Report clearing prof leaves critics unsatisfied

After a barrage of national media attention, a constant stream of Internet invectives and a formal Northwestern investigation into his research on transsexuals, is psychology Prof. J. Michael Bailey ready for even more attention?

“I’m not sick of it, I’m relishing it,” Bailey said.

That’s because after four years of controversy, he’s getting public support for what he’s been saying all along: He did nothing wrong. NU ethics scholar Alice Dreger spent a year writing a report released this summer that concluded Bailey did nothing unethical in researching his 2003 book “The Man Who Would Be Queen.”

In addition, the report charges that Bailey’s critics, led by transsexual activists Lynn Conway, Andrea James and Deirdre McCloskey, conducted a smear campaign to “ruin” Bailey personally and professionally.

Dreger, a visiting associate professor in NU’s Medical Humanities and Bioethics program and former president of Intersex Society of North America, said the excessive backlash against Bailey’s work motivated her to research and write the lengthy report, titled “The Controversy Surrounding ‘The Man Who Would Be Queen.’ “

“I’m led by what I find to be true, not what I find to be popular,” Dreger said. “I didn’t say it because I wanted to be marshal of the queer rights parade.”

Two transsexuals featured in Bailey’s book – a woman identified as “Juanita” and Anjelica Kieltyka, who was referred to as “Cher” in the book – alleged that Bailey wrote about them without their consent. Juanita also claimed he had sexual relations with her while researching the book.

Dreger concluded that the subjects were aware of their role in the book and had even read drafts of it before publication. A university committee investigated Bailey on these charges, and though it never released its results, the members didn’t formally reprimand him.

In her report, Dreger also asserted that Bailey’s transsexual opponents tried to discredit him because they disagreed with his basic findings.

Bailey’s book states that male-to-female transsexuals fall into one of two categories: “homosexual transsexuals,” naturally feminine men attracted to men, or “autogynephilic transsexuals,” men who are aroused by the fantasy of having a woman’s body. Bailey rejects the belief that self-identified transwomen are simply “women trapped in men’s bodies.”

The report details efforts by Conway, James and McCloskey to get Bailey’s book pulled from consideration for a lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender literature award and have the professor investigated by the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation for allegedly practicing psychology without a license.

Dreger singles out Andrea James, a transsexual film director-turned-blogger, for her efforts to defame Bailey’s character. According to Dreger’s report, James sent letters to NU psychology faculty members alleging Bailey was an alcoholic and a “failure” as a father. She also posted online pictures of Bailey’s girlfriend and children with sexually explicit captions. The photos were taken down after criticism from other transsexual activists.

Psychotherapist Anne Lawrence, who identifies herself as an autogynephilic transsexual and supports Bailey’s work, wrote in an e-mail that Dreger’s report provides insight into why the backlash against Bailey was so severe.

“It is essential that we try to understand why these very intelligent transwomen, many of whom were trained scientists themselves, allowed themselves to behave so very badly in this affair,” Lawrence wrote.

The transwomen leading the opposition said that Dreger’s report is biased in Bailey’s favor.

For example, the report contends that Bailey’s opponents organized against him before reading his book. But University of Michigan professor emerita Lynn Conway said the report is wrong, because Conway and other Bailey opponents previously had read a Bailey article that later formed the basis of his book, so the group knew what he planned to publish.

After that article was published, Conway said many transwomen e-mailed Bailey saying they disagreed with his theories and hoping to tell their stories to change his mind about transsexual motivations. Conway said Bailey’s replies called the transwomen autogynephiles in denial, and he declined to interview them.

“He wasn’t going to interact with anyone,” Conway said. “He wasn’t curious about other people’s experiences. He had his own agenda and was not to be distracted from it.”

But Bailey said he received equal support from transsexual individuals after his book was published.

“I got just as many, if not more, e-mails from transsexuals who said, ‘Thank God you wrote this; I’ve never understood myself until now,’ ” he said.

Kieltyka also disputes the report’s content. According to the report, Kieltyka said Juanita was paid to accuse Bailey of sexual misconduct, but Kieltyka denies making that claim.

“Dreger didn’t manipulate everything, but there was a lot of tweaking, shading and spinning,” Kieltyka said.

After each interview, Dreger allowed her sources to review the report’s transcripts and correct any mistakes they found, according to the report.

Kieltyka, who was friends with Bailey for 10 years and lectured in his classes before the controversy, said she is not finished trying to clear her name. She plans to file a civil suit against Dreger for fraud, as well as complaints with the Illinois Board of Higher Education and NU’s bioethics program.

Kieltyka used to work as a transsexual advocate in hospitals, but now she spends her time poring over a dog-eared copy of Bailey’s book and folders filled with Bailey-related articles and legal documents.

“I’ve been investigating this 24/7,” Kieltyka said. “I’m obsessed with this.”

Kieltyka said she won’t give up because she believes Bailey is part of a larger conspiracy. In attempting to find a genetic cause for homosexuality, his work implies that homosexuality is a disease that needs to be cured, she said.

But Conway said she is done drowning in the details of the controversy and considers the experience a victory. Though she disagrees with Bailey’s ideas, she said the uproar over the book caused the transsexual community to rally together.

“This is the way a minority group emerges,” Conway said. “They begin to get a voice. They begin to be out there, being seen and heard, and are no longer immediately put down.”

Dreger is working on a book that will use the Bailey controversy as an example of how researchers can run into political trouble when they are working with minority groups.

Bailey still conducts sex research at NU. He’s currently studying 1,000 pairs of gay brothers in the Chicago area to find a genetic explanation for sexual orientation.

“I’m more resolved than ever to do good work,” Bailey said. “Where else do we need science more but in controversial areas?”

Reach Michael Gsovski at [email protected] Reach Sarah Sumadi at [email protected]