Viewpoint: Why the Bailey Controversy Is Important

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #104, Winter 2004.

In 1979, Boston?s Beacon Press published Janice J. Raymond?s pseudoscientific polemic The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male. Based on her Ph.D. thesis at Boston College, Raymond argued that male-to-female transsexuals (or, in her terminology, ?male-to-constructed females?), are tools of a patriarchal medical system, designed to make women obsolete.

Raymond?s book appeared in the same year as a methodologically flawed and almost certainly fraudulent study by Jon Meyer and Donna Reter of Johns Hopkins University, published in the professional journal Archives of General Psychiatry. Together, these two publications?one a 200-page political manifesto masquerading as science, and one a six-page politically-motivated article which also masqueraded as science, dealt American transsexuals a blow from which they are only now recovering.
How could that be?

We?ve told the story of Meyer & Reter before (Transgender Tapestry #100, p. 31), but here?s the brief version?The study was engineered by psychiatrist Paul McHugh, who has since written that he accepted the position of Chair of the Psychiatry Department at Hopkins in part to shut down Hopkins? gender clinic. By manufacturing data that supported McHugh?s political ends, Meyer & Reter concluded that there was ?no objective advantage? to male-to-female sex reassignment surgery.

However fraudulent Meyer & Reter?s study may have been, it had the desired effect. Within months, the Hopkins clinic closed. Within two years, most of the more than 40 gender programs in the United States had closed, as a direct result of the study.

Meyer held a press conference, presumably with McHugh?s help, ensuring that every newspaper and news and issues-oriented magazine in the U.S. announced that sex reassignment surgery just did not work. Consequently, for more than ten years most helping professionals in the U.S. believed sex reassignment was an ineffective and dangerous treatment.

Raymond?s manifesto was supposedly based on her study of a small number of transsexuals, but Angela Douglas has claimed all the quotes of Raymond?s ?subjects? were extracted from a letter Douglas had sent her. In other words, it is entirely possible that Raymond may have had no subjects, may have done no ?study.? To our knowledge, Raymond has never been challenged to show her data.

Empire?s facade as a work of science gave it additional clout. It was enormously influential with radical feminists and in the emerging field of queer studies. It resulted in the expulsion of unknown numbers of transsexuals from social and political organizations, the most notable case being the removal of Sandy Stone from the Olivia music group.

Raymond had considerably more energy than Meyer and McHugh. She traveled the country denouncing transsexuals (and was still at it in 1994, when she managed to get Empire reissued by Teacher?s College Press). Her lobbying
of the National Center for Health Care Technology and other agencies ensured that no federal policies would be favorable to transsexuals and no public monies would be available for research on transsexualism, and her arguments that transsexualism is a social and legal issue and not a medical one influenced the insurance industry to deny medical coverage for all treatments related to transsexualism.
In both the Raymond and Meyer & Reter cases, much political hay was made?and the vehicles which allowed them to do so much harm to transsexuals were respected and respectable publishers who, for one reason or another, uncritically published their inferior and politically motivated work.
Which brings us to J. Michael Bailey, whose The Man Who Would be Queen was published by the National Academies of Sciences.

Instead of portraying transsexuals as dupes, as did Raymond, Bailey calls us sexual deviates. Worse, he promotes a theory that allows male-to-female transsexuals no defense?if we say we aren?t autogynephilic, we are at best in denial and at worst lying.

Bailey is but one arm of a latter-day attack on transsexualism. The other arm is the researchers of autogynephilia, who are motivated to interpret, and have interpreted, their data in political ways?they use transsexuals as pawns as they attempt to develop theories of human sexual behavior, change transsexualism from a gender identity disorder to a paraphilia (the new word for sexual perversion) in the DSM, or justify their personal experiences.

If successful, they, and Bailey, will change transsexualism, in the eyes of the public and in the eyes of professionals, from a quest for ego-consonant gender to a perverse erotic desire to have the body parts or social role of the other gender.

If and when this happens, there will be no possible basis for civil rights protections for transsexuals, and the door will be opened for reparative therapists to ?cure? us all of what will have become our sickness.

In 1979, transsexuals and other transgendered people were isolated. There was no transgender community, no way to mount an attack on the lies and inaccuracies of Janice Raymond and Jon Meyer. Except for reviews in the photocopied newsletters of the day (which were not read outside the immediate circle of transgendered subscribers), and the
occasional letter to the editor of more mainstream publications, there was no response to an attack that closed gender clinics, made transsexuals persona non grata in the gay and lesbian community, and cost us our medical coverage. Today, there is a community and the means for organized opposition. The political stakes are enormous.

J. Michael Bailey is, for the moment, at least, on point, a visible and vulnerable target. What will happen, will happen.

For more on Bailey and autogynephilia, read on. For a contrasting viewpoint, see IFGE Board Chair Hawk Stone?s column on page 5. ?Ed.