Sissy Boys and Crushed Spirits

UPDATE: Two more episodes about Kirk’s story has aired since I posted this entry. You can view the stories and read about it over at CNN Anderson Cooper 360.

Abigail Jensen, a friend and activist over at Transmentors International, contacted me about Kirk Murphy’s story. Abigail and I have worked together on initiatives to address the  oppression of  transgender  people at the hands of non-transgender gays and lesbians. She shared with me a link to the story: Reparative Therapy for Trans Youth: Kenneth Zucker is different from George Rekkers how? It is well worth reading.

Yesterday (as I was in the cosmetic aisle buying new eyeliner and concealer for my transgender Bible play) Abigail and I talked on the phone about how so often transgender and gender non-conforming narratives get co-opted by gays and lesbians on blogs and such and then get absorbed into a political discussion about sexual orientation. As a result, the reality of transgender identities and experiences get erased and get folded into the “gay” narrative. In Kirk’s case he ultimately identified as gay, but there are many sissy boys (and tomboys/butch girls) who identify with a gender different from the sex assigned at birth based. They may be assumed gay or lesbian because they present in gender non-conforming ways, but in reality theirs is a distinctly different narrative.

When addressing stories with gender variance in a child, we simply do not know who that child will grow up to be. Transgender and gender non-conforming children and young adults may fall into the hands of reparative therapists who attempt to “fix” their gender. The impulse to seek “help” from parents and other adults in the child’s life arise from a gay panic with the hope that therapy will curtail any gay or lesbian desires/identities in the future. But the gender presentation may very well have nothing to do with the individuals orientation.

In sharing Kirk’s stories and others like it, we need to be careful to be inclusive of the transgender experience. This sort of terrible treatment does not just happen to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals.

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Kirk Andrew Murphy

Last night Anderson Cooper 360 featured the story of Kirk Andrew Murphy, who as a young boy exhibited gender non-conforming behavior. Kirk did not act like the other boys, and after seeing a therapist on TV, his parents turned for help to  who they thought were experts. Seeking a cure they ended up subjecting their child to cruel and dangerous treatments at the hands of George Rekers and other anti-gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender practitioners.

Kaytee Murphy (Kirk’s mom) took Kirk to UCLA, where he was treated largely by George A. Rekers, a doctoral student at the time.

In Rekers’ study documenting his experimental therapy (PDF), he writes about a boy he calls “Kraig.” Another UCLA gender researcher confirmed that “Kraig” was a pseudonym for Kirk.

The study, later published in an academic journal, concludes that after therapy, “Kraig’s” feminine behavior was gone and he became “indistinguishable from any other boy.”

“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.

And of course the treatments did not “work” in the ways that Reker’s reported. Kirk did not change, he simply suppressed whole parts of himself. Like many ex-gay survivors he went underground. He took on masculine roles, and according to his sister, avoided love and possible partnership. He ended up moving far away from the US to India where we ultimately took his life at age 38.

This is a tragic tale about the dangers of  people who offer help while dishing out colossal harm. People like Alan Chambers of Exodus International. People who run local “ex-gay” ministries. Ministers and Christian therapists who counsel lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people in their congregations that “change is possible.” People who insist that heterosexuality and gender conformity are God’s best and the only healthy way to live. People who target girls and boys who do not behave according to society rules regarding gender and desire. People who offer false promises of a happy fulfilling life if one embarks on a straight and very narrow self-abusive path.

I once forced myself down that very path.

While a few claim they are happy and healthy living ex-gay, seeking an alternative to a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender identities, the vast majority of us who went down this path say we experienced a world of woe as a result. I spent 17 years chasing the promised change in hopes of being a masculine, heterosexual man of God. Oh I changed, but not how I had dreamed. I grew depressed, isolated, self-destructive, and confused. I have met thousands who have had similar experiences. We have begun to gather, to connect and to share our stories. You can read about some of our experiences at Beyond Ex-Gay.

I am so grateful to Jim Burroway for his in depth, thorough, and thoughtful research and reporting about Kirk and his experiences.  I have consistently been impressed with Jim’s attention to detail and his compassion that runs deep and in many directions (read his report about parents who seek a cure for their queer children.) I feel grateful that Kirk’s brother and sister found in Jim someone willing to get to the bottom of the story. I am also grateful to Anderson Cooper and his producers for properly covering this story–highlighting the harm and not falling into the trap that they somehow have to “show all sides.”

If you went through “change” treatments or on your own attempted to change or suppress your gender identity, gender presentation, or orientation, and you see the harm that has come from it, please get help. As Kate Bornstein repeats over and over–Stay Alive. To me this means not merely surviving, but finding how to reclaim our lives, to embrace lief as we undo the damage of these soul crushing experiences.

One resource that may help is Dr. Jallen Rix’s excellent book Ex-Gay No Way–Survival and Recovery from Religious Abuse.  For my part I used comedy and storytelling to expose the horror of my own experience. Also, visit us at Beyond Ex-Gay where you will discover narratives, many articles, artwork (including our survivor collages created by Christine Bakke) and more.

Ex-gay survivor John Holm

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This post has 6 Comments

  1. GreenEyedLilo on June 8, 2011 at 9:38 am Reply

    I missed this segment last night, but how horrific. We see in recent stories like the “J. Crew pink toenails” controversy that attitudes haven’t changed so much. Most parents want their children happy, and happy to them means “pretty much like everyone else.” Unscrupulous people like Rekers take advantage of that. I hope some of the people who watched this segment on Anderson Cooper last night were among those who really need to, and he didn’t just preach to the choir.

  2. Juli Myers on June 8, 2011 at 12:41 pm Reply

    It hurts the soul to read and hear the things to which you and so many others have been subjected. While none of us who know and love you (or know and love any ex-gay victim) would have wished this on you, we rejoice (yes, I said rejoice) in how you have been able to turn something so caustic into a balm for the rest of us.

  3. Tom D. on June 8, 2011 at 8:16 pm Reply

    Hi, Peterson!

    Below are two links from CNN. The first is the article that identified “Kraig” and the second (very interesting!) tells how the reporters were able to find out that Kraig was Kirk.

    http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/06/07/sissy.boy.experiment/
    http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/06/08/rekers.sissy.boy.experiment/index.html?hpt=hp_bn1

  4. Michael on June 9, 2011 at 2:18 pm Reply

    I’m broken hearted for that young man. He was gutted of all joy and sponteneity, shamed for his feelings, beaten for his perfectly innocent actions deemed unacceptable.

    I wish I could have known him. May he rest in peace.

    As for Dr. Rekers — the depth of hypocrisy knows no bounds. I wonder if, perhaps, this story will bring him to his senses, and to repentance?

  5. Abby on June 10, 2011 at 3:56 pm Reply

    Hi, Peterson,

    I enjoyed talking to you about this story and always appreciate the care and attention you devote to ensuring that trans narratives are not drowned out simply by the volume of bloggers who focus only on the sexual orientation aspect of such stories.

    As I told you, I am particularly frustrated with those who, unlike you, refer to this solely as a story about the harms of “ex-gay” therapy. While it’s true that, in later life, Kirk identified as gay, the concern that led his mother to enroll Kirk into the “sissy boy” program did not derive from his sexual behavior, but instead from behaviors that others labeled “effeminate” and, thus, inappropriate for a little boy. In other words, his mother’s concern, and the focus of the treatment he was subjected to, was his gender nonconformity. As the article that I referred you to (and which you linked to above) demonstrates, the exact same techniques are still used today on gender nonconforming children where the concern is that they may grow up to be transsexual, not that they may be gay. In fact, it is clear from Ken Zucker’s writings that, in his opinion, growing up trans is such a horrific outcome that turning out to “merely” be gay is a success in his book for the children he treats. Given that the majority of children subjected to such treatments, regardless of whether the focus is the child’s sexual orientation or hir gender identity, are male with so-called “effeminate” behaviors, I believe it would be more accurate to describe these treatments as motivated by sexism, than a concern about sexual orientation, i.e., as “exgay” therapies. In any case, it would be looking at this story from the wrong end of the telescope to say that, since Kirk turned out to be gay, this is an “ex-gay” story. We will never know what impact Rekers’ treatments had on Kirk’s gender identity and whether, without them, he might have grown up to be a happy, well-adjusted trans woman.

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