By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
NEW YORK – A July 5 New York Times article about a study which seemed to suggest that men who self-identify as bisexual are lying about their orientation is the focus of controversy among LGBT and allied activists and advocates.
Both the study and the article are under attack by organizations and members both inside and outside the LGBT community, who claim that the study’s author has a track record of bias and unethical behavior and that the New York Times showed bias in not reporting the allegations against him.
Among other allegations, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force noted in a July 11 statement that the New York Times article “fails to note several serious and obvious questions about the study’s methodology and underlying premises; fails to report the serious controversies that have plagued one of the study’s authors in the past; misstates some of the study’s conclusions; and fails to reflect the views of any leaders in the bisexual community.”
The NGLTF statement continued, “The study’s senior author, J. Michael Bailey, maintained that ‘there is no hint’ that bisexual orientation exists among men. The New York Times failed to note that Bailey’s past research has been roundly criticized and that he has been accused of misconduct by some of his research subjects.”
The study and the article
According to the New York Times report, “The study, by a team of psychologists in Chicago and Toronto, lends support to those who have long been skeptical that bisexuality is a distinct and stable sexual orientation.”
The New York Times report said that researchers from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto recruited 101 “young men.” Of the test subjects, “Thirty-three of the men identified themselves as bisexual, 30 as straight and 38 as homosexual.”
Researchers asked the men about their sexual desires, then attached sensors to them and measured their arousal when shown erotic images of men and women.
According to the New York Times report, “[T]he men in the study who described themselves as bisexual did not have patterns of arousal that were consistent with their stated attraction to men and to women. Instead, about three-quarters of the group had arousal patterns identical to those of gay men; the rest were indistinguishable from heterosexuals.”
The New York Times quotes J. Michael Bailey, the lead author of the study, as saying, “I’m not denying that bisexual behavior exists, but I am saying that in men there’s no hint that true bisexual arousal exists, and that for men arousal is orientation.”
Scientist or propagandist?
Bailey is a scientist with a checkered past. Though in 1991, according to the June 20, 2003 edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Bailey co-authored a scientific study that found a genetic component to homosexuality, his recent work and public remarks have been the subject of controversy.
According to a release about the New York Times article by the organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, “In 2001 Bailey co-authored an article that argued that, if it became possible for parents to determine the sexual orientation of their fetus, ‘selecting for heterosexuality seems to be morally acceptable….Selection for heterosexuality may tangibly benefit parents, children and their families and seems to have only a slight potential for any significant harm.'”
And, in 2003, Bailey authored “The Man Who Would Be Queen,” a book on transsexuality that suggested that transgendered women “are extremely feminine gay men or are sexual fetishists who are ‘erotically obsessed with the image of themselves as women,Õ” according to FAIR.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Mr. Bailey’s work on transsexuals, unlike his scientific research on gay men, is anecdotal, and his book doesn’t cite any figures to back up his claims.”
Bailey’s purported lack of scientific integrity is prominent in both the NGLTF and FAIR statements about the New York Times article. Bailey’s remarks are also often quoted by “ex-gay” organizations which claim to “treat” homosexuality. In addition, some of the subjects of his book on transsexuality have filed complaints against him, claiming that they had not given their consent to be studied. One subject filed a complaint of sexual misconduct against Bailey, according to the Jan. 6, 2004 issue of The Daily Northwestern, the newspaper of Northwestern University, where Bailey works as a professor.
A biased report
Both the FAIR and the NGLTF statements also take offense at the tone of the New York article.
“We remain stunned that the New York Times Science section would carry such a shoddy, sensationalistic and downright insulting story. It Ñ and the profoundly flawed ‘study’ it purports to cover Ñ are laced with biased premises, misstatements and inaccuracies,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of NGLTF.
According to FAIR, “In leaping to dramatic conclusions from a single study with a small population, Carey [the author of the New York Times article] echoes the study’s authors, who seem equally eager to generalize from scant evidence – and to confuse the study’s assumptions with its conclusions.”
Bisexual activists are also upset. In a post on the Bisexual Resource Center site, Sheeri Kritzer posted a link to the New York Times article and requested that Resource Center members, “write to the people involved to express outrage. Make it personal by telling your own story of biphobia, why you’re bisexual (or why you’re an ally), and how spreading meaningless ‘data’ like this hurts.”