The Feminine Boy Project Still Threatens Gender Expression

By Cynthya BrianKate

For two decades the federal government funded a brainwashing project to keep children from “acting queer.” This collaboration between ant-LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, transgender, Intersex) psychologists and “religious right” leaders, known as the Feminine Boy Project laid groundwork for current psychiatric abuses against transgender and gender-nonconforming people.

This was funded by National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) from 1972-1986. The original stated grant goals were “treatment of prehomosexuality,” the idea that if children were kept from stepping outside gender stereotypes they wouldn’t turn out gay. When homosexuality was removed from the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) in the mid-1970s, this became “treatment of pretranssexuality,” conflating gender identity with sexuality, based in biased assumptions that anything other than stereotypical gender and heterosexuality were wrong. Children were declared “pathological” for behavior like boys playing with dolls, wearing dresses or helping in the kitchen, or girls climbing trees, playing with boys’ toys or wearing boy clothes.

Here are some of the main people involved in the Feminine Boy Project.

Richard Green is a colleague of John Money, who instituted the “Money protocols” mandating unnecessary, nonconsensual genital surgeries on intersex children to make them “fit in” after forcing David Reimer to live as a girl (this was the infamous “John/Joan experiment”), until Reimer changed back to male before killing himself. During this “experiment” Green co-wrote Transsexualism and Sex Reassignment with Money.  Green has made a career pathologizing LGBTI people, including inflammatory comments like his 1995 Dateline remark “plays with Barbies at five, sleeps with men at twenty-five.” While head of the now-closed Human Sexuality branch of Stony Brook University’s psychology department he got NIMH to approve nearly $1 million for the Project.

George Rekers belongs to several anti-gay fundamentalist groups, such as Family Research Council, which he co-founded and used to publish his essay “Gender Identity Disorder.”  Until recently he was “scientific advisor” to NARTH (National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality), which claims to “cure” gays despite the American Psychiatric Association (APA)’s condemning “reparative therapy.”  In 2004 he served as an “expert witness” in favor of Arkansas banning gay people adopting children, as he did in 2008 in Florida. Unknown then was that Rekers’ was an apparently latent gay man (see below) who adopted/fostered four children, while keeping openly-gay couples from doing likewise. He testified in absentia through two witnesses in favor of California’s now-overturned Prop. 8 ban on same-sex marriage.  Rekers’ “evidence” in the Prop. 8 hearings has been discredited, along with his witnesses, David Blankenhorn and Hack-Shing William Tam.  Blankenhorn is president of Institute for American Values and published a book called The Future of Marriage, where he outlined a sensationalistic list of harmful consequences of same-sex marriage; he now admits this list was arrived at through “a group ‘thought experiment’ where “an idea was written down if someone suggested it.”  In May 2010 New York Times columnist Frank Rich linked Blankenhorn to Rekers.  Blankenhorn denied any connection to Rekers but a month later wrote to the Times that he had consulted Rekers’ work in his Prop. 8testimony. Hack-Shing William Tam is secretary of America Return to God Prayer Movement, which operates anti-same-sex marriage website One Man, One Woman.net.  Tam called gay people “12 times more likely to molest children as heterosexuals” and claimed if “gay marriage is permitted .. states would fall one by one into Satan’s hands.”  Tam admits NARTH is his information source on homosexuality because he “believes in what they say” and the Internet was the source for his claim same-sex marriage “would lead to polygamy and incest.”  On March 31, 2010 Rekers sent a letter to every school superintendent in America through a fundamentalist group called American College of Pediatrics, which hopes to be confused with the American Academy of Pediatrics, where Rekers said “there is no proof that a child is born gay or transgendered.”  In May 2010 the Miami New Times broke the story that Rekers had been caught in a gay sex scandal with young men from gay sex-worker website Rentboy.com. This scandal has had legs; at least one other young male prostitute has come forward as having been with Rekers. Since then Rekers has stepped down from NARTH.  Visitors to his “Professorgeorge.com” website now see his attempts to deny the scandal, and, may still see a now-disabled link to a website Rekers endorsed called “Teen Sex Today,” which makes the fact that he adopted and fostered children even more disturbing.

Green and Rekers worked on the Feminine Boy Project with doctors like Susan Coates, behaviorists like O. Ivor Lovaas and David Barlow and had staff of several institutions at their disposal.

Several institutions were used to justify funding and brainwash children. Fuller Theological Seminary is an Evangelical Christian college. In his book Stranger At the Gate Mel White says while a student at Fuller he was introduced to Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell and asked to ghost-write their autobiographies. Rekers used Fuller to get funding for the Project and justify his involvement in it.. Rekers also used Logos Research Institute for the same purpose.  Logos is a “religious-right” think-tank promoting fundamentalist “science. ” Currently a group named Logos, which may be the same group, is funding actor Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort (known as YouTube’s “Banana Guy” for claiming bananas disprove evolution)’s edited edition of Darwin’s Origin of Species. Green used Stony Brook University to get most of the NIMH grants and do most of the clerical, statical and administrative work of this “Study” and most of the brainwashings went on at UCLA, though others are said to have happened at New York City’s St. Luke’s Research Hospital’s Childhood Gender Identity Unit. The NIMH grants archived in pgs. 257-258 of Phyllis Burke’s book Gender Shock allege this last was connected with a grant to Roosevelt Institute.

Green and Rekers called for patients through mental health practitioners who knew of prepubescent children who didn’t obey gender stereotypes, mainly feminine boys, though there were some masculine girls. Some were referred by school authorities for gender nonconformity, some brought in by parents.

Children were diagnosed using pseudoscientific “Gender tests” including the “Barlow Gender-Specific Motor Test,” using stereotypes to “measure” gender identity by whether children sit/stand/move like boys or girls “should.” Diagnosed with “pathological gender development,” they’d be recommended for invasive behavior modification, including placement in special playrooms, repeatedly coached to choose gender-stereotypical toys with staff spying through mirrors. Behaviorists like Shasta Mead directly interacted with children; slowly gaining trust to reinforce stereotypical behavior, repeatedly suggesting they’d rather wear or play with the “right” items. Children were made to wear wrist counters to monitor whenever they thought about playing with the “wrong” toys. Rewards and demerits were issued for “right” and “wrong” choices. Parents were enlisted to police childrens’ choices, throw out toys, force boys out of the kitchen and “steering” children more toward stereotypical choices at home as well as in the facility. This would go on until the child was declared “cured.”

This Project was declared “successful” though it succeeded only in traumatizing children. “Becky” was declared “successfully cured” because the eight-year-old saw a male orderly old enough to be her father as her “boyfriend.”

The Project’s “poster child,” referred to as “Kraig” by Rekers and as “Kyle” by Green, committed suicide in 2003.  As of June 2011 Kirk Murphy’s family have come forward to tell his story, how his treatment as a youth in the Project led to his suicide and that his life was a human life and “not just a science experiment.”  The Murphy family have come forward on CNN on Anderson cooper’s AC350 show in a series of segments titled “The Sissy Boy Experiment:: Exposing the Truth.”  This series, along with the Box Turtle Bulletin blog article “What Are Little Boys Made Of?,” both articles actually name and describe the Feminine Boy Project, spell out the “reparative therapy” methods used in explicit detail, and outright name both UCLA and Stony Brook as having actively participated in the Project.

A Project survivor has recently written a play called “The Blue Dress.”  This play is a true-life memoir piece written to dramatize and document the abuses children suffered under the name of treatment.

None of this stopped expansion of “Gender Identity Disorder” (GID) and “Gender Identity Disorder of Childhood” (GIDc) to pathologize transgender/gender-nonconforming people, no matter how emotionally healthy. The DSM-IV guidelines even specify boys playing with Barbie as a “symptom.”

Stony Brook’s administration denies Green ever taught there, despite the NIMH grants archived in Gender Shock and Green thanking his Stony Brook staff in his book The “Sissy Boy” Syndrome, with several still working there today. Both books can be found in that university’s library.

In 1980 Dylan Scholinski, a young transgender man then named Daphne, was incarcerated in psychiatric institutions for years under “Gender Identity Disorder.” His memoir The Last Time I Wore A Dress shows his school reported him to psychiatrists, diagnosed using the Barlow Gender Motor Test and given “treatment” which included forced makeovers. In 2000 a six-year-old child was removed from loving parents who were seen as “exacerbating a mental disorder.” The “disorder?” Aurora Lipscomb told her parents she was not a boy but was a girl, and her parents supported her decision to live as a girl. Because her parents “exacerbated” her “gender identity disorder” the court took Aurora from loving parents and put her in a household where for two years she was forced to live as a Christian boy rather than a Jewish girl. She is out of that home and healing from the experience, which she should have never had to go through.

Currently there’s a push to rewrite the DSM to make it even more pathological toward transgender, gender-nonconforming and intersex people. These changes were proposed by Ken Zucker and Ray Blanchard.

Zucker’s been pathologizing LGBTI people for many years. He has run Clarke Gender Institute, this institution’s handling of transgender and intersex have so angered both communities that some activists call it “Jurassic Clarke”. Zucker was an expert in the Lipscomb case and recommended the court take Aurora from her family.  While Zucker is not part of NARTH, he lets them cite his work and quote him in their literature.

Blanchard is a colleague of J. Michael Bailey.  Bailey is author of the racist, LGBTI-phobic book The Man Who Would Be Queen, and has advocated for selective abortion of “gay babies.”  Blanchard helped popularize some of the discredited gender theories, including the debunked theory of Autogynephilia, on which Bailey based his book.  Bailey has also gained notoriety by working with eugenicists like Alice Dreger to promote the reuse of toxic and outdated terms such as DSD, ,or Disorders of Sex Development, in place of Intersex.  Dreger has made a career for herself by exploiting and pathologizing entire populations, including gay, transgender and intersex people, as well as disabled people.  Though she’s not intersex she ran the now-closed Intersex Society North America (ISNA) for several years and under her leadership the group became a DSD promoter.  In 2007 she presented a bioethics lecture titled “Should we attenuate the growth of children with disabilities?”  Dreger has on many occasions defended Bailey’s racism, sexism and transphobia, even threatening transgender feminist scholar Joelle Ruby Ryan’s career when Ryan organized a panel about Bailey’s prejudice called “The Bailey Brouhaha” at the National Womens’ Studies Association )NWSA) conference in 2008.  While Blanchard is not directly connected to Dreger, he is a colleague of Bailey.  Both Bailey and Blanchard belong to a eugenicist think-tank called Human Biodiversity Institute, whose membership includes the author of The Bell Curve, which claimed African-Americans were intellectually inferior, and the founder and many members of virulently anti-immigrant group VDARE. Some call this kind of retread of old hatreds of difference as “Newgenics”.

The proposed changes include renaming GID “Gender Incongruity Disorder,” putting anyone who in any way steps outside gender stereotypes at risk for being declared mentally disordered, not only transgender people but also possibly gay, lesbian and bisexual people, as well as feminine men and masculine women. These also include adding intersex to the list of gender disorders, which makes no sense as intersex is a physical variation, being biologically in between male and female, having nothing to do with mental health.

In addition to the APA some of these people, including Zucker and Green,, are actively involved and in power in other organizations whose decisions impact peoples’ lives in terms of gender.  In June 2010 the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH, formerly Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, or HBIGDA) issued a press release claiming to advocate “de-psychopathologisation of gender variance worldwide.”  This sounds quite progressive, unless you know the truth about WPATH’s record on gender.

WPATH’s past presidents include Richard Green,  and Ray Blanchard was a board member until resigning in 2003.  Ken Zucker sits on two of their committees, as do several of his colleagues, such as Heino Meyer-Bahlburg.  Meyer-Bahlburg is seen by many as homophobic, transphobic, misogynist and trying to “prevent homosexuality.”

WPATH’s Standards Of Care (SOC), their guidelines for people seeking  medical gender transition, such as hormones and/or SRS (Sex Reassignment Surgery) uphold DSM-IV.  The SOC reiterates DSM-IV’s pathologization of gender nonconformity as GID (Gender Identity Disorder).  WPATH’s SOC Committee includes Ken Zucker, as well as Randi Ettner..  In her book Confessions of a Gender Defender Ettner describes transgender people using phrases like “zombie,” “overstuffed sausage casing” and “the transie from hell…looked about to murder me in the August heat.”

The WPATH press release claims to address “The psychopathologlisation of gender characteristics and identities reinforces or can prompt stigma, making prejudice and discrimination more likely, rendering transgender and transsexual people more vulnerable to social and legal marginalisation and exclusion, and increasing risks to mental and physical well-being” yet intersex people are not mentioned at all in this document.  WPATH still pathologizes intersex people, and does not even call intersex people intersex.  Instead, WPATH has an actual Committee dedicated to continuing the use of DSD, even though that term is proven to be harmful and stigmatizing to intersex people, and a product of the new eugenics.  WPATH’s “Disorders of Sex Development” Committee includes both Zucker and Meyer-Bahlburg.  WPATH is also partnering with GLMA (Gay-Lesbian Medical Association) with their conferences in 2011 overlapping with each other.  In 2006 GLMA worked with groups like the ISNA to use DSD to refer to  intersex people.  In 2005 GLMA allowed ISNA to stage a mini-conference inside their San Francisco conference to help push DSD, and both groups co-wrote literature to popularize  DSD.

In 2005 GLMA and ISNA held a similar conference in Chicago which helped to publicize the work of a group calling themselves the “Consensus Group” which was a “consensus” of several non-intersex medical groups, without the participation or even the knowledge of the intersex community.  The participants in this group included several members of WPATH, including Ken Zucker, Heino Meyer-Bahlburg and Richard Green.  Also involved was ISNA founder Cheryl Chase, who has since come forward as actually having been pro-DSD activist Bo Laurent from the very founding of that group.  This “Consensus Group” drafted a document called the “Consensus Statement on the Management of Disorders of Sex Development.”  Their idea of “management” goes an entire order of magnitude worse than the Money Protocols, which urged forcing unnecessary surgery on intersex babies before two years old; the Consensus Statement urges such surgery at two months old.

So long as WPATH has people like Zucker, Meyer-Bahlburg and Ettner in leadership positions, calls intersex people “Disorders of Sex Development” and upholds the DSM stance on gender nonconformity, any claims that they affirm all peoples’ rights to gender expression ring quite hollow.  I’d recommend people demand that WPATH  stop pathologizing intersex, transgender and gender-nonconforming people, , and to tell people who may not know better what’s really underneath that press release until WPATH actually lives up to their claims about supporting everyones’ right to free gender expression.

The APA has closed the period for public comment on their website at www.dsm5.org/Pages/Default.aspx as of summer 2010, but I’d still recommend writing to them there and I certainly recommend writing them at apa@psych.org to let them know how you feel.  I’d urge them they to distance themselves from Zucker and Blanchard and would point out Zucker’s guilt by association by letting people like Rekers use his work to justify their hypocrisy and their violation of APA rules against “Reparative therapy.”  I’m hoping we can make it clear to the APA that we don’t want them to put these changes through.

Sources, Additional Information and Proof:

1)        Archives of Disease in Childhood ac98319 Module 2, 5/4/06, www.medhelp.org/ais/PDFs/Chicago-Consensus-Statement-06.pdf

2)        Aurora Lipscomb archive, www.mermaids.freeuk.com/aurora1.html

3)        Beirich, Heidi,  and Moser, Bob, “Queer Science,” Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report, www.splcenter.org/intel/intelreport/article.jsp?sid=96

4)        Bullock, Penn and Thorp, Brandon K.,, “Christian Right Leader George Rekers Takes Vacation with ‘rent boy’,” Miami New Times 5/6/10, www.miaminewtimes.com/2010-05-06/news/christian-right-leader-george-rekers-takes-vacation-with-rent-boy/

5)        Burke, Phyllis, Gender Shock: Exploding Myths of Male and Female, Anchor Books 1997

6)        Burroway, Jim, “What Are Little Boys Made Of?” in Box Turtle Bulletin News, June 2011, . http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com/what-are-little-boys-made-of2

7)        Colapinto, John, with Reimer, David, As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl, Harper Books, 2000

8)        Colbert, Steven, on George Rekers’ “rent boy” scandal, video clip at http://blogs.miaminewtimes.com/riptide/2010/05/video_stephen_colbert_names_ge.php

9)        Conover, Pat, Transgender Good News, New Wineskins Press 2002

10)     Conway, Lynn, “Ray Blanchard Resigns from HBIGDA In a Huff!” http://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/TS/BaileyAssociates/BlanchardResigns.html

11)     Conway, Lynn, “J. Michael Bailey’s statements about wanting to abort ‘gay babies,” http://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/TS/Bailey/HBES/Bailey%20on%20homosexuality.htm

12)     Cooper, Anderson, AC360. Blogger speaks out on ‘ex-gay’ movement, June 2011, http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2011/06/15/ac360-follow-blogger-speaks-out-on-ex-gay-movement/

13)     Cooper, Anderson, AC360: The ‘Sissy Boy’ Experiment: Uncovering the Truth, June 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-irAT0viF0

14)     Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR (Text Revision), American Psychiatric Association

15)     DSM-V Committee feedback link, www.dsm5.org/Pages/Default.aspx

16)     Ettner, Randi, Confessions of a Gender Defender, Spectrum Press 1996

17)     Exposing Junk Science About Same-Sex Behavior, http://blog.ejsssb.org/category/george-rekers/

18)     Green, Richard, The “Sissy Boy” Syndrome and the Formation of Adult Homosexuality, Yale University Press 1987

19)     Green, Richard, and Money, John, Transsexualism and Sex Reassignment, Johns Hopkins Press 1969

20)     Intersex Society North America, DSD Symposium at the 2006 San Francesco GLMA Conference, www.isna.org/dsdsymposium20066

21)     “Kirk Cameron’s ‘Origin Of Species’ Plan: Ex-Actor To Distribute 50,000 Altered Darwin Books,” www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/09/22/kirk-camerons-origin-of-s_n_294349.html

22)     Maddow, Rachel, “Rachel Maddow Reports on George Rekers Rentboy.com Vacation,” Youtube clip at www.youtube.com/watch?v=skXMv5vsFpE

23)     Maddow, Rachel, on connections between George Rekers, David Blankenhorn and Hack-Shing William Tam, found as Youtube clip at www.youtube.com/watch?v=cu56T_AirsM

24)     Organisation Intersex International, “Alice Dreger: Disorders of Sex Development” www.intersexualite.org/AliceDreger.html

25)     Organisation Intersex International, “Alice Dreger Played Intersex People a Nasty Trick for Halloween,” www.intersexualite.org/Dreger_Halloween.html

26)     Organisation Intersex International, “Alice Dreger: the Unethical Ethicist?” www.intersexualite.org/Alice_Dreger_ethics.html

27)     Organisation Intersex International,, “Cheryl Chase and Disorders of Sex Development (DSD),” http://oii-usa.blogspot.com/2006/10/cheryl-chase-and-disorders-of-sex.html

28)     Organisation Intersex International, DSD Fact Sheet, www.intersexualite.org/DSD_Activists.html

29)     Organisation Intersex International, “Would the real Cheryl Chase, Bo Laurent, Charlie Chase, Brian Sullivan, Bonnie Sullivan please stand up?” www.intersexualite.org/Cheryl_Chase.html

30)     Petition, “Objection to DSM-V Committee Members on Gender Identity Disorders.” www.thepetitionsite.com/2/objection-to-dsm-v-committee-members-on-gender-identity-disorders

31)     Preventing Homosexuality & Non-Comforming Women: When Science & Medicine Go Astray (a criticism of Heino Meyer-Bahlburg) www.afterthree.net/tag/gender/

32)     Proposed DSM-V Revisions, www.dsm5.org/ProposedRevisions/Pages/proposedrevision.aspx?rid=192

33)     Rekers, George, “Gender identity Disorders,” Family Research Council of America 1985

34)     Ryan, Joelle Ruby, Appeal to community about threats by Alice Dreger, http://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/TS/Dreger/ASB%20paper/NWSA%20panel/Academic_Attack_Against_Transwoman_by_Alice_Dreger.html

35)     Ryan, Joelle Ruby, panel host, “The Bailey Brouhaha” at the 2008 National Womens’ Studies Association (NWSA) conference, entire panel on Youtube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMJAK_IqQa4

36)     Scholinski, Daphne,, The Last Time I Wore A Dress, Riverhead Trade 1998

37)     Serano, Julia, Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, Seal Press 2007

38)     TG Crossroads article archive of Ken Zucker’s pathologizing LGBTI people, www.tsroadmap.com/info/kenneth-zucker.html

39)     “The Blue Dress” (play written by a survivor of the Feminine Boy Project), www.jweekly.com/article/full/22941/boy-in-a-blue-dress/

40)     TS Roadmap archive on Ray Blanchard, www.tsroadmap.com/info/ray-blanchard.html

41)     TS Roadmap archive of transgender criticism of J. Michael Bailey, www.tsroadmap.com/bailey/

42)     University of Michigan Bioethics Grand Rounds Speakers’ series, “Should We Attenuate the Growth of Children with Disabilities? Looking at Ashley in a Broader Context,” lecture by Alice Dreger. 10?31/07, www.med.umich.edu/adultethics/2007.htm

43)     White, Mel, Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian In America, Plume Books 1995

44)     Wilkinson, Stephanie, “Drop the Barbie!: If You Bend Gender Far Enough, Does It Break?”, Brain, child the magazine for thinking mothers, 2001, www.brainchildmag.com/essays/fall2001_wilkinson.htm

45)     World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), www.wpath.org

46)     WPATH June 2010 Press Release, www.wpath.org/publications_public_policy.cfm

WPATH, Past Presidents List, www.wpath.org/documents/WPATH%20BOD%20Terms%20List%205-7-09.

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