The Media Watch article in this issue includes interviews
with Lynn Conway and Andrea James about the Bailey book controversy.
This issue also contains an exclusive interview
with Lynn's and Andrea's friend Calpernia Addams.
If youre like me, you probably find the idea of a sex change rather bewildering. However, the men and women whove changed their sex consistently tell the same story: they were born in the wrong bodies and they ought to belong to the other sex. The male-to-female trajectory has received most of the publicity while the female-to-male journey has stayed pretty much under the radar. Regardless, both sides switch and only they can know for sure if its the right thing to do. Most researchers indicate that only a very small fraction regret their decision.
J. Michael Bailey, a sexological psychologist at Northwestern University, has his doubts about transsexual women, meaning those whove gone from male to female. His recent book, The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism (published by Joseph Henry Press, an imprint of National Academies Press, 2003), describes why hes reluctant to think of them as women.
As a biological essentialist, Bailey believes that human sexuality is rooted in genetic or prenatal effects on the brain. He cites one study showing that one section of gay mens brains (a bed of cells in the hypothalamus) are more like straight womens than straight mens. Hes also fascinated by stereotypical behavior, and has done research on the gay voice and other aspects of gay femininity, including occupational preferences and feminine childhood experiences. He asserts that gay men are like straight men: interested in casual sex and visual erotica, and preferring good looks over higher status in their partners.
Baileys writing on male-to-female transsexuality draws on a theory proposed by Ray Blanchard, the director of one of Canadas mental health clinics, proposing that transitioned women are really either very effeminate homosexual men who couldnt cut it in the gay world &SHY; according to Bailey, gay men prefer more masculine partners &SHY; or are extreme crossdressers who fetishize themselves as women, which Blanchard coins as autogynephilia.
Bailey and Northwestern psychology undergraduate Ted Barlow began research for The Man Who Would Be Queen began around 1996. According to Barlow, he and Bailey conducted forty or fifty interviews about mating attitudes with self-identified male-to-female transitioners who were found mostly in gay bars and drag clubs in Chicago. All of them were living full-time as women and were taking hormones, but most had not had sexual reassignment surgery. (At the time, the internet was not very big and Barlow admitted they had a hard time finding people to participate.)
The researchers concluded from this survey that, because these transitioners had a high interest in casual sex, visual erotica and good-looking partners, they were more like men than women.
Many transsexual women have taken umbrage to Baileys book. Lynn Conway, Professor Emerita from the University of Michigan and a member of the National Academy of Engineering, transitioned over 35 years ago. Whats so dangerous about Baileys book is that it was published without oversight by the National Academy Press, she explained, pointing out that the National Academies are the pool of the academic, scientific and medical elite from which the federal government draws its research advisors, and that their publications have an image that makes them quite marketable as textbooks to universities. (The National Academy Press website claims the goal of making books on science, technology, and health more widely available to professionals and the public.)
Regarding Baileys work, Conway claimed, Hes done no original work on transsexuality for this book; hes only supporting an old, discarded theory. Theres no clinical application for his work, either. It does nothing to help people.
Conway expressed concern that the slant of Baileys book will make it more difficult for young transitioners to gain acceptance from their families, and says that it could make it more difficult for transsexual women to secure the legal rights that other women enjoy, such as the right to marry.
Its McCarthyist - anyone who criticizes the book is attacked as demonstrating the models theory that transsexual women are liars.
She has a point. Bailey echoes Blanchards theory that all transitioners who arent attracted to men from the outset change gender because of an underlying autoerotic motivation, and that those who deny that motivation just arent saying so it to gain societal approval.
He calls us liars, men and fetishists, and he calls it science! said Conway. Its absolutely cruel.
Conway was quick to point out that Bailey is lobbying to have Blanchards definition of transsexualism added to the DSM - the rather large manual used for diagnosing mental disorders. If he succeeds, it would be the first time since its full excision from the DSM in 1987 that at least one form of homosexuality" - as Bailey defines it - is classified as pathological.
Another of Baileys outspoken critics is Andrea James, whose website, a how-to resource for those pursuing transition, houses many essays on this subject, including her own. Her earlier essays were admittedly vitriolic. I just had to express the rage I had after reading this guys stuff, she said in a phone interview. I just needed to get it off my chest before I could focus and see what was really going on. She admitted that it may have undermined her credibility. Still, I think I got his attention. Ive been consistently getting hits on my website from Northwestern for the past month.
James asserted that Baileys book is deeply biased. His style of writing changes based on the attractiveness of his subject!
She described the prevailing medical model of transsexualism, which has a rich history of research to back it up, that transsexuals suffer from gender dysphoria, which has to do much more with how they define themselves as human beings rather than by their sexual orientation or behavior. She also pointed out that biological research on brain structure differences in transsexual women and men shows that their brains appear to be like the genders they insist they are. Baileys book doesnt even address these things, James said.
One transsexual woman has been ardently supportive of Baileys book. Anne Lawrence, trained as an anesthesiologist, is a self-described autogynephile. Yet even she expresses appreciation for other models of transsexualism. I originally wrote about autogynephilia was because I felt it was an aspect of transsexual experience that deserved to be more widely known and understood...but there are models other than Blanchards that I also find clinically useful.
Lawrence added, I feel that the essence of transsexualism is a profound sense of wrong embodiment.
Still, Lawrence expressed praise for Bailey and Blanchard: I have never once gotten the impression that they consider male-to-female transsexuals who live in society as women to be men. I believe that they regard us as women - albeit not as natal females.
Its hard to tell that from reading Baileys book. He consistently uses terminology that genders his subjects as male. Even Lawrences writings use the conventional phrase of transsexual women when referring to her subjects, a convention that Bailey assiduously avoids.
When asked whether he thinks of transsexual women as women or men, Bailey said, As far as how we should consider them and treat them socially, we should not even wait until such individuals get surgery to begin treating them, and thinking of them, as women. As soon as they transition socially - and this is often done way before surgery - we should call them she and basically treat them as we would women. But this does not mean that we have to start believing that they are like women in every way, because they are not.
One might ask if there are any women who are like women in every way, but its not an issue that Bailey addresses.
Some have argued that Baileys book relies on low-quality research. He draws his main ideas of transsexualism from a theory which has languished in academia for over a decade.
Richard Ekins and Dave King, researchers from Great Britain whove been working in this area for nearly twenty years, have developed a framework which describes transgendering as a process from which various complex phenomena and identies emerge. They note that the autogynephila concept looks an awful lot like basic heterosexuality, and describe many other phenomena ignored by Bailey and Blanchard.
This is an exceedingly complex business. In our judgement, our framework provides the conceptual wherewithal to unpack such issues in a way denied to the taxonomic, typological and diagnostic approach followed by Blanchard.
Conway and James pointed out that Baileys research subjects are all drawn from a particular sort of venue: gay bars and drag clubs. As such, his study is a reflection of only a narrow band of transsexual women. Yet, they stated, he has deliberately avoided including other segments of the population for his consideration.
Conway described the numbers of transsexual women who never went to gay bars, women who transitioned in college, women developing careers in education, law, medicine, computer programming and a wide range of regular, everyday jobs. So many of us have written to him over the years, she said, yet he has consistently ignored including our stories in his accounts.
One woman featured prominently in the book, Anjelica Kieltyka - referred to by Bailey as Cher - is an artist from Chicago. She seemed extremely intelligent, and during our interview bounced off many digressions and ideas on the way to making her points. She transitioned over ten years ago, and now works with younger girls who due to economics or profession have a hard time making their way through transition safely. Its a way for me to reclaim the motherhood that was denied to me, Kieltyka explained.
She seemed every bit as fantastic as shes described in Baileys book, yet this person was far more complex and interesting than the picture he paints of her.
Bailey says Im strikingly masculine, but he doesnt describe my appearance, my behavior, my attitudes, my outlook on life. She described how he leaves out important aspects of her journey which would have placed his vivid descriptions of her in context.
He refused to address any of my concerns after I read his first draft, she said. He doesnt talk at all about my understanding of what I was doing. Its what he didnt print that caused the misinterpretation of my story.
Kieltyka pointed out that Bailey writes, there is no sense in which they have womens souls; she keenly noted the irony of such a statement coming from a scientist.
The argument that Bailey fails to address evidence that contradicts his viewpoint while persistently using male-gendering language, and the apparent misrepresentation of his own informants, was enough to convince Andrea James that he has an agenda. This guy has no idea what hes gotten himself into, she said.
Meanwhile, other transsexual women continue on with their lives as women. Professor Jennifer Finney Boylan, Co-Chair of the English Department at Colby College in Maine, and author of the upcoming book about her own transition, Shes Not There: A Life in Two Genders (published by Broadway Books, an imprint of Random House), said that, when it comes to Bailey, she just shakes her head sadly and ignores him.
The country is getting more and more sophisticated understanding transgender issues, she said. Most of us are well-adjusted, responsible individuals. Nothing you can say can substitute for the experience of knowing us.
As to her own journey, she says, Im treated as a woman by the vast majority of people. As time goes on and I have more and more of a female history, I continue to have a more female sense of self.
Boylans book will be released at the end of July.
[articles reprinted here with permission]