In the Chicago Tribune,
29 July 2003:
Author is ripped for transsexual research

Northwestern professor taken to task over his book's findings
and whether he informed people he met that they were being studied

By Robert Becker
Tribune higher education reporter
Published July 29, 2003


With his book bearing a provocative title and suggestive dust jacket photo--which features decidedly masculine legs wearing high heels--Northwestern University psychology professor J. Michael Bailey knew his latest work would stir interest outside of academia.

But the 46-year-old chairman of the university's psychology department didn't anticipate the firestorm of controversy that would accompany the March publication of "The Man who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism."

Several women, whose stories are recounted in Bailey's book, have filed complaints with the university saying Bailey never told them "that they were the subjects of a research study." The women, whose identities are masked in the book, said they were never asked to sign consent forms allowing Bailey to use their stories.

"During the interviews we were never told it would end up in a book," said Angelica Kieltyka, a transsexual whose experiences were a mainstay of Bailey's book.

But Bailey's book has prompted a deeper--and angrier--response from some members of the transsexual community that goes beyond the issue of informed consent. They said Bailey's work is based on outdated research and presents a skewed--and needlessly lurid--view of the transsexual community that is popular with religious and political conservatives.

Northwestern officials said they are investigating complaints that the women filed.

"Because such matters involve personnel issues, they are, by their nature, confidential," university spokesman Alan Cubbage said in a statement.

"Therefore, Northwestern will not provide information publicly regarding the details of the university's review of this matter."

Bailey also has declined to discuss details of the complaints. But he had strong words for the group of transsexuals who have launched a campaign against him.

"They are trying to censor this book; they are trying to censor the ideas, and obviously they're trying to hurt me," Bailey said during an interview in his office at Swift Hall on the Evanston campus.

Bailey's critics said they are the ones who have been damaged. They argue that Bailey's work--promoted by his publisher as "grounded firmly in science"--is little more than tabloid tales from Chicago's gay bars.

"It's packaged as science, it's advertised as science ... but it ain't science," said Deirdre McCloskey, a transsexual and professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "It's wrong, that's my opinion. But more important, it's phony."

Lynn Conway, a transsexual and professor emeritus of electrical engineering at the University of Michigan, said, "There's huge danger that this book that is really a set of anecdotes making assertions--strong assertions--as if there were scientific fact."

Relying on interviews with young Hispanics seeking sex-change surgery--and other transsexuals he has talked to over the years--Bailey weaves a narrative that he says reflects the transsexual experience and is supported by the latest research on transsexuals.

That work, by Canadian researchers, generally assigns male-to-female transsexuals into one of two categories: very feminine gay men who want to be women or non-homosexual men who are erotically fixated on the idea of being female.

Transsexuals said Bailey's book is little more than a Jerry Springer picture of transsexualism. Many transsexuals hold jobs, have relationships and don't work for escort services--facts, they say, that don't seem to make it into Bailey's work.

"He's omitted data such as my life or Lynn [Conway's] that goes against his theory," McCloskey said. "It's a very shabby piece of work."

But Bailey has his supporters. Neuroscientist and author Simon LeVay said Bailey's book "presents an accurate picture of the two kinds of male-to-female transsexuality."

Bailey contends his work is based on the best science available.

"To the best of my knowledge what I write in the book is true," he said. "And I can't change my mind unless they give me something better than threats and external pressure."


Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune


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"