Making connections regarding Simon LeVay


An e-mail alert (see below) from Joan Roughgarden, Ph.D.
Professor of Biological Sciences, Stanford University

July 11, 2003



by Lynn Conway

[Updated 11-24-07]


One of the key supporters of J. Michael Bailey is an old-guard gay male neurobiologist named Simon LeVay. Early in his career as a researcher, LeVay made a splash in the media with claims of having discovered brain differences between gay and straight men, although his findings have never been repeated.


LeVay held a tenured position as a researcher at the Salk Institute in the '80s and early '90s, but left that position and became instead a writer of trade-books on "queer science" and a range of other topics. He later taught at Stanford University, in a temporary assignment as a Lecturer (during the period discussed by Joan Roughgarden below), but didn't gain academic tenure elsewhere after leaving Salk. Nevertheless, LeVay went on to gain name recognition in academic circles and status as a "scientific expert" on gay matters including gay and trans psychology, by leveraging his visibility as a gay science-book writer.


The connection between Bailey and LeVay goes back to the early 1990s. They became 'famous' at the same time when media articles appeared about them on the same day, one in the Washington Post by now-famous author Malcolm Gladwell and the other an op-ed in the New York Times - and they've been mutually promoting each other's work ever since:

(i) "Genes Tied To Sexual Orientation: Study of Gay Men Bolsters Theory", by Malcolm Gladwell, Washington Post Dec 17, 1991
(ii) "Are some people born gay?", by J. Michael Bailey and Richard Pillard, New York Times, December 17, 1991

From his position as a well-known gay science pundit, LeVay later threw his full support behind Bailey's defamations of transsexual women in Bailey's now infamous book, The Man Who Would be Queen. LeVay became one of the earliest and strongest promoters of that transphobic book, going so far as to declare it to be "Absolutely Splendid" right at the top of the book's cover page.


In mutual ignorance of the realities of transsexualism, Bailey and LeVay have exploited transsexualism as a science topic for many years now, in furtherance of their own personal, professional and ideological agendas - appearing to delight in the controversies they've generated and the media visibility gained in that way.

The e-mail alert from Joan, and follow-up re LeVay's connections and activities:

In the e-mail below from the early days of the Bailey book controversy, Joan Roughgarden raised an alert about the scientifico-ideological dimensions of the connections between LeVay and Bailey and their connections with psychologists Dennis Buss and Steven Pinker.

We initially thought it odd that LeVay as a gay man would so strongly support Bailey, given Bailey's teachings on homosexual eugenics. However, we then learned about their long-standing connection (as above), and we also learned that LeVay himself has been criticized for advocating fetal screening for traits like homosexuality in order to abort fetuses with unwanted traits. It appears that LeVay thinking closely parallels that in Bailey's writings, as noted in a New York Times book review:

"Indeed, he cheerfully looks forward to the day when the 'new eugenics' born of the human genome project will enable women to abort fetuses likely to be carrying any traits they don't much care for, including homosexuality." ("Born that way?", by Ray Porter, New York Times, August 11, 1996).

Questions have also been raised over the years about bias in LeVay's research and publications:

As an example of scientific bias in publications, LeVay cites Kiira Triea's website in the second edition of his Human Sexuality textbook in support of Bailey's pronouncements on transsexualism. LeVay did this even though that site was under a cloud of suspicion as to its veracity. Since that time has been exposed as an internet hoax and Kiira Triea has also been exposed as fabricating her own life-story. Even so, LeVay has been silent on the matter, and has made no corrections regarding the citation of falsified information.

More recently in 2006, LeVay employed scare tactics to bias thinking about Northwestern's gay-gene study, as seen in quotes from a talk at Syracuse University:

"Speaker: Tolerance of gays hinges on science: Finding a "gay gene" or similar evidence holds the key to acceptance, he says"..."Researchers also are studying genes to determine if a "gay gene" exists, LeVay said. The National Institutes of Health is currently funding a $2.5 million project on gay twin brothers to study their genes. "If they don't find anything there, you can kiss gay genes goodbye," LeVay said."

For more about Simon LeVay and his support of the Bailey, Blanchard, Lawrence ideology regarding transitioned women, we encourage you to study the files compiled in BBL Clearinghouse and the links to related pages below.

Lynn Conway


From: Joan Roughgarden
To: Lynn Conway
Subject: Making connections re psychologist Simon LeVay
Date: Fri, 11 Jul 2003 09:51:55 -0700

Dear Lynn,

You may recall that I sounded the alarm about LeVay way back in March or so. He was hired as a temporary instructor in the course in human sexuality given in the Human Biology Program here at Stanford. I hadn't met him before and generally had a good impression of him because of his book, Queer Science. But in person he's a disappointment. You can have long conversations with him and at the end realize that he hasn't heard a single word you've said. Really dumb.

There were three specifics here that were of concern. First he asked me to lecture in his course, and then proceeded, in effect, to undress me by asking whether and when I was post-op. I said I preferred to be known as a transgendered woman rather than as a transsexual, and to emphasize my social being rather than my body. He could not understand this at all, and kept coming back to my body. It is humiliating speaking with him, confirming what you've reported, Lynn.

Second, he wanted to pair me in a lecture session with a speaker from NAMBLA under the heading of "minority sexualities." I said that being transgendered was not an expression of sexuality, and that it was in no way comparable to pedophilia. He insisted, so eventually I simply declined to speak in his course. He intended to preface the lecture by claiming that the NAMBLA speaker and I exemplified paraphelias. He does present and endorse Blanchard/Bailey's two-types-of-ts's in his own recent textbook on human sexuality published by Sinauer, and taught this in class. He drew on an advance copy of Bailey's book when writing his own book. I was not only personally insulted and appalled by this attempts to present me publicly as a freak consumed with a bizarre sexuality, but also concerned that a representative of NAMBLA was being asked to speak in a classroom setting. So I alerted the provost's office that NAMBLA was being invited to speak in a classroom (as contrasted with an evening talk in some setting outside of class), and LeVay was told not to proceed with the NAMBLA invite. He then publicly claimed that I am "biased" and that he had been "censored".

Third, he then did agree to schedule me on a different date---in a lecture on "Gender" where he spoke for 45 minutes and I then spoke for the remaining 45 minutes. His presentation was an appallingly incorrect account of presumed biological bases to gender differences, (males and females have different genes for ethical reasoning, think differently, etc) with no mention of overlap, and no qualification. It was a laundry list of today's essentialist claims about the difference between men and women offered without any critical context. He also repeatedly castigated "feminists" for denying biology, as though he was presenting the objective scientific truth about the differences between men and women. Well, when my turn came to speak, I invited the class to be very skeptical of what they had just been told, and proceeded with my material on "evolution's rainbow" in vertebrates, and the theory for why sex exists at all to begin with etc.

It was at about this time that LeVay mentioned that Bailey was coming in April, and which led to my meeting with the chair of psychology. I tried to confirm whether Bailey was in fact coming. The chair of psychology hadn't heard of Bailey and doubted that he had been invited by them. When I showed him the PR announcement I had picked up at the AAAS meeting in Denver where I had recently organized a symposium, he said this sort of stuff made him embarrassed to be a psychologist. Nonetheless, he did contact me later to say that Bailey had in fact been invited, and told me the date. The rest is now history. I could see that Bailey and LeVay are very similar personalities, both clueless and deceptive.

To make the plot thicken even more, I later deduced that LeVay was a reviewer for my book when it was still with Princeton UP, and that he had wanted the material critical of the search for the gay gene removed. He wanted to reduce my book into a David-Attenborough-like nature book about gay animals, related by a transgendered woman, with "lessons" from nature. They wanted to sensationalize me. As you may know, I then moved the book to UC Press, where it is now in production, scheduled to appear in March.

I feel that LeVay and Lawrence suffer from the same syndrome, what I'm calling the "Patty-Hearst Effect" where they come to identify with their persecutors. LeVay is amazingly unaware that he is self-pathologizing with his affirmation of Bailey's book. LeVay's own neuroanatomical dissections, which have not been confirmed, claimed that gay brains are more feminine than straight brains, and thereby defective. Yet, the Dutch neuroanatomists do not show that the tiny brain pieces (what I'm calling "rice grains of brain" in my book) of gays are intermediate between straight males and females. The Dutch show too that the brain pieces that correlate with sexual orientation and those that correlate with gender identity assort independently, a very important point. But even if LeVay is siding with Bailey only because of their agreement about gays being feminine, LeVay is buying into his own pathology, and will greatly damage the future prospects for his gay brothers, just as Lawrence does for her transgendered sisters.

Furthermore Lynn, I don't know if you've discerned the pattern that's emerging in the cross-citations among the psychologists here. Buss and Pinker are evolutionary psychologists pushing an essentialist agenda in the name of science. They are claiming scientific privilege, without having earned it. Thornhill too is in this camp, with his recent evolutionary theories of rape that have been strongly criticized along with Buss for his evolutionary theories of gender stereotypes. As a biologist, I am outraged at how evolutionary psychologists misuse my science---I want my science back! I know that electrical engineering is a long way from this literature, but as you get into it further, you'll see that we transgendered people are pawns in a larger war within psychology about the role of biology, and that LeVay, Buss, Pinker, and Bailey do not speak for psychology as a whole, but for a specific and aggressive camp within it. They have a vested interest in seeing that we are pathologized and can't easily back down. The relentless criticism the evolutionary psychologists face from women scholars, is leading them to stage a strategic withdrawal and open a front against gays and transgendered people. I feel that ultimately the only way to undercut them is to destroy the mistaken biological foundations they are operating with. Although Bailey can and should be revealed as a fraud, he will be replaced by another until we deal with the issue of whether biological differences among people can be used to pathologize.




Related Pages:


"Psychology lecture lacks sensitivity to sexual orientation," By Joan Roughgarden, The Stanford Daily, Friday, April 25, 2003

"Joan Roughgarden's open letter to the Presidents of the NAS and IOM regarding NAP/JHP publication of J. Michael Bailey's book", posted on, May 6, 2003.


"The Bailey Affair: Psychology Perverted", by Joan Roughgarden, Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, February 11, 2004. (en espaņol)


"Psychology Perverted - A Response", by Peter Hegarty, Penny Lenihan, Meg Barker and Lyndsey Moon, UKPFC News, March 19, 2004.


"A Quiet Victory Begins to Emerge: J. Michael Bailey resigns as Chair of Psychology at Northwestern";, December 19, 2004


"Simon LeVay's gay-gene promotional tour: Uses scare tactics to bias thinking about Northwestern's gay-gene study",, October 2, 2006.





Joan Roughgarden


Simon LeVay



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