The Bailey Affair: Psychology Perverted

By Joan Roughgarden
Department of Biological Sciences
Stanford University

February 11, 2004

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"I wonder if many psychologists fully grasp the image some of their colleagues are projecting---

psychology as a discipline without standards, nourishing a clique of dumbly insensitive bigots.

These psychologists don’t seek to help people, but to dominate them by controlling the definition of normalcy.

Their bogus categories and made-up diseases are intended to subordinate, not to describe."

- Joan Roughgarden


A long-simmering dispute pitting psychologists against others in academe has now boiled into public attention, receiving coverage in the Chronicle of Higher Education, ScienceNOW, the Associated Press and the Chicago Tribune, among others. On National Academies’ letterhead, a book’s advertisement reads: ``Gay, Straight, or Lying? Science Has the Answer", and conclusions promised that ``may not always be politically correct, but… are scientifically accurate, thoroughly researched and occasionally startling." Published by the National Academies, and written by Michael Bailey, professor and chair of the psychology department at Northwestern University, the title alone is considered inflammatory, The Man Who Would be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism. Transgendered people, outraged by the book, by the National Academies’ leadership, and by academic psychologists’ uncritical stance, have launched an unprecedented counterattack. The National Academies’ leadership as well as the author profess to be “surprised” by the continuing dispute.

This dispute won’t go away. The book isn’t an isolated instance of poor and prejudicial scholarship. The outrage of transgendered people against Bailey coincides with that of other scholars against psychologists who write about gender while pretending to be scientific.

Bailey’s thesis is that all transgendered women can be divided into exactly two mutually exclusive classes---extremely feminine homosexual men, and men who pursue a cross-dressing fetish to the point of modifying their bodies. This thesis is not new.

Since turn-of-the-century sexology in Europe, many manifestations of gender and sexuality variance have been distinguished. Then 20 years ago, the psychologist, Ray Blanchard of the Clarke Institute in Toronto, tried to argue that all varieties of gender/sexuality variance could be boiled down to the two classes that Bailey is trying to resurrect. Sexologists have not signed on to the Blanchard scheme. Bailey, upset about this, disparages his colleagues by writing, ``Blanchard's ideas have not yet received the widespread attention they deserve, in large part because sex researchers are not as scholarly as they should be." (p. 176)

Initial reaction to Bailey’s book was disappointment that no new ideas were proposed. Bailey’s elaboration of Blanchard’s two categories seems dubious on its face. Bailey profiles the “homosexual transsexual” as a young woman who comes out relatively early in life, is attractive, and is sexually oriented to men. To illustrate attractiveness, Bailey writes of one, ``She was stunning... My avowedly heterosexual male research assistant told me he would gladly have had sex with her, even knowing… [she] still possessed a penis." (p. 182) In contrast, Bailey writes of the cross-dressing variety, termed ``autogynephilic’’ by Blanchard, ``There is no way to say this as sensitively as I would prefer, so I will just go ahead. Most homosexual transsexuals are much better looking than most autogynephilic transsexuals." (p 180) Bailey profiles the cross-dressing transsexual as an older woman who comes out relatively late in life, is unattractive, and is sexually oriented to women.

From a transgender perspective, Bailey’s claim that all transgendered women match one of these two profiles is clearly counterfactual. Many transgendered women come out late in life and yet are sexually oriented to men, many come out early in life and yet are oriented to women, many who are oriented to women are attractive nonetheless, many have changed direction of sexual orientation when they transitioned, many are bisexual, and many are not sexually active. Transgendered women also encompass heterogeneity in occupation, presentation, temperament, sexual history, and ethnicity. Furthermore, transgendered people are not as fixated on sex as Bailey evidently is. The need to locate in the social and occupational space of one’s gender identity, to live as a woman, is a stronger motivation for many transgendered women than is attaining sexual pleasure. So, the initial dilemma faced by transgendered women was to discern how Bailey went wrong, why so far off course, and perhaps try to lend some accuracy to his account.

The plot thickens. As the two quotations above already suggest, Bailey uses sensational and pejorative language. Bailey writes, ``prostitution is the single most common occupation that homosexual transsexuals in our study admitted to... Juanita is a very attractive postoperative transsexual who has worked as a call girl both before and since her operation... she does not feel degraded and guilty about what she does for a living. I suspect that this reflects an aspect of her psychology that has remained male... her ability to enjoy emotionally meaningless sex appears male-typical. In this sense homosexual transsexuals might be especially suited to prostitution… Homosexual transsexuals... lust after men." (p. 184—185, 191)

Bailey gathers steam when turning to his other type of transsexual, those with a condition he calls ``autogynephilia, (pronounced Otto-guy-nuh-feel-ee-ya)," (p. 164) a ``type of paraphilia,... unusual sexual preferences that include autogynephilia, masochism, sadism, exhibitionism,... frotteurism,... necrophilia, bestiality, and pedophilia... Paraphelias tend to go together... The best established link is between autogynephilia and masochism. There is a dangerous masochistic practice called `autoerotic asphyxia,' in which a man strangles himself, usually by hanging, for sexual reasons... Perhaps about 100 American men per year dies this way. About one-fourth of the time, these men are found wearing some article of women's clothing, such as panties... Although most autogynephiles are not sexual sadists, they are more likely to be sadists compared with men who are not autogynephilic." (pp. 171--172) So according to Bailey, all transsexual women can be placed in either of two categories, one predisposed to prostitution and the other likely to be sexual sadists. No transgendered woman can read Bailey’s characterization and emerge with their dignity intact.

Bailey’s account is racist. He writes, ``about 60 percent of the homosexual transsexuals and drag queens we studied were Latina or Black." (p. 183, no sample size given.) Bailey noticed ``the large number of Latina transsexuals" (p. 183) and offered a conjecture that ``Hispanic people might have more transsexual genes than other ethnic groups do." (p. 183-184)

From a transgender perspective, the prospects for rapprochement seem remote. We’re scratching our heads wondering where such outlandish descriptions have come from. Whether say, 25 men hang themselves each year wearing panties is irrelevant to how tens of thousands of transgendered people live their lives. How could Bailey have mischaracterized a whole subpopulation so incorrectly? His writing is hate speech, detached from reality, and yet advertised as science and published by the National Academies.

Bailey also attacks gays and women. About gays, Bailey writes, ``the brains of homosexual people may be mosaics of male and female parts... this mixture explains much of what is unique in gay men's culture and lives." (p. 60) Bailey goes on to claim that ``gay men have tended to have more of certain psychological problems than straight men" (p. 81.) The disease of being gay is the disease of being a woman. ``Gay men's pattern of susceptibility to… mental problems reflects their femininity. The problems that gay men are most susceptible to---eating disorders, depression, and anxiety disorders---are the same problems that women also suffer from disproportionately" (p. 82) He continues, ``Learning why gay men are more easily depressed than straight men might tell us why women are also." (p. 83) Then he piously states, ``nothing I have written means that we should… again consider it a mental illness... the problems are being... depressed... [whereas] homosexuality, per se, is not a problem." (p. 83) Furthermore, ``Gay men will always have more sex partners than straight people do. Those who are attached will be less sexually monogamous." (p. 100) Then he follows with another pious disclaimer, ``Social conservatives will view this prediction as tantamount to an admission of the inferiority of the gay male lifestyle, but it is not." (p. 101). And he winds up raising the specter of eugenics, ``I certainly have no motive to change gay people or prevent them from being born." (p 113)

These disclaimers are disingenuous. Bailey is setting the stage for others to advocate the persecution of gays from a scientific perspective. This tack was used when setting up a biological argument for racially cleansing the Aryan race of Jews in Nazi Germany. His work is cited by homophobic groups such as NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality), a group dedicated to ``curing'' homosexuality with so-called reparative treatments. One of Bailey’s few favorable reviews is a homophobic piece in the National Review by John Derbyshire, also a National Academies’ Press author (June 30, 2003). According to Derbyshire, “conservatives remember... the AIDS plague spread in this country mainly by promiscuous homosexual buggery’’ and “the sacred texts of all three major Western monotheistic faiths proscribe homosexuality in unambiguous terms,” a claim incidentally, that is mistaken. Bailey writes with an eye toward a right-wing political agenda.

Perhaps these hateful politically-charged claims about transgendered women, other women, gays, Latinas and Blacks are all true. Perhaps we should celebrate Bailey’s honesty for bringing these painful “facts” into the open. Yet as already mentioned, Bailey’s claims are inaccurate, and so the source of the problem might lie somehow in his data. So, what does Bailey have to offer scientifically, leaving aside his pejorative rhetoric?

Bailey has no data, none at all. He offers no surveys, no data tables, no statistics, nothing. He doesn’t give the sample size for the “study" he refers to occasionally. No references are offered to primary literature either. Six transgendered people are mentioned by name (pseudonym). Bailey did not take detailed and rigorous notes when interviewing these subjects, and relies on his recollection of their meetings. This sample is highly non-representative because the women he interviewed he met while ``cruising" (p. 141) in ``the Baton, Chicago's premier female impersonator club,'' (p. 186) leading to an occupational and socio-economic bias.

Still, one may anticipate that Bailey has at least found a tiny non-representative sample, and offers a truthful account of the life-narratives from this selected group. No, Bailey has manipulated even the few narratives he has. Bailey admits to an ``ongoing argument'' (p. 161) with one of his subjects who will not agree to say what he wants. When his subjects disagree with him he calls them liars, ``Most gender patients lie."(p. 172) Also, gay males who don't report a feminine childhood are lying too (p.58) because they suffer from "internalized femiphobia" (p. 80). Therefore, Bailey is compromising his own data by putting words in the mouths of his interviewees.

And amazingly, four of his six subjects filed formal complaints with the administration at Northwestern University charging that Bailey did not notify them that their narratives were to be used as “research material” in his book (Jennifer Leopoldt, Transsexuals file 2 more claims against Bailey, The Daily Northwestern, August 2, 2003.) After reading accounts supposedly about them, the women reported being inaccurately transcribed. Furthermore, Bailey did not disclose that he was writing letters for these women to authorize sex-reassignment surgeries in return for their interviews, placing the women and Bailey in conflict of interest. As of December 2003, all six of the subjects have filed formal complaints that their consent was not obtained. And even more astonishingly, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that one of the women has formally charged Bailey with having sex with her at her apartment. Bailey has declined to comment, and the Northwestern University has declined to pursue this charge, although they are pursuing the charges about failure to obtain consent (Robin Wilson, Dec. 12, 2003, Northwestern U. psychologist is accused of having sex with research subject). At this time, all of Bailey’s narrative information is irretrievably compromised, and the circumstance in which the information was obtained is allegedly scandalous. Finally, the narrative that frames the section on transgendered women (the Danny narrative) is reportedly acknowledged to be completely fabricated.

Thus, Bailey does not report his sample size, the sample turns out to be small and unrepresentative, all of the narratives are compromised, elementary abuse of ethical protocol with human subjects has been alleged, Bailey does not disclose conflict of interest, all contradictory evidence is dismissed, and at least one of the narratives is apparently fabricated. Bailey’s study comes nowhere close to acceptable science. Yet it has been published by the National Academies and endorsed as “scientifically accurate” and “thoroughly researched.”

Alternatively, is Blanchard’s original twenty-year-old research solid enough to support Bailey’s claims today, even if Bailey’s own data aren’t? Blanchard summarized his three original studies at a 2000 conference in Paris of the International Academy of Sex Research organized by Bailey. Blanchard assigned his “patients” at the Clarke Institutes into four sexual-orientation categories: heterosexual (He), asexual (A), bisexual (B), or homosexual (HO). (Transgendered women attracted to men are considered “homosexual” transsexuals in Blanchard’s parlance.) Study 1: About 75% of 63 heterosexual, asexual, or bisexual (HeAB) people found wearing women’s clothing to be arousing, whereas about 15% of 100 homosexual (HO) people did too. Study 2: between ages 6 and 12, 48 HeAB people had a femininity score of 16, whereas16 HO people had a femininity score of 21. The HeAB group “presented for assessment” at about 35 years, and the HO group at about 24 years. Study 3: Curiously, erotic desires do not group into the two classes, HeAB vs. HO, in a sample of 212 people. Bisexuals scored higher in erotic interest at being admired by others when dressed as a woman than the other three categories. He, B, and HO were equally erotically interested in other people, in contrast to the little interest among the A group. Overall, the results are mixed and do not show that transgendered people can be sorted into two mutually exclusive subtypes. Nonetheless, Blanchard repeatedly uses power words like “significantly” different when comparing the HeAB and HO groupings, even though no significance tests were provided and the spread among the data points suggest marginal statistical significance, if any. Yet Blanchard declares, “the foregoing studies indicate that there are only two fundamentally different types of transsexualism in males.” This claim is not demonstrated by his, or anyone else’s data. (See: Blanchard, R. (1985). Typology of male-to-female transsexualism. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 14, 247-261; Blanchard, R. (1988). Nonhomosexual gender dysphoria. Journal of Sex Research, 24, 188-193; Blanchard, R. (1989). The concept of autogynephilia and the typology of male gender dysphoria. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 177, 616-623.)

Blanchard’s studies suffer a flawed design because he projects onto his subjects his own presumption that cross-gender expression is about sex and only sex. Blanchard is only interested in finding out what turns people on. Blanchard’s research, like Bailey’s and that of the Clarke Institute generally, suffers from failure to disclose the conflict of interest between the Institute’s staff and their clients who depend on them for letters authorizing surgery, and even in some cases for financial support.

All in all, Bailey’s book, as well as Blanchard’s early research, is not only politically incorrect, but totally incorrect. Their work is useless to future researchers because it fails to conceptualize gender identity as distinct from sexual pleasure.

In May, I wrote to the president of the National Academy of Sciences, Bruce Alberts, and the president of the Institute of Medicine, Harvey V. Fineberg, detailing the flaws in Bailey’s book, and called on them to withdraw Bailey’s book and to release it to some other publisher who might profit from its notoriety. Alberts and Fineberg did not reply. Many other transgendered academics as well as representatives from concerned organizations have also written. They’ve all received only rude dismissive replies, if any. Furthermore, the National Academies are quoted in ScienceNOW affirming that Bailey’s book is "a well-crafted and responsible work on a difficult topic" but acknowledging that the controversy took them by “surprise” (Constance Holden, Transsexuality Treatise Triggers Furor, ScienceNOW , July 18, 2003). I’m surprised they’re surprised. Even a cursory reading of Bailey’s book raises so many red flags to an experienced scientist that I doubt the book received anything but a sweetheart review from Bailey’s psychologist friends.

The National Academies’ Press has now become duplicitous in its quest to find a favorable review of Bailey somewhere. James Cantor, a colleague of Blanchard’s and chair of “clinical sexology services” at the Clarke Institute, wrote a favorable review of Bailey’s book in an obscure source---the newsletter to a group of psychologists specializing on gay and lesbian therapy. According to the National Academies’ website, a unit of the American Psychological Association (APA, Division 44) has described Bailey’s book as “...the first scientifically grounded book about male femininities written for a general audience. ...Bailey sympathetically portrays these peoples' experiences and explores the roots of their development. … Bailey's respect for the people he describes serves as a role model for others who still struggle to accept and appreciate homosexuality and transsexuality in society" (Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues, American Psychological Association, newsletter, summer 2003). One wonders what planet Cantor lives on. The quotation is presented by the National Academies as though representing a consensus of psychologists, and does not identify Cantor as the reviewer. After the APA was alerted, Division 44 succeeded on August 11, 2003, in having the National Academies’ website modified to indicate that “The opinions expressed in articles that appear in our newsletter are solely those of the author and do not express the opinion of Division 44 or APA.” (Email from Dr. Judith Glassgold, Psy.D., President, Division 44, APA, August 12, 2003.) Using this quotation by the National Academies’ Press was a deceptive attempt to cover up incompetent reviewing procedures.

So let’s be clear. This protest will not disappear. At stake is the possibility of transgendered women being able to live dignified, productive and loving lives in today’s Western society. Few would support equality of opportunity for people of varied gender expression if science concluded that transgendered people were but prostitutes and fetishists.

We come to a fork in the road. Along one path, the National Academies acknowledge a mistake has been made and withdraws endorsement of the book, ending the matter then and there as far as I’m concerned.

On the other path, the National Academies continue to stonewall, claiming that Bailey’s book is “scientifically accurate, thoroughly researched” and vetted by a satisfactory review process. Bailey’s book is obviously not tenable scientifically---it would fail as a lab report in freshman biology. By this path, the matter will continue to escalate and to accumulate damages. The National Academies’ credibility will suffer because its capability at competent peer review is compromised. I feel the Academies’ position in this situation is indefensible. If the presidents of the National Academy of Science and the Institute of Medicine, Bruce Alberts and Harvey V. Fineberg, continue on their present path, they not only deface the organizations they lead, but also hurt the standing of science in the United States. If they continue on their present path, I call upon them to resign.

Bailey’s book streaked across the gender rainbow like a thunderbolt out of the blue. He was unknown to us, having not previously written about transgendered people. So where did Bailey come from?

Bailey is not some fringe crackpot, but the chair of a psychology department in a large university. His allegedly fraudulent research finds ample precedent. Recently, the prominent Johns Hopkins gender psychologist, John Money, was revealed to have fabricated the account of the gender reassignment of a boy whose penis was accidentally amputated during a botched circumcision procedure. Money claimed the child was successfully raised as a girl named “Brenda.” In fact, “Brenda” never accepted the identity imposed upon him, and transitioned at age 14 to living as a teenage boy, changing his name to David. Money’s medical report about David’s supposedly successful development as a woman were fabricated (Colapinto, J. 2000. As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl. Harperperennial Library, Paperback Edition, 2001).

This history of psychologists exploiting gender variant people extends unchanged over fifty years. In 1955 for example, the psychologists, Frederick Worden and James Marsh, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association a study based on five subjects. These subjects later objected to the psychologists who “milk[ed] scientific information from them in the approximate way laboratory animals are used” and to the “subtle ridicule heaped by the authors on their subjects” (Joanne Meyerowitz, 2002, How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States, p. 157).

Bailey exemplifies a corporate culture within academia that protects and applauds the abuse of gender- and sexuality-variant human subjects. Daniel I. H. Linzer, dean of the college of arts and sciences at Northwestern, considers the protests against Bailey “a wonderful recognition of the impact Mike is having now." (Robin Wilson, Dr. Sex, Chronicle of Higher Education, June 20, 2003.) Mike is one of the boys, and psychologists circle the wagon to protect him. Joan C. Sieber, a professor of psychology at California State University at Hayward says it sounds as if Mr. Bailey's critics are unfairly using institutional review board regulations "as a tool" to attack him for unpopular views (Robin Wilson, Dr. Sex ‘redux’, Chronicle of Higher Education, July 25, 2003).

I personally witnessed and reported a major instance of psychological silence at Bailey’s unprofessional conduct. On April 23, 2003, Bailey presented a lecture entitled "Gender Nonconformity and Sexual Orientation" to the Stanford University psychology department as part of the regularly scheduled departmental lecture series. The audience included about 10 faculty and 100 students. Bailey was introduced as a successful teacher whose courses feature "transsexuals stripping after class." He began by evoking laughs from the audience with photographs of gender-variant children. Then, to train the audience in their "gaydar" (his word on an overhead slide), Bailey showed animated pen-and-ink cartoons of effeminate gestures for a gay man contrasted with a macho gestures for a straight man. Next, 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 and slapped on the back. After some tame questions on technical aspects of childhood language development, the seminar ended with warm loud applause and no sign of dismay at the unprofessional spectacle that had just occurred.

After this performance, I wrote an op-ed to the Stanford student newspaper criticizing the psychology department's conduct in the affair. A few days later, some graduate students in the psychology department replied in the student newspaper that they agreed Bailey'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." Concerning the audience's conduct, the students wrote ``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." From where I was sitting, a “communal homophobic expression” is precisely what occurred. The Stanford psychology department transformed itself for one hour into a locker room. To this day, no psychology faculty member has either publicly or privately distanced themselves from Bailey’s performance, or expressed any regret for the insult they permitted to the gay, lesbian and transgendered people in the audience.

Are there other Baileys out there? Yes, evolutionary psychology is full of them. Take the recent book in 2000, A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion (MIT Press) by R. Thornhill and C. Palmer, which claims that rape is an evolutionary adaptation wired into the male psyche. The now-familiar press conferences and talk-show appearances of celebrity-scientist wannabes accompanied the book’s release. The book plus its publicity spectacle has prompted academic outrage and provoked a refutation in 2003, Evolution, Gender and Rape (MIT Press), edited by Cheryl Travis. Twenty three contributors from disciplines spanning anthropology, biology, psychology, sociology, to zoology express a disdain that taxes normal standards of professional courtesy. Here’s a small sample of phrases:

“Care to resist overgeneralizing… is no where to be found” (p. 96), “Is there something inherent in… evolutionary psychology that attracts racists” (p. 105), “would not be taken seriously in other areas of evolutionary studies” (p. 163), “they [suggest they] stand in a line of thinkers that extends back to Galileo, a line of fearless revolutionaries dedicated to science and truth. We offer a harsher alternative. They pretend to scientific rigor when they have none; they misunderstand the positions of those whom they lambast; they blunder into sensitive issues… and employ language and images that… [produce] pain and humiliation for women” (pp. 165—166), “utterly lacking in sound scientific grounding” (p. 173), “fiddling with the data” (p. 183), “indifference to scientific standards. They buttress strong claims with weak reasoning, weak data, and finagled statistics” (p. 185), “camouflage their unstated ideological agenda, deflect attention from obvious flaws in their logic… and inflate the importance of their own work. They succeed only in diminishing the stature of science” (p. 192), “offensive, scientifically flawed, misguided [and] reckless” (p. 202), “bad science, bad writing, and bad politics—makes you wonder… how such a work was vetted through a reputable university press” (p. 222), “use of evidence is so selective that it may well constitute scholarly fraud” (p. 225) .

Nothing I’ve said about Bailey differs from that already being said about Thornhill and Palmer. Indeed, the descriptions could seemingly be interchanged. Evolutionary psychologists have been criticized for years. They simply don’t care. They notice critics only to dismiss them with ad hominem insults. Bailey and the evolutionary psychologists are linked. The endorsements on the cover to Bailey’s book mostly come from evolutionary psychologists. For them, Bailey has done nothing out of line, good academic fun. I see the matter differently. These psychologists subvert academy that sustains and protects them.

I wonder if many psychologists fully grasp the image some of their colleagues are projecting---psychology as a discipline without standards, nourishing a clique of dumbly insensitive bigots. These psychologists don’t seek to help people, but to dominate them by controlling the definition of normalcy. Their bogus categories and made-up diseases are intended to subordinate, not to describe.

I dream of the day when new leaders in academic psychology step up, leaders who condemn homophobic, transphobic, racist, and sexist theories, leaders who defend our cherished freedom of speech from perversion by their bigoted colleagues.


- Joan Roughgarden


See Also:


"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


"A Defining Moment in Our History", by Andrea James, TS, September, 2004.


This page is part of Lynn Conway's
"Investigative report into the publication of
J. Michael Bailey's book on transsexualism
by the National Academies"