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Posts for June, 2011

The Truth Behind George Rekers’s “Independent Evaluations”

Jim Burroway

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”

Jim Burroway

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”

Jim Burroway

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.

and

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.