Posts Tagged ‘Michael Bailey’

I am being patient with Doctor Lady Madame Sexy Scientist, Brooke Magnanti and her paper on What Women Want.  I think it is based on Bad Science as I showed in my previous post. But I am going to explain further why I think she is wrong, both in her interpretation of Bailey et al’s research, and her approach to ‘what women want’ in terms of pornography in general.

Magnanti wrote:

‘Previous studies of men and sexual orientation showed that in general, male responses are straightforward. Heterosexual men respond strongly to heterosexual porn, and weakly to homosexual porn. For gay men, it’s the opposite: gay porn turns them on; the hetero stuff, not so much. So for men the psychological and physiological desires are in sync – what turns them on is also what they report enjoying emotionally.’

Now I think she is referring in part to research by Bailey and his colleagues, but also to research which will have influenced them. She does not cite it as she takes it as a given, that ‘male responses (to pornography) are straightforward’. i.e. Heterosexual men who claim to enjoy hetero porn, are indeed turned on by it. Gay men who claim to only like gay (m/m) porn, are indeed aroused by that and not porn which contains-shock horror!-women.

This, my dearies, is a load of old tosh. If men’s sexual responses are straightforward, and straight men only like straight porn, and gay men only like gay porn (and bisexual men don’t exist?) then what have writers such as  MS  (yep-HIM), been going on about throughout their careers? Why do straight men get so excited watching men every Saturday hurl themselves at each other on a football pitch? Why is advertising packed full of fit, sexy men showing off their packets? Why do rugby players get drunk and then get it on with each other? Why are all male boarding schools, and The Catholic church, and The Armed Forces, full of men who have sex with other men? This line between ‘heterosexual’ and ‘gay’ men is a false one.

The fact is, Doctor Magnanti, that the statement ‘what turns [men] on is also what they report enjoying emotionally’ is so wrong that the converse is probably true. Men are so anxious about their sexuality being seen to be that which they say it is (especially straight men) that even their cocks ‘lie’ about what is turning them on when they watch porn. And talking of cocks, let us not forget, that there ARE plenty of COCKS in ‘heterosexual’ pornography. So when heterosexual men say they enjoy heterosexual porn, they are still enjoying images of other men’s cocks.

But enough about cocks for a moment. Onto ‘what women want’. According to Magnanti’s report of Bailey et al’s research:

‘Participants ranked the films in order of how aroused they felt watching them. The heterosexual women in the study ranked male-male films the lowest, followed by female-female in the middle, with finally female-male films rated highest. But when the genital arousal data were compared to these rankings, something interesting emerged.

It turned out that the genital engorgement data told a completely different story from what straight women were putting on paper. They claimed male-male porn interested them the least, but looking at the physical response, male-male and female-female films ranked similarly – and very high. On paper, straight women ranked heterosexual pairings as the most arousing… but their physical response while watching these films was actually lower than with the other types of films. Straight women were getting more physically turned on watching homosexual pairings, even films with no women in it all, than they were by straight scenes’.

This ‘fluidity’ of women’s sexual responses can be explained to quite a large degree I think, by the fact that women are not as conditioned as men to worry about admitting to finding images of other women hot, or even real life other women. As Simpson has written about, ‘male bisexuality’  rather than ‘female bisexuality’ is the main cause of ‘bisexual anxiety’ in our culture. In fact when it comes to images and porn, ‘female bisexuality’ is a major aspect of ‘heterosexual porn’. You get a lot of girl-on-girl action in straight porn, but if there is any man-on-man action, it immediately gets classed as ‘gay’.

Feminist pornographers claim that this is because nearly all pornography is aimed towards men. So straight men get to see girl-on-girl films, and gay men get to see boy-on-boy films, but what about the women? Well, I think a lot of women enjoy boy-on-boy and girl-on-girl films, so they are being catered for by both ‘heterosexual’ and ‘gay’ pornography. Because, as I have tried to say before,and got shouted down, we don’t look at pornography with our genitals, we look with our eyes, and we all have those. And our eyes don’t have a ‘sexual orientation’.

Magnanti quoted Doctor Professor Scientist Mister Bailey:

“The fact that women’s sexual arousal patterns are not all predicted by their sexual orientations suggests that men’s and women’s minds and brains are very different,” said Bailey. That much we already suspected, or at least I did, because airbrushed images of men hoovering? Is certainly nice, but not exactly erotic. But who could have anticipated just how different they would turn out to be?

Well. I disagree with Bailey’s conclusion, with the methodology of his research, and with his crusade to use research about ‘sexual response’ to make rash statements about ‘male’ and ‘female’ brains. Not to mention gay brains. Not to mention, because he doesn’t ‘bisexual’ brains. And I disagree with how he turns this brain crusade into an attack on transgender people, especially trans women, and on bisexual people, especially bisexual men.

The study of sex and sexuality is the study of people. It is a human study of people in social contexts. If any kind of science is going to be used to try and understand the complexities of sexual bodies in culture, it has to be ‘social science’ surely? Psychology is a social science, but when it dresses itself up in the language and the machinery of clinical science, it becomes a very dodgy exercise indeed. Suck my dick, Science. And taste the real world for a change.

I found out that Gaga’s latest album and single were to be called ‘Born This Way’ towards the end of last year. My heart sank.  I knew it was going to become, if not a popular gay anthem, at least a symbol of the worst kind of essentialist thinking around sexuality. Unfortunately my fears have been proven right. The single went straight to number One in the American Billboard charts, and gay rights organisations and campaigns have been using it as shorthand, as way of securing the ‘gay’ identity as fixed and natural. We all know it is a crap song. We all know Gaga is looking a little less triumphant than she says she is feeling. But this doesn’t really matter. It is serving its purpose, ideologically speaking.

I’m beautiful in my way / ‘Cause God makes no mistakes / I’m on the right track, baby / I was born this way,”

If I have to see those words or hear them one more time I might just declare myself ‘straight’.

The most recent confirmation of the discursive power of Gaga’s lyrics, that she apparently wrote in five minutes flat, comes in the form of an article in Salon.

Ominously, the article is called ‘Fact Checking Lady Gaga’s Born This Way’. Because pop songs are now scientific papers that have to be ‘fact checked’? How very clinical.

Rahul Parikh, the author of the piece, quotes a psychiatrist, Ron Holt to support his view that we are all, indeed, ‘born this way’. Holt says that sexual orientation

‘refers to a person’s erotic response, regardless of the gender that evokes that response. Sexual orientation, he says, is fixed. This is in contrast to sexual behavior, which a person can alter. In other words, people can’t change their sexual orientation, but they can hide it.’

I don’t quite understand this paragraph, as I thought ‘sexual orientation’ was dependent on the gender that evokes sexual response. But anyway, Holt’s assertion is that sexuality is fixed. It is what we do with it that is open to change, or, as Parikh says, what we hide.

In a rather deft move, Parikh then goes to put Freud, the Grandaddy of modern theories of sexuality, up against Lady Gaga, a popstar, to show how the Austrian psychoanalyst and philosopher was surely lacking in his understanding, that he was wrong and Gaga is right, ’cause God makes no mistakes’. And Gaga, as a major 21st century celebrity is a kind of God.

‘Freud, unlike Lady Gaga, took the position that it was environmental, the result of child-rearing. If you were a boy, and your mother was overbearing or your father cold and distant, you were more likely to be gay. Freud’s view dominated medical discourse for much of the 20th century’.

According to this Salon article, the ‘constructionist’ view of sexuality which came from Freud, ‘may have led to various attempts by religious groups to try to “convert” gays “back into” heterosexuals’ . Because if something is not fixed but is dependent on environment, it can be influenced, tampered with, ‘cured’.

‘Science and sensitivity began to creep into that discourse’.says Parikh. Ah yes, because when it comes to studies of sexuality, science is known for its sensitivity isn’t it?

‘In 1973, the word “homosexuality” was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the bible of psychiatry. The 1990s were an era of discoveries that began to point toward a biological basis for sexual orientation, including a then hotly discussed 1991 study showing differences in the size of certain parts of the brain between straight and gay men. Since then, science has built a case against Freud and in favor of Lady Gaga.’

The ‘hotly discussed 1991 study’ is actually a very dodgy piece of research indeed, which has been discredited. The idea of a ‘gay brain’ is a sort of Frankenstein sci-fi fantasy, that Mark Simpson demolishes much better than I could:

And yet, like a zombie rising from the dead, Simon Le Vay’s ‘gay brain’ is resurrected on a regular basis, not least by Salon itself. In 2010 Salon promoted a book by Le Vay which was really only rehashing his already proven to be wrong theories:

If that wasn’t bad enough, the Salon article then goes on to quote at length, another discredited ‘sex’ scientist: Michael Bailey. According to Salon, Bailey ‘is very confident that Lady Gaga is right.’ As if they have all had a conference together where Gaga has performed ‘Born This Way’ and had it approved by a panel of experts.

Even Bailey and Parikh  admit that ‘there are some subtleties you have to get through before you can understand that’ we are ‘born this way’. And by subtleties he means, ‘bullshit science’.

‘For example, if we are “born this way,” then why do studies of identical twins, some done by Bailey himself, reveal in many cases that one twin is straight and the other is gay? If they’re genetically identical, how can they be anything but the same in every way?’

The article does not answer this question satisfactory and starts using words like ‘speculation’ and ‘we don’t know’ and ‘may’  and ‘we are in our infancy of our understanding about sexual orientation’… to show that this is not a proven theory.

And that’s the thing. Nobody knows for sure how we come to ‘be’ who we are, how we come to have a certain sexuality. And nobody, not even God, or Gaga, ever will.  The key difference for me between Freud and Gaga and Bailey and Le Vay, is that Freud embraced how we did not know for sure how sexuality is formed. He did not use his ‘science’ to impose a dogmatic view of sexuality on everyone. He was far more concerned with individuals and how their development and experiences affected them emotionally. The others are trying to come up with an over-arching theory of sexuality, in order to moralise and police sexuality. In order to normalise it.

The context in which this ‘science’ is presented is America, where the ‘far right’ and Christian fundamentalists are pitched in a battle against gay rights campaigners. The gay rights lobby, and liberal America, presents sexuality as innate and fixed, because this counteracts the Christian right’s view that it is a chosen ‘sinful’ activity, or a disease that can be cured. If we are ‘born this way’ then surely God meant us to be like this? ‘Cause God makes no mistakes,right?

Except maybe he has. Because the article then goes onto mention ‘a major wild card in this entire discussion, one that puts to the test Ron Holt’s assertion that sexual orientation is fixed: women’. That’s right.  Half the population may actually not fit this scientific theory after all!

‘While most of the research has confirmed that men are “born this way,” Bailey says, there is an emerging view about women that is very different from men. “Leading researchers are beginning to believe that female sexual orientation is a bit more flexible than that of men,” he says. “Women have a higher rate of bisexual feelings than men. It’s not uncommon for a woman who has been in a lifelong heterosexual relationship to become attached to and develop a physical relationship with another woman.” ‘

But actually this attitude towards women’s sexuality being more fluid than men’s is just part of the same, ‘liberal’ conservative discourse, whereby it is actually men’s homo-sexualities which are being treated as ‘sacred’, fixed, and separate from men’s hetero-sexualities. Because it is homosexuality, and more significantly, male bisexuality, which threatens the whole concept of being a ‘man’.  Which, in America especially, is almost important as being Christian. Again Mark Simpson has written more lucidly than I can on the subject of the denial of men’s bisexuality by scientists such as Bailey.

I hope Mark might add something to this attempt at a take-down of Salon and its stroking of neuroscientist’s egos, because I know it is his field more than mine.

While I wait for his response, take a look at the photo at the top of this post. It  is from an American blog called ‘born gay born this way’.

This is a site where people send in photos of when they were children, to prove that they were ‘born this way’. I find it quite heartbreaking. It is full of gorgeous pictures of cherubic kids, playing cowboys and Indians, dressing up in Mommy’s dresses, putting on make-up, having water pistol fights, dancing. Being children. And then accompanying the pictures are little essays explaining how these kids knew from a young age that they were ‘different’ from other kids, because they didn’t do what ‘normal’ boys or girls did.This is Amanda. Isn’t she adorable? Does she look like a lesbian to you? She looks like a kid to me!

I am depressed but also glad that Salon has produced such a blatant, disingenuous piece of journalism. And that Gaga has shot herself in the foot by making the worst and most sanctimonious pop song since —er—- Michael Jackson’s Earth Song.  Because it gives us a chance to challenge head on the ‘gay agenda’ and the ‘essentialist’ agenda of liberal America in particular.

Parikh ends his article even more cynically, by quoting The Smiths ‘what difference does it make? It makes none’. But if it makes no difference whether or not we are born or made into certain sexualities, why make so much effort to prove one or the other?

Gaga’s album hasn’t even been released yet. But she has provided the liberal ‘conservatives’ with some invaluable ammunition in their war against sexual choice. You know what? I’d rather be identified as a good old-fashioned pervert in the Freudian sense. At least then my sexuality could not be co-opted by the do-gooders and the God botherers.

SO this is for you Siggy. Touch Me, I’m Sick!