Thursday, August 23, 2007

Taboo questions and the internet   posted by p-ter @ 8/23/2007 05:53:00 PM

The New York Times has a piece on J. Michael Bailey, a psychologist best known for his rather controversial thoughts on sexual orientation. His book, The Man Who Would Be Queen, made him something of an internet celebrity (if that's the right word). A few paragraphs from the article pretty much sum it up:
In his book, he argued that some people born male who want to cross genders are driven primarily by an erotic fascination with themselves as women...Other scientists praised the book as a compelling explanation of the science. The Lambda Literary Foundation, an organization that promotes gay, bisexual and transgender literature, nominated the book for an award.

But days after the book appeared, Lynn Conway, a prominent computer scientist at the University of Michigan, sent out an e-mail message comparing Dr. Bailey's views to Nazi propaganda. [B]y the end of 2003, the controversy had a life of its own on the Internet. Dr. Conway, the computer scientist, kept a running chronicle of the accusations against Dr. Bailey on her Web site. Any Google search of Dr. Bailey's name brought up Dr. Conway's site near the top of the list.

The site also included a link to the Web page of another critic of Dr. Bailey's book, Andrea James, a Los Angeles-based transgender advocate and consultant. Ms. James downloaded images from Dr. Bailey's Web site of his children, taken when they were in middle and elementary school, and posted them on her own site, with sexually explicit captions that she provided. (Dr. Bailey is a divorced father of two.) Ms. James said in an e-mail message that Dr. Bailey's work exploited vulnerable people, especially children, and that her response echoed his disrespect.
These sorts of tactics are unsurprising (especially to some people here familiar with the One People's Project), but the juxtaposition of the fact that the book was nominated for an award by a group specializing in transgender literature with the following storm is particularly striking. The internet often acts as a echo chamber for people with similar views, which then tend to drift more extreme-- if a mob of people is insulted, somehow all-out character assassination becomes the obvious next step.