I have just finished reading Alice D. Dreger’s extremely thorough account of the historical events that led to the brutal controversy of J. Michael Bailey’s book ‘The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism. I do own a copy myself, but it was one of those books I got half way through, misplaced and then forgot to pick back up – despite how interesting I found its contents. This essay by Dreger has reignited my interest in the book and added a considerable layer of context surrounding it’s backlash. I have now revived my copy and look forward to finishing it with a better understanding of its historical and societal context.
It is my opinion that no idea is above scrutiny, freedom of speech is one of the most important mechanisms for society, and everyone has the right to publicly call out an idea or theory for being unethical or badly researched. However, what I garner from Dreger’s essay is that the parties involved -Andrea James in particular – took a vehemently aggressive stand point on the book, and took it upon themselves to de-platform Bailey in an attempt to destroy his career, and even his family.
I cannot help but draw parallels between Dreger’s essay which was written in April 2008 (with the book in question being released in 2003) and what is happening to Professor Jordan Peterson in Toronto University at the moment. For those of you that are not familiar, Peterson is a tenure professor of clinical psychology in Toronto. He has caused a lot of controversy as of late the catalyst being his YouTube videos where he uploads many lectures about areas of clinical psychology, but most popular (or unpopular) are his videos about Bill C16, political correctness, gender pronouns, and freedom of speech.
Peterson strongly opposes the C16 bill – Read about the Bill on Canada’s Parliament website here. Which is now formally in effect in Toronto Canada after a second reading. He sees the law as an attack on human rights (namely freedom of speech) and has been unapologetically open about his views on the use of gender pronouns on campus and in his daily life. He has been attacked publicly by Transgender activists – both formally through debates, and informally in protests on campus, which you can also see online. The similarities I see are that while I understand Peterson can seem offensive, brash, lacking in empathy, that his refusal to use preferred gender pronouns may seem lazy or stubborn. But I don’t feel any of these are reasons to attack him, or discredit him in an attempt to get his academic institution to turn against him. I feel similarly about Bailey. I feel an appropriate way to counter an argument you disagree with is to enter into an intelligent discourse with that person, to debate them, to show your counter evidence and disprove their theory. If James had taken this attitude with Bailey perhaps her lawsuit would of proved more effective? Not dissimilar to the attitude that Baileys friend and research subject Kieltyka took with him. Kieltyka was a MTF transsexual, she had been a close friend to Bailey for many years and regaled his students in his Human sexuality class on many an occasion. Bailey used Kieltyka as an example of autogynephilia in his book, when the book was finally published Kieltyka joined in the back lash against Bailey making a formal complaint about the way she had been portrayed in the book. However, this was only after seeing numerous drafts and having been interviewed on many occasions with the express knowledge that this was on the record for the book. When Dreger confronted Kieltyka on why she had waited so long to tell Bailey how truly she opposed his portrayal of her, Kieltyka said that she hoped over time she could of educated Bailey to her own theory on Transsexualism and the reasons why she believed she did not fit the profile of an autogynephile. She stayed friends with him in order to keep the discussion ongoing, in a positive attempt to change someones opinion through debate rather than anger, Dreger says in her essay “She thought if she worked with Bailey long enough, she could get Bailey to understand (and write about) how gender identity, sexual orientation, and sexual identity could all be understood as distinct components of transsexual identity”. Sadly this relationship did ultimate come to a sticky end but I am certain many interesting theories and conversations came out of her lectures and relationship with Bailey and his students.
This is why I feel it is at detriment to Transgender activists and sexologists to repel people such as Peterson and Bailey -rather than working together for a fuller understanding of the vast differences in gender psychology. Peterson has recounted the mass emails he has received since his first public debate on the topic of pronouns from Transgender people who agree and support him, and while there are clearly many who find Peterson and his idea’s repugnant we cannot dismiss what I feel should be the pinnacle of Transgender activism…Inclusivity.