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Challenge Privilege, but Avoid Ascribing Intentions

the Bailey controversy hits the mainstream

Forum: Trans-Academics
Date: 08/22/2007

On August 22, The New York Times published an article about Alice Dreger's investigation of transgender activists' fiery criticisms against J. Michael Bailey, a Northwestern University psychologist. This is a huge hot button topic for the trans community, and as expected heated exchanges ensued on email lists.

Thanks Nick for challenging the Nazi comparison.


On Aug 21, 2007, at 10:27 PM, Joelle Ruby Ryan wrote:

But I ascribe to Dreger the most nefarious of intentions with even penning this poisonous piece. It is clear and direct hatred against the ascendance of transgender people, activists and academics in society.

I think it would be helpful to at least avoid ascribing intentions to the people we disagree with, until and unless there's a specific evidence to believe the contrary.

I personally don't believe that either Dreger or Bailey have ill intentions. Being oblivious to the full extent of impact their work may have on trans people because of being in the privileged position, perhaps.

That said, being oblivious isn't any better than being evil, or less destructive. I do believe though that Dreger does understand the ethical implication of performing academic work and tries--not very successfully this time--to minimise and counter the harm; Bailey on the other hand doesn't even seem to be trying. Hence, I don't believe that it's fair to put Dreger and Bailey in the same camp. (And I don't buy that this is the time for "us vs. them.")

Make no mistake: people like Bailey and Dreger make it harder for struggling trans academics to succeed in our field.

Right, but failing to challenge the problematic tactics of some people among our own could also make it harder for trans academics to succeed too, because transgender activists are not the only ones who can employ such tactics. I'm sure that you are aware that conservative groups are mobilising young conservative students and targeting lefty scholars famous or otherwise not by making valid criticisms toward their work, but by overwhelming the schools with complaints, allegations, and public outcry--Ward Churchill being the most highly publicised case.

(One of the people who has promoted intersex as "DSD" -Disorders of Sex Development. Can you say pathologizing oppression?)

I think the discussion is more complicated than one side wanting to oppress intersex people and the other side opposing it. Please see:

- ek