Transsexuality Treatise Triggers Furor

Original link from the publication of The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS):

http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2003/718/2

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.

Controversial. The cover of Bailey's book.

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."

--CONSTANCE HOLDEN

See also Lynn Conway's information about this article and the larger issues:

http://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/TS/Bailey/ScienceArticles-7-03.html

Below is a letter from Christine Burns at Press for Change UK in response to Ms. Holden's use of "male transsexuals" in the article. Professor Lynn Conway had also written to express concern.

Dear Constance
 
I'm glad that Lynn [Conway] has mentioned the very important subject of appropriate language, among the other items she has raised with you, and I thought it would be helpful if I amplified Lynn's point with a published article of mine on the topic. See "Why Phrasebook Diversity is Not Enough", attached. The article not only covers the issue of using adjectives as nouns, but also explains how and why trans people have sought to introduce new terminolgy .. much as Gay people set out to do more than thirty years ago. There are also parallels, of course, with why we no longer refer to "blacks" and request that people refrain from calling adult women "girls".
 
In fairness I will say that different people have different preferences for which adjectives to use, and you will notice that I myself tend to start any article for the general public with the adjective "transsexual" and then move on to use the more modern term "trans". I tend to shy away from using "transgender" simply because there are so many interpretations of what it means, and in some places it has unfortunately come to be regarded as a sort of second class "transsexual". (See http://www.pfc.org.uk/campaign/pfcissue.htm for a more comprehensive discussion). I'm also a pragmatist, so I understand that some people like to walk before they try to run. Getting people to remember the adjective rule is a greater priority than insisting on which adjective they then use! For this reason, I and my colleagues have understood the UK Government's wish to stick with "transsexual people" for now, and to wait for "trans people" to gain currency (see below). On the other hand words only gain currency because people DO start using them and I've not yet met anyone who fails to understand what "trans" means when I pepper my writing and speeches with it. You'll also find that "trans" is far less of a mouthful to pronounce!
 
I mentioned Her Majesty's Government because it is worth noting that it is now official Whitehall policy to refer to us as "transsexual people".
 
See "Terminology" at http://www.lcd.gov.uk/constitution/transsex/policy.htm
 
This was also echoed in a Commons Written Answer by the Minister with responsibility for trans people's issues, Rosie Winterton :
 
From Hansard, the official record of Parliament:

22/10/02 Commons written answers
Lynne Jones: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if she will make it her policy to refer to transsexual people rather than transsexuals in Government documents and in material that will form parliamentary records. [75744]

Ms Rosie Winterton: My Department has already adopted this convention. In so far as I am able to ensure this, all official documents published in the future on this subject should refer to transsexual people or transsexual persons, rather than transsexuals.

This all reflects a simple fact that people in an increasingly multicultural and Diverse country like the UK are waking up to recognise that the principle of respect for other people is indivisible. There are no exceptions. Referring to people in ways they feel comfortable with is simply an extension of good manners and a recognition of the fact that none of us can know what it is like to be someone else, and to feel what they feel.
 
Unfortunately, Professor Bailey seems to think that wrapping oneself in the respectable cloak of "science" provides some form of exemption from a rule that civilised people consider quite reasonable.
 
Kindest regards
 
Christine Burns