A George Rekers Case Study: Where Is “Nathan”?
July 22nd, 2011
As time went on, George Rekers and his colleagues at UCLA began to investigate other forms of treatment for the gender-variant children that were being brought in to the Neuropsychiatric Institute’s Gender Identity Clinic. One of the things they discovered with Kirk Murphy, “Carl,” and “Wayne,” was that coercing a change in young boys’ outward behaviors in one setting didn’t necessarily translate into changes in other settings. And when the changes occurred, they depended upon other adults meting out demerits and punishments in order to coax the kind of outward behavior they were seeking, while driving the child’s natural personality underground.
There were other challenges as well. Rekers and his colleagues at UCLA had come under intense criticism in the professional literature and in student protest on campus over their use of punitive treatments for “Kraig,” their pseudonym for Kirk. Even Rolling Stone got in on the act with a 1975 investigative article shining a bright spotlight on UCLA and on “Kraig’s” treatment in particular. And so they not only had a practical challenge — how do you get a child to behave the way you want without an adult hovering and watching? — but a public relations one: how do you get a child to behave the way you want without punishing him?
What they needed was a self-monitoring and self-enforcement mechanism so that the child could police himself, rather than having adults policing him. And, they needed a system that involved only rewards and not punishments. That’s where four-year-old “Nathan” comes in:
Nathan was referred at the age of four years, and lived in an intact family with two sisters, aged five years and eleven years. Of etiological significance, Nathan had a chronic blood disorder which required that he remain indoors under very protective circumstances to avoid even mild physical injury. As a consequence. his peer play had been almost exclusively with his two sisters. There was limited interaction between Nathan and his father or any other male figure. He frequently verbalized his wish to be a girl, and identified himself predominantly with female roles, occasionally displaying pronounced feminine voice inflections. Even though both boys’ and girls’ dress-up clothes were available at pre-school. Nathan dressed exclusively in girls’ clothing. His stereotypic feminine gender-role behaviors elicited comments from other children, such as “You can’t be a little girl.” This concerned Nathan’s teacher and parents, and ultimately led to referral for treatment.
Nathan’s case study appeared in the December 1977 issue of the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. According to Rekers, Nathan was evaluated and found to be extremely effeminate in some ways, but when it came to his choice of games, he was almost equally masculine and feminine in the choices he made — insofar as how Rekers and his colleagues defined “masculine” and “feminine.” The finally settled on a diagnosis of “confused gender identity and moderate cross-gender behavior disturbance,” which didn’t appear in any diagnostic manual anywhere, let alone the APA’s.
For Nathan’s treatment, they decided to try to teach him how to “count” the number of times he played with “boys” toys. The treatment began in the playroom at UCLA, but instead of the mother or another adult wearing an earpiece in order to follow directions from another room, “Nathan” was the one receiving instructions:
The boy wore a wrist counter and was told that although he could play with any toy. he should press the counter only when playing with “boys’ toys.” Each toy was labeled as a “boys’ toy” or a “girls’ toy” for him. Initially the boy was cued with the “bug-in-the-ear” from another room to press the wrist counter after one minute of masculine play. This behavioral cue was gradually faded out by increasing the interval to 2 min. then 6 min. and 8 min. The “bug-in-the ear” device was then removed to increase the feasibility of replicating the procedure at school without the instrumentation.
“Nathan” was given the wrist counter and instructed it to use it when he was in nursery school during play time. He was told that he could play with any toy that he wished, but he couldn’t add points on the wrist counter when he was playing with the girls’ dress-up clothes. Points on the counter meant candy from a dish. After about thirty sessions in the school (Rekers doesn’t say over what period of time this covered), “Nathan” was graduated to “normalcy.” Rekers had another success on his hands. “The present study suggests that self-regulation strategies are effective in producing the same kind of gender role behavior changes previously obtained by social contingency management alone.”
“Social contingency management” is psycho-speak for “the systematic scheduling of consequences of behaviors” — in other words, rewards and punishments. According to this paper, there were no punishments involved, just rewards. But there was still something else involved as well: the stifling of a child’s curiosity and freedom of exploration while playing — even though they found that “Nathan’s” play was well balanced between “feminine” and “masculine.” Success was achieved, according to Rekers, when “Nathan” ceased all “cross-dress-up play” and “feminine role play.” Fortunately, the third goal of the treatment — to get him to stop playing with girls — was abandoned. “The decision was made to allow his frequency of play with girls to continue since it was within the same frequency range as his same-aged peers.”
Reports of follow-ups for “Nathan” were as sparse as they were for Kirk Murphy, “Carl”, “Paul,” and “Wayne.” At a 1979 conference at the Université du Québec in Montréal, Rekers reported, “Response maintenance of these therapeutic gains was demonstrated by a one-year follow-up evaluation.” In the original paper, Rekers reported interviewing “Nathan’s” parents two years after the treatment ended, and found “gender behaviors within the normal limits.”
Robert Stoller, founder of UCLA’s Gender Identity Clinic, at one point challenged his colleagues to allow their patients to participate in the process of writing and publishing professional papers. It’s a challenge that none of his colleagues took up, leaving us only with the doctor’s word for how things went. There is much about “Nathan’s” case that we don’t know. He was trained to value “masculine” play at the expense of other forms of play, but it’s hard to know how “Nathan” would have internalized those lessons. It’s also hard to say how “Nathan” played when he wasn’t wearing the wrist counter. It appears that Rekers stopped following “Nathan” after the age of seven — or at least stopped reporting on him. This makes “Nathan’s” case an unfinished story, regardless of its ultimate outcome. And so if you remember wearing a wrist counter while you were in nursery school — that can’t be a common memory — we’d really like to hear from you so you can tell us your story.
A George Rekers Case History: Where Is “Wayne”?
July 21st, 2011
George Rekers described treating three children in his 1972 doctoral these while a grad student at UCLA. Two of them we’ve already discussed. The first, of course, was Kirk Andrew Murphy, who was just shy of five years old when he began therapy at the Gender Identity Clinic at UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute under the direction of behavioral therapist O. Ivar Lovaas, Rekers’s mentor. It was this 1974 paper by Rekers and Lovaas describing Kirk under the pseudonym of “Kriag” became one of the more widely cited papers in the 1970s, and it launched Rekers’s career.
The second case described in detail in Rekers’s dissertation was that of 8½-year-old “Carl.” His case appeared in the professional literature at the same time as Kirk’s in 1974. His case didn’t achieve the same level of notice as Kirk’s, but because “Carl’s” treatment extended to the home, he case gained some measure of attention in the educational and guidance counseling literature.
Today’s case is the third child that Rekers described in his dissertation, that of seven-year-old “Wayne,” who was probably treated sometime in 1970 or 1971, at about the same time as Kirk. Here is how Rekers described “Wayne”:
Wayne was seven years old, from a black welfare family. His mother was separated from two former husbands. Wayne, his mother and one-year-old sister lived in the maternal grandmother I s home. The grandmother lived with a “boyfriend,” so there was a man in the house. As reported by the mother, Wayne regularly exhibited feminine arm and hand mannerisms, body gestures and gait. He modeled in front of a mirror in a feminine way, and habitually remarked, “I’m cute,” etc. Wayne had a history of secretly playing with his mother’s cosmetics in the bathroom. (His mother frequently found her cosmetics messed up and occasionally caught Wayne in the act of using them.)
Wayne played with dolls, whenever they were available. His peer preference was girls both at school and at his home neighborhood. He avoided play with boys his age. He frequently engaged in “play-acting.” While he exhibited no feminine voice inflection, he would dwell on feminine content in his speech. In the home he played daily with k1tchen articles.
Wayne was overly obsessive about the neatness of his own clothing. He had a number of “nervous” behaviors such as nail-b1ting. He was a chronic bed-wetter. The mother characterized him as unhappy, and reported frequent crying. Mother complains that Wayne demands an excessive amount of her attention, but that he is emotionally aloof.
“Wayne’s” treatment program in the clinic was similar to that of Kirk and “Carl.” But unlike the other two, the treatment didn’t extend into the home with the red chip/blue chip program, nor was it extended into “Wayne’s” school as it was with “Carl.” Rekers wrote, “Wayne could not be treated in the home and school settings because his mother could not cooperate with the investigator …Over several month’s time, the mother became more overtly uncooperative. Therefore we terminated Wayne as a client.” But before “Wayne’s” treatment was terminated, Rekers reported to his doctoral committee that he was able to coerce a change in “Wayne’s” play preferences and mannerisms in the clinic when other adults were around, but those changes didn’t hold up when “Wayne” played alone. In the last two sessions when “Wayne” was observed playing alone, he “played exclusively feminine.”
Since “Wayne” wasn’t one of Rekers’s greater success stories, he missed the kind of fame that “Kraig” and “Carl” achieved in the professional literature. But that didn’t mean that “Wayne” faded into obscurity. In 1975, Rekers published a paper in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology with data from “Wayne’s” play sessions at UCLA, along with data from Kirk and three others. The purpose of the paper was to demonstrate the methods for recording and assessing “masculine” and “feminine” play behaviors under certain settings, and to show how the presence of other people in the room can affect children’s play behaviors. Since the paper didn’t discuss treatment programs, it was safe to present “Wayne’s” case along with the others.
But in 1978, Rekers would go back and claim success with Wayne after all. In a non-peer reviewed chapter published in the clinical text book Handbook of Treatment of Mental Disorders In Childhood and Adolescence (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1978), Rekers described “Wayne’s” treatment much as he did in his dissertation, but with this addition:
Recently, a 3-year follow-up of this boy in his natural environment found predominantly masculine play behavior, and an independent clinical psychological evaluation of the boy and an interview with the mother yielded no evidence for a gender disturbance.
Again, as with all the other claims of follow-ups with Kirk, this claim is a single sentence with description of the evaluation, no details, no test results, and no peer review.
Rekers presented “Wayne’s” case again in 1979, in a paper published in the Journal of Psychology, which is a very low ranked and rarely-cited journal. Here, Rekers presented new information that wasn’t present in his dissertation. “Athletic games,” he wrote, “appeared to present an aversive and threatening situation for him. Consequently, the boys in his neighborhood and at school teased him and called him such names as “sissy” and “queer.” And so while the playroom experiment was underway, Rekers decided to launch a second set of experiments to try to teach “Wayne” athletic skills in order to “build gender-appropriate behaviors.” A token reinforcement system was used to encourage “Wayne’s” participation and improvement, with tokens being exchangeable for candy. Rekers reported that “Wayne” achieved the skill levels established for “sockball” and kickball. The question of how this was supposed to make him straight however remained unanswered.
This 1979 paper made no mention of a three-year follow-up. Instead, there is a cursory mention of one at fifteen months:
At 15-month follow-up, the mother reported that Wayne “looks just like any other boy now.” According to her reports, there has been no reoccurrence of his previous feminine behaviors, and he has developed positive peer relationships both in the neighborhood and at school.
This report description of a follow-up managed to reach to a record-tying pace of two hole sentences. But again, there are no details: no test descriptions, no data, no independent evaluation. All we have is Rekers’s word for it. Nevertheless, he concluded this report by saying, “This study contributes to the accumulating evidence this study contributes to the accumulating evidence that behavioral intervention procedures are effective in treating boyhood gender disturbances.”
“Wayne,” if you think you recognize yourself in these reports, please let us know how you’re doing.
A George Rekers Case History: Where Is “Carl”?
July 19th, 2011
When Kirk Murphy’s sister Maris contacted me last October via this comment, it was the first step on a long road of discovery. Until just a few days earlier, she had no idea that anyone had written about her brother. And while Kirk knew that UCLA researcher Dr. Richard Green had written a book in 1987 which included his treatment, it appears that neither he nor anyone else in his family knew that Rekers written about him — not just that, but had built his career on Kirk’s case history under the pseudonym of “Kraig.”
In one of the epilogues to our original investigation of Kirk Murphy’s treatment by George Rekers, I explored the weakest link in the mental health profession, the point where doctors are entrusted to accurately and truthfully present their case histories in the published literature. The discrepancies between Rekers’s descriptions of “Kraig” and what Kirk was really like as his family remembered him turned out to be pretty wide. Those discrepancies were continuing theme in the conversations that I had with Kirk’s mother, brother and sister.
Rekers wrote several case histories, featuring about a dozen young children in his career. Kirk was Rekers’s most famous and most widely published case history, but he was far from the only one. Today’s case history is that of “Carl”, an eight-year-old boy who Rekers treated at the Gender Identity Clinic at UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute, about the same time as Kirk’s treatment in 1970. “Carl” appeared in Rekers’s 1972 doctoral dissertation alongside “Kraig,” and he first appeared in the professional literature in the summer of 1974, at about the same time as “Kraig’s” case appeared in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. And like Kirk’s treatment, “Carl’s” treatment was paid for by grants to UCLA from the National Institute of Mental Health.
“Carl’s” case was presented in a paper by Rekers, his mentor Dr. O. Ivar Lovaas, and fellow UCLA researcher Benson Low, titled “The Behavioral Treatment of a ‘Transsexual’ Preadolescent Boy,” published in the June 1974 issue of the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. Carl was the title’s “transsexual” — the authors put the term in quotes in recognition of the fact that they had no idea whether “Carl” would actually grow up to the transgender, gay or straight. But that wouldn’t stop them from treating him. They introduced “Carl” this way:
Our client, Carl, was referred to us for treatment at the age of 8 years, 8 months. The referring physician had found Carl to be physically normal in terms of currently available methods of biomedical testing. Prior to referral to our clinic, Carl had been evaluated by two separate psychiatric agencies as having a severe cross-gender identity problem. In one clinic, Carl had been treated in family therapy for a period of 8 months in a largely unsuccessful attempt to alleviate his transsexual problem, his low self-esteem, and his major difficulties in peer and family relationships. He came from a broken family in which his mother had had 4 marriages in Carl’s lifetime. Carl had a brother 7 years old and a sister 6 years old, both of whom were without apparent psychiatric difficulties.
Carl reportedly had a “pronounced feminine inflection and content of speech” since the age of four, according to case material they quoted from earlier therapists:
He had several recurring exclamatory feminine remarks, such as “goodness gracious,” and “Oh, dear me.” His feminine gestures were exaggerations of an effeminate swishy gait and arm movements. He would typically sit with his legs crossed very effeminately and his arms folded like a female model. At home, he would frequently use towels after a bath to simulate female garments and long hair. …Not only was Carl labeled by his peers as effeminate, but he referred to himself as a “sissy” and “fag”, and his speech regularly implied that he preferred to be considered a girl.
As we learned when we delved into Kirk’s childhood, Rekers’s descriptions may be as far off the mark with Carl in important respects as they were with Kirk. So some caution is in order.
Carl entered a treatment regimen very similar to Kirk’s — the same playrooms in the clinic, and the same red chip/blue chip program in the home. If Kirk’s case is any guide, it is possible that “Carl’s” younger brother and sister may have also been placed on the chip program. There was one element in “Carl’s” treatment program however that different from Kirk’s. Being eight years old and in school, “Carl’s” treatment program was extended to the classroom with his teacher instructed on implementing a “cost-response contingency.” “Carl” was given ten points at the start of each day, and with each act of effeminacy, the teacher would call out “one point!” and deduct a point from the score. At the end of the school day, Carl received two minutes of free time for each point remaining.
The school program extended over three semesters and three classroom teachers (spring, summer, and fall). “Carl” evidently learned to suppress his feminine behaviors with the first teacher, but every time he entered a new classroom and a new teacher, he would express himself naturally again. As each teacher implemented the point system, “Carl” would suppress his effeminate mannerisms, but the process would start over again at square one with the next classroom and teacher. But after fifteen months, the program was ended, and “Carl’s” treatment was proclaimed a success:
Undoubtedly, treatment produced marked changes in Carl’s behavior and his interest patterns. His mother, school teachers, and neighbors all agreed that he changed in a rather basic or comprehensive way from a feminine to a masculine boy. Perhaps due to his late age at the onset of treatment, however, occasional remnants of certain feminine behaviors have been observed. These feminine behaviors have reappeared, in a diminished strength, on occasions when Carl is extremely anxious, angry, or confronting frustrating circumstances. It is possible that Carl has maintained this discriminative behavior because he had not been specifically taught (in treatment) to behave masculinely in all situations in which he becomes emotionally distressed.
“Carl” wasn’t presented as the unqualified success that “Kraig” was, but Rekers and associates concluded that “his sex-role development may have become normalized.” They continued,
Our treatment results for Carl suggest that we may have isolated an effective treatment for boyhood cross-gender identity problems. … Only followup data will allow us to claim a cure for (or prevention of) the severe adult sexual pathologies of transvestism and transsexualism or some forms of homosexuality. At this time, however, we have facilitated Carl’s current social and emotional adjustment, which should have positive effects on his future adult adjustment, independent of the issue of future sexual orientation.
In 1978, Rekers published this brief update of “Carl’s” case in the Journal of the Florida Medical Association:
Case #4 — Treatment Example: Eight-year-old Carl was treated for his severe cross-gender identity by a comprehensive set of treatment procedures including clinic behavior therapy, token economy behavioral management by parent, consultation with school teachers, athletic training, companionship therapy, family counseling, and counseling of the parent. The detailed treatment procedures, published elsewhere, resulted in a normal gender identity, better emotional and social adjustment, and a reversal from depression to reasonable happiness at the one-year and six-year follow-ups. At age 16 years, Carl is now within normal ranges of sexual identity and emotional development.
“Carl’s” case, like Kirk’s, was widely cited in the professional literature, although his case didn’t quite reach the same level of notoriety as Kirk’s. But there was one particular area where “Carl’s” case found an audience: because “Carl’s” treatment was extended into the schools, his case made occasional appearances in books and journals focused on guidance counseling and school behavioral issues. It’s doubtful that “Carl” or his family knows that his case history has been published, let alone published widely. But as with “Joan” whose case history we presented yesterday, the same questions remain: who was “Carl”? Where is he? And most importantly, how is he?
“Carl,” if you think you recognize yourself in these reports, please let us know how you’re doing.
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.
Kirk Murphy’s Sister Discusses “Sissy Boy Experiments” On Minneapolis Radio
June 23rd, 2011
Maris Ehlers appeared on Dan Barreiro’s radio program yesterday on KFAN Sports Radio in Minneapolis to talk about the tragic experimentation done on her brother at UCLA under George Rekers. In this interview, she explains in detail the treatment that five-year-old Kirk experienced at UCLA and the impact it had, not just on him but on his entire family. It’s a story I reported on extensively in “What Are Little Boys Made Of?“, but I think it is much more powerful to hear her describe it herself.
I’m glad she did this particular interview for two reasons. First, this is an AM sports radio network, whose audience is generally not likely to be aware of this story. My hat goes off to Dan Barreiro for bringing this story to his audience. And second, Maris has become a powerful advocate for Kirk and her family, explaining how it came to be that her parents got involved with the program. It’s easy to see her parents as villains in this tragedy, but Maris explains how their parents were manipulated into proceeding with the federally-funded experiment. And in the process, she is also emerging as a strong advocate for other families who have been affected by ex-gay therapy.
When advertising her photographic services, Maris uses the tag line, “Everyone has a story. Let me tell yours.” Except now she is telling her own and that of her family.
Nicolosi Responds To Questions About Rekers’s Research
June 16th, 2011
Joseph Nicolosi, co-founder and past president of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), was interviewed by conservative dissident Anglican activist David Virtue. (It’s worth pointing out that Virtue has uncritically championed the discredited research of Nazi-sympathizer Paul Cameron.) This interview came about in response to last week’s revelations here on BTB and on CNN that George Rekers’s most famous case study and success story, a four-year-old boy named “Kraig” (Rekers’s pseudonym for Kirk Murphy) had actually grown up to be a gay man who family and friends say was severely damaged by the treatment. He tried to commit suicide when he was seventeen and finally hanged himself at the age of 38. Nicolosi appeared on the third segment of CNN’s three-part series, in which he hailed Rekers’s “pioneering work in this for many, many years.”
In Nicolosi’s interview with Virtue, he asserted that gays were inherently pathological and incapable of forming legitimate romantic relationships with each other. Nicolosi then went on to stretch that assertion to include non-romantic and non-sexual friendships:
Homosexually oriented men tend to find themselves entwined in excessively close friendships with women-particularly, with narcissistic women who do not understand that men cannot in a healthy way, be their “best friends” – and this reactivates old, negative memories of unhealthy entanglement with their mothers.
But back to the subject of Rekers’s, Nicolosi again brushed off the allegations against Rekers, both in the Kirk Murphy case as well as last year’s scandal in which it was learned that Rekers had returned from a European vacation in the company of a male escort.
VIRTUEONLINE: Turning to the AC360 TV series, was the “Sissy Boy” experiment aimed at changing him? That is making feminine boys more masculine? It seems he was deeply damaged all his life and much later committed suicide. Was this a result of therapy gone wrong?
NICOLOSI: Who can know what happened in his case? But to put it in context, homosexually oriented people have a much higher rate of psychological problems, substance abuse, disordered family backgrounds, and suicide attempts. This is a known fact. Why did the show not reveal this fact?
VIRTUEONLINE: George Rekers who worked for NARTH as a therapist was cited in a lot of your research as “gays who can overcome their same-sex attractions” yet in the end he was seen taking a young man with him on a trip to Europe who later said he had “massage sex” with Rekers. Does that invalidate all his research?
NICOLOSI: If it happened, it was a grave indiscretion, but I will stay out of that controversy. The real issue is, does Dr. Rekers’ research stand up? Do his theories make sense?
Of course, if we threw out the work of every gay-activist researcher accused of being involved in a personal scandal, there would be no literature on their side of the issue, would there?
Dr. Rekers dedicated 30 years of his life to very important work which has become a well-respected part of the scientific literature.
NARTH’s Joseph Nicolosi on Rekers’s “Pioneering Research”
June 10th, 2011
In last night’s installment of “The Sissy Boy Experiment,” CNN’s Randi Kaye reports on how George Rekers’s research is still being used to “treat” gay kids and teens. Here, she interviews Joseph Nicolosi, the founder of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, said “George Rekers has done pioneering work in this for many, many years.”
Ryan Kendall, one of Joseph Nicolosi’s former patients, explains the rationale that leads many parents to take their children in for treatment: that being gay is sinful, that it’s a choice, and that it can be fixed. His experience also illustrates how ex-gay therapy tears families apart.
I had hoped that I would be able to present to you a final epilogue to our original investigation, “What Are Little Boys Made Of?“, discussing the connections between Rekers’s so-called “pioneering research” and the ex-gay movement today. But as you can imagine, this has been an extraordinarily busy week. So I’m afraid that piece will have to wait until Monday.
But in the meantime, I would encourage you to read this epilogue, The Doctor’s Word, where we discuss the dangers of accepting at face value, well, the doctor’s word. And you can also review our newest epilogue, Blind Man’s Bluff, in which we discover the influence on the particular brand of treatment that Kirk experienced known as Behavioral Therapy, along with its obvious limitations.
And tune in again tonight to Anderson Cooper 360 for a wrap-up of this week’s series, “The Sissy Boy Experiments.” AC360 begins at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 Pacific.
The Truth Behind George Rekers’s “Independent Evaluations”
June 9th, 2011
In this episode, CNN tracks down George Rekers, the therapist who treated four-year-old Kirk Murphy and turned him into Rekers’s poster boy for ex-gay therapy. Here we see Rekers learning about Kirk’s suicide at the age of 38. He responds by saying that there is no evidence that Kirk’s suicide was the result of Kirk’s treatment. He also tries to exonerate himself by saying:
Two independent psychologists of me had evaluated him and said he was better adjusted after treatment. So it wasn’t my opinion.
According to Rekers’s writings, two psychologists followed up with Kirk when Kirk was fifteen. As I wrote in our newest epilogue, The Doctor’s Word:
Buried in a footnote, Rekers wrote, “I express my appreciation to Drs. Larry N. Ferguson and Alexander C. Rosen for their independent evaluations.” By 1979, Ferguson was working as a research psychologist at Logos Research Institute, a conservative religious-based think tank that Rekers had founded in 1975. With Rekers as his employer, Ferguson’s participation in such an evaluation could not be seen as independent. As for Rosen, he had been Rekers’s longstanding colleague at UCLA: the two of them co-wrote at least fourteen papers — including three defending the kind of treatment Kirk received at UCLA against growing criticism. Rosen may not have been as personally invested in Kirk’s reported outcome as Rekers, but he was certainly invested in UCLA’s reputation.
Rosen has since passed away. Ferguson told CNN that the family was well-adjusted and he didn’t see any “red flags” with Kirk. But when Kirk was fifteen, the family was falling apart, with Kirk’s father was drinking heavily and leaving the family — hardly the picture of a well-adjusted family. As for not seeing any red flags with Kirk, his sister Maris had a ready answer: “He was conditioned to say what he thought they wanted to hear.”
But there was one set of independent evaluations that Rekers wasn’t a part of. Those occurred when Dr. Richard Green interviewed Kirk at the age of seventeen and eighteen for his 1987 book, The Sissy Boy Syndrome. That’s where we learn that at Kirk was still attracted to men, was deeply conflicted over those attractions, had engaged in an anonymous sexual encounter with a man, and tried to commit suicide because of it. For the remainder of Rekers’s career, he would never acknowledge what was uncovered in the The Sissy Boy Syndrome interviews. As far as Rekers was concerned, those interviews never happened and “Kraig”, his pseudonym for Kirk, remained a success story.
You can learn more about those so-called independent reviews and the perils of accepting a researcher’s writings at face value in our newest epilogue, The Doctor’s Word, the latest addition to our investigative report, “What Are Little Boys Made Of?”
George Rekers And His “Independent Evaluations”
June 9th, 2011
CNN’s second installment of the Sissy Boy Experiments included what was for me, shocking video of George Rekers apparently learning that his most famous case study, Kirk Murphy (a.k.a. four-year-old “Kraig”) had committed suicide. He expressed surprise over Kirk’s suicide at age 38 and denied that his therapy had anything to do with it. He also told CNN:
Two independent psychologists of me had evaluated him and said he was better adjusted after treatment. So it wasn’t my opinion.
I looked into those so-called “independent psychologists” and found that they weren’t very independent. One of them, Alexander Rosen, was a close colleague of Rekers’s at UCLA. The two of them co-wrote at least fourteen papers together — including three defending the kind of treatment Kirk received at UCLA against mounting criticism. The other, Larry Ferguson, had been an employee of Reker’s at the Logos Research Institute, a conservative think tank that Rekers founded in 1975. Neither psychologist could hardly be considered independent.
Ferguson told CNN that the family was well-adjusted and that he didn’t see any “red flags” with Kirk. Kirk was fifteen when Ferguson and Rosen evaluated him, according to Rekers’s miniscule written description of that evaluation, That’s about when Kirk’s father left and the family was falling apart — hardly the picture of a well-adjusted family. As for their evaluation of Kirk himself, his sister Maris had a ready objection: “He was conditioned to say what he thought they wanted to hear.”
But there was one set of independent evaluations that Rekers never mentions. They took take place when Kirk was seventeen and again at eighteen, when Dr. Richard Green interviewed him for his 1987 book, The Sissy Boy Syndrome. Green’s role in all of this was omitted in CNN’s report, but here is another instance in which his role is critical. Green’s book revealed that Kirk was still attracted to other men, was deeply conflicted over his attractions, had engaged in a sexual encounter with another man at the age of seventeen, and was so ashamed of that encounter that he tried to commit suicide.
Somehow none of that made it into anything Rekers wrote about Kirk after Sissy Boy Syndrome was published.
All of this brings up the issue of professional credibility, and not just Rekers’s. It turns out that getting published in a professional peer-reviewed journal is no guarantee that the work has any validity. Robert Stoller, the founder of UCLA’s Gender Identity Clinic, even warned against publishing material without the direct input of their patients. “Let me underline,” he wrote, “that the editing process that produces anyone’s case presentation is so much the product of the author’s intentions and can be for the reader so invisible a process that we are euphemistic to refer to our written reports as containing ‘data,’ ‘observations,’ ‘facts.’” Reacting the authoritative tone that virtually all the professional literature adopted, Stoller, decried the “innumerable declarative statements that produce a sense of factuality, an ambiance — a rhetoric — in which the author’s position is the fixed point in the universe, serving as baseline truth.”
Stoller may as well have described his own colleagues at UCLA’s Gender Identity Clinic.
For more information about Stoller’s warning, Kirk’s so-called “independent evaluations, and the dangers of accepting published research at face value, please see our epilogue: “The Doctor’s Word,” a brand-new addendum to our special report, “What Are Little Boys Made Of?“
What You Didn’t See On CNN’s “The Sissy Boy Experiment”
June 8th, 2011
Make no mistake about it, CNN’s riveting documentary is well worth watching. And I don’t mean for this post to be a criticism of their excellent coverage. But when you’re dealing with the kind of time constraints that come with television, the story winds up being streamlined and important information goes missing. That’s just the nature of the medium.
For example, Anderson Cooper, as narrator, says this:
Mrs. Murphy says she saw a psychologist on a local TV program talking about behavior like Kirk’s.
The psychologist was recruiting young boys for a government-funded program at UCLA…
The psychologist remained unnamed throughout the entire report, but in the Murphy family’s understanding of Kirk’s therapy, that unnamed psychologist, the very prominent and well-respected Dr. Richard Green, was a central figure in their experience. In fact, Kaytee, Kirk’s mother, didn’t even know who George Rekers was when I first mentioned him during our first interview. It was Green she saw on that television program, listing the characteristics that parents should be worried about and recruiting young boys for the federally-funded program. Kaytee thought Kirk’s care was under Green’s direction, and that Rekers was just a “college aide.” She has good reason to believe that; Rekers was only twenty-two years old when Kirk was being treated, having just earned his bachelor’s degree from Westmont College in Santa Barbara just a few months earlier. Was Rekers really given that much freedom over Kirk’s treatment?
This is the kind of information you will find in our full report, “What Are Little Boys Made Of?“. To understand better the question (if not the answer) of who oversaw Kirk’s treatment, check out our epilogue, “Cuius Culpa?”
And don’t forget to tune in tonight for the second installment of CNN’s “The Sissy Boy Experiment,” on Anderson Cooper 360 beginning at 10:00 p.m. EDT.
Follow-up On Rekers’s Rentboy Scandal and UCLA Therapy Program
June 8th, 2011
Penn Bullock and Brandon K. Thorp, the two Miami New Times reporters who first broke George Rekers’s rent-boy scandal have posted an update on CNN.com, where they are working as freelance reporters on the Kirk Murphy story. I may have missed it, but among the new tidbits that I hadn’t seen before is the contract that Rekers’s allegedly signed with his male escort outlining his duties during that famous European vacation. The first delineated task in the contract does indeed cal on the escort the carry “the suitcases of George Rekers and any other objects when George Rekers request such assistance.” But the fourth item requires the escort tp “provide George Rekers a massage for at least one hour each day of the trip in their shared room, using the same procedures that [redacted] provides to George Rekers in Florida.”
Bullock and Thorp go on to describe how they came to find out about the Murphy family, an account which is very similar to how I found out about them. For my part, it all started with this comment Maris left on BTB right after she found out that Kirk had been the subject of Richard Green’s book and George Rekers’s papers. Bullock and Thorp also want to hear from anyone else who underwent treatment at UCLA or elsewhere:
We now know the fate of Kraig. But what became of the dozens of other children upon whom Rekers conducted his experimental therapy?
What became of “Becky,” a 7-year-old girl with purported tomboy tendencies, who underwent 102 “monitoring” sessions in a lab and a further 96 in her bedroom?
Rekers deemed Becky cured when she became “enamored with the (adult) male examiner and wanted to give him her phone number so that he could call her ‘every night and every day.’ ”
And what of “Carl,” an 8-year-old treated at UCLA for 15 months, whose “sex-role development” was thought to have been “normalized” when he declared that he “used to be a queer, but not any more.”
Rekers Responds In CNN’s “Sissy Boy Experiments” Tonight
June 7th, 2011
CNN has just posted their online report at CNN.com about
“Kraig, I think, certainly was Rekers’ poster boy for what Rekers was espousing for young children,” said Jim Burroway, a writer and researcher who has studied Rekers’ work.
“We have been wondering where is Kraig? A lot of us have talked about it. Where is he today? Is he married or is he gay? Or specifically does he even know that Rekers has been writing about him?” said Burroway. “I found 17 different articles, books, chapters, that he has written in which he talked about Kraig.”
Rekers’ work with Kirk Murphy helped him build a three-decade career as a leading national expert in trying to prevent children from becoming gay, a career as an anti-gay champion that would later be tainted by his involvement in an embarrassing scandal.
As part of my investigation, I had wanted to speak to George Rekers. But after the rent-boy scandal, he had all but disappeared, and I was unable to find any working contact information from him. CNN was able to track him down:
“Well, I think, scientifically that would be inaccurate to assume that it was the therapy, but I do grieve for the parents now that you’ve told me that news. I think that’s very sad,” he said.
Rekers pointed out that the therapy had been decades earlier.
“That’s a long time ago, and to hypothesize, you have a hypothesis that positive treatment back in the 1970s has something to do with something happening decades later. That would, that hypothesis would need a lot of scientific investigation to see if it’s valid. Two independent psychologists with me had evaluated him and said he was better adjusted after treatment, so it wasn’t my opinion.” he said.
Those independent evaluations are an important part of the story. I will have more about that tomorrow. But I think it’s important to note what Maris, Kirk’s sister, told CNN:
But Maris Murphy says Kirk lied to those examining him. “He was conditioned to say what they wanted to hear,” she said.
CNN’s “Sissy Boy Experiment”
June 7th, 2011
While I was interviewing the Murphy family and putting together our investigative report, “What Are Little Boys Made Of?”, the Kirk’s family were also speaking with CNN about the crude therapeutic attempts to make four-year-old Kirk straight. This video provides a small hint of what you will see tonight on the first installment of CNN’s three part series, “The Sissy Boy Experiment,” Anderson Cooper 360, beginning at 10:00 p.m. EDT.
BTB Original Investigation: The True Story of George Rekers And “Kraig”
June 7th, 2011
In the summer of 1970, just before Kirk’s fifth birthday, his parents learned about a new federally funded research program at UCLA for young boys who were showing early signs of being effeminate. Concerned that Kirk was exhibiting some of the behaviors listed by a UCLA researcher on a local television talk show, Kirk’s parents decided to take him in for an evaluation and treatment. Ten months later, Kirk’s therapy was judged a success and his parents were reassured he would now grow up to be a normal, heterosexual man.
When Kirk was undergoing treatment at UCLA, he was under the care of a young grad student by the name of George Rekers. In 1974, Rekers and his mentor, Dr. Ivar Lovaas, published a landmark paper describing “Kraig’s” treatment — “Kraig” being their pseudonym for Kirk. That paper, which appeared in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, was “the first experimental study on the subject of childhood cross-gender problems.” That paper launched Rekers’s career, first as an expert in childhood sexual development, and later as an anti-gay activist.
Kirk survived his ordeal, and he continued to grow up under relative anonymity. Neither he nor his family knew that he was the subject of nearly two decades of discussion among behavioral therapists working to change their clients’ sexual orientation. Through it all, Rekers wrote that Kirk had a “normal male identity, had normal aspirations for growing up to be married and have a family, and was well-adjusted as a teen-age boy in general.” The truth was far different. His suicide attempt at the age of seventeen was unsuccessful. But twenty years later, he took his life on December 21, 2003. He was 38.
Rekers’s career came to an end on May 4, 2010, when two reporters at The Miami New Times revealed that he had been photographed at the Miami International Airport while returning from an overseas trip in the company of a handsome, blond twenty-years-old man who Rekers found on Rentboy.com. Rekers protested that he had hired the escort to help him with his luggage, but his escort himself begged to differ. Rekers’s colleagues began distancing themselves from him, and he eventually resigned from the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), a group composed of dissident therapists who believe that homosexuality is a pathology in need of treatment, despite the findings otherwise of every major medical and mental health organization.
Today we can reveal the full story behind the story. In an original BTB investigation, “What Are Little Boys Made Of?” we take you through extensive interviews with Kirk’s mother, brother and sister, ex-wife, friends, and others to bring you up to date on the truth behind Rekers’s “success.” We also investigate the state of psychology in 1970 when Kirk first came under Rekers’s care, and the profound changes that the profession underwent in the forty years since then — changes which Rekers steadfastly resisted. It is all right here.
On Tuesday evening, CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 will also present the first installment of a three-part series, “The Sissy Boy Experiment,” beginning at 10:00 p.m. EDT. Believe me, you won’t want to miss it.
Charlie Crist To Consider Dropping Gay Adoption Lawsuit
September 14th, 2010
The Palm Beach Post reports that Florida Governor and Independent candidate for the U.S. Senate Charlie Crist is considering dropping a lawsuit challenging a gay couple’s adoption of two foster children that is now on appeal:
“I think we need to review that. My comments really reflect that it’s better to have more of the judicial branch involved in this process. I think that most who follow the judiciary recognize that what’s in the ‘best interest of the child’ is what should be paramount in these kinds of decisions. That’s what I believe and I think that’s what will be the best for them,” Crist, the independent candidate in the three-way race for U.S. Senate, told reporters.
This comes on the heals of last weekend’s revelation that Gov. Crist will back a large number of LGBT equality measures, excluding marriage.
The lawsuit, re the Adoption of John and James Doe, is now before a state appeals court, which is expected to issue a decision at any time. That lawsuit has already caused no end of grief to Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, who losthis bid for the GOP’s nomination for U.S. Senate. That loss that is partly attributable to controversy surrounding his hiring of George Rekers to serve as an “expert witness” to defend the state’s ban on gay couples adopting children. Rekers was later exposed as a customer of a rentboy while on vacation in Europe. McCullum authorised payment of $120,000 for Rekers’ testimony, which was ultimately dismissed by the trial judge as “motivated by his strong ideological and theological convictions that are not consistent with the science.”