Alternative realities: Part one

Transmissions

by Robbi Cohn    
Published: June 28, 2008 in Opinion, T-Notes

As if the trans community has not suffered enough from the exclusion and disenfranchisement resulting from the ENDA fiasco, the latest news is another blow in the struggle for trans rights and trans autonomy. In May, the American Psychiatric Association, publisher of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders” (DSM), issued a press statement announcing members of the respective workgroups for the DSM V, to be released in 2012. Named as head of the Sexuality and Gender Identity Workgroup is Dr. Kenneth Zucker. Also named as a member of that group is Dr. Raymond Blanchard.

These two men have proved to be anathema for the trans world. They espouse doctrine which is so far off the mainstream in thinking about gender identity and expression and what should be done for individuals who choose to not deny their core individuality and gender diversity. Both Drs. Zucker’s and Blanchard’s theories are notorious among the professional community of therapists and caregivers, as well as trans individuals. At best, many are skeptical — at worst, most fear the implications of the two psychologists’ pressumptions. It would appear that Drs. Zucker and Blanchard have insisted the world conform to their alternative realities.

It is not necessarily the case that either of these therapists is transphobic. I do not want to personally demonize or vilify them. Professionally, however, they have put forth theories which can cause a lifetime of psychological and emotional damage for trans and intersex individuals.

First, a little history.

Dr. Zucker is a protégé of Dr. Blanchard. They are both affiliated with the Clarke Northwestern University Clinic, in Ontario, Canada, and represent a school of thought that can be traced back to Dr. John Money and Dr. George Rekers and the early days of clinical research devoted to gender diversity. Dr. Money worked in the Johns Hopkins University Sexual Behaviors Unit and Dr. Rekers graduated from the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) and did substantial work there in reparative therapy. Dr. Money is most famous for his participation in the debacle wherein David Reimer, a child with an intersex condition, was misdiagnosed, forced into an unsuitable gender role and later committed suicide as a result of irresolvable gender dissonance, all at the hands of Dr. Money. Dr. Rekers is, most notably, an affiliate and supporter of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuals (NARTH), a proponent of reparative therapy, and recently was awarded the NARTH Sigmund Freud Award for excellence in his diagnosis and treatment of gender dysphoria.

Why is history important? The diagnoses and treatment regimen recommended by Zucker and Blanchard have as their roots the Johns Hopkins and UCLA studies and theories. They have won support from a small but vocal “cadre” of clinicians whose theories have been rejected by most in the professional community working with gender diverse individuals. This cadre includes J. Michael Bailey, author of “Man Who Would Be Queen,” in which he pathologized most trans women as fetishists and Dr. Alice Dreger, whose antagonism towards self-determination for those with intersex conditions has been most acrimonious. These theories are illustrative of the kind of gatekeeper mentality which has the trans community up in arms, similar to the clinical “ant farm” mentality which the gay and lesbian communities faced before homosexuality was removed from the DSM in 1973.

Dr. Zucker is a proponent of the “malleability” of gender identity and has proposed that intervention, at an early age, will help stem the possibility that the individual will become transsexual and desire corrective surgeries as an adult. Most recently, in an NPR “All Things Considered,” Dr. Zucker’s regimen of care was examined. The patient, a child named “Bradley,” showed discomfort with his assigned birth gender and expressed a desire to be a girl. Dr. Zucker’s treatment amounted to aversion therapy.

Dr. Blanchard has assumed that there are two types of trans women — a small minority of homosexual men who want to justify their attraction to men by dressing as women, and a greater majority of men who are fetishists and who are in love with the idea of being a woman. He coined the term autogynephilia to categorize this concept.

In opposition to the APA appointments, the NGLTF (National Gay & Lesbian Task Force) issued a press release:

“We are very concerned about these appointments. Kenneth Zucker and Ray Blanchard are clearly out of step with the occurring shift in how doctors and other health professionals think about transgender people and gender variance. It is extremely disappointing and disturbing that the APA appears to be failing in keeping up with the times when it comes to serving the needs of transgender adults and gender-variant children.”

An online group was formed to address the issue with the united force of a coalition. A petition was drafted requesting the removal of Dr. Zucker and Dr. Blanchard from the workgroup and, to date, there are almost 8,000 signatures. It will be hand delivered to the APA national office within the next two to four weeks.

Obviously, this subject is complex and not reducible to one column. We will examine both Dr. Zucker’s and Dr. Blanchard’s theories in greater detail in following columns. Next month we’ll delve into reparative therapy and, the following month, the pathologization of gender diversity. Lastly, we’ll examine the hotly debated issue regarding the removal of GID (Gender Identity Disorder or Dysphoria) from the DSM V.

— You can email any comments, criticisms or corrections to robbi_cohn108@yahoo.com, or submit a letter to the editor to editor@q-notes.com.