Friday, January 05, 2007

Why Michael Bailey is still so very wrong

Yep, it had to come sooner or later – my angry launch into some of the work done by Professor Michael J Bailey, professor of psychology at Northwestern university, USA. You know, that research heralded in the New York Times with the headline "Gay, Straight or Lying". The research that allegedly showed that true male bisexuality doesn't exist. That men either fancied men, or women, but not both, even if they said they were bisexual. I know that this research came out in 2005, but I wasn't blogging then. I know, too, that the best response to a lot of this twaddle is simply to ignore it and hope it fades away, but unfortunately this research hasn't. Indeed, a commenter on my blog has cited it within the past month.

Where the blood flows
Michael Bailey and his researchers measured "genital arousal patterns in response to images of men and women". Apparently, even those men who identified as bi (although it's more complicated than that, see below) were only – or near as dammit – attracted to one sex or the other, usually men. They assessed this genital arousal using a plethysmograph – which measures blood flow to the penis and is apparently not admissable as evidence in US courts (although the mind boggles as to what it would be needed for).

So, why does this research have more holes in it than a leaky sieve:
* He used a tiny number of men – 104, of whom only 33 identified as bi. Only 22 of the 33 whom had "sufficient genital arousal for analyses"
* Although it's hard to figure out exactly what happened – without reading the extensive report - it seems that their self-identity wasn't used after the recruitment process. Instead, the researchers rated men as gay, straight or bi according to answers they gave to questions about their sexual desires
* Not everyone, even male everyones, is turned on by porn, particularly not in lab conditions. A third of all his research subjects (however they identified) were not aroused at all. So does that mean they are really asexual? Excuse me while I roll my eyes. What about the fact that (many? some?) lesbians like gay men's porn? What would that make them in his eyes? Or bi porn for that matter. And some people don't like some sorts of porn/some scenarios / some physical types, all of which might turn them off. Apparently, the bi men's subjective response – whether they thought they were turned on – did tally with their stated orientation. There is far more to sexuality, sexual identity, orientation and desire than simply physiological response. Surely this is common sense. Not in this study, however.
* An important element of sexuality is emotion, which isn't even alluded to here. What about all those men who are strongly sexually interested in men, but only fall in love with women?
* "I'm not denying that bisexual behavior exists," quoth The Man "but I am saying that in men there's no hint that true bisexual arousal exists, and that for men arousal is orientation." Erm, why? Seems like a leap over a huge great gulf to me. I would have thought that the differences in number between men saying they were bi and their penises saying something else precisely showed that arousal did not equal orientation. If you even buy that measuring blood flow to the penis really tells you anything useful.

Proof of what, exactly?
However, this flawed research is still currently cited and re-cited as "proof" that bi men don't exist. It's so popular because it says what people want it to say. Huge swaths of society seem to have a vested interest in implying that no men are really bisexual and all women are. Society (specifically, but not exclusively, straight men) is frightened of bi men – who are a bit too much like them - but they can push gay men over to one side and think of them as "other". They can even allow them a few rights now and then.
On the other hand, the daft idea that women are much more likely to be bisexual - to be specific, have "bisexual arousal patterns" - was allegedly demonstrated by the same team of researchers. Not in my experience, they don't, unless of course I have come across the world's largest collection of biphobic prudes.
Of course, Bailey doesn't even attempt to address the social factors making bi men differ from bi women. It is very much harder (in the West, in 2007, although not in other times or places) to be a bi man than to be a bi woman. It's also self-fulfilling: if you are a young man told you can't be bi because all bi men are really gay, chances are you will go along with that. If you are a young woman told all women are bi, you might well think your affectionate responses to your female friends should be more sexual than they are. Simple result: more women than men say they are bi.

What the papers say

While the mainstream press gave the original research a lot of favourable press coverage when it was published, the queer press was more – and sometimes highly – sceptical. It was comprehensively trounced on this blog post. In fact, this blogger has plenty of other information about why Bailey and his research shouldn't be trusted (his appalling work on transsexuals, to start with), along with some great comments. He also links to this fact sheet from the Gay and Lesbian Task Force Foundation which says a lot of what I have covered in this post, but better and with footnotes.
Ron Jackson Suresha, who co-edited Bi Men: Coming Out Every Which Way, writes here about some of the political reasons why the media likes anti-bi research, and ignores pro-bi information. And Mark Simpson wrote a brilliant – and funny - dissection of this research on his blog back in April. It's a long post, but it shows that – in his experience as a gay man sleeping with bi men – that there are a lot of men who will enthusiastically sleep with other men without having the remotest interest in making it a full-time job.


James said...

Well I knew his study was flawed, but not how blatantly, and how obvious his bias is until I read your post and your links. However it is depressingly easy to see why his 'work' was lauded by the press and biphobes of all kinds.

Anonymous said...

That research does sound flawed and cracked. An appropriate sample size is 1,000 people. Any high school political science class will teach you that. I shudder to think of the margin of error there.

It is kind of an interesting theory though. I'd like to see more legitimate research done on the subject. And it would be interesting to hear if they have any explanations for why men aren't bi, if that's true, which I have difficulty beleiving. I don't think I've ever known a guy who was bi, though I've known bunches of girls, so I onno.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Until now I am in a state of syncope when I saw my close friend's (with benefit) profile in a sex site. His profile say he is Bisexual. I sent him an e-mail attaching a copy of his body pic and profile but he vehemently denied that was him. For God's sake I know him from head to foot where his scars are located. I have this woman's strong instinct.
Part of my e-mail as follows...."I completely understand and respect your sexuality, inner feelings, desires and fantasies....these are your each it's own. I have nothing against it, nothing personal against you and I will still embrace you.
He denied in words and in writing. I was in total shock and disbelief but I still deeply care for him as a very close friend.

Anonymous said...

dont know what to tell you people

Radar said...

I really hate that guy, and all his little demonic followers. I would wish for him to take a taste of his own medicine, but then again, I won't stoop down to the level of such ignorance. Well done you for keeping this stuff posted (even if it was from ages ago). I mean, who gets to say who is and isn't bi or gay, except those who carry that orientation? It's like trying to diagnose schizophrenia in a chicken - there is no "disease" or any kind of study that can determine anything from the mind correctly. People are people; bi, gay, straight, black, white, green, purple with pink polka dots, whatever. Imagine what would be next; testing on people with blue eyes to see if they are "socially non-human" or something. It seems "studies" like these gain root from hatred that had found its way into the nerves of the law.

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Anonymous said...

I came out as bi in highschool to my football team. Went to art school and found my orientation affirmed. Explored sexually. Joined a theater company there were 3 other bi men and many bi women. It felt affirming. I dated many women and sex with 15. I dated and had sex with 6 men. I enjoyed both. There was a stronger attraction to women. But I was arroused by both. I have faced really bad discrimnation and harassment for being out and bi. And this article is a "mindfock". I am now asking myself were my hetero relationships a lie? Were may gay relationships a lie? How can I prove these were legitimate relationships? Why do I look at straight porn? Why do I look at gay porn?I am now for the first time in my life doubting my experiences because of the pseudo-authority of one man. But really it is worse most straight women won't date me. Many gay men ridicule me. My last employer said she hated bisexuals because she thought they were cowards. I suddenly don't want to date anymore at all because I fear I will be called a liar. My last girlfriend freaked out when I told her of my lover from ten years ago. We broke up because of it. The gay faculty at my grad school tried to out me as gay. A Lesbian student walked into my job demanding I come out of the closet. I produced over 50 LGBT events and still can't get respect from my peers. I have been out for over twenty years and now truly wish I wasn't!!!!!

Sue George said...

Dear Anon (the one who posted prior to this),
Don't despair - really! While there are still people who doubt the existence of bisexuality (for men at any rate)there are very many of us about. Look at my links for places to get support. Even if it's online, that's better than nothing. All those people who are giving you a hard time are just plain wrong.
Sue xx