's Stryker's opinion that Bailey misused his position as a psychologist.

But to Bailey, Blanchard's theory "explained what I was seeing" and went against what he believes is "this false idea that all transsexuals are women trapped in men's bodies" and "leads us on the wrong path to understanding gender identity in non-transsexual people."

Furthermore, Bailey adds, "The scientific work is not mainly mine ... my book is about the science of transsexualism, it's not the science of transsexualism."

Stryker believes there is a power struggle happening now that transgender women are gaining the platform to speak for themselves.

"What I say about you is what matters, not what you say about you," said Stryker about Bailey's attitude. "Who's the boss here? I'm the boss. It's really that kind of struggle that is going on."

Bailey and Dreger insist that the book wasn't scientific and therefore transgender women's arguments against the book through what Dreger discovered about the controversy aren't valid. She said that everything in her article is backed up with evidence.

"Even if Bailey didn't do anything as far as scientific fraud," said Serano, "he still promoted a non-scientific book as science, a book full of antidotes as though it were actual rigorous science."

Not only that, Bailey saw an opportunity to make money, which Serano perceives as "essentially exploiting trans women for personal gain."

Bailey doesn't perceive the fact that he wanted to make money as a problem.

"I don't think that makes me unusual to like the idea of making money," said Bailey. "And at that time I was pretty broke, so it had a special appeal."

But Serano believes Bailey's financial goal from the book only made the controversy worse. "I think this got personal because Bailey really tried to publicize it and make money off of it," she said.

Bailey doesn't believe that his book is anti-transsexual. He told the B.A.R. that he strongly supports sex reassignment surgery, especially in circumstances where it will improve an individual's life. He also said that he has actually received encouragement from transsexuals who are afraid to stand up in support of him because they fear similar attacks being made against them by Conway, James, and McCloskey.

Serano, author of Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity and a biologist, questions Dreger's argument for academic freedom, especially in light of academic responsibility.

"She talks a lot about the threat of academic freedom ... talk about academic responsibility people who are scientists ... in a particular field are seen by the world as experts and their opinion is automatically trusted in a way that other people's is not," said Serano. "When you start saying something ... in the name of your academic degree and your status as a scientist ... you also have to talk about the academic responsibility and the scientific responsibility."

Serano added, "Bailey is using lurid antidotes in the place of science � there needs to be some responsibility taken there."

Hot and getting hotter

"I think that Deirdre McCloskey is Joe McCarthy trapped in a female body," said Bailey about one of the transgender women who allegedly led the vicious Internet campaign against Bailey.

Dreger told the B.A.R. that Conway and McCloskey are waging a similar attack against her due to her article as well as blogs she's posted on her Web site. She plans to fight back legally if necessary.

"I'm not going to put up with them doing this to me," said Dreger. "I'm sending [Conway] a legal letter notifying her otherwise that if she keeps it up she's going to get sued by me. She's completely ridiculous. She just makes this stuff up."

Bailey told the B.A.R. that he is considering filing a lawsuit against Conway, James, and McCloskey.

James and McCloskey weren't concerned about a potential lawsuit against them.

"Such a suit would have a hard time passing a laugh test, much less a legal one," wrote McCloskey. "When people enter the public arena, as Bailey did with this book, and now Dreger has with her commissioned whitewash, they must expect that people pursuing the truth will report on their behavior."

Conway didn't respond to repeated requests for an interview.

Bailey�s future

Bailey continues to do research in gender and sexuality. He's not afraid because of what he went through with The Man Who Would Be Queen.

"The crazy attacks on me have made me have no fear, because I'm not going to let the truth be suppressed," said Bailey.

He told the B.A.R. that he plans to publish an article about "gaydar" in January and that he is currently conducting other research projects examining bisexual men's brains response to erotic stimuli with the American Institute for Bisexuality. He plans to research lesbian and bisexual women.

Bailey's future projects don't surprise Stryker.

"He likes the attention," said Stryker. "He kind of takes pleasure in strutting his stuff, you know? I think he sees himself as somebody who is right and he doesn't mind saying it. He enjoys being a contrarian and enjoys being politically incorrect. He would be a great Fox News network commentator. There is just a little smugness in his persona."

To read Dreger's article, visit . To read James's chronology of the Bailey controversy, visit

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