Posted by: aronmwrites | May 15, 2008

DSM-V working group appointed; potential disaster looms

Approximately a week ago now, I missed what turned out to be a fairly inflammatory interview segment on NPR’s All Things Considered about the treatment of trans youth by the medical establishment. Dr. Diane Ehrensaft, a gender therapist in Oakland, CA, represented what I’ll call the voice of reason. Ehrensaft supports the right of a person to present as whatever gender they choose, to express their gender identity in whatever way feels right to them. In other words, she allows people to make their own decisions about their own bodies and their own happiness. How terrible! In fact, Ehrensaft doesn’t even view gender variant folks as disordered:

“. . . because Ehrensaft does not see transgenderism itself as a dysfunction, the therapist didn’t think Pam and Joel should try to cure Jonah . . . [saying] don’t put a kid in therapy until they need it.”

This perspective even may allow, in the future, for non-trans identified gender variant people (read: genderfuck, genderqueer, etc.) to easily access the medical establishment for whatever treatment they desire. Some might see this as making an open buffet of SRS procedures, but I personally see it as good sense. If you’re happy and capable of making a decision for yourself, then I’m perfectly happy to let you do whatever you want, so long as it doesn’t harm others. Unfortunately, this tends to not be the common approach in the treatment of gender different people within medicine and psychology/psychotherapy.

The other side was represented by Dr. Kenneth Zucker– a name that should be familiar to everyone, but likely isn’t because he seems to fly under the radar in a way that Warren Throckmorton, Mark Yarhouse, and Joseph Nicolosi can’t (see NARTH’s site for more of Teh Crazy). What do all of these names have in common? A shared belief, if in different shades from one person to the next, in the power of “reparative” therapy. (Hint: The “scientific” side of the “pray-away-the-gay” movement.) Zucker’s gold star moment in the NPR interview was to relate gender transition to race, stating:

“Suppose you were a clinician and a 4-year-old black kid came into your office and said he wanted to be white. Would you go with that? . . . I don’t think we would.”

He also calls gender different kids “gender-disordered” and believes that gender variance is a result of dysfunction that should and can be “cured”. This involves getting the child to play board games (deemed non-gender specific by the Good Doctor), associate with children only of the child’s assigned birth sex, and have all toys, cloths, etc., associated with the “wrong” sex taken away. Sounding familiar yet? I mean, if little Johnny (pardon my excessively gendered stereotyping here) can have his gender variant feelings “cured” by playing with “butch” Thomas the Train instead of Polly Pocket, obviously the ex-gay folks are on the right track with “de-gaying” gay men by making them play touch football and taking away their Abercrombie & Fitch t-shirts. (Really – take a look at Exodus, JONAH, or Love In Action’s websites if you don’t believe me. You’ll find Mary Kay makeover seminars for lesbians and electroshock among their offerings, too.)

Right now, you might just think I’m angry with NPR for giving this bigoted crackpot airtime to spout his damaging rhetoric. But the “uh oh!” moment is still coming. Navigate over to the Bilerico Project to see Mercedes Allen’s original poston the DSM-V debacle.

That’s right! “Cure the trannies” therapist, Dr. Ken Zucker, has been appointed by the APA as the chair of the Working Group on Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders for the DSM-V revision. It doesn’t stop there. Dr. Ray Blanchard, long time reviled psychologist at CAMH and mentor to Zucker, is also on the working group. Blanchard is even worse than his flunkie, advocating for a direct link between “autogynephilia” and trans(s)exualism as well as actively opposing the transition of non-hetero transpeople (or “homosexual transsexuals” as he calls them), at least as far as I can tell.

This isn’t good news, folks.

A few days ago, a further specification of duties was handed down by the APA regarding GID and the working group to one letter writer: a specific chair was identified for GID as well as another of other sub-groups. Our problems are no where near over with this move, however.

While Dr. Peggy T. Cohen-Kettenis – if she is indeed actually a chair for GID as a sub-topic – may not herself subscribe to the Zucker-Blanchard model, Zucker is still the final word and the highest in the chain of influence in the working group, so assuming that he won’t have his hands in the pot as the new DSM-V section is created is just sticking your head in the sand.

Zucker and Blanchard need to be removed from the Working Group. At the least, look to contact the APA representative that was listed on the press releases. This fight is not over, and continues to get murkier all the time (post forthcoming about this morning’s developments).

If you would like to send a letter to the APA, the following is their main address:

1000 Wilson Blvd, Suite 1825
Arlington, Virginia 22209

As well, here’s the press release contact info: Rhondalee Dean-Royce ( and Sharon Reis (

Seed Newsvine


  1. I heard that segment on NPR, and I was pretty appalled. The parents who were seeing Dr. Zucker kept talking about how miserable and insecure their child was, but they were still completely convinced that they were doing the right thing. In contrast, the other doctor was absolutely the voice of reason. The odd thing was that both of them claimed to believe that gender identity is fluid in children, but they drew the opposite conclusions about how to treat the kids who came to see them. (well actually, it was the parents who came to see them. the kids didn’t have much of a problem with themselves.) As far as I could tell, this was because Dr. Ehrensaft doesn’t think that “psychologically healthy” and “the same as everyone else” are synonymous.

    Anyway, I am pretty unimpressed with the APA right about now.

  2. “(well actually, it was the parents who came to see them. the kids didn’t have much of a problem with themselves.)”

    Too true.

    I’m fairly unimpressed with the APA as well at this point. And I seem to get less impressed with every passing day.

    How’ve you been, Hana?

  3. […] A guided reading of Ray Blanchard’s open letter As if by some malevolent magic, this email appeared in my inbox a week ago.  The content of the letter is enough to make my blood boil (apparently, I’m more strongly in the “remove-GID-from-the-DSM-or-else” camp than I had previously thought), but the endorsement it received by none other than Jack Drescher took it to an entirely new level.  For now, I’ll just wade through the Blanchard letter itself.  Promise I’ll try not to take too many potshots.  If you’re confused by all the drama, go back and read about the DSM-V debacle first.  […]

  4. waterline says : I absolutely agree with this !

  5. […] Kenneth Zucker’s treatment techniques for gender variance in children?  For a refresher, revisit his NPR interview and listen to him […]

  6. I came to your blog looking for the pro-non-disorder pov since this porspect of ruling Gender Identity Disorder out of the DSM is rather alarming to me.

    I don’t see why the focus has been to make GID a non-disease. If fair treatment and human rights are being infirnged than I don’t think the focus should be on changing the set standard and definition, but on rallying and obtaining patient rights. Just because your ‘ill’ does not mean you don’t deserve A-One, waulity treatment and courtesy.

    Zucker may not be the most magnificent of psychiatrists as far as bedside manner goes but I’m reassured by his placement. Again, GID is a deviancy which is the basis of defined pathology. I can’t agree to having it removed in order to make inavasive treatment more accessable to appeal to political correctness.

    AIDS is a disease like GID and just like AIDS, GID patients deserve respect, courtesy and quality care.

    I’m of the opinion that focus should be only quality of life and if by adult hood it seems like SRS or Hormones etc are the final line of treatment and they are more likely to increase quality of life in the long run than attempting to work through the disordered identity…then of course I support it. Much as cosmetic surgery of any kind can be considered a last resort that sometimes is deemed the approriate next step.

    I’m not convinced removing another deviancy from the DSM (sexual orientation deviances being the other) is the best idea…for lots of reasons. I think more effort and concern should be put to getting more studies on GID and how truely effective ALL forms of treatment are. More time spent on patient rights, etc. Changing the standards of medicine seems like a very bad idea and I hope that they don’t vote it out.

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