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Transsexuality Treatise Triggers Furor

18 July 2003 (All day)
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Flying solo. Four of the newly discovered intergalactic clusters (in boxes).

Northwestern University psychologist J. Michael Bailey has stirred up a hornet's nest that is refusing to calm down. His book about male transsexuals, The Man Who Would Be Queen, has provoked furious reactions for its dismissal of an accepted theory of transsexuality. And this month, two women Bailey interviewed for the book have filed complaints with the university, claiming he did not properly inform them of their status as research subjects.

The uproar began this spring after the publication of Bailey's book, much of which is based on interviews with male-to-female transsexuals he met in Chicago bars. Although the book has been praised by many, especially evolutionary psychologists, transsexuals have been up in arms, calling it "hateful" and "junk science." They object to Bailey's categorization of two types of transsexuals: homosexuals so effeminate they want to be women, and "autogynephilic" males who are erotically stimulated by seeing themselves as women. Many transsexuals regard this as demeaning and dismissive of their claim that they are women trapped in men's bodies.

Bailey has many friends among transsexuals and has written letters for some recommending them for sex reassignment surgery. Nonetheless, says Stanford University neurobiologist Ben Barres, a transsexual, "This is one of the most unsympathetic portrayals of transsexuality ever written." Earlier this month, a transsexual named Anjelika Kieltyka, who had been interviewed by Bailey, complained to the university that he never told her that their conversations were part of his research. So did another woman who has remained anonymous. Northwestern says the complaints will be looked into.

Academics have taken action as well. Joan Roughgarden, a transsexual biologist also at Stanford, has called on the publisher, the Joseph Henry Press--an imprint of the National Academy of Sciences--to disown the book. The editors last month issued a statement saying that reviewers found the book "a well-crafted and responsible work on a difficult topic" but acknowledging that the controversy took them by surprise. Last week, five academic transsexuals wrote a public letter to the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, urging it to get involved in the cause.

Bailey, who had been talking freely to the press, has now clammed up on the advice of a lawyer. Last month, however, he told the Chronicle of Higher Education that he is "very pro-gay," but "I can't be a slave to sensitivity."

Related sites
Read the book online
Lynn Conway's site about the book
Statement by Joseph Henry Press executive editor Steven Mautner
Categorically wrong, another Web site about the book