Investigative journal article examines Michael Bailey controversy

Michael Bailey of Northwestern University is one of the key sexuality researchers of the last 20 years. Since publication, his book The Man Who Would Be Queen has been at the center of controversy. Specific allegations of personal and research impropriety have been leveled against Dr. Bailey, all of which he has denied.

The upcoming Archives of Sexual Behavior will feature a lengthy investigative report by Alice Dreger exploring the controvery and allegations. The New York Times plans a story regarding the matter, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. I will post a link when it is published.

Here is the abstract:

In 2003, psychology professor and sex researcher J. Michael Bailey published a book entitled The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism. The book’s portrayal of male-to-female (MTF) transsexualism, based on a theory developed by sexologist Ray Blanchard, outraged some transgender activists. They believed the book to be typical of much of the biomedical literature on transsexuality—oppressive in both tone and claims, insulting to their senses of self, and damaging to their public identities. Some saw the book as especially dangerous because it claimed to be based on rigorous science, was published by an imprint of the National Academies of Science, and argued that MTF sex changes are motivated primarily by erotic interests and not by the problem of having the gender identity common to one sex in the body of the other. Dissatisfied with the option of merely criticizing the book, a small number of transwomen (particularly Lynn Conway, Andrea James, and Deirdre McCloskey) worked to try to ruin Bailey. Using published and unpublished sources as well as original interviews, this essay traces the history of the backlash against Bailey and his book. It also provides a thorough exegesis of the book’s treatment of transsexuality and includes a comprehensive investigation of the merits of the charges made against Bailey that he had behaved unethically, immorally, and illegally in the production of his book. The essay closes with an epilogue that explores what has happened since 2003 to the central ideas and major players in the controversy.

Two more excerpts of interest to readers here:

Notably, because it is often scientifically and politically atypical in its claims, Bailey’s work seems particularly inclined to create critics and allies on all sides; so, for example, we’ve seen how he was criticized and praised in both the left-wing and rightwing media. And we find the anti-gay National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) trying, largely through highly selective quotation, to use Bailey’s words on homosexuality to defend their homophobic policies (see, e.g., Byrd, 2006) even while Bailey has been reasonably positioned to debate against NARTH representatives on a Catholic radio program and in academic conferences on homosexuality. (pg. 51)

One of those conferences, I attended and reported on here. And I can relate to this passage:

And Bailey? Undaunted, he plugs ahead, working on more sexual-orientation studies—studies likely to keep angering people on both the right and the left who wish his work fell simply into one of the politicized scientific boxes on which they insist.

The article quite long (62 pages with references) but if you have followed this saga at all or are interested in the human side of research, this is a worthwhile read. Consider this post a kind of open forum, but any allegations or other claims about the players or situation must be backed up with references.

UPDATE: 8/21/07 – Here is Benedict Carey’s New York Times article regarding the controversy.