Can Professors Say the Truth? (part 1)

Kaiping Peng, a friend of mine who is a professor at Berkeley, recently said to me that professors have an unusual place in our society: They are expected to tell the truth. Hardly anyone else is, he said. But what happens when they do?

The most impressive professorial truth-telling in my lifetime has been The Man Who Would Be Queen (2003) by Michael Bailey, a professor of psychology at Northwestern. It’s mainly about male homosexuals but it also discusses male-to-female transsexuals, not all of whom are homosexual. The “controversy” — actually a defamation campaign — after its publication is described in an excellent new article by Alice Dreger, another Northwestern faculty member.

The serious truth-telling in the book is in the chapters about transsexuals, in which Bailey brought into public view the ideas of Ray Blanchard, a Toronto researcher. Blanchard had proposed that there are two types of transsexuals: homosexual and autogynephilic — in other words, that all or almost all transsexuals fall into one of these two categories. I’m going to call them Type 1 (homosexual) and Type 2 (autogynephilic). Both are men who become women or who want to become women; but they are otherwise quite different. There are many surface differences — so many that it is no surprise that, as Bailey says, the two types almost never mix socially. Type 1 appear far more like other women than Type 2, who sometimes resemble men wearing dresses. As children, Type 1 acted feminine; Type 2 did not. Type 1 often work in occupations full of women, such as beautician and hairstylist; Type 2 usually work in male-dominated professions, such as policeman, truck driver, scientist, engineer, and computer programmer. Type 1 usually start living as a female before age 25; Type 2 usually start much later, after age 40. Type 2 have usually been married (to a woman); Type 1 have not.

Blanchard proposed that these surface differences derive from a difference in motivation. Type 1 transsexuals are sexually attracted to men; changing their sex will help them attract men. (They prefer straight men to homosexual men.) Type 2 transsexuals are sexually aroused by thinking of themselves as a woman; this is why they seek sex-change surgery.

Blanchard’s typology, well-known to sex researchers, had not reached the public when Bailey’s book was published. “When I have tried to educate journalists who have called me as an expert on transsexualism, they have reacted uncomfortably,” wrote Bailey. “One said: “We can’t put that in a family newspaper.”

6 Replies to “Can Professors Say the Truth? (part 1)”

  1. Because of what followed the book’s publication: an attack against Bailey worse than any I have seen against any other professor. This is described in Dreger’s paper. I don’t mean that Bailey anticipated the size of what would happen — it’s hard to anticipate something that’s never happened before. I mean that he knew that what he was writing would upset many people, including powerful people, and he did so without having other powerful people on his side.

  2. Academic, or for that matter, semi- or non-acedemic furor, is no indicator of the truth of any thesis. Nor is it a refutation.

    In fairness to Raymond Blanchard, his theories should be discussed as being possible. As should others. I don’t see any more scientific refutation anywhere than “If you don’t believe my theory, you are deluded…or unethical…or just need to be spanked!!!”

    To erase the voices of people who have lived through a transgender/transsexual experience simply by saying, “Well, they are just wrong, either lying or deluded” cuts off scientific inquiry then and there. That is a fair charge.

    I say that for both sides, and I do mean Profs. McCloskey, Conway, as well as Andrea James (who is not a professor*), not to say Michael Bailey, Anne Lawrence, Alice Dreger, or any other of his supporters as well. I am unimpressed with any shrillness on anyone’s part. Keep it calm, and academically detached.

    Keep it tabula rasa, too. There are many who argue transsexualism is not a mental disorder, but a state of being. Transsexuals want to choose how they deal with it, and if surgery is part of that, they should have enough control over their own lives and destinies to opt for that.

    That is not examined in the BBL typologies. It’s already assumed to be false. It’s true that no science is impartial; as long as humans conduct it, there will be biases. Part of the process of giving research out is to examine those biases (from the standpoint of our own biases, observes a skeptic)

    Blanchard’s theories need to be examined without the escape clause. There may well be autogynephiliac transsexuals and homosexual transsexuals in the world. There may well be others typologies, however, has anyone examined what the causations of autogynephilia might be…or if it is a manifestation of something else?

    Does autogynephilia show up in people who are not transsexual?

    How about following through on the lives of transsexuals who do transition, versus those who may be convinced to live as gay men, if there are such people?

    Do the autogynephiles and homosexual transsexuals who transition lead happy lives…, or can they lead happy lives, especially if the public someday is conditioned to accept them as any other citizen. A huge question. I would ask a great many transsexuals some very detailed questions about that, and replicate the studies, before answering.

    All this said, I applaud Alice Dreger for pointing out that “attack academics” are deplorable. I would add “regardless of the theory involved.” Questioning is par for the course. Ethical questioning, btw, is also, but it involves a process that does not start out with a conclusion. Alice Dreger is right in pointing that out.

    *nor am I, for that matter.

  3. Too bad you don’t understand it from a trans perspective. You should really do a little more research before you blast those that are most affected by his “scientific” (snicker snicker) inquiry.

Comments are closed.