The NY Times reported on a story dating back to the end of 2002 when Northwestern's psychology department chair, J. Michael Bailey, published The Man Who Would Be Queen. I haven't read the book and my local Border's was sold out, so I've ordered a copy. My comments below are offered tentatively, based upon what I've picked up in the past few years in the press. After I' read the book, I'll repost on any of the material details I may have gotten wrong.
From what I've gathered through a number of articles in the local press, Bailey argued that there are two types of male-born transgendered persons. The first type, which includes most males who seek gender reassignment surgery, are men who have felt like girls and women for most or all of their lives. They are typically more feminine in manner and seek sexual reassignment early in life. Bailey contends that a second, much smaller group, identify as heterosexual males for most of their adult lives. Quite often, these men marry, raise families and are even regarded by their peers as very masculine men.
Bailey says that this smaller subset of transgendered persons find the idea of having their own female genitals sexually exciting, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as autogynephilia. According to Bailey, autogynephilia distinguishes the motivation of these later-in-life transgendered men from the larger group of male-born transgendered persons who have always identified as women.
Bailey has suggested that autogynephilia represents a reparative effort to address narcissistic injury by making the object of erotic love part of oneself. That may sound wacky to some people, but I have seen heterosexual men who report this experience as a sexual fantasy that seems to appear during prolonged periods of narcissistic deflation, only to disappear entirely during periods when they are more narcissistically intact and stable. I have no idea if Bailey is right about autogynephilia applying to the motivation of a significant number of transgendered persons, but I have little doubt about his formulation being rooted in psychological phenomena that real people report.
In preparing his book, Bailey and his students went to clubs in Chicago (Crobar) where they cultivated ongoing contacts with transgendered persons, some of whom later complained that they had been duped by Bailey into serving as research subjects without proper consent. Bailey used material from their personal communications to support the arguments put forward in his book. Not only do the subjects claim to have been duped, but some vehemently deny that there is any basis for Bailey's conclusions, although there are transgendered persons who acknowledge that autogynephilia is real (e.g. Willow Arune) and that it motivated them to seek sexual reassignment.
Bailey's suggestion that narcissistic injury may underlie some men's desire to have a vagina triggered an avalanche of criticism that is briefly recounted in the Times article. Attacks that began outside the university with transgendered persons who are not psychological researchers, quickly escalated and led to attacks from within the sex-researcher world. Under intense pressure, Northwestern conducted its own investigation into Bailey's research bringing his lab's work to a halt for the better part of a year. Eventually, Bailey stepped down as chair of the psychology department, even though the university's investigation revealed no wrongdoing on Bailey's part.
One Bailey critic, identified as Evanston (Illinois) psychologist Randi Ettner, was quoted in a piece in the Chicago Reader: "Bailey's book has 'had a crushing effect on the transgender community and the research on transgender issues. Transsexuals are so stigmatized and so misunderstood and so shamed. These are people who society has a lot of prejudice against to begin with, and this man from a major university is saying that they're basically just fetishists. That's very damaging.""
The problem with this criticism is twofold: first, Bailey did not say that transsexuals are "just" fetishists. If I understand his position correctly, Bailey believes that a small subset of transgendered persons could be considered fetishists. Whether or not it is crushing to hear this has nothing to do with whether Bailey is correct. Bailey's research methods and analysis may be of poor quality and, if that's the case, his work should be reviewed and criticized based on the merits. To be fair to Ettner, the larger context for Ettner's comment was not made explicit in the Reader article. If Ettner criticized Bailey's methodology and inferences on scientific grounds, it would not be out of line, in my view, to say that not only did Bailey get it wrong, but he hurt many people in the process of getting it wrong.
Both the researcher's motives and the quality of the work do matter. Duping research subjects in ways that can leave them feeling abused is also a serious problem. One reviewer of Bailey's work, Dr. Alice Dreger, concluded that it wasn't a problem in Bailey's work because the subjects weren't really research subjects. Their stories fell into the category of personal anecdote. I would hold psychologists to a higher standard than Dr. Dreger holds us. Persons should not be seduced into a sense of personal friendship and later surprised by how the friendship was exploited in a publication. If this is what Bailey did, I'd be very troubled by his actions.
Aside from these concerns, my sense of the underlying reason for the attacks on Bailey is his provocative suggestion that narcissistic pathology motivates some who seek reassignment surgery. Had Bailey offered an analysis more palatable to transgender activists, I doubt there would have been so much criticism of his work. I can't prove that, but that's my strong suspicion.
The politics of gender and sexuality has, lamentably, turned the subject area into a political minefield and some may see the Bailey brouhahah as a simple case of liberalism and political correctness gone wild. Perhaps there is merit in the complaint, but I am also acutely aware that liberals did not start this fight. For years, persons who did not fit the married heterosexual or unmarried/chaste mold were mercilessly persecuted by conservative, populist and religious elements in our society. While forces of political correctness are all too ready to bury honest discussion and smear decent people who dare to defy their franchise rights over the field of human sexuality, that franchise arose from the experience of disenfranchisement. This doesn't justify the persecution of academics who fail to toe the liberal line, but it is disingenuous to fail to see that conservatives have had no small hand in creating a political mess that taints the discussion of sexuality in academic circles.
Although some conservatives portray the problem as one that is caused exclusively by liberal biases in the academy, the problem shouldn't be seen as merely one of political left versus right. It is a problem of destructive motives that sometimes animate inquiry and sometimes animate criticism of certain lines of inquiry. Badly motivated persons are always ready to attack discovery and sink honest well-motivated exploration and inquiry. There is nothing new about that. Persons on both the left and the right frequently criticize academics for reasons that are largely political.
Likewise, not all academics are innocent explorers and discoverers. Many of us can cite examples of badly motivated inquiry that we might criticize. When I think about the outcry against Ward Churchill, the criticism came chiefly from those who don't think of themselves as advocates for political correctness. The positions espoused by Churchill struck some people as so politically and morally reprehensible that they mounted an all-out, ultimately successful, campaign to get Churchill fired from his university position. Valid grounds (research misconduct) were developed for firing Churchill who may well have deserved to lose his job on those grounds, but from the beginning, at least in the public sphere, the motivation was political — as it seems to have been with Bailey.