Alice Dreger wrote an oral history for the Archives of Sexual Behavior, "The Controversy Surrounding 'The Man Who Would Be Queen: A Case History of the Politics of Science, Identity, and Sex in the Internet Age. Though Dreger suggests disagreeing with autogynephila is the focal point of the backlash against J. Michael Bailey, I suggest from the historical pattern that Bailey experienced a backlash because he accused those who disagree with him of lying. Merely acknowledging autogynephilia or opposing a "feminine essence model" provoked little controversy. I explain Dreger's misconstrued historical account and Bailey, Anne Lawrence, and Ray Blachard's over-simplified psychological accounts with common biases described by social psychology: fundamental attribution error, group polarization, groupthink, stereotyping, representativeness heuristic, base-rate neglect, framing effects, and the correspondence bias. Journal editor Kenneth Zucker offered the opportunity to write responses. Though we have very different perspectives on autogynephilia and the way transgendered persons are understood by psychology, he graciously agreed to include my response.

Citation: Wyndzen, M. H. (2008). A Social Psychology of a History of a Snippet in the Psychology of Transgenderism. Archives of Sexual Behavior, #(#). Retrievable from:

A Social Psychology of a History of a Snippet in the Psychology of Transgenderism

This is not a simple story. It is so complex that it is hard to know what is the story. For Dreger, the story is the plight of Bailey after he wrote The Man Who Would Be Queen. I would not define the situation this way, but the intersection of our perspectives is very personal to me. I am a psychologist with passionate convictions about the value of our field as a scientific endeavor. I am also transgendered and have, at times, identified myself as everything from "oh no, not me" to cross-dresser, to transsexual, to bi-gendered (someone who embraces different gender roles in different situations)[1]. I was a member of Bailey's "sexnet" discussion list for years before his book and I corresponded with many "pro-" and "anti-" autogynephilia advocates. I was among the first members of Arune's discussion list for the support of those who identify with autogynephilia, even though I disagree with autogynephilia as a scientific account. I know the "us-versus-them"[2] group polarization mentality Dreger describes and I tried to soften both extremes. My advice was largely ignored. Dreger's opening remarks gave me hope for someone to succeed where I failed. She suggests that a scholarly history could lessen persistent tensions. I admire interdisciplinary work and hoped for her success at combining psychology with history. But as I read the coming pages, disillusion grew. I realized that I had read it before; it rehashes the pro-autogynephilia side. How could someone with such scholarship in writing history be pulled so much by one side that she misses so much of the other? To help answer this question, I fill in some gaps in Dreger's history and offer tentative explanations using social psychology.

For me, the not-so-simple story is the struggle of transgendered persons to define themselves, rather than being defined by others, such as some second-wave feminists and some clinical psychologists and psychiatrists. This story has many intertwined episodes; among them is the story of Blanchard's model, and intertwined within that episode are many scenes including Bailey's book. Among the tragedies in this scene are the horrible personal experiences of Bailey. I personally feel for Bailey, which is why I urged members of the transgendered community to forgive him even if he never budges (Wyndzen, 2005). Even so, I can't help but notice that giving so much attention to his experience with a journal article makes it seem disproportionately larger than the decades of struggle experienced by transgendered persons. Dreger notes that "no sexologist refused my request for an interview" after dedicating pages to the unwillingness of three anti-autogynephilia transgendered women to help. This could easily lead readers to the impression that sexologists are honest people whereas those transgendered women are not. As a consequence of the fundamental attribution error, we typically over-attribute others' behavior to traits and neglect circumstances (e.g., Ross, 1977). When Dreger made the decision to define the story as about Bailey, she made many sexologists eager to talk as it makes their side look good in light of some over-the-top misbehavior; the same situation led the other side to be reluctant. Her choice dramatically influences how we appear.

What is the focal point of the "backlash" against Bailey's book? Dreger thoughtfully acknowledges a wide range of possible factors, including transgendered persons' discomfort with being defined by others instead of themselves. In the end, Dreger concludes that "it's clear throughout the record...[that what backlash leaders] detested and rejected most about Bailey's book was the idea of autogynephilia." Dreger's conclusion matches Bailey's interpretation that his book's harm was "a narcissistic injury suffered by a small number of autogynephilic transsexuals who wish we would all deny the truth." Bailey and Dreger construe Blanchard's model as in opposition with what they call the "feminine essence narrative," the presumably sacred belief among some transsexuals that they are "woman/man trapped in a man's/woman's body." Yet, the cited e-mail messages and websites used to identify this focal point do not lead to (or against) this generalization. If this were true, then we should expect transsexuals to respond with proportional backlashes against others who oppose the feminine essence narrative or who support Blanchard's model.

Have others who described transsexuality through an alternative to the "feminine essence narrative" experienced a backlash? When I was first coming out, there were few accounts of transsexuals' lives that differed with the feminine essence narrative. Transsexual web stories came in two types, even among the sites I admired. One type was like Lawrence's new personal website with very useful information that only a medical doctor would have the expertise to share. She did not write an autobiography, but described her experience in her letter for coming out at work. She knew from early childhood.[3] Others wrote much more involved stories that shared the basic framework of "always knowing" and how coming out was the inevitable consequence of being true to an internal essence. I did not always know. My experience was so at odds with the "feminine essence narrative" that it was one of the things that kept me from considering an identity as a transsexual. To help make sense of my experience, I wrote an autobiography to start my website. It was completely different from anything I'd ever read because I wasn't going to say I knew it all along. Instead, I put it into a metaphorical puzzle with the pieces "All Mixed Up." Putting the pieces together is what led me to transition (Wyndzen, 1998). I received an amazing amount of mail. Many transsexuals felt somebody had finally expressed their experience in vivid concrete details and shared how they felt it was incredibly important to get beyond the cliche of a "man trapped in a woman's body." Not one message then, nor any to date, has been a backlash against my alternative to the feminine essence model. Many others have written autobiographies, before and after me, using alternative frameworks and I cannot find evidence of a backlash against them (e.g., Bornstein, 1994; McCloskey, 1999).[4] If transsexuals really were so upset by alternative viewpoints, why were these alternatives well received? Moreover, why are at least two people who offered alternatives to the feminine essence narrative skeptical of Bailey's book while a book endorser at least felt a perfunctory obligation to endorse a small part of feminine essence?

Sadly, today any transsexual who endorses autogynephilia will experience a backlash. I still hope for a return to civility. We cannot discern if these harsh reactions are really about Blanchard's model or the uncritical us-versus-them polarization that leads some to believe any support of Blanchard's ideas is support for Bailey's book. We need to look earlier in history. Before Lawrence (1998) popularized autogynephilia with her essay, "Men Trapped in Men's Bodies," I was about to start graduate school in psychology and, having discovered academic journals, I was reading everything I could find about transsexuality. I read Blanchard's (1989) paper without preconceptions and completed his scales before reading it.[5] I had little reaction to his ideas about sexual fantasies. It was just another article in a giant stack. I felt studying sexual fantasies was interesting, but also not so illuminating. After all, wouldn't you expect somebody, who hates being a man and wishes to be a woman, to fantasize about being a women? I probably never would have read the rest of Blanchard's articles had it not been for Lawrence's essay. Though some transsexuals were very upset with Lawrence's essay, I explained on several discussion lists how studies clearly showed that we have sexual fantasies about being our target sex. Perhaps some disagreed with me because some psychopathological models distinguished transsexuals from transvestites using a 1950s notion of women's sexual purity. I never experienced a backlash for sharing the view that cross-gender fantasies are common among transsexuals. Still, I shared some of that jarring reaction to Lawrence's essay. Her title implied that we had the essence of our biological sex. Even though I never believed I had the "essence" of womanhood, I felt it jarring to be portrayed as having the "essence" of manhood.[6] Lawrence not only endorsed a "male essence" view of MtF transsexuality, she also dismissed the possibility that anything but a sex drive could be powerful enough to explain transitioning. In my critique of Blanchard's theory, I noted that research shows identity can be quite a powerful force too (Wyndzen, 2003).

Opposition to autogynephilia is clearly an element in the backlash against Bailey's book. But is it the central element? The history of reactions does not support this inference. Those with alternative life stories have never experienced even a minor backlash and some who disagree with the feminine essence model also disagree with Blanchard's model. Saying that we have cross-gender fantasies does not provoke a backlash either. The backlash occurred only when transsexuality was explained as only caused through sexuality and when this explanation trivialized other causal mechanisms. Bailey went further than Lawrence to suggest transsexuals lie when they disagree with him. The result was a stronger backlash.

"Most gender patients lie" (Bailey, 2003, pp. 172). The beginning of the backlash is best summarized by this quote by Bailey of someone he calls an "ace gender clinician." This accusation is very serious in this circumstance. Unlike other groups Bailey criticizes in his book (i.e., bisexual men, social constructivists, psychologists who do not endorse Blanchard's model), transgendered persons are stigmatized by being labeled mentally ill for being who they are. Their disagreement can be reduced to part of their pathology, "That's just your sickness talking."[7] This is what Bailey argues when he says our disagreement with his perspective is part of our "obsession," "something about autogynephilia creates a need not only to enact a female self, but also to actually believe in her" (Bailey, 2003, p. 175). Is Bailey right? It is very odd to accuse transsexuals of lying about their sexual fantasies when the primary evidence for the two types of transsexuals comes from self-report. In one of two studies Bailey implicitly references, even the authors acknowledge that if any type of transsexual is more preoccupied with presenting themselves favorably, it is the "homosexual" transsexuals and not those presumably with autogynephilia (Blanchard, Clemmensen, & Steiner, 1985). In the second study, phallometric readings indicated to Blanchard, Racansky, and Steiner (1986) that transsexuals were concealing their sexual motivation. By re-examining their data, I suggest that transsexuals were actually being honest and that their data showed an interesting interplay between sexuality and identity worth further research (for elaboration, see Wyndzen, 2005).[8]

Dreger incorporates far more details underlying both the pro- and the anti-autogynephilia sides into her writing than perhaps anyone else. It is a great credit to her data collection abilities. Her bias is not primarily in the facts, but in the framing, how she organizes and presents the facts. Even something as minor as framing the exact same information as a gain or a loss can have profound implications for our decision-making (e.g., Tversky & Kahneman, 1981). I previously discussed two framing effects that may bias readers' understanding of the history. First, Dreger focuses on Bailey's plight. Second, she accepts Bailey's frame of the scientific debate as between Blanchard's model and a "feminine essence" model. I now examine her acceptance of the pro-autogynephilia frame of the social controversy: scientists versus activists.

If a man sought therapy due to unhappiness over his attraction to other men, a therapist would likely diagnose him with depression. If a transsexual sought therapy due to unhappiness over his or her biological sex, a therapist would almost certainly diagnose him or her with Gender Identity Disorder. Whereas gay men are diagnosed for how they suffer, transsexuals are diagnosed for who they are. I find the mental illness labels imposed on transgenderism just as disquieting as the label that used to be imposed on homosexuality. Similar to antiquated ideas suggesting that homosexuality is a deviant sex drive, Blanchard (1989, 1991) proposed that transsexuality is a mis-directed form of either heterosexuality (named "autogynephilia") or homosexuality. Rather than asking the scientifically neutral question, "What is transgenderism?" Blanchard (1991) asks, "What kind of defect in a male's capacity for sexual learning could produce ... autogynephilia, transvestitism ...?" (p. 246). Beginning with these unscientific value judgments is insensitive toward transgendered persons and leads to invalid scientific conclusions by reducing people to stereotypes (for elaboration, see Wyndzen, 2004).

Dreger strings together facts, however circuitously, to incorporate the other side, to frame the history as the almost "Galileo-like" struggling of truth-seeking scientists against seemingly powerful "fundamentalists." She notes the uniformity of opinion in the peer-reviewed psychology publications that support Blanchard's model in a way that legitimates Bailey's lack of serious consideration of alternatives. She does this despite how the "peers" who review (psychologists and psychiatrists) are likely others in the same position of enormous power to diagnosis and authorize HRT/SRS for the other peer group (transgendered persons). Dreger fails to note how this uniformity among peers is strikingly different from the vibrant ongoing debates in nearly every other research area of psychology. She does not consider shared biases by pro-autogynephilia researchers that may lead to their conformity. For example, the representativeness heuristic (like goes with like) is a powerful mechanism of social cognition that, though often an efficient problem solving tool, can lead critical thinking awry and support pseudo-science (Gilovich & Savitsky, 1996). The most salient quality of transgendered persons is their sex so focusing on sexuality as a mechanism is natural. Bailey and Lawrence link Gender Identity Disorder and Body Integrity Identity Disorder with little more than analogy, a hallmark of the representativeness heuristic, instead of through scientific evidence (e.g., Lawrence, 2006). The possibility of groupthink is never considered (Janis, 1971), a surprise since Dreger notes evidence for groupthink: the feelings of moral superiority on the pro-autogynephilia side and the "mind-guard" role Blanchard played in protecting Bailey with his resignation from the HBIGDA. Dreger notes how the term "autogynephilia" can be used descriptively or theoretically, a detail from the anti-autogynepheilia side. She uses this almost to shock the reader with the fact that some on the anti-autogynephilia side "admit" to autogynephilia. But she does not see that when Bailey says the evidence for autogynephilia is overwhelming, he uses the term descriptively, and then capitulates that into support for its theoretical usage (Wyndzen, 2005).

Dreger describes Bailey as "bombarded" with claims that there are three kinds of transsexuals. Consistent with their frame, Bailey alludes to Sagan with "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Though I feel it is a little silly to equate a claim that there are three kinds of transsexuals to the genuinely extraordinary claims of the supernatural, I certainly agree with Bailey that claims require evidence. In particular, if there is evidence for two kinds, evidence is needed to believe in three kinds (i.e., Occam's razor). Oddly, I have been unable to find someone asserting as a scientific claim that transsexuals come in three kinds. What I can find are transsexuals who acknowledge that there probably are transsexuals who resemble Bailey's two prototypes but who feel that they do not. To me, this is not a scientific claim, but a challenge to unscientific stereotyping with the polite aside that some transsexuals may fit some stereotypes. In contrast, I have made a scientific claim that there is insufficient evidence to believe transsexuals come in kinds (Wyndzen, 2003). As claims require evidence, I expect those suggesting any number of kinds (including two) to provide evidence. Sexual orientations of transsexuals are not distributed in clusters consistent with two kinds. Sexual orientation is a correlate in many studies of transsexuals (as it is among non-transsexuals) and this makes sexuality an important variable to consider. It does not mean sexual orientation differentiates transsexuals qualitatively. If studies included social class, I am sure it would correlate with many things among transsexuals (as it does among non-transsexuals). But this would not mean transsexuals come in "rich" and "poor" kinds.[9] Dreger could have put arguments for one, two, or three kinds of transsexuals in one place, but she separates pairs. Activist transsexuals bombarding scientific Bailey fits her frame and she focuses and elaborates on two vs. three. Left beyond the scope of consideration is the one vs. two debate. Here the evidence shows us pro-autogynephilia advocates making assertions without evidence, certainly not the behavior of truth-seeking scientists.

Dreger may honestly see herself as neutral in this conflict. Yet, I note at least three ways in which she chooses the pro-autogynephilia frames without serious consideration of their validity. Social psychology research illustrates the ease with which we show a correspondence bias; in an experiment, those who sat listening to a conversation among strangers interpreted the experience like those they merely sat nearest (e.g., Taylor & Fiske, 1975). In all likelihood, Dreger has spent much more time hearing and experiencing these events from the pro-autogynephilia side's vantage point (e.g., her conflict with James, the overwhelming willingness of sexologists to speak with her). This may not be her fault. I hope her essay can help others who write oral histories become conscientious of the correspondence bias and aware of the importance of spending an equal amount of time and effort seeing a conflict from each sides' perspective.

I hope the dialogue renewed by Dreger's history can be the beginning of the end of imposing value judgments on one another for doing what we do and being who we are. Transgendered persons need to stop seeing any psychological research as inherently attempts to control and undermine personal experiences. Psychologists and psychiatrists need to remove transgenderism from the DSM and ICD so that it is studied as objective science instead of as something inherently bad. Once we start treating one another without suspicion and as equals, we can bring our expertise and experiences together to further understand the nature of gender and sexuality.


Footnote 1: Madeline H. Wyndzen is a pen name that I use to compartmentalize transgenderism from other aspects of my professional and personal life.

Footnote 2: Describing this history as having only two sides is meaningful but could oversimplify. For example, I disagree with Blanchard's model and this sides' method of gaining publicity without a parallel improvement in the theory's scientific rigor. At the same time, as a professor of developmental psychology, I share many underlying values with this side and may even disapprove of some of the other sides' tactics even more than they do. Among the wide individual differences are two clusters of ideas and so, for sake of simplicity in this commentary, I will use terms like "side" and "pro- & anti-autogynephilia" without the additional qualification about the range of viewpoints and range of views on if the "sides" are best identified by attitudes toward Blanchard's model.

Footnote 3: Lawrence's website has changed quite a lot since then. Like me, her site has become less about herself and more about academic ideas. I still thought she kept her personal material on-line, like me, but when I went back to check the citation (and my memory of almost a decade ago), I found she removed the page. Her website is also missing from the web archive ( It is also important to note that Lawrence does not set up the same dichotomy between models as Bailey and Dreger, so she is not contradicting herself.

Footnote 4: I am puzzled that Dreger described McCloskey's autobiography as endorsing the feminine essence narrative. It does not fit my reading of it or, for example, the New York Times book review. However, Dreger is consistent with Bailey's interpretation.

Footnote 5: To provide context, my score at the time was the same as the average "homosexual" transsexual on the "core autogynephilia" scale and the same as the average bisexual transsexual on the "autogynephilic interpersonal fantasy" scale.

Footnote 6: I question if people have any essence at all. Maybe being human is about inventing yourself rather than letting a destiny unfold?

Footnote 7: An article commemorating the 30th anniversary of removal of homosexuality from the DSM list of mental illnesses provides a striking parallel. Veteran gay and lesbian advocate Gittings says, "[The mental illness label for homosexuality] was an albatross around our neck ...Yes, we were also viewed as sinners and as law-breakers, but there was room for legitimate differences of opinion about what should be immoral and what should be illegal....The sickness label, on the other hand, was supposedly a scientific finding that couldn't be questioned. And that made it tough to argue for our rights. Anything we said on our behalf could be dismissed as 'That's your sickness talking'." (from "Instant Cure" by Robert DiGiacomo in "Philadelphia Gay News" on December 12, 2005)

Footnote 8: In recent years, Lawrence (2007) has expanded her view in a way consistent with my initial critique of her first essay and my re-examination of this data.

Footnote 9: Many believe Smith et al. (2005) is a response to this critique. For example, it appears as counter-evidence on Wikipedia. If this was their intent, it is missing the necessary evaluation of clusters and does not include the necessary control groups to account for base-rate information (a concern I have about most pro-autogynephilia research).


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