Are Rachel Dolezal and Caitlyn Jenner Alike? Conflict over Ethnic Identity and Gender Identity Examined (VIDEO UPDATES)

UPDATED: Dolezal as a white woman sued Howard University for racial discrimination. See video on that point at the end of this post. Video of her interview with Matt Lauer is also at the end of the post.
Rachel Dolezal has become an object of media and public attention because she has identified as a black woman for years even though both of her biological parents are white. She recently was outed by her parents but told Matt Lauer on the Today Show today: “I identify as black.”
In May 2008, I asked Ken Zucker, a psychologist best known for his work in gender dysphoria, for permission to reprint a post from the SEXNET listserv, an internet group of people who research and write about sexuality research. The post addressed the question: are ethnic identity conflict and gender identity conflict similar in any meaningful ways? Although Zucker’s illustrations primarily examine the case of darker skinned people wanting to pass as white, his post addresses some of the current issues raised by Rachel Dolezal’s public statements about her ethnic identity.
Dr. Zucker:

In the interview I had with the NPR journalist, Alix Spiegel, I posed the question: How would a clinician respond to a young child (in this instance a Black youngster) who presented with the wish to be White? I had already sent Ms. Spiegel an essay that I published in 2006 in which I had presented this analogy and she told me that she was intrigued by the argument.
In this post, I list some references that I have accumulated over the years that discusses issues of ethnic identity conflict in children and adults. In the 2006 paper, I was particularly influenced, rightly or wrongly, by an essay Brody (1963) wrote many years ago. I think it is worth reading. Thus, I did not invent the analogy out of thin air. I had been influenced by three things: first, I was aware of this literature on ethnic identity conflict and I thought it had some lessons in it; second, I had observed, over the years, that some kids that I have seen in my clinic who had a biracial ethnic background also sometimes struggled with that (e.g., wanting to be White, like their mother, and not wanting to be Black or non-white Hispanic, like their father) or wanting to be an American (and not a Canadian) or wanting to be a dog (and not a human). I have thought about these desires as, perhaps, an indication of a more general identity confusion. Third, I was influenced by a remark Richard Pleak made in a 1999 essay, in which he wrote that the notion that “attempting to change children’s gender identity for [the purpose of reducing social ostracism] seems as ethically repellant as bleaching black children’s skin in order to improve their social life among white children” (p. 14). I thought about his argument and decided that it could be flipped. Thus, in the 2006 essay, I wrote:
This is an interesting argument, but I believe that there are a number of problems with the analysis. I am not aware of any contemporary clinician who would advocate “bleaching” for a Black child (or adult) who requests it. Indeed, there is a clinical and sociological literature that considers the cultural context of the “bleaching syndrome” vis-a-vis racism and prejudice (see, e.g., Hall, 1992, 1995). Interestingly, there is an older clinical literature on young Black children who want to be White (Brody, 1963)–what might be termed “ethnic identity disorder” and there are, in my view, clear parallels to GID. Brody’s analysis led him to conclude that the proximal etiology was in the mother’s “deliberate but unwitting indoctrination” of racial identity conflict in her son because of her own negative experiences as a Black person. Presumably, the treatment goal would not be to endorse the Black child’s wish to be White, but rather to treat the underlying factors that have led the child to believe that his life would be better as a White person. As an aside, there is also a clinical literature on the relation between distorted ethnic identity (e.g., a Black person’s claim that he was actually born White, but then transformed) and psychosis (see Bhugra, 2001; Levy, Jones, & Olin, 1992). Of course, in this situation, the treatment is aimed at targeting the underlying psychosis and not the symptom.
The ethnic identity literature leads to a fundamental question about the psychosocial causes of GID, which Langer and Martin do not really address. In fact, they appear to endorse implicitly what I would characterize as “liberal essentialism,” i.e., that children with GID are “born that way” and should simply be left alone. Just like Brody was interested in understanding the psychological, social, and cultural factors that led his Black child patients to desire to be White, one can, along the same lines, seek to understand the psychological, social, and cultural factors that lead boys to want to be girls and girls to want to be boys. Many contemporary clinicians have argued that GID in children is the result, at least in part, of psychodynamic and psychosocial mechanisms, which lead to an analogous fantasy solution: that becoming a member of the other sex would somehow resolve internalized distress (e.g., Coates, Friedman, & Wolfe, 1991; Coates & Person, 1985; Coates & Wolfe, 1995). Of course, Langer and Martin may disagree with these formulations, but they should address them, critique them, and explain why they think they are incorrect. I would argue that it is as legitimate to want to make youngsters comfortable with their gender identity (to make it correspond to the physical reality of their biological sex) as it is to make youngsters comfortable with their ethnic identity (to make it correspond to the physical reality of the color of their skin).
On this point, however, I take a decidedly developmental perspective. If the primary goal of treatment is to alleviate the suffering of the individual, there are now a variety of data sets that suggest that persistent gender dysphoria, at least when it continues into adolescence, is unlikely to be alleviated in the majority of cases by psychological means, and thus is likely best treated by hormonal and physical contra-sex interventions, particularly after a period of living in the cross-gender role indicates that this will result in the best adaptation for the adolescent male or female (e.g., Cohen-Kettenis & van Goozen, 1997; Smith, van Goozen, & Cohen-Kettenis, 2001; Zucker, 2006). In childhood, however, the evidence suggests that there is a much greater plasticity in outcome (see Zucker, 2005a). As a result, many clinicians, and I am one of them, take the position that a trial of psychological treatment, including individual therapy and parent counseling, is warranted (for a review of various intervention approaches, see Zucker, 2001). To return briefly to the ethnic identity disorder comparison, I would speculate that one might find similar results, i.e., that it would be relatively easier to resolve ethnic identity dissatisfaction in children than it would be in adolescents (or adults). Although I am not aware of any available data to test this conjecture, I think of Michael Jackson’s progressively “white” appearance as an example of the narrowing of plasticity in adulthood.
Two caveats: first, the literature on psychosis and ethnic identity conflict that is cited in no way was meant to imply that transgendered people are psychotic; the comparison is to a very small number of people who have “delusions” of gender change in which the primary diagnosis is Schizophrenia. This was first noted in the DSM-III and remains in the DSM-IV text description; second, I can criticize my own argument along these lines: “Well, this may all be true, but surely there is no evidence for a biological factor that would cause a Black person to want to be White, but maybe there is a biological factor or set of biological factors that either predispose or cause a person with the phenotype of one sex to feel like they are of the other sex (gender).” And to that I would say fair enough.
Bhugra, D. (2001). Ideas of distorted ethnic identity in 43 cases of psychosis. International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 47, 1-7.
Brody, E. B. (1963). Color and identity conflict in young boys: Observations of Negro mothers and sons in urban Baltimore. Psychiatry, 26, 188-201.
Brunsma, D. L., & Rockquemore, K. A. (2001). The new color complex: Appearances and biracial identity. Identity: An International Journal of Theory and Research, 1, 225-246.
Fuller, T. (2006, May 14). A vision of pale beauty carries risks for Asia’s women. New York Times.
Goodman, M. E. (1952). Race awareness in young children. Cambridge: Addison-Wesley.
Hall, R. (1992). Bias among African-Americans regarding skin color: Implications for social work practice. Research on Social Work Practice, 2, 479-486.
Hall, R. (1995). The bleaching syndrome: African Americans’ response to cultural domination vis-B-vis skin color. Journal of Black Studies, 26, 172-184.
Lauerma, H. (1996). Distortion of racial identity in schizophrenia. Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, 50, 71-72.
Levy, A. S., Jones, R. M., & Olin, C. H. (1992). Distortion of racial identity and psychosis [Letter]. American Journal of Psychiatry, 149, 845.
Mann, M. A. (2006). The formation and development of individual and ethnic identity: Insights from psychiatry and psychoanalytic theory. American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 66, 211-224.
Russell, K., Wilson, M., & Hall, R. (1992). The color complex: The politics of skin color among African Americans. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Sanders Thompson, V. L. (2001). The complexity of African American racial identification. Journal of Black Studies, 32, 155-165.
Schneck, J. M. (1977). Trichotillomania and racial identity [Letter to the Editor]. Diseases of the Nervous System, 38, 219.
Stephan, C. W., & Stephan, W. G. (2000). The measurement of racial and ethnic identity. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 24, 541-552.
Tate, C., & Audette, D. (2001). Theory and research on ‘race’ as a natural kind variable in psychology. Theory & Psychology, 11, 495-520.
Ken Zucker

Zucker’s provocative post is timely now. Rachel Dolezal’s and Caitlyn Jenner’s stories have caused people to question and examine categories which seem to most people to be discreet categories. One is either a part of one group or another. However, gender is increasingly being questioned by scientists and activists alike. Race and ethnicity has been seen as more fluid but for different reasons than are posed by Dolezal. Can a person simply declare an ethnicity based on psychological affinity for that ethnicity? Is Zucker correct to wonder about an analogy between ethnic identity disorder and gender identity disorder?
Regarding Dolezal, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Will the decreasing plasticity Zucker describes demonstrate itself here. She certainly has taken a very public step by declaring herself to be black. Social psychological research tells us that it may be harder for her to walk back from that now that she has made a public declaration. If she does revert to a “white identity” then I will be interested in the social and psychological factors which could bring that about.
ABC News has the story of Dolezal’s discrimination suit.

ABC US News | World News
Interview with Matt Lauer (embed not working, click here for video)

What Kind of Woman is Caitlyn Jenner? Part Two of a Q&A on Autogynephilia with Michael Bailey

Yesterday, I posted part one of my interview with Michael Bailey on the topic of Caitlyn Jenner and autogynephilia. In that segment, Bailey covered the basics about autogynephilia and why he thinks Jenner manifests autogynephilic characteristics. In this segment, Bailey tackles what is known about outcomes for autogynephilic individuals, issues relating to minors with gender dysphoria and addresses critics of the concept. He also mentions one case where autogynephilia disappeared with the administration of leuprolide.
I also wrote GLAAD three times and asked for comment on autogynephilia generally and yesterday’s interview specifically with no response. GLAAD produces a tip sheet for journalists that doesn’t mention autogynephilia. Bailey addresses the media silence at the end of the interview.
I want to thank Michael for sharing his time and knowledge.

WT: What are the long term trajectories for autogynephilic individuals? What is the proper therapeutic response?
MB: Persons with autogynephilia often struggle, because of shame, lack of understanding, and the disapproval of others. Also, there is a real tension between achieving autogynephilic goals and maintaining conventional romantic relationships. Autogynephilic males who cross dress often go through binge-purge cycles, in which their cross dressing increases periodically, they get fed up and throw away their female clothing, and then later begin the cycle again. Some are fortunate to find partners (generally women) who accept their autogynephilia-driven behavior–some women even cooperate and participate. Some autogynephilic individuals never acquire partners, and they avoid the aforementioned struggle.
Some persons with autogynephilia are content to remain male. Those who get their gratification primarily from cross dressing are less likely to want to progress than those whose fantasies involve having female bodies, especially genitalia. Those, of course, can acquire female genitalia via surgery. Those who go that route generally undergo electrolysis and hormonal therapy prior to genital surgery.
As for “proper therapeutic response,” this is surely best considered at the individual level. But gender dysphoria due to autogynephilia doesn’t merely go away. Again, autogynephilia is like a sexual orientation, and that doesn’t change. I suspect that if there were more honesty about autogynephilia, then those who have it would understand themselves sooner, be less likely to commit to romantic interpersonal relationships, and would be more likely to pursue earlier sex reassignment. Evidence suggests they would be happier doing so, and there would be fewer wrecked families; quite parallel with the case of men hiding their homosexuality and getting heterosexually married.
WT: In your answer about proper therapeutic response, you said autogynephilia doesn’t change. Is this based on research or on the classification of autogynephilia as a sexual orientation? 
MB: Many men with autogynephilia would like not to have it. But I have never met a man who said his autogynephilia went away. Some transwomen say that it diminishes or vanishes after a sex change. Remember, the sex change also removes testosterone, which fuels male sex drive.
I should mention one other therapeutic approach that has not been widely used, to my knowledge. Still, I know one autogynephilic man who was on the verge of changing sex. He was, however, conflicted because he would have lost everything: his family fortune, his job, and his family. He was put on a course of leuprolide, a powerful drug that removes testosterone from the body. His desire to change sex virtually vanished. He’s happy and somehow able to have sex with his wife (viagra helps).
WT: I assume you are talking about adults. In other words, do you have different advice for minors? 
MB: The controversy over how and whether to treat preadolescent children experiencing gender dysphoria is irrelevant to controversies concerning autogynephilia. These preadolescent children are not autogynephilic. Autogynephilia almost never manifests in an obvious way before adolescence.
Lots of autogynephilic transsexuals wish they’d transitioned earlier. I can imagine this would have been better for them. If only people were more open about autogynephilia and people were more honest about it–and here I include journalists along with people with autogynephilia among those who have conspired to keep it secret–we could collect better data and ideally learn the optimal treatment for autogynephilic individuals of various subtypes.
I worry when autogynephilic transsexual activists (this includes all who were born male who have not always been exclusively attracted to men) advise families of preadolescent gender dysphoric children. The older activists have completely distinct conditions from the children, and the activists’ experiences are not an accurate guide to what the youngsters feel or how they will turn out. As we have argued, most preadolescent gender dysphoria does go away, and it is at least questionable whether it is in preadolescent children’s interests to change sex, socially (because this may lead to persistence requiring serious medical treatment).
WT: Why is there so little media coverage of the autogynephilia angle? 
MB: I think it’s a mixture of ignorance, political correctness, and fear. Most journalists know what they know from the media and from transgender activists — who do not mention autogynephilia. In fact, a few activists have managed to convince a lot of people that autogynephilia theory has been disproved (when in fact, it has substantial scientific support) and that anyone who agrees with it is anti-transgender (when in fact its major proponents, including me, have been quite supportive of transgender rights). As for fear, transgender activists (especially Lynn Conway, Andrea James, and Deirdre McCloskey) were so enraged by my writing about these ideas in my book that they tried to ruin my life. They were unsuccessful–their major success was to help Alice Dreger write a terrific article (and recently, a book) about the controversy–but I’m sure few people want to risk that. We will have made progress when Conway et al. are more ashamed of what they did to me than of autogynephilia.
WT: Is there anything else you would like to mention?
MB: I’ve noticed disapproval among some journalists–even Jon Stewart on the Daily Show went there–of the focus on Caitlyn Jenner’s attractive photographs in Vanity Fair. I can assure you (and Stewart): Caitlyn’s thrilled with that attention. It’s an autogynephilic fantasy.

Again, thanks to Michael for this information. Readers can leave follow up questions in the comments section which may form the basis for a return to the issue at a later time.

What Kind of Woman is Caitlyn Jenner? Part One of a Q&A on Autogynephilia with Michael Bailey

The transition of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner has raised many questions about transgender issues. One that has not been widely discussed is autogynephilia as a trajectory for males who experience gender dysphoria. My impression of Jenner’s story is that she manifests aspects which are often associated with autogynephilia so it seems odd to me that the topic has not come up.
Michael Bailey is professor of psychology at Northwestern University and one of the more prolific sex researchers in the world. He kindly accepted my invitation to discuss autogynephilia in light of Caitlyn Jenner’s transition.

Throckmorton: What is autogynephilia? And how do autogynephilic individuals differ from androphilic men who become women?
Bailey: Before explaining what autogynephilia is, let me begin by explaining what it looks like. It occurs in natal males (those born male, regardless of whether they switch gender later), and it generally first manifests in adolescence, with the onset of puberty and sexual feelings. In the large majority of cases, it begins with erotic crossdressing. Generally, a boy discovers it’s sexually exciting to put in female clothing, especially lingerie, in private, look at himself in a mirror, and masturbate. People who know these boys don’t usually see them as feminine. Males like this usually are attracted to females, though some are not attracted to other people. A subset will discover other, related erotic fantasies, sometimes including the idea of having female anatomy (such as breasts and a vulva). If the anatomical fantasies predominate, then gender dysphoria is most likely to be intense. Males who eroticize the fantasy of having women’s bodies are most likely to get sex changes, for obvious reasons.
The phenomena I’ve talked about so far don’t make much sense if we take the conventional approach that these males have women’s brains. They make much more sense explained via autogynephilia. Autogynephilia might best be thought of as an unusual sexual orientation that occurs in natal males (those born male, no matter what they become). It’s very similar to male heterosexuality, because the erotic target is a woman. The difference is that in autogynephilia, the target is a self-constructed internal image–it’s like inwardly-turned heterosexuality. These males eroticize and fall in love with a woman they create within themselves
WT: Do you believe that Caitlyn Jenner is autogynephilic? If so, why?
MB: I believe it is very likely that Caitlyn Jenner’s transition was motivated by intense autogynephilia. I believe this because the best science suggests there are two completely different reasons why natal males become women: because they are feminine androphiles (lovers of men) or because they are autogynephilic. Jenner’s history shows none of the former and is very consistent with the latter. I refer specifically to his previous heterosexual marriages and secretive crossdressing.
WT. She says she always had gender dysphoria and that there was no erotic component. Would she say this if she were autogynephilic? Why?
MB: Autogynephilic individuals experience gender dysphoria, typically beginning in adolescence, when their intense erotic longing for female characteristics almost always begins. There is evidence (John Bancroft published an article long ago) showing that after changing sex, some show memory distortion. They begin to assert that their gender dysphoria began in early childhood and was far more overt than they had alleged before. They also deemphasize the erotic component, even if they admitted it before. I think they do this for at least two reasons: shame (because: sex is involved) and the desire to believe they really have the brains of women (as Jenner suggests she does–um, how does she know that?). I think also that Jenner (and others in the spotlight) likely enjoys the media spotlight, and the mainstream media loves the “was always a woman trapped in a man’s body” story and can’t deal with the “experienced intense sexual arousal when crossdressing or imagining I had a woman’s body” story.
WT: If Jenner doesn’t want people to think her transition was due to autogynephilia, why shouldn’t we just go along? 
MB: This inaccurate denial of autogynephilia is not for the good, because being honest could help lots of males struggling with their autogynephilia. (And there are lots who are.) It might help them understand themselves. It might help them accept themselves. It would at least say “Autogynephilia is nothing to be ashamed of.” I would say that people who admit and deal with their autogynephilia are even admirable.
Falsely misrepresenting one’s gender issues is also bad for science. It’s not good for people to believe false things merely because journalists don’t want to go certain places. Even among scientists, too many don’t bother to learn about the relevant literature and just listen to transgender people’s explanations (“I have the brain of a woman.”). This leads to bad scientific studies and ideas.
I think that Jenner’s brain has nothing more in common with the brain of a natal woman than mine does. She’s not that kind of woman. Her gender dysphoria was much more akin to times in my life when I had erotic and romantic longings for someone I couldn’t have.
WT: Do autogynephilic individuals have attraction to other people? 
MB: Usually, they are also attracted to women in the world (i.e., women besides their inner creation) as well. Some of these individuals marry–some tell their wives and some don’t. Wives who know often feel like they are married both to their husband and to the other woman. And the men (many–probably most–never become women) sometimes struggle between their love for their families and their desire to become women. This desire is like a typical man’s midlife crisis.
A subset of autogynephilic males report that they are bisexual, but knowledgeable scientists think this is not true bisexuality. Rather than attraction to men’s bodies, these individuals enjoy the fantasy of being courted by, desired by, or even engaging in sex with men, as women. This makes them feel quite feminine, and is thus exciting. Another subset identifies as asexual. These have plenty of sexual fantasies–it’s just that the sexual fantasies are all about the internal woman, and there’s nothing left for women in the world.
WT: What research support does this phenomenon have? 
MB: There is a great deal of support originating in Toronto in the important clinic formerly run by Ray Blanchard, the scientist most responsible for the study of autogynephilia. Blanchard observed that erotic arousal at the idea of having a female body was uncommon among natal male gender patients who said they were exclusively attracted to men (he referred to these as “homosexual” because with respect to their birth sex, that is their sexual orientation). In contrast, it was very common among natal male gender patients attracted to women, those who identified as bisexual, and those who identified as asexual–he referred to these three subtypes as “non homosexual” because they were not exclusively attracted to men. Homosexual natal male gender patients tended to have been extremely feminine since childhood. Nonhomosexual patients, not so much. (In follow up studies of preadolescent boys so feminine they wanted to be girls, not a single one was attracted to women as an adult.) Non homosexual natal male gender patients’ gender dysphoria is rarely evident in childhood but begins in adolescence. Homosexual patients request sex reassignment surgery much younger than non homosexual patients do–at least they have in the past. This partly reflects the fact that many non homosexual patients form families that delay them from pursuing such surgery.
A good resource summarizing this science (up to 2003) is the third section of my book (free pdf). A more scholarly and updated treatment is Anne Lawrence’s book.

Tomorrow, I will post the second part of my Q&A with Michael Bailey. In that part of the interview, Bailey opines about the proper therapeutic response to autogynephilic individuals, minors and transgender issues, media reporting about autogynephilia and his critics.
Part two of this Q&A is here.

The roots of preventing homosexuality: George Rekers uncovered at Box Turtle Bulletin

Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin has an extraordinary report on a young man treated by George Rekers in 1970. This is a must read and a significant contribution to understanding the roots of treatment for homosexuality. As most readers of this blog know, George Rekers, former NARTH board member, was caught with a male prostitute last year. His efforts to prevent homosexuality were unsuccessful on that personal level and according to Burroway had tragic consequences for a young man who launced Rekers career.
Here is just a snippet of the report. This section is relevant to the post I did last week on Chuck Colson’s promotion of Joseph Nicolosi’s book on preventing homsexuality.

UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute wasn’t just one of the world’s great research facilities, it was home to some of the top experts on gender identity. Dr. Robert Stoller, who established the Gender Identity Clinic at the Institute in 1963, is credited with coming up with the concept of “gender identity” as a distinct concept in which one’s self-perception of his or her gender can be different from one’s apparent anatomical sex.
Stoller was a leading expert on “transsexualism,” but he didn’t venture much into homosexuality in the 1960s, calling it “a large issue beyond my present understanding.” But by the 1970?s he was willing to tackle homosexuality as well, since he regarded homosexuality and transsexualism as two expressions of the same problem. Stoller believed that the most feminine boys — the most extremely feminine boys — would grow up to become transsexual. But those boys who somehow managed to pick up some stray bits of masculinity along the way had considerably more options available to them. With a touch more masculinity, a boy might avoid becoming transsexual and instead become merely homosexual. Add still more masculinity, and maybe he would be straight but a cross-dresser. More masculinity still, and he’d be “normal.” How much masculinity a boy picked up depended entirely on his mother.
This meant that feminine boys weren’t the only ones in psychology’s crosshairs. Mothers were targeted as well. This was nothing new. Psychology had long blamed mothers for all sorts of problems in their children, including schizophrenia, autism, asthma, and, of course, homosexuality and other forms of gender non-conformity. Stoller told a panel at a 1976 American Psychoanalytic Association meeting, “Most feminine boys result from a mother who, whether with benign or malignant intent, is too protective, and a father who either is brutal or absent (literally or psychologically).” That statement apportions some blame on the father, but Stoller let them off the hook because, after all, it was the mother who chose to have the father in the picture to begin with. “He was chosen by his wife to be a distant, passive, nonparticipating man.”
Stoller was just one of the many stars at UCLA. Dr. Ivar Lovaas, who established the ward that housed the clinic, was head of UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute. He was already famous for his controversial behavioral treatment program for autistic children, some of which involved electric shock therapy. Some of his behavior modification techniques (minus the electric shock therapy) made their way into UCLA’s treatment program for suspected “prehomosexual” or “pretranssexual” children. Another UCLA researcher, Alexander Rosen, published several important articles describing his work with gender nonconforming children and adults. Three of his early papers were co-written with Stoller. Later, he would co-write at least fourteen more with Rekers. Peter Bentler was another noted researcher, and his contributions were in the field of “psychometrics” — in developing psychological tests and performing complex statistical analyses in order to interpret the results. He would write five papers with Rekers and Rosen, including three papers vigorously defending the Clinic’s experimental children’s program against its more vocal critics.

As noted last week, Chuck Colson promoted these same theories in his columns encouraging parents to get Nicolosi’s book on preventing homosexuality. Guess who wrote the only professional recommendation for Nicolosi’s book on Amazon.com? George Rekers is the correct answer. Rekers wrote:

“Every concerned parent will benefit from this practical parenting advice on how to help a child develop a secure gender identity that leads to a normal heterosexual orientation in adulthood. Joseph Nicolosi is an internationally recognized professional expert on therapies that promote normal heterosexual adjustment. He is known for his long-standing leadership in a key professional association that applies scientific findings to psychosexual adjustment. But his breadth of technical scientific knowledge is combined with years of extensive clinical experience helping everyday people. This combination has enabled the authors to explain psychological research findings to parents in a very practical way. Their book provides clear guidance on what parents can do to promote their child’s sexual adjustment.” (George A. Rekers, Ph.D., professor of neuropsychiatry and behavior science, University of South Carolina School of Medicine )

This recommendation should be read in the light of Burroway’s new report. According to Burroway, Anderson Cooper at CNN is also covering this story beginning tomorrow night. I will be following it as well, and providing additional material that highlights the roots of efforts to prevent homosexuality in children and the parent blaming that goes along with it.

Barton: Gender bending honorable during Revolutionary War

On Glen Beck’s show on Friday, David Barton said:

BECK: On that program, what took a lot of viewers by surprise was that some women actually served in the military during the American Revolution.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
BECK: I have to ask you about this handsome lady.
BARTON: 1782, she wanted to do something for her country. She dressed like a man and went and enlisted.
Now, what’s interesting is she’s 22 years old at the time and other guys in the army, I always kid her about, you never shave. You’re just a kid. Of course, she didn’t shave. She’s a lady.
She got wounded in a battle up at West Point and she treated the wound herself so no one would find out what her gender was.
BECK: Holy cow.
BARTON: She later, in Philadelphia, came up with a really high fever, almost unconscious and so the physician had to check her and at that time, find out what her gender was. So, when they found out her gender, they quietly moved her out of Army. But General Henry Knox is the one that gave her an honorable discharge out of the Army at West Point.
BECK: Wow.
BARTON: She ends up with a military pension because she served as a soldier. And if you were a soldier, you got the pension so pretty cool story.

But let’s not have any of that now…

Fetal Testosterone Predicts Sexually Differentiated Childhood Behavior in Girls and in Boys

This is an important study from the Psychological Science journal’s early view:

Fetal Testosterone Predicts Sexually Differentiated Childhood
Behavior in Girls and in Boys

Bonnie Auyeung, Simon Baron-Cohen, Emma Ashwin, Rebecca Knickmeyer, Kevin Taylor, Gerald Hackett, and Melissa Hines
ABSTRACT—Mammals, including humans, show sex differences in juvenile play behavior. In rodents and nonhuman primates, these behavioral sex differences result, in part, from sex differences in androgens during early development. Girls exposed to high levels of androgen prenatally, because of the genetic disorder congenital adrenal hyperplasia, show increased male-typical play, suggesting similar hormonal influences on human development, at least in females. Here, we report that fetal testosterone measured from amniotic fluid relates positively to male-typical scores on a standardized questionnaire measure of sextypical play in both boys and girls. These results show, for the first time, a link between fetal testosterone and the development of sex-typical play in children from the general population, and are the first data linking high levels of prenatal testosterone to increased male-typical play behavior in boys.

Here’s the money quote:

Thus, our data are the first documentation that androgen exposure prenatally relates to sexually differentiated play behavior in boys and in girls. In addition, the current results support an organizational, as opposed to current, activational role of testosterone, because play behavior is measured in childhood, when concurrent testosterone levels are low.

Gender non-conformity is the strongest predictor of same-sex attraction in adulthood. This study links prenatal testosterone with later gender typical behavior. The brains of children are organized in ways that react to their environment in socially typical or atypical ways. How such behavior shapes the family environment is unclear, however, it does not appear that the behavior is exclusively a response to parental bonding or modeling.

More on the Dr. Phil Show Little Boy Lost – Sparks fly among guests

This clip features some give and take between panelists on the Dr. Phil Show episode on gender identity issues. In this segment, Dr. Siegel defends moms by saying there is no evidence that being too close to a boy will make him want to be a girl. Dr. Nicolosi says Siegel is oversimplifying his reparative theory. What do you think?
Lights, camera, action!

The Dr. Phil Show on gender identity, Part 3 – Should puberty be delayed?

Near the end of the Dr. Phil Show on gender identity, two guests who were not on stage provided a mini-introduction to the controversy of using hormones to delay puberty. Dr. Jo Olson and Dr. Eva Cwynar are two prominent doctors who work in the field of gender disorders and endocrinology. And action!

From the Dr. Phil website, here is a rough transcript of their comments.

Dr. Phil turns to two more medical professionals in the audience. Endocrinologist Dr. Eva Cwynar says parents need to wait and see what happens with puberty and not give in to their child’s fantasy of wanting to become the opposite sex. Dr. Jo Olson, pediatrician with the Transgender Clinic of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, says children are born this way, and she helps kids make the transition through hormone therapy.
“Dr. Olson, at what point do you begin that?” Dr. Phil asks.
“It’s a different process for each child. It’s really important to recognize that young people and their families come in at very different stages of this process. Many of the people we see have actually already gone through puberty, but we do have some patients who are young, in the 12- to 16-year-old age range as well,” Dr. Olson says. “However, I want to say that we don’t just provide hormone therapy for young people, and not all young people who want to transition get hormones. We have a multi-disciplinary approach in our clinic, where they are assessed by a psychologist who is extremely familiar with gender-questioning youth, gender identity disorder and the issues that these young people face, as well as the case manager who understands what these young people go through. And hormones are not the end of the story for every young person.”
“And you work with the family members as well. It’s not just something you do to the child in isolation,” Dr. Phil says.
“Absolutely, and we have many parents who experience this same kind of mourning,” she says, referring to Toni.
“Dr. Cwynar, do you think there’s ever a point when hormone-blocking therapy is appropriate?” Dr. Phil asks.
“I do,” Dr. Cwynar says. “I think that, as everybody mentioned before, there’s a spectrum of this transgender, and I do believe as well that gender is a definition between the eyes and not between the legs, and that there are certain chemical phenomena, chromosomal phenomena, that occur both in utero and as we develop that make us appear as one sex, but is actually a different sex. I prefer waiting through puberty to see what actually happens when the hormones kick in. There are situations where you have distress and suicidal ideations and because of that, hopefully the family will be there for the child to help them get through that process. So, I like to see the whole adolescence be complete, essentially, before I do anything permanent.”

This is among the most controversial of issues and one with which I have had some professional involvement. I will give one example and then some links from past blog posts which address similar gender identity concerns.
Among several similar cases, I recall a family in conflict where the mother wanted to delay puberty for a GID child but the father did not. In short, the child now post-puberty is strongly identified with the biological gender. Delaying puberty would have been a mistake and the earlier wish to consider it vanished. Other cases are not so clear cut and hence the controversy.
Here are some relevant links to past posts:
Two families, two approaches to gender preferences
Gender identity disorder research: Q & A with Kenneth Zucker
Ken Zucker compares ethnic identity conflict and gender identity conflict
APA issues statement regarding GID and the DSM-V
The Man Who Would Be Queen – Chapters 1 & 2
American Psychological Association comments on DSM gender identity issue
60 Minutes Science of Sexual Orientation: An update from the mother of twins
60 Minutes Science of Sexual Orientation mother of twins, part 2 (this 2 part series is highly recommended)

More on the Dr. Phil episode on gender identity: Reparative drive theory

I have some video clips of yesterday’s Dr. Phil Show on gender identity. In this segment, Toni, the mother of a three boys, one of whom is transgender, expresses strong disagreement with Dr. Joseph Nicolosi and Mr. Glenn Stanton. Prior to this clip, Nicolosi outlined his views on response to gender identity issues. From the Dr. Phil website:

“So, what is a parent to do?” Dr. Phil asks. “You’re at home with your little child, they don’t do what other little boys do — and I’m using a little boy as an example. It happens with girls too, but statistics say it’s about five to one boys over girls who have this, but what is a parent to do at that point? Their question is, ‘Do we support his interest, or do we say, “No, no, no. You can’t play with that. You must play with this”?’”
“We see certain patterns, very typical patterns, of an over-involved mother, where the mother and son have a symbiotic relationship,” Dr. Nicolosi explains. “It’s very close, their identities are merged, and the father is out of the picture, and the work that we’re doing is to get the mother to back off, get the father more involved, get that boy to dis-identify with the mother and bond with the father, and in the bonding with the father, he develops that masculine identity.”

Most therapists have encountered families like this. However, they often come in for reasons other than a child’s gender identity. As Dr. Siegel said in a later part of the show, there is no evidence that a mom being close with a son leads to gender identity problems.
In this clip, Nicolosi and Stanton lay out their view of what happens to create a son like Toni’s. Roll the tape for the segment.

If I am following the mother’s explanation, she says she was not close to her son and her fiance became close to him after she backed off. She also notes that she was a single mom to her first son who would be expected to be closer to mom. Apparently, that child has no gender identity issues. And she says, the fiance/father-figure was less involved after the boy transitioned to a female role, but very involved prior to the transition. She further says that she wasn’t enmeshed with him. In other words, the reparative theory predicts a certain constellation but this women disconfirms it.
As noted in my first post on this episode, no middle ground views were presented. Near the end of the show, two reseachers seated in the audience were given a chance to speak. This segment was too short. I hope to post the clip of that exchange in a future post.
For now, I want to point out again the problem with confirmation bias in thinking through highly controversial topics. In this clip, the comments presented by Nicolosi and Stanton were not consistent with the experience of the mother and this son. Is it possible she was in denial? Is it possible that the reparative theorist was in denial? Sorting through this is difficult since both mom and the psychologists have powerful incentives to seek evidence favoring their commitments and views. In an area, like this one, where the science is developing, I advocate a very loose hold on theoretical commitments.
While the scientist can and should take a critical stance, it is true that parents need advice now. I tend to favor waiting until puberty to make decisions about transitioning since the existing research indicates most children do not opt for transition after puberty. However, even that finding is not as clear as Dr. Phil presented. See this interview with Ken Zucker for more on persistence of GID into adulthood.
Stay tuned…