No One Was Obviously Harmed
June 7, 2011 5:54 PM   Subscribe

In the 1970's, the prevailing wisdom was that children with 'pre-homosexual' behavior required therapy to allow them to develop into straight individuals. Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin researched the story of "Kraig," a young boy whose journey through therapy was published as a gold standard of such attempts to change what was considered abnormal gender behavior. "Kraig" was in fact Kirk Murphy, and Burroway tells Kirk's real (and tragic) story in seven parts: What Are Little Boys Made Of?

The story of Kirk Murphy is also the subject of a special report on Anderson Cooper 360, beginning tonight: The Sissy Boy Experiment.

A key figure in the story, George Rekers, is anti-gay activist and co-founder of the Family Research Council with James Dobson. Rekers is familiar to Metafilter for his escapade with a rent boy and his support of anti-gay causes in Florida.
posted by Chanther (49 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry - via Daily Kos.
posted by Chanther at 5:59 PM on June 7, 2011

If you look "sexual predator" up in the dictionary, you'll find George Rekers' picture. Totally inhuman scum.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:08 PM on June 7, 2011 [7 favorites]

I was really sorry to read about Kirk earlier this morning. It sounds like a horribly abusive situation. I'm glad, at least, that this particular episode of the ugly, destructive practices of George Rekers and the anti-gay therapy movement was not lost to history or swept under the rug.

For Kirk, who deserve much better treatment from all concerned:

posted by darkstar at 6:16 PM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I hope our species can get our shit together on gender issues soon.

I haven't even gotten through 1/4 of the linked material and I'm already getting some massive David Reimer vibes. Faux 'experts' trying to prove a point instead of treat a child, this stuff is pure evil.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:17 PM on June 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

The disconnect is staggering.

Yes. This is evil.
posted by likeso at 6:21 PM on June 7, 2011

Okay, I'm out. I can't get past the second page on the Box Turtle link, this makes "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" look sane. The mental health field has a lot to answer for, I know a lot of this stuff has been addressed and fixed over the decades and there was a lot of societal baggage that made this happen...but this is supposed to be a field full of people with an expertise based in some part on empathy. I can't buy it right now.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:33 PM on June 7, 2011 [5 favorites]

How incredibly sad. I think this is the worst part - after all that has happened, his mother still believes what she was told by a TV Doctor in the '70s, that if they would've done everything right they could've turned her son straight. I read this and think it's amazing we aren't more fucked up than we are, but jeebus do we have a ways to go.
posted by Zephyrial at 6:42 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah. I've been dosing it in between checking out other posts and AskMes. I keep coming back. We need to know this shit.
But I'm going to a bit longer break before finishing. It's late here, and the outrage - though more like grief, now - will seriously screw with any chance of sleep if I don't quit.

Hard post, Canther. Well done.
posted by likeso at 6:42 PM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I just got done with my institutional review board certification, and they mention all of the big names in poor ethics in research (the Milgram Prison experiments, for example), but after just the first page they should have a chapter just on this. Good lord. Terrible... absolutely mind bendingly terrible.
posted by codacorolla at 6:44 PM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I can't even read this.

But I know there are a lot of people alive today who should be compelled to read it, even if I cannot.

Fuck, we've been cruel to people for so long over such small things. And people ask me why I sometimes end up coming across like an angry faggot with a chip on my shoulder. Because I grew up during the time when this was considered the way to treat people like me, that's why.

Thanks for posting, even if I can't read it. It may be a valuable resource for me to share with someone someday.
posted by hippybear at 6:45 PM on June 7, 2011 [14 favorites]

Chanther, even. I'm sorry.
posted by likeso at 6:45 PM on June 7, 2011

And, um. Hugs all round. G'night!
posted by likeso at 6:48 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 6:57 PM on June 7, 2011

At least they didn't regularly set the boys up for sexual assault. Merely torture /s/.
At the time, and even now when they can get away with it, therapists and school staff not only shamed and abused, but also arranged to f*ck the butchness out of gender-nonconforming young women. It doesn't just happen in South Africa.
That's what was attempted on me and many other dykes I've known. It worked so well, some of us who managed to survive are now men.
posted by Dreidl at 6:59 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

And the cycle continues. "I don't want my kid to be gay because I don't want him to be miserable, so let's fix him ... and teach him to hate himself."

Sometimes I think the best benefit of creating robots would be that they could raise children, instead of humans doing it, humans who so often have something to prove and something to drink. One day, the wire mesh mother might do it better; Mom and Pop, God and Doc did a bang-up job here on the kid.

I am going to have a fucking drink now.
posted by adipocere at 7:05 PM on June 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

No worries, likeso.

I know what you mean, hippybear. I feel such a deep rage on Kirk's behalf. I'm practically the same age. And sure I had my struggles coming out - but I can only be grateful that I didn't have to go through anything like that. If my parents had known about this therapy, I fear they might have done just that - and done it because they loved me and would have thought at the time that it was for the best. I don't want anything like it to happen again (though I know it still does), and as hard as it was to read I'm glad the story is out there.
posted by Chanther at 7:05 PM on June 7, 2011

They told his parents to BEAT HIM for effeminate behaviors? I want to understand whether it is possible for me to slap these "therapists" in the face. Are they alive? I have frequent flier miles.
posted by prefpara at 7:10 PM on June 7, 2011 [24 favorites]

I'm just a straight guy, but I'll chime in and agree that this guy is both a slimy motherfucker and hopefully this will discredit him.
posted by jonmc at 7:10 PM on June 7, 2011

A year ago when Rekers was caught with a gay escort I laughed because I knew he was an asshole.

I didn't know he was this much of an inhuman asshole. I can't get through reading this material.
posted by munchingzombie at 7:14 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by liza at 7:19 PM on June 7, 2011

posted by limeonaire at 8:24 PM on June 7, 2011

Horrific story. I wonder what medical and psychiatric truisms of today we'll look back on with equal revulsion in forty years.
posted by chaff at 8:43 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, can't even click the link.
posted by serazin at 9:11 PM on June 7, 2011

My God, the poker chip system, and how the older brother would switch the chips when no one was looking so his brother wouldn't be beaten. Heartbreaking.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:30 PM on June 7, 2011 [5 favorites]

That was pretty horrifying. Poor Kirk. I can't bring myself to go back and read it again, but I started to get the impression that Rekers might have falsified some of his data. There was one part where his published paper claimed that an assistant had observed or checked something, but the assistant said she didn't remember being asked to do that, when interviewed for this article. Makes me wonder what else wouldn't stand up to scrutiny.

By "falsified" I mean deliberately forged, not merely interpreted as generously as possible to support his pet theory. Falsifying data is the cardinal sin of experimental science and I don't think there's any statute of limitations on it. If Rekers faked parts of this study, it might be possible to prove it and get him stripped of his professional qualifications. Maybe even get him booted out of the ministry, although that might be hoping for too much.
posted by Quietgal at 9:34 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, one thing about men like Rekers is, they're trying to purge their own demons by victimizing those they perceive to be like them. There's no way they'll let a little thing like the facts stand in the way of them making the case about those they want to demean as Other in their quest to symbolically purify themselves.
posted by hippybear at 9:38 PM on June 7, 2011 [4 favorites]

Kirk Murphy is beyond of our reach. But his suffering need not have been for nothing.

Everyday there are kids out there who are dealing with the legacy Rekers has wrought. And there are others like Rekers.

If I could ask one thing of all my fellow mefites who are in the position to make a difference, it would be this: Make a point of being the person none of us had the opportunity to be for Kirk Murphy. Stand up for the ones who are unable to stand up for themselves. Stand up to the ones who would do this to any child for whatever reason. That is all.

Now I am going to go cry.
posted by Mike Mongo at 9:41 PM on June 7, 2011 [8 favorites]

This kid never had real parents.
posted by maxwelton at 10:14 PM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Holy shit.

The thing that really hits me here is that he started a little boy who probably spent a lot of time in the company of his mother, whom he loved and admired, and she went to have him "corrected" for emulating the behaviour she modeled for him.
posted by TheKM at 10:21 PM on June 7, 2011

God this is so heartbreaking and horrible.

The worst part is that this not ancient history, it isn't history at all. Those bastards are still out there, now sometimes cloaked under the guise of religion, doing all they can to make gay kids miserable. We have got to get past this, we can be better than this.
posted by LarryC at 1:39 AM on June 8, 2011

I haven't looked. Oddly, a related topic was on my mind this morning. I was outed for being gay at the ripe old age of thirteen, in 1970 Michigan. By law, I could have been locked up permanently, in the looney bin, as I understand it. Maybe the probate court was actually working hard to protect me from that and from my parents! I have reasons to believe that is true.

Do I want to read about whatever horror has y'all worked up?
posted by Goofyy at 5:19 AM on June 8, 2011

That is such an awful story to read. It reminds me of the story of David Reimer, a young boy who was surgically reassigned as a female after a botched circumcision, then raised as a female in a clinical study run by John Money to determine (aka prove his belief) that "gender identity was primarily learned". He also committed suicide (after years of problems, and living as a male from age 15), and the "scientific study" had similary disruptive effects on his life. Bad science is a much worse sin, and has caused much more damage, than homosexuality ever did. There's an excellent 2-part BBC documentary telling his story called "The Boy who Turned into a Girl" and "Dr. Money and the Boy with No Penis".

Kirk's story is also much more personally terrifying for me than I'd like to think. "There but for the grace of God, go I." I was never the most masculine child (although I guess I essentially learned to "fake it til I made it"), and I grew up in the 80s in Alabama. I was pretty sure I was different from a young age, but did everything I could to hide that fact. When I was 16 (1996 or so), my parents essentially found out my secret thanks to an errant AOL email that my dad saw. They sent me to therapy, and I was terrified I was being sent for, essentially, reprogramming to be straight. I never admitted, to my parents or my therapist, that I was gay. I didn't come out until I was 19, home from college for the summer, and my dad directly asked me the question. Looking back on it now I'm so thankful for my parents. They sent me to the therapist to help me work through whatever problems I might have been having dealing with being gay. They wanted me to be happy. They wanted me to be normal, just like Dr. Green eventually came to understand it (sadly, too late to help Kirk). "The goal was to reduce the stress you were feeling back then. As to whether you lead a married, family life-style or a gay life-style or both, it’s not for me to have a feeling one way or the other about that. My concern is that whatever you do, you be happy doing it." That quote is from Dr. Green's book The "Sissy Boy Syndrome" and the Development of Homosexuality via the article but after I came out to my mom she essentially said this to me, with tears streaming down her face. She'd seen several men living their lives as out homosexuals in Alabama, and she was terrified that I would be as unhappy as she perceived them to be.

Thankfully, the world has changed so much that my parents, both dyed-in-the-wool conservatives (but neither overly religious) from rural Alabama had enough...sense? compassion? love? to see their child for who he was, and ignore what their world was telling them. I'm living proof that it does get better, and I'm deeply saddened by all the pain caused by ignorance, fear, and outright hatred. I'm trying to contain my vitirol towards George Rekers, NARTH, FRC, et al, so I should probably end this comment here.
posted by This Guy at 7:19 AM on June 8, 2011 [10 favorites]

Bad science is a much worse sin, and has caused much more damage, than homosexuality ever did.

Especially when you consider that homosexuality isn't a 'sin' at all, and never in itself did any damage.
posted by FatherDagon at 8:54 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Kirk's story is one of many voices in this queer generation that were affected by this demonization of perceived gender behavior deviance. Reading about Kirk's life reminded me of parts of the story of Dylan Scholinski's experiences as a child and teenager. The mention of the investigation to determine if Kirk was intersexed was triggering, as I know many people born as intersexed whose care fell into less-than-reputable hands and those 'professionals' created chaos for them in terms as terrifying as some of Kirk's experiences and much worse in extreme instances.
posted by kuppajava at 9:07 AM on June 8, 2011

Oi, I can't believe this kind of stuff still goes on in your country. :(
posted by Theta States at 9:14 AM on June 8, 2011

A bizarre bit of trivia: the head of the Neuropsychiatry Institute at UCLA at the time was Louis "Jolly" West, the man famous for having once killed an elephant with LSD.
posted by homunculus at 9:39 AM on June 8, 2011

FatherDagon: "Bad science is a much worse sin, and has caused much more damage, than homosexuality ever did.

Especially when you consider that homosexuality isn't a 'sin' at all, and never in itself did any damage.

Yeah, I should have been more clear that I was speaking from within their cultural framework, not mine (or reality)

Theta States: "Oi, I can't believe this kind of stuff still goes on in your country. :("

David Reimers, that I mentioned in my comment, was Canadian. This kind of stuff still (although to be fair, this was in the 70s and 80s in the US) goes on in every country, to some extent. The US just has a lot of journalistic coverage of it nowadays.
posted by This Guy at 9:42 AM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think Box Turtle Bulletin hit its traffic limit; I'm getting 403 errors on the links.

I've had friends who were sent to various programs and therapists in efforts to de-queer them, and it never went well, though fortunately not as badly as some of the references and anecdotes in this thread. I try and fail to understand how parents can be so invested in cultural sex, gender, and sexuality expectations that they will quite literally submit their children to torture and/or willingly participate in torture of their children to force conformity.

For a more humorous (but in a southern gothic tragi-comic sort of way) take on this subject, watch Sordid Lives, either the movie or the tv series. Here'a a clip from when Brother Boy meets his new therapist and learns her plans for his "dehomosexualization therapy."
posted by notashroom at 1:58 PM on June 8, 2011

I think Box Turtle Bulletin hit its traffic limit; I'm getting 403 errors on the links.

They're back.
posted by homunculus at 3:05 PM on June 8, 2011

I wrote about the parallels for today because they immediately struck me—here are two cases where highly politicized gender/orientation issues are involved, science is faked in pursuit of making a political point and two suicides result at age 38.

What also struck me was, of course, that this stupid, counterproductive, dangerous "therapy" is *still* being used on teens in boot camps and other "tough love" programs, not only to try to turn gay kids straight and gender-confused kids into whatever their parents want them to be but also to "cure" addiction, Asperger's and any other "trouble" a teen might present.

This was recently highlighted by a teen who was abused in one of the behavior modification chains I wrote about in my book Help at Any Cost; and I have personally interviewed other gay and lesbian youth who were abused in those affiliated programs and at Straight Inc. (which was not only about being "straight" from drugs) and its descendant programs.

Hopefully, this abuse of children and science will soon stop.
posted by Maias at 6:46 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

P.S., as I note in the TIME story, the co-author of the Rekers "study" is none other than Lovaas, the founder of applied behavior analysis for autism!!!!
posted by Maias at 6:48 PM on June 8, 2011

Great article Maias. Very compelling presentation.
posted by serazin at 7:38 PM on June 8, 2011

Just read every page in one go. My heart aches for Kirk, such a beautiful child, and in ten months his entire foundation was just completely torn apart, with unsurprising results. Evil in the name of "science."
posted by pinky at 7:57 PM on June 8, 2011

In the scary coincidence category, I just went to see a live performance of Hedwig and the Angry Inch the other night.
posted by This Guy at 4:40 AM on June 9, 2011!
posted by Fupped Duck at 10:51 AM on June 9, 2011

In case you're wondering, the ethics involved with this were laid out in a 1974 paper called The Belmont Report. This is the foundation for Institutional Review Boards at modern universities that do things like approve research methods. I don't understand how a study conducted in 1977 could be approved by a world-class institute like UCLA and veer so strongly and so terribly from ethical standards.

Was it just homophobia? Even if so, after attitudes (including the attitudes of the researchers) began to change, then why didn't the IRB mandate that Green follow-up with the parents, as the FPP article suggests? There's just so much I don't get. It seems like a failure at every level, and I can't tell if it's a cover-up to save face, or if it's neglecience. Either way every party involved, including UCLA's present administration, should issue a retroactive apology to the family that they helped to destroy.
posted by codacorolla at 11:43 AM on June 9, 2011

P.S., as I note in the TIME story, the co-author of the Rekers "study" is none other than Lovaas, the founder of applied behavior analysis for autism!!!!

That's it. One word: tarandfeathers.
posted by Mike Mongo at 7:10 AM on June 11, 2011

Two Spirits: "Fred Martinez was nádleehí, a male-bodied person with a feminine nature, a special gift according to his ancient Navajo culture. He was one of the youngest hate-crime victims in modern history when he was brutally murdered at 16. Two Spirits explores the life and death of this boy who was also a girl, and the essentially spiritual nature of gender."
posted by homunculus at 10:16 PM on June 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

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