Dr. Zucker Fights Back, and the APA’s Special Exemption on Reparative Therapy Remains

Q: When is reparative therapy not reparative therapy?

A: When the patients are gender variant children. Then it’s okay, or so the implicit judgment from the American Psychiatric Association would still seem to say. But more on that in a moment.

The debate surrounding one of the controversial doctors assigned to revise the diagnoses used for either treatment or invalidation of transsexuals (plural diagnoses, as in, Gender Identity Disorder or Transvestitic Fetish — the latter of which poses the invalidation concern, whether it will ultimately be alongside a proposed theory of “Autogynephilia” or merged with it) has taken a turn. Someone has stated that allegations against Dr. Zucker have been turned over to Canadian authorities, and in turn, Dr. Zucker has levelled legal threats against someone else who has posted a link to an article on a website on which it was mentioned.

1) Notices and Allegations

Dr. Lynn Conway has been threatened with legal action. This stems from a news feed byte  that she ran on her website, which says:

01-17-09: Organisation Internationale des Intersexués (OII): “The self-proclaimed experts on intersex: Zucker and Lawrence”, by Curtis Hinkle

“I am sure that many intersex people were aware that the APA had brought out a booklet on intersex. However, I am not sure that many understand how problematic it is to many intersex people to see some of the following names associated with this booklet: Margaret Schneider, Walter O. Bockting, Randall D. Ehrbar, Anne A. Lawrence, Katherine Louise Rachlin and Kenneth J. Zucker. At first glance, the booklet seems apparently harmless. However, that is what’s so clever about it. It’s a way for the Clarke/Northwestern clique to get their nose under the (intersex) tent and then later “come on in”.”

According to attorney Peter Jacobsen, this segment contains “defamatory allegations of criminal conduct and sexual abuse,” although I can’t find them anywhere in the above statement. This legal notice was also sent to the University of Michigan’s Information Technology User Advocate, possibly to push a third party to end the news feed and/or to defame her among employer and colleagues.

At issue is the fact that the above segment links to an article by Organisation Intersex International.  For what it’s worth, that link doesn’t contain “defamatory allegations of criminal conduct and sexual abuse,” either, although it is alleged elsewhere on OII’s website that some allegations of misconduct have been turned over to Canadian authorities (wth no more information than that). OII  does some important work, being the most active and vocal opponent to the surgical assignation of gender to intersex infants at birth, while other Intersex organizations appear to have either abandoned that fight or even condoned the practice. Gender “normalization” was discredited many years ago, starting with the tragic case of David Reimer, but the disciples of Dr. John Money have continued to endorse it, and this is where OII and Dr. Zucker first found themselves at odds.

The implication of the legal notice is a bit confusing. Dr. Conway is accused of libel for linking to a website that suggests elsewhere on that website that a legal situation may be developing? Dr. Zucker is a Canadian resident, and a Canadian precedent set in 2008 by the British Columbia Supreme Court (the matter was not appealed to the federal level) in defense of Google, Yahoo, Wikipedia and others, states that unless there is an explicit comment made by the person doing so, simply linking to a piece of writing that might be considered defamatory (note that OII’s article has not been ruled defamatory, nor has any legal action been taken regarding it at this time) is not defamation itself.

I’d say that considering the circumstances, it’s pretty reasonable to call this an intimidation tactic.

With regards to the “defamatory allegations of criminal conduct and sexual abuse,” all I know is that these are an issue for the courts to decide. If there is something legally actionable, then I would hope that capable legal counsel and support finds its way to those who need it; if there isn’t, then I would hope that this becomes obvious early on, before the potential battle drags down well-meaning people, essential organizations and just plain bloggers who report about it.

2) Reparative / Aversion Therapy: The Question Remains

What isn’t a legal matter and is open for debate is the continued exemption that the APA is giving to reparative therapy as applied to gender variant kids. The APA has stated very strongly that they do not support reparative therapy, and consider it a dangerous and harmful attempt at treatment. At one point in the statement, they refer to both gender identity and sexual orientation as being intrinsic:

“Sexual orientation, like gender identity, appears to be established early in life. There is no evidence that altering sexual orientation is an appropriate goal of psychiatric treatment. There are single case reports of changes or increased flexibility in the capacity to respond heterosexually — or homosexually — during psychotherapy, but no specific treatment to permanently realize such changes has been documented. Clinical experience suggests that attempts to change sexual orientation may occasionally result in behavioral changes for some motivated individuals for limited periods of time, but that such changes often are accompanied by depression, anxiety, and other symptoms.”

And yet there has been an ongoing implicit exemption made in regards to reparative therapy when applied to trans kids. The American Psychiatric Association has had plenty of time to address the discrepancy, issue an explanation as to why their position does not extend to this situation, or to have words with the people who continue to embarrass them on this point, and deal with everything quietly. Instead, reparative therapists who treat kids are still given prestigious positions and implicit endorsement, and treated as the foremost experts in the field.

3) Because That is What This is All About

If Dr. Zucker’s complaint against Dr. Conway seems to hold little water, one finds a more likely basis for a grudge in the fact that in her news feed, Lynn Conway has continued to point out the reports of his use of reparative therapy — here, here, here, here, and here, for a few examples.   Even though a number of these reports appear neutral or supportive of the therapy discussed, there are still signs that reparative therapy is forcing these kids to submerge and hide identities and anguish, in order to smile for the doctor and look “cured…” a result vaguely reminiscent of what the APA describes in its statement on reparative therapy.

 This continually damaging treatment — and the APA’s continual habit of looking the other way — needs to be addressed. It’s time to press for a statement on what their position really is.

Crossposted to The Bilerico Project

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