In the 1970s, researchers at UCLA performed "therapy" on gender-variant kids, with the goal of making them conform to traditional gender roles. The treatment may have led to one man's suicide.
Penn Bullock and Brandon K. Thorp, two freelance reporters working for CNN, came across the story of "Kraig," a five-year-old boy who was "treated" for feminine behavior. In charge of his questionable therapy was George Alan Rekers (pictured), now an anti-gay-rights activist who was caught last year traveling with a male escort. Rekers subjected Kraig to "an increasingly aggressive regimen of psychological and physical rewards and punishment, first in a lab, and then in the boy's home," then proclaimed Kraig had been restored to "a normal male sexual identity." As the years went by, Kraig was frequently cited as a success story in the literature of so-called reparative therapy.
But Bullock and Thorp tracked down Kraig's sister, who said his real name was Kirk Murphy and his treatment was far from beneficial. Though he came out as gay in his 20s, he was never comfortable with himself or his sexuality. He lived "under a pall," and in 2003, he committed suicide. Now the reporters are seeking information about other children who received disturbing treatment at UCLA, including a girl who was declared cured of her tomboyish tendencies when she became "enamored with the (adult) male examiner and wanted to give him her phone number so that he could call her 'every night and every day.'"
Once held up as an example of successful reparative therapy, Kraig's case turns out to be the opposite — an illustration, for anyone who's still skeptical, of how telling a child that his gender expression is wrong or bad can do lasting damage. That such treatment was sanctioned — and even funded by the government — in the 1970s is disgraceful but perhaps not surprising. The idea that such tactics as "withholding maternal affection" will somehow make boys more masculine continues to this day in some circles. Perhaps Kraig's tragic death will show some of reparative therapy's remaining adherents the dangers of teaching people that their very identity is flawed.