Alex Blaze

Dr. Phil on Those 'Confusing' Girly Toys

Filed By Alex Blaze | April 13, 2011 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Dr. Phil, gender, interview, kids, parenting, stupid, The Advocate, toys

A couple months ago an item appeared on Dr. Phil McGraw's website where he told a mother to take away girl toys from her son because they're "confusing" him. The Advocate interviewed McGraw about that advice:

Phil_1.jpgYou know, it's interesting to me that somebody would even consider that in that light. If you understand that your sexual orientation is a hard-wired genetic DNA reality and not a learned lifestyle, then what toys you play with is not going to determine whether you're straight or gay, you're not going to take a child that is hard-wired to be gay and give him G.I. Joe and so he becomes straight, and you're not going to give a kid a Barbie and so he becomes gay. What I said to the parents at the time, you don't like the toys he's playing with, take them away from him and give him some different toys. You're the parent, be a parent. If you think that your kid's playing too many video games, get rid of the video games. If you think they're playing too many sports, then, you know, don't let them do that. But it has nothing to do with programming their sexuality.

So your suggestion that she take the toys away had more to do with her discomfort with him playing with those toys?

Well, I think it had to do with her discomfort and what she thought was confusing to him. Maybe you can help me here. Do gay boy children play with girl toys?

He says (1) she was uncomfortable because her son was being "confused" by girl toys, and (2) sexuality is hard-wired so it won't be affected by toys. And now, (3) gender is a social construct and there are no such thing as girl toys or boy toys:

No, I don't think that's true. I think that people would hope, though, that parents would be comfortable enough with the child's choice of toys and that -- like you said -- that wouldn't have an effect on their sexual orientation.

Well, that's a parenting issue. That's not a gay or straight issue, that's a parenting issue. And parents have the right to choose what toys they want to expose their children to. Like for example, I'm not a hunter. I've never had a cross word with a deer, so what am I going to go track one down and shoot it for?

What do you think about gender identity disorder? Maybe we're talking about a child who, maybe, is born as a boy but is starting to identify possibly as a girl?

I don't think that he would be drawn to those toys because of his genetic encoding. I mean, we identify things socially as being male or female. There's nothing inherently female about a Barbie. It's like eating breakfast. There aren't breakfast foods. We just decided that we're going to eat cereal in the morning instead of a cheeseburger. That's not because some foods are breakfast foods. We just decide that and we assign that to different things, and I think we have to be cautious about doing that.

The crux of the problem here is that McGraw doesn't seem to know that some people use the word "confused" to mean "queer." He also doesn't seem to know that a lot of people link gendered toys with both sexuality and future gender identity and expression.

Can he really be that dense? Perhaps.

Gender does exist and it's not 100% social convention but a mix of wiring and learned behavior. It'd nice to think of McGraw as a second wave feminist, but it's not really consistent with his the normally very gendered advice he dispenses to heterosexual married couples.

So the other possibility is that he just can't admit he was wrong.

He goes on to say that parents shouldn't try to change the sexuality of their kids because "you're now telling a child that has their own mind to be somebody they're not," but gender apparently doesn't fall into the same category. It's true that there's behavior to try to change in kids and behavior to encourage and sometimes it's hard to tell the difference, but when a parent explains their objection to a behavior only in terms of their personal discomfort then it's something the child shouldn't have to accommodate.

What that all has to do with deer hunting and cheeseburgers is anyone's guess.


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Obviously, he's not that dense. He know what he's being called on. He'd have to be a moron to not perceive the attachments and baggage that a heteronormative society thrusts upon its generations.

Sadly, he's so unwilling to admit that he was wrong (or that to THIS particular group he's addressing, he was wrong) that he's pulling such an obvious st of elaborate mental gymnastics to validate his original advice as non-heteronormative.

To be honest, the problem is that McGraw is an idiot, and doesn't deserve his degree or his license.

What license? The entire reason he does a TV show is his license was revoked for cause decades ago.

Rick Sutton | April 14, 2011 7:47 AM

Not true. From Wiki:

"The Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists determined on October 21, 1988, that McGraw had hired a former patient for "part-time temporary employment".[13] Specifically the Board cited "a possible failure to provide proper separation between termination of therapy and the initiation of employment"[14] and issued a letter of reprimand and imposed administrative penalties.[15] The Board also investigated claims made by the patient of inappropriate contact initiated by McGraw, but the "Findings of Fact" document issued by the Board on October 21, 1988, at the end of its investigation, includes no reference to any physical contact of any kind. It specifically identified "the therapeutic and business relationships" as constituting McGraw's sole issue with the Board.[15] McGraw fulfilled all terms of the Board's requirements, and the Board closed its complaint file in June, 1990.[16]"

I'm not a huge fan of Dr. Phil's barstool soundbite pop psychobabble. But he does fill some voids in our nation's deplorable mental health delivery system.

Not for me, but for some. I've read two of his books--well-written, and some good points. His TV show: not so much.

IN our community, mental health is a savage problem. We had ought not to contribute to it by repeating ill-founded rumors.

Dislike the man, and his TV show, all you want.

But when we start talking about professional medical licenses getting suspended, let's do it accurately.

The "part time temporary employment" in question was giving an 18-year-old patient whom he was fucking a faux-job as his receptionist. He was kicked out of his father's psych practice for that and ceased to practice psychology despite retaining his license in name only; even though the Board soft-pedaled the charges, his name was mud in the profession for what he had done and he became a professonal expert witness after that.

After reading this, it makes me glad I had a mom that didn't put any restrictions on what I played with as a child. She thought it was a bit odd that I wanted to play with my sisters Barbie that you could style the hair and put make-up on, but when I got to college and started a class in stage make-up she just figured I had been drawn to that because of my childhood.

He continues to demonstrate not understanding the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity, as does the Advocate. And it was disappointing that they apparently gave him a pass on this whole issue, proclaiming him to be pro-gay in their headline. Disappointing, if not surprising.

Like everything else about sex and gender, it's complicated.

Toys that boys tend to like, all children with certain parts of the brain masculinised tend to like.

Toys that girls tend to like, all children with certain parts of the brain feminised tend to like.

What makes a "male toy" or "female toy"? We're not sure. Girl toys tend towards interpersonal relationships, child rearing. Boy toys tend towards mechanical contrivances, hunting and personal rather than interpersonal adventure.

A child with some part of the brain feminised has a greater than average chance of another part being feminised, and so on. And by "feminised" I just mean that that part is closer to a pattern more commonly found in females than males.

Thus sexual attraction to men is caused by a certain pattern of brain anatomy, one more common in women than men, but to say Gays have "feminised brains" is so misleading it's just plain wrong. OK, that part is, but while other parts may be too, much of the time the rest is masculinised.

OK, getting back to toys, and why I say all of this, because those conclusions aren't just plucked out of thin air, they're based on experimental evidence.

Boys and girls behave in different ways and one of the stereotypical behavioral differences between them, that has often been said to be forced upon them by upbringing and social environment, is their behavior in play. Boys prefer to play with cars and balls, whereas girls prefer dolls. This sex difference in toy preference is present very early in life (3–8 months of age) [1]. The idea that it is not society that forces these choices upon children but a sex difference in the early development of their brains and behavior is also supported by monkey behavioral studies. Alexander and Hines [2], who offered dolls, toy cars and balls to green Vervet monkeys found the female monkeys consistently chose the dolls and examined these ano-genitally, whereas the male monkeys were more interested in playing with the toy cars and with the ball....
-- Sexual Hormones and the Brain: An Essential Alliance for Sexual Identity and Sexual Orientation Garcia-Falgueras A, Swaab DF Endocr Dev. 2010;17:22-35
Data show that increased male-typical toy play by girls with CAH cannot be explained by parental encouragement of male-typical toy play. Although parents encourage sex-appropriate behavior, their encouragement appears to be insufficient to override the interest of girls with CAH in cross-sexed toys.
-- “Prenatal hormones versus postnatal socialization by parents as determinants of male-typical toy play in girls with congenital adrenal hyperplasia” Pasterski VL, Geffner ME, Brain C, Hindmarsh P, Brook C, Hines M Child Dev 76(1):264-78 2005

1 in 10 46XX children with CAH have a male identity, several hundred times the rate of the general population, but still only 10%. Most of the time that part of the brain is not "masculinised".

Most 46XX children grow up to be gynephillic - attracted to women - so that part of brain is usually "masculinised"

None of the above have any correlation with the degree of apparent, external masculisation of the genitalia. CAH causes that, though the degree varies widely.

In my own case... I'm androphillic (thus feminised there), female gender identity (feminised there too) but like many IS and TS women, preferred "boy toys", so masculinised there. Much as I would like my brain to be 100% feminised for my own security of identity, the evidence is that it's not.

Science, facts, reality, doesn't care about what we'd like, only what is.

Note though that in that regard I'm no different from many standard factory model women, and they're the kind I tend to feel most at home with. There's a lot of overlap, the existence of bisexuality should make that mind-bogglingly obvious.

As I said, it's complicated. It means that if a child who is apparently male plays all the time with "girl toys" over the whole of childhood, it's evidence (though not causal) of that child being destined to be androphillic - attracted to men. It also increases the odds, to about 30%, that that child has a female gender identity.

Take the toys away - and the odds don't change. It's an indicator, a symptom, not a cause. Moreover, most Gay men don't have that part of the brain feminised.

Did I say it's complicated? I'll just add that most "gendered behaviour" such as liking pink etc is completely socially constructed, no biological basis whatsoever. But some, such as sexual orientation, is not a social construct at all.


As I said, it's complicated. It means that if a child who is apparently male plays all the time with "girl toys" over the whole of childhood, it's evidence (though not causal) of that child being destined to be androphillic - attracted to men. It also increases the odds, to about 30%, that that child has a female gender identity.


I thought that was common knowledge, or at least common stereotype. The mother saw the link as causal, and most of us would agree that it's there, although not causal. There are only so many times that we can hear about adult gay men liking dolls and house and theater as children before we start to make that connection, or lesbians who liked sports and playing outside.

And I find it hard to believe that Dr. Phil has never even heard of that, like he claims. I think it would be charming to have a major TV advice dispenser believe that gender is a complete social construct and that any links between gender and sexuality are based on stereotypes, but since so much of his adult advice is in the "Men are from Mars" vein, that's just not where he's coming from.

But he assures us in the interview that he has a "very blue-ribbon" advisory panel that makes sure he tells the truth all the time. Good that their ribbon isn't faded blue - who knows what crazy shit he'd say.

I've always felt Dr. Phil is a moron with often stupid (and very "old white guy") advice.

Dr. Phil is TVs biggest outlet for NARTH spokespersons. It's pretty obvious for those who've seen his shows that he thinks anyone even vaguely trans related is diseased.

Bernie Keating | April 14, 2011 3:07 PM

I know exactly what he means. Essentially he is saying, "I said something stupid, caught heat for it, and now I'm trying to backpedal."