Alex Blaze

More on Dr. Kenneth Zucker

Filed By Alex Blaze | May 14, 2008 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: APA, DSM IV, DSM V, gender identity disorder, Kenneth Zucker, kids, LGBT youth, NARTH, transgender

Dana at Mombian points out this NPR report on the mother of a transgirl who was sent to Kenneth Zucker (who's the chair of the panel charged with revising Gender Identity Disorder's entry for the DSM-V). Let's just say he isn't going to be waving the Transgender Pride Flag any time soon:

So, to treat Bradley, Zucker explained to Carol that she and her husband would have to radically change their parenting. Bradley would no longer be allowed to spend time with girls. He would no longer be allowed to play with girlish toys or pretend that he was a female character. Zucker said that all of these activities were dangerous to a kid with gender identity disorder. He explained that unless Carol and her husband helped the child to change his behavior, as Bradley grew older, he likely would be rejected by both peer groups. Boys would find his feminine interests unappealing. Girls would want more boyish boys. Bradley would be an outcast.

More after the jump.

The article goes into some depth as to what he thinks about transgenderism:

Because Ehrensaft sees transgenderism as akin to homosexuality, she says, she thinks Zucker's therapy -- which seeks to condition children out of a transgender identity -- is unethical.

But that isn't how Zucker sees it. Zucker says the homosexuality metaphor is wrong. He proposes another metaphor: racial identity disorder.

"Suppose you were a clinician and a 4-year-old black kid came into your office and said he wanted to be white. Would you go with that? ... I don't think we would," Zucker says.

If a black kid walked into a therapist's office saying he was really white, the goal of pretty much any therapist out there would be to make him try to feel more comfortable being black. They would assume his mistaken beliefs were the product of a dysfunctional environment -- a dysfunctional family or a dysfunctional cultural environment that led him or her to engage in this wrongheaded and dangerous fantasy. This is how Zucker sees gender-disordered kids. He sees these behaviors primarily as a product of dysfunction.

The mistake the other side makes, Zucker argues, is that it views gender identity disorder primarily as a product of biology. This, Zucker says, is, "astonishingly naive and simplistic."

I suppose by extending his racial metaphor, a white child who likes rap music should have all her CD's taken away and replaced with Neil Diamond albums.

He also doesn't think transgender children should be made comfortable with being transgender or expressing their gender, but rather they be shamed back into the closet:

Zucker has come to believe that taking the view that kids are born transgender ultimately produces more transgender people.

"By declaring the child as transgendered at, say, age 3 or age 4 or age 6, and then saying in a sense, 'Go with the flow,' ... that will impact, I believe, on how the kid's gender identity differentiates," he says.

In other words, allowing a child like Jonah to transition in kindergarten will essentially track him into becoming a transgender adult. And for Zucker, no child under the age of 10 or 11 can be definitively labeled transgender. He says that kids' gender identities are flexible. And that even a child like Jonah, who appears to be absolutely consistent from the ages of 1 and 2, can change.

It's coercive therapy and shaming these kids isn't going to change what they want to do. Like for Bradley, in the before-the-jump blockquote, being forced to play with boys' toys, only have friends who are boys, draw pictures of masculine things, and not use the color pink all seem to take their toll on him:

"He turned to coloring and drawing, and he just simply wouldn't play with anything. And he would color and draw for hours and hours and hours. And that would be all he did in a day," Carol says. "I think he was really lost. ... The whole way that he knew and understood how to play was just sort of, you know, removed from his house."

His drawings, however, also proved problematic. Bradley would populate his pictures with the toys and interests he no longer had access to -- princesses with long flowing hair, fairies in elaborate dresses, rainbows of pink and purple and pale yellow. So, under Zucker's direction, Carol and her husband sought to change this as well.

"We would ask him, 'Can you draw a boy for us? Can you draw a boy in that picture?' ... And then he didn't really want us to see his drawings or watch him drawing because we would always say 'Can you draw a boy?'" Carol says. "And then finally after, I don't know, a month or two, he just said, 'Momma, I don't know how. ... I don't know how to draw a boy.'"

Carol says she finally sat down and showed him. From then on, Bradley drew boys as directed. Male figures with anemic caps of hair on their heads filled the pages of his sketchbook.[...]

Bradley has been in therapy now for eight months, and Carol says still, on the rare occasions when she cannot avoid having him exposed to girl toys, like when they visit family, it doesn't go well.

"It's really hard for him. He'll disappear and close a door, and we'll find him playing with dolls and Polly Pockets and ... the stuff that he's drawn to," she says.

In particular, there is one typically girl thing -- now banned -- that her son absolutely cannot resist.

"He really struggles with the color pink. He really struggles with the color pink. He can't even really look at pink," Carol says. "He's like an addict. He's like, 'Mommy, don't take me there! Close my eyes! Cover my eyes! I can't see that stuff; it's all pink!' "

So Bradley's not that happy with the treatment. But the article indicates that he's learning to give stock answers when his parents ask him if he wants to be a girl anymore. His parents even suspect that he's breaking the rules when they can't see him and then lying to them about it (what a great lesson to teach a young kid, the same one I learned - lie, lie, lie to adults who really, really, really want you to grow up one way).

But Zucker says they have to stick with it:

Despite these difficulties, Zucker clearly feels it's important to at least attempt change. He points out that the burden of living as the opposite gender is great, and should not be casually embraced.

"We're not talking about minor medical treatments. ... You're talking about lifelong hormonal treatment; you're talking about serious and substantive surgery," he says.

I didn't know that we were talking about surgery and hormones, just about kids playing with toys that make them happy.

The article contrasts Bradley's treatment from Dr. Zucker with the treatment another transgirl got from a friendlier doctor. The entire NPR report is definitely worth reading.

Dana also found this quotation from Zucker's book Gender Identity Disorder and Psychosexual Problems in Children and Adolescents:

The rights of parents to oversee the development of children is a long-established principle. Who is to dictate that parents may not try to raise their children in a manner that maximizes the possibility of a heterosexual outcome?

And he also says that he's in favor of "ex-trans" therapy because it'll prevent homosexuality:

Dr. Zucker admits that there are complex social and ethical issues surrounding the politics of sex and gender in postmodern Western culture. He note that the "most acute ethical issue may concern the relation between GID and a later homosexual sexual orientation. Follow-up studies of boys who have GID that largely is untreated, indicated that homosexuality is the most common long-term psychosexual outcome."

Zucker says that clinicians have an ethical obligation to inform parents of the relationship between GID and homosexuality. Clinical experience suggests that psychosexual treatments are effective in reducing gender dysphoria and that individual counseling and parental counseling are both effective methods of treating GID.

And even though he knows science doesn't support his position, he's in the "Fuck knowledge, I'll believe that I want to believe" camp:

Zucker and Bradley recognize a very important point missed by most gay activists-that homosexual attractions in adolescence may represent nothing more than transitory idealization of same-sex individuals, rather than a deep-seated sexual orientation. Their goal is to help the client find his "real"-i.e., most deep-seated on a feeling and fantasy level-sexual orientation.

One important question remains in this book: can treatment of the gender-disturbed child prevent future homosexuality? Although there are "no formal empirical studies demonstrating that therapeutic intervention in childhood alters the developmental path toward either transsexualism or homosexuality," nevertheless Zucker and Bradley maintain a cautious optimism, saying there is some "indirect support" for the efficacy of treatment.

That blockquote comes from the NARTH's website ("secular" ex-gay doctors). They love him there.

This person should definitely not be in charge of the panel on Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders. 20 years ago he would have been advocating ex-gay therapy. 35 years ago he would have been against getting rid of homosexuality from the DSM-IV. He's putting his agenda of reducing the numbers of LGBT people before helping his patients, and a doctor like that should not be formulating policy for the APA.

To extend his racial metaphor even further, suppose a "4-year-old black kid" came into a doctor's office and "said he wanted to be white." Should the doctor refer him to a known and published racist?


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[blockquote]So Bradley's not that happy with the treatment. But the article indicates that he's learning to give stock answers when his parents ask him if he wants to be a girl anymore. His parents even suspect that he's breaking the rules when they can't see him and then lying to them about it (what a great lesson to teach a young kid, the same one I learned - lie, lie, lie to adults who really, really, really want you to grow up one way).[/blockquote]

Don't worry, mom. He'll become better at hiding it. And putting on a happy face for the doctor during follow-up. We all did.

[blockquote]And he also says that he's in favor of "ex-trans" therapy because it'll prevent gay homosexuality[/blockquote]

Hm. Okay, I've seen conflicting info multiple times in both directions as to whether he feels that allowing the child to accept homosexuality is okay. Maybe that boils down to whether it's "fixed" before puberty or not.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 14, 2008 1:17 PM

Well done Alex. My other half was a child shrink in California after the Air Force and left after seven years because he could no longer deal with the frustrations of parents who had greater problems than the kids.

Mercedes~ Did I really say "gay homosexuality"? Thanks for pointing that out! Fixed!

I think that his saying that parent can try to "maximize the possibility of a heterosexual outcome," that's pretty supportive of ex-gay therapy, at least for children.

Ha, ha, Robert!

Yep, Alex, you get it. And Dr. Zucker doesn't.

I can see Bradley now. His parents make him play sports, take martial arts and boxing lessons, maybe join the Boy Scouts. He gets older. Puberty isn't friendly to him, and he doesn't handle it well. He turns further inside himself. Joins the military, since it will make a man out of him......and, it will do its usual great job.

Prediction: Bradley will be transitioning to Bridget by age 25, and won't be speaking to her parents. They'll wonder cluelessly what they did wrong, after all they did everything the doctor said. Bridget's life could have been so much easier had her GID been recognized and properly treated earlier, before a male paper trail that Bridget could never escape, was developed, not to mention before puberty did its mental and physical damage. And Zucker will still, most likely, be ruining people's future lives for money.

battybattybats battybattybats | May 14, 2008 2:05 PM

"Girls would want more boyish boys."

I guess Zucker hasn't heard of Bishonen either.
Someone get the man a Vampire Hunter D dvd stat!

Alex and the Bilerico editing Team,
You may want to monitor carefully the comments on this post and the one Mercedes has because I can almost bet you will see some people flaming you or others. These are both great pieces of information and they need to be seen by the APA.

What a heartbreaking and disgusting story. The kid can't look at the colour pink? WTF? I was allowed to play with any toys I wanted 50 years ago. This Zucker character needs dealing with, and fast.

A word from that even more forgotten minority in the great GLBITQ conglomerate, the Intersexed.

Zucker's recent research paper showing the effect of his treatment, meaning it fails completely in only 20% of cases, vs the 30% who recover without treatment, gives the case of a boy who was surgically assigned to female shortly after birth simply because, bluntly, his dick wasn't long enough. So they castrated him.

When he showed signs of a male personality as a child, he was given the Zucker Treatment, for years.

He is now a straight woman with no sign of GID. We don't know if "she" is batshit crazy or not, as basic mental health, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse issues weren't considered worth measuring by the researchers, though sexual orientation was, of course.

"She" conformed to what the authorities decreed she should be. That was all that was deemed important.

In fact, of the 25 "girls" in the experiment, 4 were intersexed. And only 15 met the diagnostic criteria for GID.

Zucker's science is pretty good - the paper is well written, and doesn't conceal the fact that in all but a few cases, a straight transsexual boy will be moulded into a more acceptable lesbian instead, and this is considered a success rather than a failure. In only a tiny minority is a more complete success achieved, not just torturing out the boy, but the straight as well. So a straight he is coerced into being a straight she.

See Square Peg, Round Hole.

Such "corrective surgery" on non-conforming infants happens 5 times a day all over North America.

And no-one in the GLBITQ conglomerate has lifted a finger, it's only the IS advocates who are fighting against this.

Alex - Why do you hate Neil Diamond?

To extend his racial metaphor even further, suppose a "4-year-old black kid" came into a doctor's office and "said he wanted to be white." Should the doctor refer him to a known and published racist?

Nope. Michael Jackson.

Bil, I think that if there were a doctor out there referring children to Michael Jackson, that that would be worthy of a post in and of itself.

And a trial.

When I heard this on the radio I wanted to hurl but was driving to work so thoguht better of it.

I haven't had the time yet to read it sufficiently to determine whether I understand or believe it, but for a different view on Zucker from a sociologist who specializes in the issues of LGBT youth and a gay man, read this post:
http://transcendgender.com/2008/05/14/zucker-is-he-a-dsm-villain-or-not/

Wolfgang E. B. | May 15, 2008 8:35 PM

Zoe Brain wrote, "And no-one in the GLBITQ conglomerate has lifted a finger, it's only the IS advocates who are fighting against this."

I speak out on this issue frequently. Every time some transphobe accuses the T community of wanting to "force SRS on their children," I make it a point to launch into my standard "fundamental right to absolute bodily sovereignty" lecture, which includes neonatal circumcision and sex assignment of intersexed babies. I think those are important issues, and I wish our community were more vocal about them. It's an ethical "high-ground" that could prove beneficial to our movement because forced bodily violation is a universal human fear.

Sharon L. Van Nest | May 17, 2008 1:31 PM

I can forsee yet another teenage sucicide coming and Dr. Zucker is loading the gun. This is absolute garbage coming from this supposedly learned man. He knows nothing of the transsexual condition only his own innate fears. I feel deeply sorry for those who have been suckered in by this monster. I equate this man to the medical commnunites version of Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church. He must be removed if the APA is to retain any respect from our community. If he were to be let loose the entire Gay community would be sold down the drain and be returned to that medieval concept of homosexuality being a psychological illness and a return of homosexuality to the DSM as well.

I can't believe Zucker is even allowed to practice with those children. He's not that bad with teenagers, because few doctors are comfortable prescribing anything related to hormones to teenagers or anyone below 18.

Coercive therapy should have died with Rekers in the 70s.

Making kids go insane because they're not allowed to even *look* at pink is pretty cruel. Having the parents be accomplice in the deed makes it inescapable for children, who depend on their parents (running away is usually worse).

If it had been me being treated in such a way, I would have openly rebelled, and damned who gets in his mind to stop me. I would have probably suffered high-doses of reverse-therapy and coercion, and be that much more damaged in adulthood, but damn them if they're going to steal my individuality.

Sadly, few children are that strong. I probably overestimate my own child-self from back then too.

All I know is that coercion would have killed me, and knowing that is reason enough to rebel against the treatment.

Wolfgang E. B. | May 22, 2008 5:13 PM

Schala wrote, "Sadly, few children are that strong. I probably overestimate my own child-self from back then too."

Then again, the human mind is capable of erecting awesomely powerful defenses. When put to the test, sometimes it can seem superhuman. Don't underestimate your own potential. :)

I was too angry when this article was first posted, and weeks later I am still so angry over this that I can't comment without emotion.

This is so long ago, that no one will probably be reading this anyhow.

Suffice it to say that Zucker is guilty of short-sighted uncompassionate torture, plain and simple. He is destroying the child's hope for happiness in this life.

No human being has the right to do that. No one.