A George Rekers Case Study: Where Is “Joan”?
July 18th, 2011
In the wake of George Reker’s “luggage-gate” scandal, the sad case history of his most famous case study, that of four-year-old “Kriag,” once again came to the surface. That started a chain of questions: who was “Kraig,” where was he, and most importantly, how was he? A year later, and as a result of BTB’s original investigation, we now know the tragic answer to those questions.
But Kirk Murphy, the real little boy behind Rekers’s “Kraig” wasn’t Rekers’s only client, not by any means. In a chapter that Rekers contributed to Innovations In Clinical Practice: A Source Book, Volume 16 (1998), Rekers reprised five of those case histories including Kirk’s, with some of those case histories going all the way back to Rekers’s 1972 doctoral dissertation (where Kirk also made his appearance alongside several other children). The same questions apply: who are they, where are they, and most importantly, how are they?
Take for example, fourteen-year-old “Joan”, who Rekers described this way in 1998:
Because of her mother’s two divorces, 14-year-old Joan had experienced very little affection or attention from adult males. When she first appeared in our clinic, she insisted that she had felt like a boy all her life. She bragged that no one could ever get her to wear a dress, and she wore a distinctly masculine shirt, a black leather jacket, faded blue jeans, and cowboy boots. She openly talked about her strong sexual interest in other girls as sexual partners, not as a “homosexual” but as a “male” wanting a girlfriend (Rekers & Mead, 1980).
Joan’s voice inflection was notably artificially low, imitating a man’s gruff voice, and her speech content was stereotypically focused on masculine topics. Her gestures and mannerisms were exaggeratedly masculine, as was her style of walking down the hall. She not only limited most of her social interactions to teenage boys, but she indicated her own cross-gender identification by referring to herself and this male peer group as “we.” She even failed physical education classes at school because she insisted on playing on the boys’ teams and upon using the boys’ locker room, both of which were denied to her by her school.
Joan was quite disgusted by her female pubertal development and tried to hide her breast development by wearing a masculine jacket or an overshirt that concealed her developing breasts. She refused to wear a bra and refused to use feminine hygiene articles. Presenting at our university-affiliated hospital, she requested transplantation of the male genitals of some teenage boy who wanted to be a girl, which was one of many of her repeated requests for sex-reassignment surgery.
Joan insisted that others call her “Paul,” but most of her peers rejected her altogether. Her only associates were a few socially maladjusted teen boys. She frequently suffered severe depressive episodes accompanied by suicidal ideation expressed in terms of wanting to be dead rather than to remain living with a female body.
Based on what we discovered while investigating Kirk Murphy’s childhood, it’s highly possible that Rekers’s description of “Joan” may be accurate in some areas and wildly off-base in others. “Joan” made her first appearance in the literature in 1980, when Rekers and Shasta Mead, a grad student at the University of Florida where Rekers was teaching at the time, published their paper, “Female Sex-Role Deviance: Early Identification and Developmental Intervention” in the Fall 1980 issue of the Journal of Clinical Child Psychology. Their description of “Joan” contains a few more details, including why she wanted to be called “Paul”:
She preferred to be called “Paul” and strongly identified with Paul Stanley, a male rock star with a group called “Kiss”. She frequently crossdressed so that she resembled Paul Stanley, with white shoe polish on her face, a black star on her right eye, and red lipstick on her lips.
The paper uses “Joan” as an example of the difference between ordinary “tomboyism” (which Rekers and Meade thought was more or less innocuous) and what Rekers called “Gender Identity Disturbance,” the same label Rekers applied to Kirk. But unlike Kirk’s case, Rekers would never describe “Joan’s” treatment program in any of his published material, nor has he ever claimed any success in making “Joan” “normal.” What ultimately happened to “Joan,” Rekers doesn’t say and we don’t know. We have no idea whether “Joan” was gay, transgender, or a rebellious teen. But if you’re out there Joan, we would really like to hear from you.