Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Woman Who Would Be Scribe

I was recently alerted to a blog post entitled "Academic intolerance." He discusses an article written by Alice Dreger entitled "The Controversy Surrounding The Man Who Would Be Queen: A Case History of the Politics of Science, Identity, and Sex in the Internet Age." It will be published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Digging into her article, she says:

"I also believe that a scholarly history of this controversy is critically necessary to advancing both transgender rights and sexology, two things about which I care deeply."
I asked a friend of mine what exactly a "scholarly history" is. She said:
"It means a thorough research of the field, including review of the work of other scholars who have written accounts of the same history. "
Looking further, I found this definition:
Scholarly history, in contrast, seeks to discover new knowledge or to reinterpret existing knowledge. Good scholars wish to write clearly and simply, and they may spin a compelling yarn, but they do not shun depth, analysis, complexity, or qualification. Scholarly history draws on as many primary sources as practical.
And weave a yarn she does! The thread of the history she writes about is firestorm that followed the release of J. Michael Bailey's now infamous book, "The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism."

The main characters in her "yarn" are Andrea James of TS Roadmap/Deep Stealth Productions, Lynn Conway, and J. Michael Bailey. She sets the scene in the abstract from the article:
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,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.

In my previous post, I've already explained my feelings on Andrea James and J. Michael Bailey. Obviously, I'm not a fan of either one of their "theories." But it's obvious who the main character in this tale is. Early on in the essay Dreger sets her sights on Andrea James.
"Most interestingly to me, a surprisingly large number of transgender women wrote to tell me that they had been harassed and threatened by James for daring to speak anything other than the standard “I’m a woman trapped in a man’s body” story.

Almost universally those who wrote to me—including sex researchers—asked that I not ever quote them or mention them by name. They feared being attacked by James, as Bailey and others had been.

When I posted my blog, I made a point of emailing James to tell her about it and to ask her to stop undermining progress in transgender rights with her incontinent attacks (p.e.c., May 16, 2006). She was none too pleased and sent me back a series of hostile emails, including one referring to my five-year-old son as my “precious womb turd” (p.e.c., June 1, 2006). She also came to my departmental office (I was not there) and then emailed me, subject line “Mommy Knows Best,” saying, “Sorry I missed you the other day. Your colleagues seem quite affable, and not as fearful as you. […] Bad move, Mommy. […] We’ll chat in person soon” (p.e.c., May 27, 2006). At that point, concerned for my son and office colleagues, I forwarded the whole of the communications to my dean, who put me in touch with university counsel, who—given James’s threatening tone and her history—recommended I alert campus police. I told the police I was not aware of James ever having been physically violent; she seems simply to harass and intimidate.
Does this sound like anything "scholarly" to you? Honestly, it sounds like a "he said, she said" argument you'd hear in a in divorce court, not a scholarly journal.

Interestingly, later in the essay she says:
When I decided to undertake this work, I felt sure Conway would talk to me because she had spent so much energy on Bailey and his book and
because we had had a cordial history. In addition to our positive fundraiser-donor relationship through ISNA, we had over the years also touched base about parallel efforts at our universities (Michigan State University and the University of Michigan) to ensure that our institutions’ anti-discrimination policies adequately protected transgender people. Several years ago, Conway also very kindly at my request came to my home to provide one-on-one peer support for a colleague of mine who was considering sex reassignment. (I made them lunch and then left them alone at my house to talk.) When she did not answer my numerous emails about this project, I sent letters to her office and home. Still I heard nothing, although I knew from new posts at her website that she was still interested in Bailey’s doings. So I tried calling her at work, but her department told me she is now a professor emerita and no longer maintains a phone there. Consequently on August 16, 2006, I called her at home, because I wanted to be sure she had a chance to represent herself beyond the published record. I finally reached Conway that way and we had a phone call that lasted about a minute. She surprised me by being extremely hostile at the outset. She also would not answer my simple question about whether she was willing to speak to me on the record. This confused me—why would she not just tell me whether or not she wanted to speak on the record?—and I said as much. She responded that it was very strange that I would call her at home. I told her how many other ways I had tried to reach her with no response before finally calling her home. She then said that I was stalking her and added that she would circulate this fact widely. Since it was at that point clear she didn’t want to speak to me, and since I was afraid of being accused of stalking, I said goodbye and gave up.

Isn't it ironic how she can worry about Andrea James attacking her on one end then turn around and do essentially do the same thing to Lynn Conway and think that it's fine?

Of Lynn Conway she says:
In keeping with Conway’s simplistic “good versus evil” account of the book and backlash—wherein all true transwomen are non- and anti-autogynephilic (i.e., good) and all pro-autogynephilia researchers are antitrans (i.e., evil)
Apparently the author can see this behavior in others , but can't see it in herself. She portrays J. Michael Bailey as simply an innocent victim of evil trannies run wild.

In a very legalistic manner she tries to remove the stain on Bailey's record by claiming no laws were broken. But ethics and laws are two totally different animals. She dismisses Bailey SRS "support" letters because he was not paid for them. It's not illegal in the state of Illinois unless you're paid.
"As a side point, let me just note the irony in Conway’s, James’s, and McCloskey’s trying to use Bailey’s SRS-support letters against him. It certainly appears from this vantage that, in answering Kieltyka’s call for help for her marginalized transwomen friends by providing letters in support of their requests for SRS—free of charge and without any requirement of a lengthy and costly 'therapeutic' relationship—Bailey was helping to reduce the barriers to transition for a small number of transwomen, the very barriers about which people such as Conway, James, and McCloskey have complained"
It may not be illegal, but providing an SRS letter, which is part of the standards of care that most surgeons require, without ANY "therapeutic relationship" is highly unethical.

I've heard a rumor (that I've yet been able to confirm) that the author of this "essay" was paid by Northwestern University to produce this. If true, one has to wonder why this essay was commissioned in the first place.

Regardless, this essay seems about as scholarly as Perez Hiltion's website. The only thing that is missing is a defaced picture of Lynn Conway and Andrea James.

cross posted from


helen_boyd said...

What confounds me is why anyone would do research on a group of people they show so much hostility & condsescension toward.

Marti said...

It's made him famous. He couldn't buy this kind of press. He's had three of these types of headlines. The xtian right/Exodus International have got to absolutely adore him.

Betty said...

And.... the New York Times weighs in.

helen_boyd said...

my comments on the NYT piece