My Beautiful Wickedness

More bad science
August 22, 2007, 9:41 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Here’s a NYT report on the work of Dr. Bailey concerning the motivations of men who transgender to women. One of the reasons that I’m blogging about it is that features a quote and a picture from a former professor of mine who made quite an impact (though I’m sure she’d be hard-pressed to see it in my academic writing) on the way I think.

Not I have not read the research in question. Neither have I read the criticisms of the work. I haven’t delved into the charges of dubious ethics. So how can I conclude that the work is “bad,” you might ask?

Here’s the thing. Say you have a guy named Bob who throws a lot of rocks at a can. You ask Bob “why do you do that?” and Bob says “well, I like it.” You push him to explain why. He might add “I really enjoy the whole process. I like going down to the water’s edge and getting the pebbles because it’s really quiet in the morning. And I like walking out to the meadow with the pocketful of rocks sagging down because I like startling the ground birds before the dew has dried. They sound like angels rising up. And I really like the way that the sunlight strikes the can. I get into a sort of rhythm, you know, where I roll the dry gravel between my fingers and squint a little, and then I calm my breathing down and stand real firm down in the earth and I draw my arm back and let that rock fly and when it hits that can, it makes a sound like a bell. Yeah, I like that too. It’s my time to get right with the world before the day really begins, sort of a way to get holy, you know? I don’t know why I like it — I was just born this way.” And in your fancy scientific article, you conclude that “Subject B. is an asocial schizophrenic manifesting longstanding obsessive-compulsive tendencies involving repetitive and meaningless activities.” well…that would be bad science too, in my book.

Bailey fixated on what he heard as the erotic fantasy life of men who just somehow got carried away — a kink that got out of hand. However, to the transgendered women I’ve known, the utter liberation and rightness they feel when they at last start to present themselves as the women they feel that they were born to be…well, hell yes, there’s an erotics to living in one’s “right body” if you’re healthily sexually aware. But there’s also a lot of other stuff that comes with the transitional experience that is not primarily psycho-sexual at all.

Psychologists and psychiatrists ignore women’s testimony about their own experience. While gender dysphoria is not a disability (or, I’d argue, a mental illness despite the way that US mental health personnel continue to pathologize those
who want to transgender), the phenomenon of disregarding the subject’s own knowledge of the condition and substituting one’s own projections/diagnosis seems to me to be insufferable and harmful.

Men who transgender to women often get a lot of shit from feminists about “yeah, you took all the white male privilege you could get, big boy, and now you want to join the sisterhood now that you’ve got your very fancy job and your excellent health insurance to pay for the surgery? Go play dress-up somewhere else.” And they also sometimes worry about issues of convincing self-presentation and gender performance. Well, as articles like this make clear, when it comes to being the subjects of medical research that ignores your testimony and pathologizes your aspirations, ladies, you’re really one of the girls.


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So, if I’m getting this correctly, Dr. Dreger is arguing that since Dr. Bailey presented unscientific anecdotal evidence to support his hypothesis that it isn’t really “scientific” evidence and therefore cannot be criticized as being “bad research” because it wasn’t research at all? I guess when my students present me with unfounded assertions in their papers I shouldn’t take points away because, since they didn’t do any research, they cannot be held accountable for their assertions?

Am I alone in finding this conclusion a bit weird?

I suppose that to be fair for other readers I should disclose that:

a) I’ve not read the research either


b) As a former grad student of Dee McCloskey’s, who got to see up close and personal some of the price she paid for being transgendered, this is a hot-button issue for me. The idea that she suffered that level of pain and personal loss for an “erotic fixation” seems insulting at best – to her and to others.

Frankly, since anecdotal evidence has been ruled into court by the esteemed Dr. Dreger (or has it? I’m still confused), I just do not see this. The Dierdre McCloskey I knew was so much more comfortable being herself than Don McCloskey ever was being himself that I cannot credit the idea that this isn’t about a fundamental issue of identity.

Comment by Gerald

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