Alice Dreger

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Alice Dreger
blurry image of White woman with shoulder-length hair, wearing dark outfit and glasses, looking at camera from behind laptop computer
Dreger in 2015
Alice Domurat Dreger

United States
EducationState University of New York, Old Westbury (BA)
Indiana University, Bloomington (MA, PhD)
Known for
AwardsJohn Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship[1]
Scientific career
FieldsBioethics, humanities
InstitutionsNorthwestern University, Michigan State University
InfluencesRay Blanchard

Alice Domurat Dreger (/ˈdrɛɡər/) is an American historian, bioethicist, author, and former professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, in Chicago, Illinois.[2]

Dreger engages in academic work and activism in support of individuals born with atypical sex characteristics (intersex or disorders of sex development) and individuals born as conjoined twins.[3] She challenges the perception that those with physical differences are somehow "broken" and need to be "fixed".[4] She has opposed the use of "corrective" surgery on babies whose genitalia are considered "ambiguous". She has criticized the failure to follow such patients in later life and reported longer-term medical and psychological difficulties experienced by some of the people whose sex is arbitrarily assigned.[3][5]

She supported J. Michael Bailey in the face of controversy over his book The Man Who Would Be Queen.[6][7][8] Dreger has been criticized by transgender activist Lynn Conway for her support of psychologist Ray Blanchard's taxonomy of trans women.[9] In a 2008 article and in her 2015 book, Galileo's Middle Finger, Dreger argued that the controversy had gone far beyond addressing the scientific theories presented in Bailey's book to become an attack upon the author.[8][3]

Dreger has been a featured speaker at TED talks. She has also worked as a journalist, founding East Lansing Info, a website that covers local affairs in East Lansing, Michigan.[10][11]


Dreger received her Ph.D. in history and philosophy of science from Indiana University Bloomington in 1995.[12]

Early career[edit]

External media
audio icon "Episode 205: Sex and Gender: What We Know and Don't Know", Science History Institute
video icon "Is anatomy destiny", Alice Dreger, TED Talk
video icon "ISIR 2015 Holden Awards Address", Alice Dreger

Dreger has taught at both Michigan State University, where she received a Teacher-Scholar Award in 2000,[13] and at Northwestern University (2005–2015).[14]

During her doctoral work, she became interested in "how and why it is that scientists and medical doctors work to mediate the relationships between our bodies and our selves" and "why it is we often look to scientists and medical doctors to read or even alter our bodies".[6] In 1995, she published a paper in Victorian Studies, examining 19th-century British medical attitudes toward intersex people. In 1998, she published the book Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex[6] and in 1999, Intersex in the age of ethics. Increasingly, she became engaged in intersex activism as well as scholarship, advocating that doctors accept a wide variety of genital structure rather than "correcting" babies' genitalia to conform to artificially gendered standards.[3] More recently, she has criticized the prenatal use of dexamethasone to normalize female genitalia in cases of congenital adrenal hyperplasia and tried to charge that its safety has not been sufficiently tested by pediatrician Maria New.[7] However, the FDA found nothing worth pursuing on the topic.[citation needed]

In 2004, Dreger published One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal, an examination of conjoined twinning and of surgical practice. Described as "a book filled with warmth, humour and unexpected insights", it raised similar issues to her earlier work on intersex people: questioning the ways in which the surgical profession defines "acceptable limits of the normal" and enforces conformity to such norms. She criticized the lack of long-range follow-up studies of separated children. She also introduced more than twenty sets of conjoined twins, most of whom have adapted happily to the challenges of their situations. One reviewer stated that Dreger's intent is "to show us the humanity of people whose anatomies differ from ours".[15][4]

In The Man Who Would Be Queen (2003), J. Michael Bailey promoted a hotly disputed theory of transsexualism by Ray Blanchard that characterized male-to-female transsexuals into two groups in a way that was seen by many as deeply offensive.[16] In 2008, Dreger published an article in Archives of Sexual Behavior, describing in detail the opposition to Bailey and his work. A major concern for her was the ways in which attacks targeted him as a person and a scholar, rather than addressing his ideas.[3] Dreger asserted that a theory, even if found threatening or offensive, should be judged by its supporting evidence.[14] She also argued against reduction of the controversy to a simple dualism,[3] seeing the ideas and actions of all those involved as "significantly more complicated".[8] As result of the paper, Dreger herself was perceived as attacking trans people and drawn into an ongoing controversy.[3]

In 2009, Dreger received a Guggenheim fellowship to study conflicts between activists and scientists. She has examined a number of conflicts, including the controversial career of Napoleon Chagnon. Dreger accepts that scientists, being human, have biases and ideologies. But, she argues, they must "put the truth first and the quest for social justice second" and try to "adhere to an intellectual agenda that [isn't] first and only political".[3]

Forms of scholarship that deny evidence, that deny truth, that deny the importance of facts, even when performed in the name of good, are dangerous, not only to science and to ethics but to democracy.

— Alice Dreger, 2008, quoted in 2015[14]

Galileo's Middle Finger[edit]

In 2015, Dreger published Galileo's Middle Finger, a book that covered her observations and experiences with controversies in academic medicine, especially those surrounding human sexuality. This included her work with intersex people, the career of Napoleon Chagnon, Dreger's criticisms of Maria New, and her defense of J. Michael Bailey and its consequences.[3][17] The New York Times described Dreger's "smart, delightful book" as "many things: a rant, a manifesto, a treasury of evocative new terms (sissyphobia, autogynephilia, phall-o-meter) and an account of the author's transformation" from activist to anti-activist and back again.[7] The book also received positive reviews from the Chicago Tribune,[18] Chronicle of Higher Education,[6] Salon,[19] and activist and author Dan Savage.[20]

However, Galileo's Middle Finger also reignited controversy over her defense of Bailey and her discussion of transgender issues. The book was removed from consideration for a Lambda Literary Award after complaints. One critic accused Dreger of transphobia, saying that her book promoted the idea that trans women are "just self-hating homosexual men who believe they could have guilt-free sex if they were female and heterosexual men with an out-of-control fetish (autogynephilia)".[21] Dreger protested the removal in an open letter to the Lambda Literary Foundation.[22] Dreger herself has since reiterated her articulation of ideas in Galileo's Middle Finger that relate to trans women, stating that she considers both gender and sexuality to be relevant and valid concerns for people and therefore finds value in Blanchard's dual categorization, if not his terminology.[23]

I want to emphasize that I think both of these developmental paths are perfectly legitimate ways to become women, and regardless of how someone becomes a woman, if she identifies as such, we owe her the respect of recognizing her identity and addressing her appropriately.[23]

Later career[edit]

Dreger resigned from Northwestern University in August 2015, citing censorship issues.[24] The school had ordered her and other editors of Atrium, a bioethics journal, to take down an article written by a paralysis patient, William Peace, about his purported firsthand experiences of consensual oral sex with nurses in the 1970s.[25] Although the article was eventually reposted, the university established its own editorial committee to approve future issues of the journal.[26][27]

Dreger is the founder of East Lansing Info, a nonprofit local journalism web outlet covering the city of East Lansing, Michigan. She currently works as publisher, president, and reporter for the organization.[11]

Fiction writing[edit]

In June 2022, Dreger published her first novel, The Index Case, under the pseudonym Molly Macallen.[28] She discussed its origins and planned sequels with Iona Italia on Areo Magazine's Two for Tea podcast.[29]

Selected bibliography[edit]


  • Dreger, Alice Domurat (1998). Hermaphrodites and the medical invention of sex. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674034334.
  • Dreger, Alice Domurat (1999). Intersex in the age of ethics. Hagerstown, Maryland: University Publishing Group. ISBN 9781555721008.
  • Dreger, Alice Domurat (2004). One of us: conjoined twins and the future of normal. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674018259.
  • Dreger, Alice Domurat (2015). Galileo's Middle Finger: heretics, activists, and the search for justice in science. New York: Penguin Press. ISBN 9781594206085.

Journal articles[edit]


  1. ^ "ISIR 2015 Holden Award Address: Alice Dreger". International Society for Intelligence Research (ISIR). Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  2. ^ "Alice Dreger Bio". Northwestern University. Archived from the original on April 19, 2014. Retrieved April 28, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Meyer, Michal (2015). "Identity Politics". Distillations. 1 (4): 40–43. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  4. ^ a b Sharp, Helen M. (March 2005). "One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal". The Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Journal. 42 (2): 220. doi:10.1597/04-116.1. S2CID 116804317.
  5. ^ Feder, Ellen K.; Dreger, Alice (May 2016). "Still ignoring human rights in intersex care". Journal of Pediatric Urology. 12 (6): 436–437. doi:10.1016/j.jpurol.2016.05.017. ISSN 1477-5131. PMID 27349148.
  6. ^ a b c d Bartlett, Tom (March 10, 2015). "Reluctant Crusader: Why Alice Dreger's writing on sex and science makes liberals so angry". Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved March 14, 2015.
  7. ^ a b c Dobbs, David (April 17, 2015). "'Galileo's Middle Finger', by Alice Dreger". The New York Times. Retrieved September 8, 2015.
  8. ^ a b c Dreger, Alice D. (April 23, 2008). "The Controversy Surrounding The Man Who Would Be Queen: A Case History of the Politics of Science, Identity, and Sex in the Internet Age". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 37 (3): 366–421. doi:10.1007/s10508-007-9301-1. ISSN 0004-0002. PMC 3170124. PMID 18431641.
  9. ^ Conway, Lynn (March 28, 2008). "J. Michael Bailey Investigation". Retrieved February 24, 2019.
  10. ^ "Speakers Alice Dreger: Historian". TED. Retrieved February 22, 2013.
  11. ^ a b "ELi's Board of Directors". East Lansing Info. Retrieved February 24, 2019.
  12. ^ "Who Studies Philosophy? – The American Philosophical Association". American Philosophical Association. Retrieved September 9, 2015. Alice Domurat Dreger, professor, activist, and author Ph.D. (History and Philosophy of Science), Indiana University Bloomington, 1995
  13. ^ "Teacher-Scholar Award". Michigan State University. College of Natural Science. Retrieved January 11, 2017.
  14. ^ a b c Bartlett, Tom (March 10, 2015). "Reluctant Crusader Why Alice Dreger's writing on sex and science makes liberals so angry". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved January 11, 2017.
  15. ^ Kessel, Ross (2004). "One of Us". Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 97 (12): 603–604. doi:10.1177/014107680409701216. PMC 1079680.
  16. ^ Bailey, J. Michael. "Book Controversy Question & Answer". Northwestern University. Retrieved January 11, 2017.
  17. ^ Dreger, Alice Domurat (2015). Galileo's middle finger: heretics, activists, and the search for justice in science. New York: Penguin Press. ISBN 9781594206085.
  18. ^ Tribune, Chicago. "Review: 'Galileo's Middle Finger' by Alice Dreger". Retrieved April 6, 2016.
  19. ^ Miller, Laura (March 7, 2015). ""Galileo's Middle Finger": When scholars and activists clash over controversial research, we all lose. A feminist historian investigates the high price paid by scholars whose research is politically unpopular". Salon.
  20. ^ Dreger, Alice Domurat (2015). Galileo's Middle Finger: Editorial Reviews. ISBN 978-1594206085.
  21. ^ Tannehill, Brynn (March 25, 2016). "Lambda Literary Foundation Snuffs Out Anti-Trans Scandal". The Advocate. Retrieved April 2, 2016.
  22. ^ "An Open Letter to the Lambda Literary Foundation – Alice Domurat Dreger". Retrieved April 6, 2016.
  23. ^ a b "Answers to Some Questions about Autogynephilia – Alice Domurat Dreger (June 2015)". Retrieved April 6, 2016.
  24. ^ "FAQ on my resignation from Northwestern University – Alice Domurat Dreger". Retrieved April 6, 2016.
  25. ^ Peace, William (Winter 2014). "Head Nurses" (PDF). Atrium. No. 12 "Bad Girls". pp. 20–22. Retrieved July 9, 2020.
  26. ^ Grant, Bob (August 27, 2015). "Censored Professor Quits". The Scientist.
  27. ^ Kingkade, Tyler (September 25, 2015). "Noted Author Resigns from Northwestern in Censorship Protest". Huffington Post.
  28. ^ "Just Answer the Question". Retrieved January 10, 2023.
  29. ^ "Unusual Bodies: A Conversation with Alice Dreger". Retrieved January 10, 2023.

External links[edit]