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The Man Who Would Be Queen:

The New York Times has an article about controversy over Professor Michael Bailey's book, The Man Who Would Be Queen, which reaches some rather politically incorrect conclusions about the reasons some men want to undergo sex changes.

Two quotations in the story caught my eye. First, Deirdre (formerly Donald) McCloskey, a well-known (formerly?) libertarian economist, stated:

"Nothing we have done, I believe, and certainly nothing I have done, overstepped any boundaries of fair comment on a book and an author who stepped into the public arena with enthusiasm to deliver a false and unscientific and politically damaging opinion."

Yet the article also relates that McCloskey "wrote to the Illinois state regulators, requesting that they investigate Dr. Bailey for practicing psychology without a license." That goes well beyond "fair comment" and into "trying to get the government to punish an individual I disagree with." (Meanwhile, the charming Andrea James, "a Los Angeles-based transgender advocate and consultant," "downloaded images from Dr. Bailey's Web site of his children, taken when they were in middle and elementary school, and posted them on her own site, with sexually explicit captions that she provided.")

Second, Professor Ben Barres of Stanford (whose name has come up on this blog before, in a somewhat related context) is quoted as saying, "Bailey seems to make a living by claiming that the things people hold most deeply true are not true." The quotation is shorn of context, but apparently was meant to be critical, a conclusion supported by Barres's prior defense of political correctness on "gender" issues, linked above. If so, then I vehemently disagree with Professor Barres. Of course, if the relevant research is junk science, it can and should be criticized on those grounds. But scientists have an obligation to pursue the truth, not to worry about people's feelings, and given the climate of political correctness that the controversy over Bailey's research reflects, scientists who are willing to take on subjects that others may deem taboo deserve moral support.

Hat tip: Instapundit.

anonVCfan:
"Bailey seems to make a living by claiming that the things people hold most deeply true are not true." The quotation is shorn of context, but apparently was meant to be critical...

Sounds like a good blurb for the dust jacket of Freakonomics.
8.21.2007 10:48am
Chip Smith (mail):
Here is a link to Alice Dreger's fascinating report (PDF) on the controversy, which is referenced in the NYT article.
8.21.2007 11:06am
Triangle_Man:
Some of the people Bailey wrote about claimed that he violated the standards of human subjects research by including them as research subjects without their consent. There is at least one website outlining their grievances. Northwestern University investigated their claims but never released any information about the findings or consequences, if any, for Bailey. I think he stepped down as Chairman of his department following this.
8.21.2007 11:06am
Hoosier:
"Bailey seems to make a living by claiming that the things people hold most deeply true are not true." The quotation is shorn of context, but apparently was meant to be critical...


Anon--Good point. Especially when it comes to questions of parenting, which, I can vouch, result in some almost theologically-held beliefs.

Another hypocritical action in my chosen profession. In grad school, we are told that we'll never get published /unless/ we challenge deeply-held, or at least long-held, views. Now we find that you cannot do that. Sometimes.
8.21.2007 11:27am
rarango (mail):
Chip Smith: thanks for providing that link. That is an excellent, detailed article and sheds a great deal of light on the controversy.
8.21.2007 11:32am
Houston Lawyer:
Oh you can challenge deeply held beliefs, but only if they are held by Christians and Jews. Views of athiests and Muslims are sacred and any challenge of those beliefs is blasphemy.
8.21.2007 11:34am
Randy R. (mail):
Not so -- a rather prominent lesbian muslim has written a book very critical of Islamic teachings. She of course has received death threats and the like, but she at least has the courage to speak out and stick to her guns. And one of her criticisms is that Islam can't stand challenges to its beliefs (So maybe in a way you are right....)

On the other hand, Christians and Jews have a long tradition (jews much longer) of self-criticism. Jewish thought and teaching has always encouraged challenging traditions thoughts and beliefs. For Christians, it didn't really start until the Jesuits came on the scene during the Counter-Reformation.

I view the ability to criticize Christianity and Jewish beliefs as a strength to be proud of. Unless, you want to be more like the Islamic religion, where dissent isn't really acceptable.
8.21.2007 11:40am
Waldensian (mail):

Views of athiests and Muslims are sacred and any challenge of those beliefs is blasphemy.

Indeed, the all-powerful atheist lobby, which controls the U.S. government, permits no public condemnation whatsoever of atheists or their views. No one is able to discriminate against atheists in matters such as child custody determinations, for example.

In all seriousness, feel free to challenge my "beliefs" as an atheist. I promise you one thing, I won't claim that you're engaging in blasphemy.
8.21.2007 11:46am
just stoppin by (mail):
oh this poor, poor guy. think of his feelings! gosh. i'm just . . . i'm just outraged to think how hurt he must feel by it all.
8.21.2007 11:51am
PDXLawyer (mail):
Houston: Mearsheimer &Walt don't appear to have benefited from this safe harbor. A little less political self-pity, please.

I've noticed recently that many people think that if a view is deeply and sincerely held, that by itself is good evidence that the view is objectively correct. I don't think that this is a mistake which is confined to political topics, or that it is one which is more common now than in the past.

For example, many, many jurors apparently make a decision based mostly on which lawyer they *trust* the most (and frequently make that decision based on things like whether they have shifty eyes). As far as I can tell, it has ever been thus.

As far as I can see, there is no magic bullet. All we can do is try to avoid descending into personalities ourselves, and at the same time defend against personal attack those who seem to be acting in good faith when they challenge orthodoxy.
8.21.2007 11:56am
Simon Spero (mail) (www):
McCloskey is a contributing editor to Reason Magazine, and wrote a signed review of the book in question in the November 2003 issue (available at http://www.reason.com/news/show/28928.html, which addresses the slight methodological problems in the book, including the choice of sample population:
The entire sample, representing the world's hundreds of thousands of gender crossers, just happens to live in Chicago. Six-sevenths of the sample are first-generation Hispanic Americans, most working as prostitutes and professional drag queens. (Bailey dropped from his sample women who were not in sex trades.) That's not a very good sample. If most of Bailey's data come from young Hispanic sex workers in Chicago, then he has not put his theory (namely, that gender crossing is about sex, sex, sex, because gender crossers are men, men, men) in much jeopardy.

I believe the phrase is "ripping Bailey a new one"?

A letter on the article, not from Bailey, was published in the February 2004 issue available at http://www.reason.com/news/show/29037.html
8.21.2007 11:59am
guest:
Mearsheimer &Walt don't appear to have benefited from this safe harbor

Have M&W's careers suffered due to the controversy? They're heroes in the Arab world and were invited to Yearly Kos.
8.21.2007 12:02pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Has anyone, including M&W, suggested that their work even remotely resembles science? It's an extended op-ed.
8.21.2007 12:08pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Simon Spero, I haven't read the book, but one does wonder why if the book is so bad, McCloskey had to resort to trying to deprive Bailey of his livelihood by filing dubious claims of academic misconduct against him with Northwestern, and dubious claims of practicing psychology without a license with the state.
8.21.2007 12:21pm
rarango (mail):
Simon Spero: and I suspect the better academic phrase is questioning his sample size (although Baily's is qualitative research and the guidelines for that type of research vary rather dramatically from quantitative research--in fact in much qualitative research is selective and purposely non-random)
8.21.2007 12:37pm
PersonFromPorlock:

...but one does wonder why if the book is so bad, McCloskey had to resort to trying to deprive Bailey of his livelihood by filing dubious claims....

Mutual jackassery?
8.21.2007 12:42pm
James Fulford (mail):
Triangle_Man writes:



Some of the people Bailey wrote about claimed that he violated the standards of human subjects research by including them as research subjects without their consent


Yes, but the standards of human subjects research are ridiculous--the definition of "human subjects research" doesn't just include doing things to people, it includes talking to them.

And the Institutional Review Boards which monitor such research have far too much power.

See Carol Tavris, "The High Cost of Skepticism," Skeptical Inquirer 26(4):41-44 (July/August 2002).
8.21.2007 1:00pm
rarango (mail):
I cannot imagine a Psychology Dept Chair in a major University not getting prior IRB approval. And the fact that the University didnt discipline him after reviewing the case tells me in did comply with human subjects requirements and there was an IRB letter of approval. Just a guess.
8.21.2007 1:10pm
liberty (mail) (www):

Dr. John Bancroft, then director of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, said to Dr. Bailey, "Michael, I have read your book, and I do not think it is science," according to accounts of the meeting. Dr. Bancroft confirmed the comment.

- NY Times

Probably somewhat of a compliment, given its source!

-- Note that I personally believe that probably transgendered sexuality is the result of genetics. However, science is science and propaganda is propaganda, and I think Kinsey types are the latter.
8.21.2007 1:34pm
Hattio (mail):
I'm not sure this guy is getting tagged so unfairly. For example, he claims himself to like challenging the Orthodox beliefs. I took this quote;

"Bailey seems to make a living by claiming that the things people hold most deeply true are not true."

To essentially mean he tips over sacred cows because they're sacred cows. And that's a fair criticism regardless of whether this sacred cow needed tipped.

As to the academic standards, I'm not familiar enough with the standards, but it doesn't seem especially dubious to me. The practicing psychology one doesn't either. Remember, he wrote a case study saying these folks would be good candidates for sex re-assignment surgery. That definitely seems to be practicing psychology...and sort of undercuts his claim. If he thinks these guys only want sex reassignment because they are fantasizing about sex as a woman, why would he call them good candidates for sex reassignment surgery?
8.21.2007 1:38pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Do scientists always have to do science? Not that I'm advocating their doing witchcraft or pseudoscience, but I'd much rather read a chatty book featuring interviews with specific individuals than a dry statistics-based treatise.

I'm curious as to the motivation for changing one's sex, and personal stories would be more useful to me. It was a shock when my alumni news referred to my classmate Denise as "Dennis," for example. At the time, she had been just one of the many women who didn't want to go out with me.

In general, the ones I know of were over 40 when they had the operation, so I have a hunch that part of the reason to change was the natural decrease in their primary sex hormones.
8.21.2007 2:12pm
anonVCfan:
To essentially mean he tips over sacred cows because they're sacred cows. And that's a fair criticism regardless of whether this sacred cow needed tipped.

Why is that even necessarily a criticism? Sacred cows are by definition both (1) sacred and (2) beliefs so deeply held that they probably haven't been questioned in a long time. The second part is why it's good to "tip[] over sacred cows because they're sacred cows." You could argue that this guy is just trying to hurt people's feelings, but if people have strong feelings about things that are just wrong, why should those feelings be validated?
8.21.2007 2:14pm
guest:
Haven't read his book, haven't read the PDF above YET, but I thought I'd point out something, given the posts mocking people's "feelings". In the area of transgenderism, people whose "feelings are hurt" by false and irresponsible treatment commit suicide at a rate several times higher than the general population. Does that change people's opinion of forays into amusing speculation and cow-tipping for cow-tipping's sake by folks who should -- and do -- know better?
8.21.2007 2:58pm
anon252 (mail):
If was thinking of doing something as radical as having my yingyang removed, I'd certainly want to know as much information as possible regarding why I feel compelled to do it.
8.21.2007 3:16pm
Dan Simon (mail) (www):
If was thinking of doing something as radical as having my yingyang removed, I'd certainly want to know as much information as possible regarding why I feel compelled to do it.

Or even your leg...
8.21.2007 3:49pm
Truth Seeker:
People who are repelled by their arm or leg are said to be mentally ill, but if they are repelled by their genitals they are special and get surgery. What a screwy society! Sounds like more research is needed in this area.
8.21.2007 4:09pm
amper:
I haven't read the book, because I really don't have *that much* interest in the topic, but it seems to me that the main problem with Dr. Bailey's views in the eyes of his detractors is that he suggests that autogynephila is a factor which leads some patients to desire SRS. Dr. Bailey would not be the first to describe this condition, but if he is correct, what then is the harm, and what is wrong with wanting SRS because you simply desire to be a woman absent any other clinical psychology?

Suppose he is right. Does this in some way invalidate the indications in other unrelated cases? I fully understand the sensitivity of people in the transgender community, but I also fully understand that there is a tendency toward hypersensitivity.

Personally, I think SRS is probably a good answer in some cases, but a poor answer in others. Gender psychology is *not* a simple field.
8.21.2007 4:12pm
A parent (mail):
I HAVE read Michael Bailey's book, and in detail, because I had to deal with this very unfortunate matter in a close family member. What surprises me about this controversy is that the offended parties are attacking Bailey, whose book is not rigorous science and is intended for a "general" audience (or at least as general an audience as would be interested in this matter) rather than attacking Dr. Blanchard who did almost all of the genuine research that Bailey discusses. Yes, Bailey did some informal interviews in Chicago, but those are by no means the most important support for the theory that Bailey explains, but that Blanchard developed.
8.21.2007 6:04pm
Jay Myers:
guest:

Haven't read his book, haven't read the PDF above YET, but I thought I'd point out something, given the posts mocking people's "feelings". In the area of transgenderism, people whose "feelings are hurt" by false and irresponsible treatment commit suicide at a rate several times higher than the general population. Does that change people's opinion of forays into amusing speculation and cow-tipping for cow-tipping's sake by folks who should -- and do -- know better?

That sounds like further evidence that they are mentally unstable at best and probably mentally ill. Someone should do some research to find out if that is indeed the case. Wait, someone already did. That's why we're having this discussion.
8.21.2007 7:07pm
Randy R. (mail):
"That sounds like further evidence that they are mentally unstable at best and probably mentally ill."

And most professionals will not allow someone to undergo gender transformation until they have had therapy and have shown that they really need it and will benefit from the surgery. In other words, gender transformation is part of the process of getting mentally healthy.

And yes, of course, people who are in the wrong sex, for whatever reason, are often rather unhappy. Also, one can be unhappy, deeply unhappy enough to commit suicide, and not be mentally ill or 'unstable.' Both need treatment, but there are not necessarily the same thing.
8.21.2007 8:09pm
guest:

That sounds like further evidence that they are mentally unstable at best and probably mentally ill.


How charitable of you. Some people -- like you -- haven't got the slightest idea of how difficult it is to grow up feeling "wrong" in your very self. To have that confusion, that disconnect, and be told -- as it appears this book does -- that the reason is based on your hyper-attraction to the opposite sex (if I'm reading the comments above correctly) or that insight into your experience can be gleaned from interviews with former hookers is painful beyond some people's comprehension.

It seems to me that one could write a book about this subject for the general public and provide a service to people in doing so, but that book should do more than present your pet theory that is not widely accepted by your profession UNLESS you have real proof that your idea is better than current understandings. That doesn't seem to be the case here, at all.

One last point. What's with the book's title? The Man Who Would Be Queen. Surely the author knows what a queen is in society's vernacular. Is he suggesting that transgender individuals want to live as flamboyant gay men? I don't know how many transgender people the author has met, but I've met several and not a single one had the goal of looking and living like Harvey Feirstein passing as Dolly Parton. The title alone condemns the book.
8.21.2007 10:22pm
anon252 (mail):
The title is a pun. The idea that you can't put forth a hypothesis that might hurt people's feelings until you have "real proof" is antithetical to the scientific process.
8.21.2007 10:41pm
Ian Maitland (mail):
Apparently for Ben Barres (the Stanford professor you quote), the issue is more than political correctness.

Male Scientist Writes of Life as Female Scientist
Biologist Who Underwent Sex Change Describes Biases Against Women

By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 13, 2006; Page A10

Neurobiologist Ben Barres has a unique perspective on former Harvard president Lawrence Summers's assertion that innate differences between the sexes might explain why many fewer women than men reach the highest echelons of science.

That's because Barres used to be a woman himself.
8.21.2007 11:46pm
Randy R. (mail):
Oh yes. It was a great article. Barres explains that when once he transitioned to being a man, some colleagues thought that he scientific papers he wrote were written by his sister. He overheard one who said, that his (Barres) writing is so much better than his sister's!

When I showed that article to my sister, she said it was so obvious. If you want to know how women are discriminated against in society, the best ones to ask are the transgendered who have established a professional record in both genders, and then compare.

Hows' that for a control subject!
8.22.2007 12:51am
Jay Myers:
If scholarly discourse about a mental trait, which is the subject of this post, is enough to push someone to kill themselves simply because they share that trait, which is the situation "guest" suggests in order to chastise contributors to this thread, then that person's mental health has to be at issue. Without a severe pre-existing mental disorder, no sober academic treatise is going to push someone to utter self-abnegation.

Furthermore, sanity is proper adjustment to reality. If one's adjustment is faulty then proper mental hygene is to correct one's relation to reality, not change reality to fit one's pathologies. Sex reassignment surgery is akin to claiming to cure someone of a Napoleon complex by agreeing with them that they are indeed le petit caporal.


Some people -- like you -- haven't got the slightest idea of how difficult it is to grow up feeling "wrong" in your very self. To have that confusion, that disconnect, and be told -- as it appears this book does -- that the reason is based on your hyper-attraction to the opposite sex (if I'm reading the comments above correctly) or that insight into your experience can be gleaned from interviews with former hookers is painful beyond some people's comprehension.

But didn't you just glean that insight about my experience from a single sentence? Don't you realize that pained me more than you can possibly understand?
8.22.2007 1:56am
Jay Myers:
But if being in the "wrong" body is so disturbing for someone who is transgendered, then maybe Barres' writing really did improve after the surgery? Mood has a major impact on one's memory and ability to think and concentrate. All of those are factors in the quality of academic work and writing.

Then again, maybe it's just a hormonal thing and Barres' work improved due to no longer being an emotionally flighty female. This is just a single anecdote and more research is needed.
8.22.2007 2:08am
Randy R. (mail):
Jay, I think the problem is that in your original post, you were quite sarcastic.

"That sounds like further evidence that they are mentally unstable at best and probably mentally ill. Someone should do some research to find out if that is indeed the case. Wait, someone already did. That's why we're having this discussion."

Furthermore, your comment that this is 'further evidence' implies that you have concluded that all transgendered people are mentally ill. Combining that with your sarcastic comments can be considered crossing the line and going into terroritory that some call Bigotland. Or at least JerkCity.

And if I needed further proof, you certainly gave it to us: "Furthermore, sanity is proper adjustment to reality. If one's adjustment is faulty then proper mental hygene is to correct one's relation to reality, not change reality to fit one's pathologies."

This clearly shows you know nothing about transgendered people, or indeed even mental illness. Years ago, the reality was that gay people were considered mentally ill and can't fit in to society. The 'reality' then would be to change one's sexual orientation to fit society. But as we now know, it is far better for gay people to accept their sexuality than to try to fight it to fit into whatever reality someone thinks is better.

And your own thesis is undercut by this statement: "But if being in the "wrong" body is so disturbing for someone who is transgendered, then maybe Barres' writing really did improve after the surgery?" Yes, of course. Perhaps Barre was unhappy in the former gender, and better off in the newer one. So what's the problem?

Not all transgendered people are mentally ill, although some are. But most are not. And for the ones that are mentally ill, if changing their gender helps them along, why would you have a problem with that?

If you really think that all transgendered people are mentally ill, then what would you propose as a treatment? And what do you hypothesize is the cause? And do you even care?
8.22.2007 3:06am
don kimberlin (mail):

In the area of transgenderism, people whose "feelings are hurt" by false and irresponsible treatment commit suicide at a rate several times higher than the general population.


Furthermore, your comment that this is 'further evidence' implies that you have concluded that all transgendered people are mentally ill.

the obvious conclusion is only that transgendered people are several times more likely to be mentally ill than the general population. given 20% for the general population (the Epidemiologic Catchment Area (ECA) study of the early 1980s and the National Comorbidity Survey (NCS) of the early 1990s), that would imply most of the transgendered are mentally ill, but not necessarily all
8.22.2007 6:59am