Michael Bailey reacts to “blatant misquotation” on LDS website by Byrd, Cox and Robinson

Researching sexual orientation and health and mental health correlates, I came across a reference to Michael Bailey’s 1999 commentary on the topic in a book review by Dean Byrd, Shirley Cox and Jeffrey Robinson. The way Dr. Bailey was quoted had him saying things that I did not think he believed. I sent the link to him and asked him if the way he was quoted accurately communicated his views. Baliey’s response is below and as I thought, indicates that he was not quoted properly. First, let me provide some background.

In 2004, the book In Quiet Desperation: Understanding The Challenge Of Same-gender Attraction by Fred & Marilyn Matis, and Ty Mansfield was published by Deseret Book, a publisher owned by the Latter Day Saint (Mormon) church. About the book, the publisher says,

Most likely, someone you know is living a life of quiet desperation, struggling with feelings of same-gender attraction. In an effort to help Latter-day Saints understand and reach out to those who suffer from this difficulty, Fred and Marilyn Matis discuss how they’ve dealt with the knowledge of their son Stuart’s challenge with same-gender attraction, and how parents and others can reach out with love. In addition, Ty Mansfield discusses his own challenge and how he continues to go forward with faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. “The Lord promised that he will change our hearts, but he didn’t say when,” writes Mansfield. “He never promised it would happen in mortality. He only said it would happen.”

Here is a video news clip of the authors describing their hope for their book.

This is gut wrenching to watch. I could write an entire post just sorting through these stories in the context of the LDS church (in fact, there will be additional posts on this topic). For now, I offer this information as context for understanding why NARTH past-president Dean Byrd, Brigham Young University Social Work professor, Shirley Cox, and private practitioner, Jeff Robinson quoted Michael Bailey’s work on mental health and homosexuality.

Even though the In Quiet Desperation authors advocate living faithfully as LDS adherents, Byrd et al wrote a sharply critical review in 2005 of the book, published on a website dedicated to defending Mormonism (FAIR -Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research).

Titled “A Slippery Slope that Limits the Atonement,” the review is a harsh rebuke of the authors and the publisher. They begin:

While we, the authors of this review, are critical of the content and message of In Quiet Desperation, we want to be clear that we do not place all of the blame for any harmful effects the book may have on the shoulders of the Matises and Ty Mansfield. Indeed, In Quiet Desperation is symptomatic of the confusion about same-sex attraction commonly had throughout society. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not immune to such confusion.

Specifically, because the In Quiet Desperation authors are realistic about the prospects of sexual reorientation, Byrd et al condemn their work and message.

Byrd et al also fault the In Quiet Desperation authors for recognizing the negative effects of social pressure and stigma on the mental health of gays. Even though the Matises’ son demonstrated evidence of stigma and self-hatred, was clearly depressed and committed suicide, Byrd et al attacked the concept that stigma can lead to emotional problems. This is the context for their misrepresentation of Michael Bailey’s views.

Byrd et al criticize Ty Mansfield’s views on stigma as follows:

Much of the difficulty with homosexual challenges, Mansfield places on a homophobic society (p.128). He notes:

* The negative rhetoric voiced in society (p. 189).

* The bias or ignorance in society (p. 195).

* The closed-minded society (p. 221).

Readers should be aware that the above statements can be frequently found on gay activist Web sites. While Mansfield and others suggest that society’s view of homosexual men and women is a causative factor in their resulting mental illnesses, such does not appear to be the case. There is a high correlation between engaging in homosexual practices and a greater than normal risk of suffering from mental illness including suicidality, anxiety disorders and clinical depression.12 While one might suggest that society’s view of homosexual men and women is a determining factor in their mental illnesses, such does not seem to be the case since the study was duplicated in The Netherlands with the same results,13 and The Netherlands is arguably the most gay-affirming country in the world!

Activist researcher J. Michael Bailey offered other hypotheses: “homosexuality represents a deviation from normal development and is associated with other such deviations that may lead to mental illness,” or “the consequences of lifestyle differences associated with sexual orientation” leads to mental illness or “behavioral risk factors associated with male homosexuality such as receptive anal sex and promiscuity” leads to mental illness.14

Reading this passage, one could come away thinking that Dr. Bailey believes “other hypotheses” are superior to the one involving stigma. One might also think that Bailey believes certain sexual practices lead directly to poorer mental health outcomes among gays. (It is worth pointing out that no one in the book In Quiet Desperation advocates or apparently lived or lives a promiscuous life.) When Bailey examined how his work had been cited, he reacted as follows:

I was dismayed to read Byrd, Cox and Robinson’s summary of my views. In the context of a debate about the reasons for higher rates of mental illness among homosexual individuals, Byrd et al cites me as “offering” several hypotheses other than the increased stigmatization of homosexual people. It is unfortunate and misleading that they did not indicate that I discussed some versions of the hypotheses they mention alongside the stigma hypothesis. I was noncommittal about the merits of the hypotheses, because the required scientific research had not been conducted (and still hasn’t for the most part). I concluded: “it would be a shame—most of all for gay men and lesbians whose mental health is at stake—if sociopolitical concerns prevented researchers from conscientious consideration of any reasonable hypothesis.” But I also wrote: “It would indeed be surprising if antihomosexual attitudes were not part of the explanation of increased suicidality among homosexual people, but this remains to be demonstrated.”

One of Byrd et al’s out-of-context quotations is so egregiously wrong that it amounts to a blatant misquotation. They suggest that I believe that “behavioral risk factors associated with male homosexuality such as receptive anal sex and promiscuity leads to mental illness.” I do not. I brought up receptive anal sex and (relative) promiscuity as factors that help explain increased rates of HIV infection among gay men. I said explicitly that it was unclear how these could help explain the increased rates of suicidality and depression among homosexual people. I favor open debate on controversial issues, including those related to sexual orientation. But constructive debate depends on responsible, accurate reporting of facts (and facts include what other people actually said and meant). In these remarks Dean Byrd, Shirley Cox and Jeff Robinson fail to live up to these requirements. For those interested in what I really said, please see the actual article that Byrd et al mischaracterize.

In fact what Michael Bailey says in his article about the stigma hypothesis is the following:

Consider first the idea that increased depression and suicidality among homosexual people are caused by societal oppression. This is an eminently reasonable hypothesis. Surely it must be difficult for young people to come to grips with their homosexuality in a world where homosexual people are often scorned, mocked, mourned, and feared, and there is considerable anecdotal evidence that the “coming out” process is emotionally difficult. The hypothesis would be strengthened by findings that issues related to self-acceptance, or acceptance by others, often trigger homosexual people’s depressive and suicidal episodes. Furthermore, homosexual people should not, by this model, be more suicidal than heterosexual people in reaction to stressors of equal magnitude. It would indeed be surprising if antihomosexual attitudes were not part of the explanation of increased suicidality among homosexual people, but this remains to be demonstrated.

And then as Bailey notes, Byrd et al really distorts his meaning regarding lifestyle differences. In the 1999 commentary, Bailey writes:

Another possible explanation is that increased psychopathology among homosexual people is a consequence of lifestyle differences associated with sexual orientation. For example, gay men are probably not innately more vulnerable to the human immunodeficiency virus, but some have been more likely to become infected because of 2 behavioral risk factors associated with male homosexuality: receptive anal sex and promiscuity. It is unclear how an analogous model would account for homosexual people’s increased rates of suicidality and depression…

In my opinion, Byrd, Cox and Robinson owe Bailey an apology and a retraction. Here I have only dealt with the misrepresentation of Bailey’s views. According to this rebuttal by Ty Mansfield, the entire review is a lengthy misrepresentation of his book. And I am not the only one who believes Byrd et al have done an injustice to this book and to the science of sexual orientation. Other LDS authors have also weighed in on the matter and in a post to come this week, I will review their critique of Byrd et al’s treatment of In Quiet Desperation.

And it is not the first time…

Swedish twin study: Q & A with J. Michael Bailey

Recently, I posted here and here about a new study from Sweden involving twins and sexuality (Niklas Långström, Qazi Rahman, Eva Carlström, Paul Lichtenstein, (2008). Genetic and Environmental Effects on Same-sex Sexual Behaviour: A Population Study of Twins in Sweden. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, June 7, published online.) To get additional perspective on this new report, I asked prominent sexuality researcher, J. Michael Bailey from Northwestern University to comment. My thanks to Dr. Bailey for his time and expertise.

Throckmorton: How are the models used in twin studies able to separate the family influence into genetic and shared environmental effects? Clearly the environmental factors shared by twins do not look influential in this study. Many critics of this kind of work will wonder how the shared family environment cannot be influential. Hence, the question about how we can tell the family influence is genetic and not from the common parenting or social environment.
Bailey: Most studies use twins who have been reared together from birth. Shared environment is the environment shared by siblings reared together, and thus, identical twins and fraternal twins are equally similar in their shared environment (provided they were reared together, they share all of it). Nonshared environment consists of environmental factors not shared even by siblings in the same household. Nonshared environment is the kind of environment that causes differences even between identical twins reared together. The logic of the common twin study (as opposed to the rare study of identical twins reared apart) depends on their being two types of twins that vary in their genetic similarity. The assumption is that this is the only salient way that such twins differ–other differences are presumed not to have an affect on the trait of interest. If this assumption is true, then one looks to see whether identical twins are more similar than fraternal twins. If they are, this is evidence for genetic effects. To the extent that identical and fraternal twins are equally similar to each other (and more similar than random people are to each other), this suggests there are shared environmental factors. To the extent that identical twins reared together are different from each other, this supports the importance of the nonshared environment.
Throckmorton: What are the advantages of this study over your 2000 population based study (Bailey et al, 2000)? What are the limitations in contrast to your work?
Bailey: I think this study is comparable in quality to our 2000 study, although our measures of sexual orientation were more comprehensive.
Throckmorton: In the new twin study, the genetic effects are estimated at 35-39% for men and 18-19% for women. Since we are not assuming one gene codes for sexual orientation, do you have thoughts about what genetic mechanism(s) could be at work? The pedigree studies have had mixed results, have they not?
Bailey: Studies such as this one provide little if any insight into the nature of genetic mechanisms. Rather, they estimate the magnitude of genetic effects, whatever those effects are. Pedigree studies are studies that look at patterns of similarity in families, and there has been some inconsistency, with some studies finding evidence consistent with X-linkage, and others not finding such evidence. But virtually all studies have found higher rates of homosexuality among family members of gay men.
Throckmorton: The estimates of the effect of non-shared environmental factors are very high. The authors indicate that hormones in utero could be an aspect of the non-shared environment. Given that these twins shared the same womb, what kinds of non-shared effects are they referring to?
Bailey: No one knows how this can happen. First of all, nonshared environment is the kind of environment that causes identical twins reared together to be different. This nonshared environment is poorly understood but is clearly important. We know, for example, that if one identical twin has a congenital major brain anomaly such as microcephaly (being born with a very small cortex), the other twin is usually normal. Obviously, this is due to some kind of prenatal environmental factor or event. (It can’t be genetic, because they have the same genes.) We really haven’t a clue what it is.
Differences between identical twins (or fraternal twins for that matter) also reflect measurement error, and the amount of such error depends on how good the measure of sexual orientation (in this case) is. I would say the measure used in the study at hand is okay but not great.
Throckmorton: By the measure of sexual orientation, I assume you are referring to the fact that this study did not assess sexual fantasy or attraction independent of behavior. How do you think a measure of sexual fantasy would impact the results? Do you think we might get lower effects of environment on the inner world?
Bailey: I have no idea, honestly.
Throckmorton: Concerning environment, some critics of pre-natal theories might suggest that twins are not often treated alike and do not really share environments, even though they live in the same house and share the same parents. Is there an empirical answer to this concern?
Bailey: Twin researchers have typically concocted indices of how similarly twins were treated as children. Parents vary in their twin-rearing philosophies, with some favoring “treat ’em alike” and others favoring “treat ’em differently.” Typically, these indices don’t predict how similar twins become.
Throckmorton: Could the non-shared environment also include peer influences, different socialization experiences, trauma, etc.?
Bailey: Yes. Regarding sexual orientation, though, there is both anecdotal and empirical evidence that relevant twin differences arise early. For example, gender nonconformity differences in childhood are common and predict orientation differences in adulthood.

Dr. Bailey’s answer to the last question is an intriguing finding. One twin might display gender nonconformity and the other might not. These differences do arise early and cause me to question that they are often in response to parenting differences. The GNC differences however, will likely lead to very different social environments for each twin.
Going forward, research on non-shared environmental factors would shed light on how environment helps to shape the pre-natal givens.
*Bailey, J.M., Dunne, M.P., & Martin, N.G. (2000). Genetic and Environmental influences on sexual orientation and its correlates in an Australian twin sample. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 524-536.