The Storied Past Of Northwestern's Sex Professor

Northwestern prof J. Michael Bailey drew fire this week for treating students to a live demonstration of a "fucksaw." But that little how-to wasn't Bailey's first brush with infamy.

As The Daily Beast pointed out, his 2003 book The Man Who Would Be Queen drew criticism for its assertion that being transgender was often a sexual fetish rather than a true gender identification. His notoriety faded somewhat in the interim, but a 2003 profile in the Chronicle of Higher Education yields up some pretty bizarre tidbits. Here's Chronicle writer Robin Wilson's precis of Bailey's theory on trans women:

In fact, writes Mr. Bailey, some gay men are so feminine that they want to become women. He calls men who have sex changes for that reason "homosexual transsexuals." These people are typically very sexy and convincing as women, as well as extremely likely to work as escorts, or as waitresses, receptionists, and manicurists, he writes. They have trouble settling down with a mate because, like gay men, he says, they enjoy casual sex with several partners.

The other type of transsexual is completely different, asserts Mr. Bailey. These men who want to become women were not particularly feminine as little boys and aren't particularly female-looking after a sex change. [...] Using categories defined in work by other sex researchers, Mr. Bailey labels this type of transsexual "autogynephilic," which means they are sexually stimulated by the act of making their male bodies female.

So basically, trans women don't actually have female gender identity — in Wilson's words, they "are either extremely gay or are sexual fetishists." Bailey knew this might piss people off, but he didn't care:

Mr. Bailey realizes that most transsexuals won't like his characterization. In fact, he says, some are so unwilling to face their motivations that they "lie," falling back instead on the more accepted "I'm a woman in a man's body" narrative. But, he says, their protests don't negate his theory.

Also, he totally had trans friends:

He doesn't mind exposing what he considers sexual myths, no matter how much the results might offend people. And he argues that he is "very pro gay," while acknowledging that "the research I do isn't." While he counts female transsexuals among his friends, he says some "have their feelings hurt" when he contends their sex changes were motivated by erotic fantasies, not gender-identity problems. But he adds, "I can't be a slave to sensitivity."

Clearly not. Bailey apparently also had some insights into what kind of jobs gay people liked, and what toys they played with as children:

Gay men have more feminine traits than straight men, he writes, including their interests in fashion and show tunes and their choice of occupations, including florist, waiter, and hair stylist. If a man is feminine, says Mr. Bailey, it is a key sign that he is gay. And if a man is gay, Mr. Bailey says he can tell a lot about what that man's childhood was like. He "played with dolls and loathed football" and "his best friends were girls," he writes in the book.

One anecdote suggests he may have cultivated an image as a transgressive figure long before the fucksaw demo:

He recalls one time in 1995 when he took students to a gay bar called Vortex, where he was doing research. He was interested in drag queens, surmising that they were a link between gay men and transsexuals. "There was gay porn on video monitors, and here I was with these 21-year-old sorority girls," he recalls.

Interestingly, Bailey also made headlines in 2005, when he was the lead author on a study measuring men's physical arousal in response to images of men and women. The study made it to the Times, which described its findings thus: "The psychologists found that men who identified themselves as bisexual were in fact exclusively aroused by either one sex or the other, usually by other men." The headline: "Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited."

In fact, "lying" appears to be something of a theme for Bailey. In a 2003 interview with Texas radio station KOOP-FM (transcribed, I should note, by Donna Rose, who avers that she's done so faithfully but is not affiliated with KOOP), Bailey said,

Autogynophillic males will become sexually aroused in the lab if they listen to a narrative about cross-dressing whereas men without any history of erotic cross-dressing do not become aroused. Regardless, some of them insist that, you know, that it's not about autogynophilia, it's just they feel like women so they dress like women and any male who wore frilly lacy panties would become sexually aroused. I don't think so.

It's clear that Bailey believed, at least as of 2003, that the conclusions he drew — whether from lab studies or from visiting Chicago's gay bars — were more "true" than people's self-reported gender identities. Given that his study on bisexuality got lots of mainstream attention and remains a cocktail party staple to this day, it's worth remembering that the man whose research supposedly "casts doubt on whether true bisexuality exists" (in the words of the Times's Benedict Carey) had already appointed himself the arbiter of "true" transsexuality and advanced some pretty questionable claims. This doesn't necessarily mean his research into men's physical arousal was flawed, but it certainly means we should be skeptical about his conclusions. And it means that putting a lady on stage with a fucksaw is far from the most offensive thing he's ever done.

'Dr. Sex': A Human-Sexuality Expert Creates Controversy With A New Book On Gay Men And Transsexuals [Chronicle of Higher Education, via TS Roadmap]
Straight, Gay Or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited [NYT]

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