What Are Little Boys Made Of?
An investigation of an experimental program to train boys to be boys.
June 7th, 2011
Kraig was five years old, from an intact middle-class family with an older brother of eight years and an infant sister of nine months. On a daily basis, he exhibited many feminine arm and hand mannerisms, body gestures and gait. These were so exaggerated and pronounced that they resembled almost a caricature of adult femininity. He possessed a remarkable ability to mimic nearly all of the subtle behaviors of an adult woman (e.g., careful crossing of the legs while laying hands gently across the knees, etc.). His speech was constantly colored with an exaggerated feminine inflection and feminine content. The mother reported a history from the time he was two and one-half years old, of cross-dressing and the use of the mother’s and grandmother’s cosmetic items in play. When the desired objects for cross-dressing were unavailable, Kraig would frequently improvise, for example, by pretending that a shirt over his head was long hair, or that a long shirt was a dress.
— Rekers, George A. “Pathological sex-role development in boys: Behavioral Treatment and Assessment.” Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California at Los Angeles. (1972): 81.
As a psychologist, who has counseled scores of homosexuals, I have observed the pain suffered by individual homosexuals, who have been manipulated by leaders of the homosexual revolt. Alone, the homosexual sees the deviance of other types of homosexuals and he can even feel the need to change himself. But, the homosexual leaders use the manipulative techniques of classical revolutionary strategies to achieve their own diabolical objectives, to the detriment of the individual suffering the effects of sexual perversion.
— Rekers, George A. Growing Up Straight: What Every Family Should Know About Homosexuality (Chicago: Moody Press, 1982): 38.
Part 1: Introducing Kirk
Kirk Andrew Murphy was born on July 24, 1965 in Sylmar, California. By the time he was four years old, his parents worried that he was behaving too effeminately. So just before his fifth birthday, they took him to the University of California at Los Angeles’s Gender Identity Clinic for 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.
The Murphys moved to Montana in 1974, where Kirk graduated from high school in 1983. He joined the Air Force the following year and became a Chinese linguist. He served two tours in Korea. He left the Air Force in 1992 and settled in the Phoenix area where he worked for a company that handled SEC filings on behalf of client companies. He relocated to an office in New Delhi, India in the summer of 2003. Five months later on December 21, he committed suicide. He was 38.
In 1972, George Alan Rekers wrote a dissertation that earned him a Ph.D. in Psychology. His dissertation described his success in treating three young boys whom he diagnosed as having a “cross-gender disturbance.” The boys’ treatments were part of a federally funded study at UCLA. Two years later, Rekers and his mentor, Dr. Ivar Lovaas, published a groundbreaking paper based in Rekers’s dissertation. It featured one boy in particular, five-year-old Kraig. That paper launched Rekers’s career, and he would feature or mention Kraig’s case in at least twenty papers, books and chapters in the forty years following his dissertation.1
In 1987 another UCLA researcher, Dr. Richard Green, published a book, titled The “Sissy Boy Syndrome” and the Development of Homosexuality. Kraig — this time his name would be changed to “Kyle” — was one of a dozen feminine boys featured in his treatise on cross-gender behavior. Green interviewed Kyle’s parents when Kyle was five, Kyle and his mother when Kyle was seventeen, and Kyle again when he was eighteen.2 That last interview left Green considerably more ambivalent about Kyle’s sexuality than Rekers was. Rekers described Kraig as “indistinguishable from any other boy in terms of gender-related behaviors,”3 but Green wrote that Kyle was bisexual.4 Green also revealed that Kyle tried to commit suicide when he was seventeen. Nevertheless, Green concluded that no one was “obviously harmed by treatment”5 (emphasis his).
Kirk Murphy was Rekers’s “Kraig” and Green’s “Kyle.”
Because of Rekers, the therapeutic world knew quite a lot about Kraig, but almost nothing about Kirk. Kraig was Rekers’s scientific breakthrough for treating effeminate boys, and Rekers used those bragging rights to launch a career as an anti-gay activist. In 1983, Rekers co-founded the Family Research Council6 and served as the group’s first CEO and Chairman. Rekers also served on the Scientific Advisory Committee and the Board of Directors for the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), an ex-gay organization founded in 1992 by dissident psychologists who rebelled against the delisting of homosexuality as a mental illness by the psychiatric profession two decades earlier. Rekers came to represent a different kind of activist. He was no rabble-rouser. He wasn’t a televised shouting head or a slick-talking preacher (although he was an ordained Baptist minister). Instead, he projected an image as a successful clinical psychologist and a respected professor. And those credentials opened doors for him as an expert witness before Congressional committees and courtroom judges.
But that glorious career came to an abrupt end when two reporters from the alternative newsweekly Miami New Times photographed Rekers at Miami International Airport in 2009 as he returned from a European vacation in the company of a handsome male escort.7 When asked later why he had paid for the services of a “rent boy,” Rekers replied that he was in poor health and needed the gentleman’s services to help him with his luggage. That excuse triggered an avalanche of late-night talk show jokes. Rekers eventually resigned from NARTH and all mention of him was scrubbed from the Family Research Council’s online history.
Penn Bullock and Brandon K. Thorp, the two reporters who broke “luggage-gate,” followed up with another report drawing attention to Rekers’s 1974 paper featuring Kraig.8 They also highlighted Phyllis Burke’s 2001 book Gender Shock and her attempts to reconstruct Kraig’s biography from Rekers’s writings and from Green’s Sissy Boy Syndrome. But those two sources left huge gaps in Kraig’s biography, and many of the attempts to fill in those gaps wound up being inaccurate.
While Rekers became famous for his dishonorable fall, Kraig briefly became nearly as famous for being a riddle. Who was Kraig anyway? Does Kraig know he is Rekers’s most famous case history? Is he gay or is he happily married to a woman? Where is he today? And most importantly, how is he today?
One family knew the answers to those questions, but for decades they had no idea anyone was asking.
Mark Murphy is Kirk’s older brother by about three years. He was eight when Kirk began therapy at UCLA. Today Mark is an independent trucker who spends much of his time on the road listening to conservative talk radio. “Satellite radio is a real life-saver,” he told me the first time I spoke with him over the phone. I caught him on the road in Oklahoma heading south. He’s very friendly, introspective, and easy to talk to, belying all of the stereotypes that the image of a conservative trucker might conjure. A big part of his introspection and self-awareness comes from the fact that he’s a recovering drug addict, an accomplishment he achieved through a tremendous amount of hard work and self-examination — and by avoiding therapists. Mark, it turns out, has a visceral distrust of therapists.
When he’s not listening to satellite radio, Mark breaks the long hours on the road by talking with friends and relatives on the phone. His younger sister Maris is one of his frequent phone pals, and they check up on each other at least once a week. Maris was born about four years after Kirk, and was only nine months old when Kirk began therapy. And so while Mark remembers family life before, during and after Kirk’s therapy and is able to contrast the three eras, Maris only remembers the “after.” Maris today is married with two children, and she is a talented photographer. Storytelling is an important part of her visual work, and she’s good at it. She has a discerning editorial approach to her art, and those qualities are also apparent when you speak with her. She speaks with the precision of a surgeon, and she selects her words very carefully.
It was during one of those phone conversations between Mark and Maris last October when Maris mentioned that her friend was about to go into therapy for some personal issues. Pointing to Kirk’s therapy, Mark said that he doubted therapy would be of any use. He still held a lot of resentment, directed particularly at Dr. Green, the famous sexologist who was the family’s main touchstone regarding Kirk’s therapy. It was Dr. Green who their mother first called when she decided that Kirk needed therapy, and it was Green who performed several follow-up visits with Kirk through the years afterward. But Maris had trouble remembering all of those details.
Mark asked, “Don’t you remember when Dr. Green came to Montana to interview Kirk?”
“I remember him sitting in the living room with a tape recorder and wearing a tweed jacket,” she answered. “I do remember that, but why was he there?”
“Well, because he was writing a book.”
Maris had no idea, but the news certainly piqued her interest. After all, she had heard of this Dr. Green her entire life. As Mark said, “She’s a curious little cutie,” and so the next day she got on the Internet and did some poking around. She found an email address for Dr. Green in London. She sent him an email introducing herself and briefly described Kirk’s life, including the fact that Kirk had killed himself in 2003. She closed by asking Dr. Green if he mentioned Kirk in his book, and thanking him for his time.
Maris’s mother-in-law, a retired nurse, cautioned her that Green probably had thousands of patients and might not remember Kirk. She also cautioned Maris to be careful. “Don’t ask the questions unless you’re prepared for the answer,” she warned. But Maris dismissed those concerns. “I was like ‘Ah! I can handle it! What more can there be?'”
“And I really, honestly, I wasn’t even in a traumatic place,” she said. “I was just inquiring and really didn’t expect to find anything. I went to bed, I got up the next morning, and I just thought I might hear from him in a month or so. No big deal.”
But to her surprise, Dr. Green’s answer was waiting in her inbox early the next morning. He offered his condolences for Kirk’s death, and confirmed that the material about Kirk could be found on pages 292-318 of Sissy Boy Syndrome. Those are the pages containing the transcripts of Green’s interviews with “Kyle” and his parents. And within those pages, Green linked “Kyle” to Rekers’s “Kraig” through a citation to Rekers and Lovaas’s 1974 paper. And with that single email, all of the pieces fell into place: Rekers’s “Kraig” (and later, “Craig,”) and Green’s “Kyle” — they all were her brother, Kirk.
“He sent me everything I needed to know,” Maris continued. “And the crazy part of it is how it unraveled. I only reached out to two other people besides Dr. Green. One was Brandon because of the original story that he wrote, and the other was you.”
Maris and I exchanged several emails and phone calls over the course of about a week. That correspondence consisted mainly of her asking me questions and my answering them. I sent her copies of all of Rekers’s papers about Kirk that I had at that time, and I scanned the relevant pages from Green’s book and sent them to her since she still hadn’t seen a copy of it. She asked what I knew about Rekers, Green, UCLA’s Gender Identity Clinic, and about sexual orientation conversion therapy in general; I answered them the best I could.
The more she read, the more questions she had, and it became clear to me that this was turning out to be an awful lot for her to take in over such a short period of time. Many of us in the LGBT community who had been following Rekers’s career knew quite a lot about “Kraig” (or, at least, we thought we did), but in many ways he was still an abstraction. But now, here was his sister, his own flesh and blood. In some of those emails, she revealed some very deeply personal stuff. It was obvious that this latest revelation was stirring up a lot of old feelings and memories. She was asking questions that, in some ways, I struggled to answer. It wasn’t coming up with the answers that was the problem, it was how to answer them to someone who was trying to make sense of a senseless situation.
If that weren’t enough, CNN began calling her and asking for an interview barely a week after discovering all of this about Kirk. (She had no way of knowing that Brandon Thorp was now doing freelance research for CNN on a closely-related story when she emailed him.) She wasn’t even sure if she wanted to publicly talk about Kirk yet, let alone on television. She was afraid of how the publicity would affect her family and, more critically, she didn’t know how it would affect her mother. Kay (she actually goes by the nickname of Kaytee) is approaching 73 and today lives in a very small town. Like other mothers of children who commit suicide, she often reviews key moments in Kirk’s life and wonders if there was something she should have done differently. Kaytee has a very painful turning point that is easy to identify, and she felt tremendous guilt over it. Maris feared that Kaytee would undoubtedly come under blistering criticism for having taken her young son to UCLA for treatment, and that’s a burden that no mother of a dead son should bear. What’s more, Kaytee had suffered a mild heart attack a year earlier, and they didn’t know how she would react to having such a painful chapter re-opened.
Maris and I talked over the possible benefits and consequences of several options. Over the course of about a week, Mark and Maris decided to allow me to interview them. They felt that spending the time to do in-depth interviews and exploring Kirk’s life in detail was the best way to honor their brother. After that, they would consider talking to CNN. At first though, they were reluctant to let me speak to their mother. But a few weeks later, I got the go-ahead to talk to Kaytee as well. We connected right away on our first phone call.
“Are you from the South?” Kaytee inquired, just after we exchanged our first hellos. I get that a lot; people have a hard time pinning down my accent. I explained my Appalachian background and my fifteen years living in Dallas, all of which makes my accent a weird combination of hillbilly and Texan.
“Well, I’m from San Angelo and I never miss a southern accent,” she said in her strong West Texas voice. I recognized it right away because that’s where my partner is from. Kaytee had left Texas by 1958, but her accent was still as strong and melodic as my partner’s parents’ who now live in Abilene. It is, I think, one of the most expressive accents on the North American continent.
“Well I’ve spent some time in Abilene,” she said, “and the cowboys from college used to come over to the San Angelo fairgrounds and ride the bulls to make money for college. I’m proud to be a Texan and I love Texas, but I didn’t like the varmints — the scorpions and snakes and stuff like that. But anyway, that’s not what you called me about. What do you want to know?”
She was ready to get this done.
The Real Kirk
A lot of people knew quite a lot about “Kraig” through Rekers’s writings, which meant that that they knew virtually nothing about Kirk. My first task was to change that. So in our first round of phone conversations, my opening question was simple: what was Kirk really like? Maris got the ball rolling. “Kirk was a complicated guy from the get-go,” she said. “He was smart. He was by far one of the smartest people I’ve ever known.”
That was everyone’s opening line: complicated and smart. Very smart. Kaytee picked up that thread: “When he was maybe three-and-a-half or four years old, we would take him to the store and he knew all the brands. He knew Folgers from Hills Brothers’ and he knew Hunt’s foods.… He was very, very intelligent.” She remembered that Kirk’s I.Q. had been measured at 138. “And to learn Chinese language for the Air Force,” she continued, “I don’t know if you’ve heard this, but they say that only the most intelligent people in the world can learn Mandarin Chinese because it’s such a hard language to learn.”
Kirk’s cousin Donna – her mother was Kaytee’s older sister — was seven years old when Kirk was born. “He was the first baby that I personally saw that I thought was so cool.” She remembered going to the hospital when Kirk was born and seeing her aunt Kaytee hold him up at the nursery window so she could see him. She adored her little cousin. “He and I were more alike. We were both towheaded, and we were both the two that were – I know it sounds like bragging to say this and I don’t mean it that way – but we were the two that were more academic. He analyzed everything. We were close as kids, and he was so smart.”
He was also funny. “Oh my gosh,” Maris said, “He had a sense of humor that was incredibly dry. It was sometimes hard to tell if he was joking. He was very funny when he felt comfortable sharing his humor with people. He was really sarcastic.”
Mark described his relationship with Kirk as typical “brother stuff,” which meant that they fought a lot. “But he always stood up for himself even though he was smaller than me,” he said. “I don’t ever remember him going to Mom and saying ‘brother’s picking on me’.”
Maris began her description of Kirk by saying he was complicated, and that complexity emerged as I talked with more people who knew him during different times in his life. To some he was riddled with insecurities, but to others he was confident and even fearless. One close friend, Tim Lee, reconciled the two views this way: “He wanted to experience everything in life, to the point of being somewhat experimental and occasionally reckless. He had very little fear and, looking back, that may have been because he didn’t feel like he deserved to exist.”
Maris remembered that Kirk was constantly worried about what people thought of him. “He was a loner, for sure. He was not good at depending on people. He was very, very sensitive, and if somebody said something innocent to him casually in a conversation, he could fret over that for very long time.”
Debbie, Kirk’s lesbian ex-wife and lifelong best friend — now there’s an interesting story that we’ll get to in good time — agreed. “He always thought he wasn’t as good as other people, he wasn’t as smart as other people, he wasn’t as good looking as other people, and he never really went into why he felt that way. He would never give any reasons why.”
“Kirk was a master at disguising his feelings,” she added.
This boy, Kraig, referred to us by a physician for treatment at the age of 4 yr and 11 months. His family was intact, including a normal brother 8 yr and a sister nine months of age. He exhibited all the psychiatric symptomatology of a typical boy with “crossgender identification”. The referring physician had found Kraig to be physically normal in terms of currently available methods of biomedical testing. Before treatment, Kraig had been described by a psychiatric authority on gender identity problems as one of the most severe cases he had assessed.
— Rekers, George A.; Lovaas, O. Ivar. “Behavioral treatment of deviant sex-role behaviors in a male child.” Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 7, no. 2 (Summer 1974): 173-190.
Before treatment, Kraig would passively allow his brother to tease him without asserting himself in return; in contrast, follow-up observations indicated that Kraig now regularly returned aggressiveness in his male peer interaction. Before therapy, Kraig was a ‘crybaby’, being afraid to hurt himself in rough games…
— Rekers, George A.; Lovaas, O. Ivar. “Behavioral treatment of deviant sex-role behaviors in a male child.” Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 7, no. 2 (Summer 1974): 173-190.
He avoided boyish play, being both unable and unwilling to participate in the rough-and-tumble games of other boys his age in the immediate neighborhood. He also regularly avoided playing with his brother; he declined to defend himself when with his peers; and he expressed fears of getting hurt.
— Rekers, George A.; Kilgus, Mark D. “Differential diagnosis and rationale for treatment of gender identity disorders and transvestism.” Chapter 12 in George A. Rekers (ed.) Handbook of Child and Adolescent Sexual Problems (New York: Lexington Books, 1995): 255-289.
Craig also displayed high rates of very pronounced feminine mannerisms, gestures, and gait, he had an exaggerated feminine voice inflection, and the content of his speech was dominated by feminine topics. Others would remark that he had a keen ability to imitate many of the subtle feminine behaviors of an adult woman.
— Rekers, George A. “Atypical gender development and psychosocial adjustment.” Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 10, no. 3 (Autumn 1977): 559-571.
Kirk’s life was complicated, and I soon learned that this complexity extended to my second task of reconciling Kirk’s childhood with what Rekers wrote about “Kraig.” When I asked the family to describe Kirk before he entered treatment at UCLA, I sometimes found it hard to believe that “Kraig” was really Kirk. Rekers described Kirk as an exceptionally effeminate child who played exclusively in a feminine role; who exhibited overwhelmingly feminine gestures, vocal inflections and gait; and who desperately wanted to be a girl. To add further emphasis to Kirk’s extreme effeminacy, Rekers said that another psychiatric authority (that authority is never named) called Kirk “one of the most severe cases he had ever assessed.” Kirk’s mother and siblings were incredulous at that. “I don’t see how they could have possibly come to that at all,” Maris said.
“I agree,” chimed Mark. “I would love to know who came up with that. Do you know who evaluated Kirk?”
I didn’t. It may have been Green himself, or it may have been any number of other in-house “psychiatric authorities” at UCLA.9 And that’s not the only question that comes up when discussing Kirk’s evaluation. In Rekers’s 1974 paper, his very first sentence describing Kirk says that he “was referred to us by a physician for treatment.”10 But Kirk wasn’t a referral; he went because his mother saw Dr. Green on television and called the clinic directly. A minor inconsistency, perhaps — technically speaking, because Dr. Green is a psychiatrist, he is also a physician — but it was just one of many inconsistencies that would pile up during the course of this investigation.
Rekers’s early papers contained no substantiation to his claim that Kirk was one of the most severe cases, but one paper he wrote in 1990 may offer skeletal substantiation — if Kirk is one of the twenty-nine unnamed children in that study.11 One case, child #18, describes a child whose age and treatment duration is similar to Kirk’s. That child’s masculinity scores, based on subjective observations on a scale from 1 to 5, stands out from the others as being among the lowest, although it is unclear how repeatable or reliable the test methods were. That’s why I felt it was important to dig deeper in understanding what Kirk was like as a child.
But my attempts to square Kirk with “Kyle” kept hitting brick walls, like when my next question — was Kirk more of a “crybaby” or afraid to hurt himself in rough games? — drew another negative response. “Kirk always stood up for himself,” Mark said, adding that he could be pretty fierce at times. “We shared the same room until we moved to the second house,” said Mark. “I was on the top bunk… actually I think mine was the bottom and his was the top. I was in his bed, and he went up there to get me out of it. I don’t remember exactly why. All I remember is we were both up there, we started fighting and he ended up flying off. And then he landed on a big red fire truck and he broke his arm.”
Kaytee added, “And you know we didn’t even know poor Kirk’s arm was broken for, like, a couple of weeks because he was just that kind of child. He didn’t complain or whimper. He could get hit with a ball and he wouldn’t cry. He was such a strong little fellow, you know?”
What about playing with other kids in the neighborhood? Did he avoid playing with boys? Mark didn’t remember anything unusual. “There were more girls for Kirk to play with his age than boys,” he said, “but we all played. The girls were playing baseball, hide-and-go-seek, boys and girls. The boys were outnumbered, but there’s nothing in my memory that would strike me as abnormal.”
What about his mannerisms? Was Kirk effeminate when he was very young? Kaytee didn’t remember him gesturing or walking like a girl. “I just don’t remember that at all,” she said. Neither did Mark. Others who knew Kirk later in life would remark that Kirk was somewhat effeminate, but no one remembers the extreme picture that Rekers drew.
But Kirk did have a talent for imitation, especially if he thought he could get a laugh out of it. And those targets included women as well as men. Maris said it was part of what made him funny. “He would make fun of our uncle, and it was so funny how well he could walk, sound, and be like him. He would do this to all of us — my mom, my grandmother, teachers, my friends… he was very funny.” Maris suggested that Kirk’s mastery of mimicry wasn’t just a reflection of his sense of humor, but was a product of his keen powers of observation. Even at a very young age, he would notice the slightest details that would lend an uncanny perfection to his impersonations.
Before treatment, Kraig (4 years, 11 months) played house with neighborhood girls and insisted upon taking the role of mother, assigning the role of father to one of the girls. His rigid insistence on these role assignments caused the girl playmates to object, and Kraig’s typical response was to run home crying to his mother. The girls wanted Kraig to take the male role in play.
— Rekers, George A.; Rosen, Alexander C.; Lovaas, O. Ivar; Bentler, Peter M. “Sex-role stereotypy and professional intervention for childhood gender disturbances.” Professional Psychology 9, no. 1 (February 1978): 127-136.
A mother once brought her four-year-old son to see me. This little boy pretended that he was the mother virtually every time he played house. If such a boy rejects his rightful male role, he may also reject the father role, including the idea that he will grow up and marry a woman. So a child’s sexual identity problem can be a factor that leads to homosexual or other abnormal sexual temptations later in childhood or adolescence.
— Rekers, George A. Growing Up Straight: What Every Family Should Know About Homosexuality (Chicago: Moody Press, 1982): 76.
Rekers described an incident where, in playing “house” with a neighbor girl, Kirk insisted on playing the role of the “mommy.” According to Rekers, Kirk came home crying because the girl wouldn’t let him be the mother. “I can actually say I do not remember that., Kaytee said. “But I can’t say that I remember everything either.”
There may be a good reason she doesn’t remember it. When Kirk was five years old, Green interviewed Kaytee and Kirk’s father, Rod. Rod said that he hadn’t seen the incident himself, but it had been “mentioned to (Kaytee) a couple of times.” That transcript also reveals that Kaytee may have been correct in not being too alarmed by it. She said:
Well, I’ve tried to explain to him what his father’s world is, because I know he relates too much to me, but I really think I haven’t pushed him away from it. I’ve just tried to tell him, well, daddies go out and work, and he said, “Why do daddies go out and work?” I said, “Because they have to make money — that’s father’s role.” I don’t think he has really any idea of what I’m trying to explain. But I keep trying. He’ll say once in a while, “Well, I want to grow up and be like daddy.”12
Four-year-olds often use role-playing to explore many different aspects of adult life. If Kirk did play “mommy” sometimes, he didn’t appear particularly attached to it. So if Kaytee doesn’t remember Kirk wanting to play the “mommy” today, she may be forgiven; it really may not have been that important.
But all of this brings up an obvious question: If Kirk really wasn’t all that effeminate and he didn’t seriously want to be a girl, then why did Kirk’s mother decide she needed to take him to UCLA for treatment in the first place?
He had a history of cross-dressing since he was 2 yr old; at that time …When the mother’s clothing was unavailable, Kraig very frequently improvised in cross-dressing-e.g., mop or towel over head for long hair, or long shirt for a dress.
— Rekers, George A.; Lovaas, O. Ivar. “Behavioral treatment of deviant sex-role behaviors in a male child.” Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 7, no. 2 (Summer 1974): 173-190.
Kaytee said that the problem she wanted dealt with had to do with some behaviors Kirk picked up as a toddler. It all started, she said, when Kirk was two years old and she went back to work to help make ends meet. “The thing that bothered me the most was the babysitter I hired when I went back to work. She didn’t do a good job with him. She had these two daughters and she would just kind of ignore the kids. And that would be when he started putting shirts on his head and started acting like it was long hair, playing with dolls and stuff.”
“Mark was the one who first made me aware of what was going on,” she explained. “He came home one day and he said, ‘Mom, you know the babysitter is letting Kirk play with dolls and putting shirts on his head and acting like it’s long hair.’ Well, I got really upset and I worried about it.”
This seemed to be the key moment. In my numerous interviews with Katyee, whenever I asked about Whenever I asked Kaytee about Kirk’s effeminacy or his playing with dolls, she would always go back to the that baby sitter. “That’s really how it all got started,” she repeated again and again, so often and so patiently she must have thought I was really slow.
But as for playing with dolls at home, that wasn’t a major issue. “We didn’t have any girly things until after Maris was born,” she said. Mark concurred, adding, “Of course with two boys in the house, there were no Barbies or anything like that. Besides the babysitter thing, I don’t remember anything that would have struck me as odd.”
Donna couldn’t remember Kirk preferring to play with girls’ toys in particular, although they did play together with her toys whenever he came to her house. “Did he play with Barbie dolls? I don’t know. Did he play dress up? I don’t know. He was just a sweet little boy. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with him.”
He had been cross-dressing in female garments from the age of 2 years and had also begun to play with cosmetic items belonging to his mother and grandmother at about the same time.
— Rekers, George A. ‘Atypical gender development and psychosocial adjustment.’ Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 10, no. 3 (Autumn 1977): 559-571.
Our subject verbalized his identity as a girl and his wish to be a mother, totally rejecting the roles of boy and father.
–Rekers, George A. ‘Atypical gender development and social adjustment.’ Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 10, no. 3 (Fall 1977): 559-571.
But as we kept talking, Kaytee would remember other details that seemed important. For example, Kirk was especially fond of Kaytee’s mother, and sometimes when Kirk’s grandmother was taking care of him, he’d want to put on her earrings and necklace. Just thinking about it got Kaytee’s dander up. “Believe you me,” she exclaimed, “excuse my French, but I raised hillbilly hell with her! I’m not laying all the blame on her, but she didn’t help it any, you know? She just didn’t see any harm in it.”
“So then,” I asked, seizing on that memory, “did Kirk ever say he wanted to be a girl?” Her answer was very firm: “No, he never said that.” Neither Mark nor Maris remember Kirk ever saying he wanted to be a girl either.
When Dr. Green interviewed Kaytee for Sissy Boy Syndrome, he quotes her as saying that Kirk had said that he wanted to be a girl, but that was just a very brief one-sentence statement in passing.13 If he did say it, Green’s interview twelve years later with Kirk at age seventeen gives us an exceptionally simple explanation. “I was afraid that all boys had to go to the army and be killed,” Kirk told Green. “I thought I had to go to the army and be killed, so then I wanted to be a girl ’cause I didn’t want to go get killed.” That’s perfectly understandable. Violent images from Vietnam were a common feature on nightly newscast throughout the late 60s and into the 70s. A lot of boys harbored similar fears. When Kirk learned that “everyone didn’t go in the army to be killed,” he no longer wanted to be a girl.14 In other words, his wish to be a girl had nothing to do with gender identity. He just didn’t want to get drafted and sent to Vietnam.
Getting to the heart of what Kirk was like forty years ago is extremely difficult. Today, Kaytee is approaching 73, and she repeatedly reminded me that her memory isn’t as good as it used to be. And for obvious reasons, she’s much better at remembering the good things than she is at those things she may be uncomfortable with. She’s experienced quite a bit of trauma in her life, a lot of which had little or nothing to do with Kirk. Not remembering just might be what allows her to get through the day.
It’s also possible — likely perhaps — that her memories of Kirk from his last 33 years of life have overshadowed her memories from his first five. The same may also hold true for Mark; at eight years old, he was still rather young when Kirk entered therapy.
It’s also possible, too, that Kirk may have actually been more effeminate than Kaytee or Mark feel comfortable admitting, to me or even to themselves. After all, effeminate males have a way of making a lot of us uncomfortable. That’s true even within the gay community, where a lot of men place a great deal of value on being “straight-acting,” and where being called “nellie” is rarely a compliment. If effeminacy causes that much discomfort within the gay community, we can’t dismiss that possibility with the Murphys either.
When other children asked him his name, he would say his name was Cindy. He would even get into neighborhood arguments about it. “My name is Cindy.”
“No, it’s not, your name is Craig.”
“No, my name is really Cindy. I’m not a boy, I’m a girl.”
“No you’re not — your mommy said you are a boy.”
“No she didn’t, ’cause I’m really a girl.”
“Well, get lost. We don’t want to play with you — you queer.”
It was really sad to see Craig run home crying to his mother when other kids rejected him so cruelly.
— George Rekers, in Braun, Michael; Rekers, George Alan. The Christian In an Age of Sexual Eclipse: A Defense Without Apology (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1981): 165.
But before we simply chalk the discrepancies up to faulty memory or shame over Kirk’s behavior, we have to consider another possibility: that Rekers may have embellished his descriptions of Kirk. For example, in a couple of books Rekers wrote ten years later, he imagined entire conversations that Kirk supposedly had with other children in the neighborhood.15 And then there’s this passage from Rekers’s first published paper about Kirk, which I read to Kaytee over the phone a couple of months after our first conversation:
When we first saw him, the extent of his feminine identification was so profound (his mannerisms, gestures, fantasies, flirtations, etc., as shown in his “swishing” around the home and clinic, fully dressed as a woman with long dress, wig, nail polish, high screechy voice, slovenly seductive eyes) that it suggested irreversible neurological and biochemical determinants.16
“What?” Kaytee exclaimed. Then she paused a bit.
“What?” She said, appearing uncertain whether she heard me right.
“Oh, no, no, no, no, no! No way! No, sir! No way he never dressed as a woman in his life.” She paused a second trying to take it all in. “We didn’t even own a wig!”
“That is a damned boldfaced lie, pardon my French. I can’t believe he made up all that crap.”
The more she thought about it, the more she couldn’t believe what she heard. “Where would he even have gotten a wig? Or a dress that would fit him?”
“Oh, that makes me so angry. What a creep!”
While Rekers may have taken some liberties when he described Kirk as “one of the most serious cases” ever assessed, the fact remains that Kaytee did decide to take Kirk to UCLA for treatment. “There had to have been something significant,” observed Maris. “There had to have been something that got him qualified for the research — unless that was totally bogus as well, I don’t know. He had some feminine characteristics to him — and granted, I came along post-research; I know that — but I never saw him showing anything even remotely close to what Rekers says in his paper, that Kirk was one of the worst cases he ever saw.”
But there was at least one key incident that does appear to be pivotal. Mark recounted, “I remember Kirk and our cousin who was about his age getting caught with tee-shirts on their heads and pretending it was long hair, and getting whipped, both of them. That would have been, like, the first time I remember anything out of the ordinary.” Shortly after that, Kirk and his family would undergo treatment, but the cousin’s family didn’t. “I’m severely confused as to why Kirk went to therapy and our cousin didn’t,” Mark added. “They were doing the same thing together.”
But that alone didn’t do it. There was one more thing that propelled Kirk to therapy: a fateful television program one afternoon sometime before Kirk’s fifth birthday. Whatever concerns Kaytee may have had about Kirk – however major or minor they may have been at the time — those concerns were magnified when she saw Dr. Richard Green on a local talk show, warning that effeminate boys would grow up to be homosexual men unless they were treated at the earliest age possible. To drive the point home, a gay man was also on the program, confirming to viewers that he had been effeminate when he was little. His presence was proof that effeminate boys would grow up to become like him unless something was done right away. A new experimental treatment program for children at UCLA could avert this horrible fate, Green assured his audience. Kaytee recalled, “I think there was a listing of ten things. If your little boy is doing, like, five out of these ten things, then contact me. And so that’s how I got into this.”
Next: Psychology, 1970 style
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1. Kirk’s case was first introduced in Rekers’s unpublished doctoral dissertation in 1972, followed by a paper Rekers wrote with Dr. Ivar Lovaas that was published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis in 1974. Kirk is described either by name (as “Kraig” or “Craig”) or by other clearly identifiable information (usually by his age with a reference to either Rekers’ doctoral thesis or the 1974 Rekers & Lovaas paper) in the following papers, chapters and books:
Rekers, George A. “Pathological sex-role development in boys: Behavioral Treatment and Assessment.” Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of California at Los Angeles. (1972).
Rekers, George A.; Lovaas, O. Ivar. “Behavioral treatment of deviant sex-role behaviors in a male child.” Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 7, no. 2 (Summer 1974): 173-190. This is the first published description of Kirk’s treatment at UCLA.
Rekers, George A. “Stimulus control over sex-typed play in cross-gender identified boys.” Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 20, no. 1 (August 1975): 136-148.
Rekers, George A.; Lovaas, O. Ivar. “Treatment of deviant sex-role behaviors.” Chapter 25 in M. Franks & G.T. Wilson (eds.) Annual Review of Behavior Therapy: Research and Practice, Vol 3 (New York: Bruner/Mazal, 1975): 553-579. This is a reprint of the Rekers & Lovaas (1974) paper.
Rekers, George A.; Lovaas, O. Ivar. “Behavioral treatment of deviant sex-role behaviors.” Chapter 38 in Gerald R. Patterson, et al. (eds.) Behavior Change 1974: An Aldine Annual on Psychotherapy, Counseling, and Behavior Modification (Chicago: Aldine, 1975): 385-401. This is a reprint of the Rekers & Lovaas (1974) paper.
Rekers, George A.; Yates, Cindy E. “Sex-typed play in feminoid boys versus normal boys and girls.” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 4 no. 1 (March 1976): 1-8.
Rekers, George A. “Assessment and treatment of childhood gender problems.” Chapter 7 in Benjamin B. Lahey & Alan E. Kazdon (eds.) Advances in Clinical Child Psychology, Vol. 1 (New York: Plenum Press, 1977): 267-306.
Rekers, George A. “Atypical gender development and psychosocial adjustment.” Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 10, no. 3 (Autumn 1977): 559-571.
Rekers, George A.; Rosen, Alexander C.; Lovaas, O. Ivar; Bentler, Peter M. “Sex-role stereotypy and professional intervention for childhood gender disturbances.” Professional Psychology 9, no. 1 (February 1978): 127-136.
Rekers, George A. “Sexual problems: Behavior modification.” Chapter 17 in Benjamin B. Wolman, James Egan, and Alan O. Ross (eds.) Handbook of Treatment of Mental Disorders in Childhood and Adolescence (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1978): 268-296.
Rekers, George A.; Crandall, Barbara F.; Rosen, Alexander C.; Bentler, Peter M. “Genetic and physical studies of male children with psychological gender disturbances.” Psychological Medicine 9, no. 2 (May 1979): 373-375. “Kraig”/”Craig” is not mentioned by name, but the authors include in their study of “12 consecutive referrals to the first author’s clinical research programme”, “one who had one undescended testicle.” Later in the same paper, the subject with the undescended testicle was identified as the boy reported in Rekers & Lovaas, 1974.
Rekers, George A. “Sex-role behavior change: Intrasubject studies of boyhood gender disturbance.” Journal of Psychology 103, no. 2 (November 1979): 255-269. “Kraig”/”Craig” is not mentioned by name, but is instead referred to as “a five-year-old cross-gender identified boy,” with a reference to Rekers & Lovaas, 1974.
Rekers, George A.; Lovaas, O. Ivar. “Case report #2 on cross-gender identification.” In Charles E. Schaefer and Howard L. Millman (eds.) How to Help Children with Common Problems (New York: Plume Books, 1981): 389-390.
Braun, Michael; Rekers, George Alan. The Christian In an Age of Sexual Eclipse: A Defense Without Apology (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1981). Kirk is identified as “Craig” throughout the book.
Rekers, George A. Shaping Your Child’s Sexual Identity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1982). Kirk is identified as “Craig” throughout the book.
Rekers, George A. Growing Up Straight: What Every Family Should Know About Homosexuality (Chicago: Moody Press, 1982): 76. “Kraig”/”Craig” is not mentioned by name, but is instead referred to as “a four-year-old son” who “pretended he was the mother virtually every time he played house, with a reference to Rekers & Lovaas, 1974.
Rekers, George A. “Play therapy with cross-gender identified children.” In Charles E. Schaefer and Kevin J. O’Connor (eds.) Handbook of Play Therapy (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1983): 369-385.
Rekers, George A. “Gender identity problems.” Chapter 16 in Philip H. Borstein and Alan E. Kazdin (eds.) Handbook of Clinical Behavior Therapy with Children (Homewood, IL: Dorsey Press, 1985): 658-699. “Kraig”/”Craig” is not mentioned by name, but is instead referred to as “a four year old boy” with a reference to Rekers & Lovaas, 1974 (see pages 686-7).
Rekers, George A.; Kilgus, Mark; Rosen, Alexander C. “Long-term effects of treatment for Gender Identity Disorder.” Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality 3, no. 2 (1990): 121-153. “Kraig”/”Craig” is not mentioned by name, but is instead referred to as “a four year old boy” with a reference to Rekers & Lovaas, 1974 (see page 149).
Rekers, George A.; Kilgus, Mark D. “Differential diagnosis and rationale for treatment of gender identity disorders and transvestism.” Chapter 12 in George A. Rekers (ed.) Handbook of Child and Adolescent Sexual Problems (New York: Lexington Books, 1995): 255-271. Kirk is identified as “Craig.”
Rekers, George A; Oram, Kimberly Barnett. “Child and adolescent therapy for precursors to adulthood homosexual attractions.” In Julie Harren Hamilton & Philip J. Henry (eds.) Handbook of Therapy for Unwanted Homosexual Attractions: A Guide to Treatment (Self-published via Xulon Press, 2009): 302. Kirk is identified as “Craig.”
3. Rekers, George A. “Play therapy with cross-gender identified children.” Chapter 20 in Charles E. Schaefer & Kevin J. O’Connor (eds.) Handbook of Play Therapy (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1983): 369-385.
6. “Over 20 years: Defending Family, Faith and Freedom.” Family Research Council web site, as archived by archive.org on January 1, 2006 (retrieved October 12, 2010). Archived web page available at http://web.archive.org/web/20051226235716/www.frc.org/get.cfm?c=HISTORY_ABOUT.
7. Bullock, Penn; Thorp, Brandon K. “Christian right leader George Rekers takes vacation with ‘rent boy’.” Miami New Times (May 6, 2010). Available online at http://www.miaminewtimes.com/2010-05-06/news/christian-right-leader-george-rekers-takes-vacation-with-rent-boy/.
8. Bullock, Penn; Thorp, Brandon K. “Before he hired an escort, Rekers tried to spank the gay away.” Miami New Times (May 17, 2010). Available online at http://blogs.miaminewtimes.com/riptide/2010/05/before_he_hired_an_escort_reke.php.
9. Rekers, George A.; Crandall, Barbara F.; Rosen, Alexander C.; Bentler, Peter M. “Genetic and physical studies of male children with psychological gender disturbances.” Psychological Medicine 9, no. 2 (May 1979): 373-375. This paper indicates that UCLA psychologists Alexander Rosen and Peter Bentler conducted psychological testing on twelve children at the Gender Identity Clinic. One of those children in this paper appears to be Kirk.
11. Rekers, George A.; Kilgus, Marcus; Rosen, Alexander C. “Long-term effects of treatment for childhood gender disturbance.” Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality 3, no. 2 (1990): 121-153. Subject #18 is listed as being 60 months old, and having undergone 10 months’ treatment. “Kraig” is described in earlier papers as being four years, eleven months old, and having undergone 10 months’ treatment. It is possible that Kirk’s age was rounded up to become Subject #18.
Rekers, George A. Shaping Your Child’s Sexual Identity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1982): 22-23.