Saturday, September 27, 2008

"Reparative Therapy" Still Being Used on Gender-Variant Kids

I was surprised to read, in this entry on Shiva's blog, that today, in 2008, children who display gender-atypical behavior can be put through intensive behavior-modification regimes to get the "correct" gender role drilled into them.

When I saw that, I had a strange sense of deja vu. A lot of the rhetoric used in support of these therapies --- and the actual treatment itself --- strongly resembles the language and techniques used in George Alan Rekers and O. Ivar Lovaas's now-infamous 1974 use of painful punishments to suppress young boys' preferences for feminine clothing and activities.

Here is Kenneth Zucker (whose invitation to speak before England's Royal Society of Medicine is the occasion for Shiva's post) on the necessity of preventing children from growing up to become transsexual or transgendered (quoted in J. Michael Bailey's 2003 book The Man Who Would Be Queen):
Zucker thinks that an important goal of treatment is to help the children accept their birth sex and to avoid becoming transsexual. His experience has convinced him that if a boy with GID (Gender Identity Disorder) becomes an adolescent with GID, the chances that he will become an adult with GID and seek a sex change are much higher.
Failure to intervene increases the chances of transsexualism in adulthood, which Zucker considers to be a bad outcome. ... Why put boys at risk for this when they can become gay men happy to be men?

Now, here's Lovaas and Rekers, in 1974:
It appears to be the case, in boys at least, that substantial deviation from appropriate sex-role behavior at age 5 yr leads to substantial gender problems in adulthood in the majority of cases (cf. Green and Money, 1969). Adult cross-gender problems not only develop early in childhood, but also contribute developmentally to difficulties in social relationships, so that by adulthood, the syndrome is frequently accompanied by other serious emotional, social and economic maladjustments. ... A third reason for treating (gender-variant children) is that intervention on deviant sex-role development in childhood may be the only effective manner of treating (i.e., preventing) serious forms of sexual deviance in adulthood ...

I don't detect much difference at all between those two passages in terms of the fundamental attitude toward unusual gender expressions or sexualities. Both stress that "deviance" must be nipped in the bud, extinguished while the person is still a malleable child, that society might be spared the *horror* of a gender-variant adult. Really, the only thing that suggests to me that these are not passages from the same era is the inclusion in the first quote of gay manhood as an acceptable outcome for a feminine boy. (I'm sure that Rekers and Lovaas would have considered that, too, a "maladjustment").

As I said in a comment on Shiva's post, the same bigotry towards gender variance is evident now as was common thirty-five years ago; the line separating acceptable difference from pathology has just moved a little.

1 comment:

Ettina said...

Reminds me of a lot of 'special temperament' books, like The Difficult Child, Raising a Highly Sensitive Child, and even my much-liked Strong-Willed Child or Dreamer book. Each describes a certain personality type or group of personality types that they say are just fine, and sharply distinguish them from the 'mental disorders' they resemble/have relevance for.