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Dr. Michele Angello — Is Dr. Michael Bailey Really The Devil?

| Aug 23, 2007
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Dr. Michele AngelloYou seem to like to talk about sex. Or at least a couple of you commented when I wrote about sex, so I encourage you to do the same this month! Though this post isn’t necessarily as titillating (don’t you just love that word?), it does have to do with an aspect of sex that is particularly controversial within the transgender community.

As many of you know, Dr. J. Michael Bailey, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote a book several years ago titled, The Man Who Would Be Queen. The publication of this book raised eyebrows and voices among the community because, well, the abridged version is, Dr. Bailey implied that the concept of autogynephilia (or, “love of oneself as a woman”) was a driving force behind transsexuals’ desire to transition. Or, more bluntly stated, the erotic fascination of seeing oneself with a vagina and breasts potentially clouds judgment of transgender people, suggesting that some have surgery for the sexual reasons.

Recently, The New York Times had an article about the ongoing debate about Bailey’s questionable scientific methods of research for the book. The impetus for the article was a meeting of the International Academy of Sex Research in Vancouver, in which his book, methods and personal integrity were informally discussed.

Here’s my take on this–the title of the book is ridiculous and insulting. I’ve heard from various sources that the publisher, not Bailey, chose it. Regardless, it’s inappropriate, and I assume he could have had some say if he pushed it. He also used language that is outdated and offensive, and seemed to compare (again, from the obnoxious, but admittedly catchy title) transsexuals to drag queens. But when it gets down to the guts of the book, he’s quite clear that it is not intended to be considered research, but stories to corroborate previous research done by Ray Blanchard on autogynephilia. According to Bailey, his intention was to write about the experiences of several transsexual women he interviewed and discuss how their stories were different from many of the “woman trapped in a man’s body” stories that are often written.

In my opinion, the autobiographies, and other personal sharing via the web or other media venues of the more stereotypical transsexual stories are incredibly powerful and have changed the lives of thousands of struggling people. But, Bailey’s point, albeit, not done with great tact, isn’t totally off-base either. In my research as well as my therapy practice, lots of transgender women (many of whom eventually come out as transsexual) admit to getting really turned on to the thought of being a woman. When I take a sex history (as I do with all of my clients), the majority reluctantly share how they have the best orgasms when they imagine having a vagina, or when they fantasize about their partner treating them like a woman while they’re having sex. If this isn’t currently true for them, almost all of them state that it was true for some period of time.

So, what do you think about this controversy? Does Bailey deserve to be demonized by transgender community members or might there be some truth in what he (as well as Ray Blanchard and Anne Lawrence who also write about autogynephilia) has found? It certainly seems to be a topic that has divided many members within the community, and I’m sure there are folks out there who have strong feelings. I look forward to your thoughts!


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Category: Transgender Body & Soul

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About the Author ()

Michele Angello, Ph.D. is a clinical sexologist with offices in Wayne and Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Dr. Angello works with clients to help them reframe feelings of guilt, fear, shame, embarrassment, and even hatred around sexuality, and encourage feelings of acceptance, responsibility, joy, and sharing. She specializes in issues around gender and sexual orientation.

Comments (1)

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  1. says:

    I have not read Bailey’s book, but have read and hard a lot of the flack it has been getting, so I don’t think I can validly comment on his stances. That said, if the point of his book (even if badly presented) is that there is a certain component of the transsexual community that focuses on potential vaginal ownership as an erotic aid, I would agree. I have met several individuals and heard the accounts of others where this was in fact a driving aspect to their transition. And some who once in possession of their new parts, found it not quite as exciting as they thought it would be.

    This brings up the interesting comparison with the small portion of men (gay and straight) who seek castration and nullification (complete removal of sex organs) for erotic desires and reasons. (check out eunuch.org) These men do not want to become women, they just wish to have their testes or genitals removed. Is this group psychologically somehow related to the particular Transgender stories and persons that Bailey discusses in his book?

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