Posted by: aronmwrites | May 23, 2008

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.

To set the mood, I’ll open with this quote from Blanchard’s “research”, which is conspicuously absent from his letter: “What kind of defect in a male’s capacity for sexual learning could produce … autogynephilia, transvestitism …?” (qtd. from Blanchard 1991)

His letter starts:

Thank you for your e-mail advising me of the great deal of misinformation that is currently being circulated about my views and positions on the Internet. I am writing to state the facts regarding the most serious of these incorrect notions. Please feel free to quote from this e-mail in whole or in part.

Don’t worry, Dr. Blanchard. I’ll feel free to quote anything you’ve ever said, including: your defense of Michael Bailey‘s Janice Raymond-esque The Man Who Would be Queen, your departure from HBIGDA (the group responsible for the Harry Benjamin standards, now WPATH), and your strangely Freudian and medieval theories behind GID. But we’ll get to all that as you continue to talk.

This first notion is that I am transphobic. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I could say so much here, but let’s give you some time to dig that hole a bit deeper.

In 1983 I published the first of a series of research studies demonstrating the beneficial effects of gender transition for transsexuals. I published further research studies demonstrating the positive effects of social transition, hormone treatment, and sex reassignment surgery in a second article in 1983, and then in four more studies between 1985 and 1989. I published literature reviews arguing that sex reassignment surgery was the most beneficial treatment for properly diagnosed transsexuals in 1990 and 2000. In 2007, I testified pro bono on behalf of a transsexual plaintiff who filed suit against the Ontario Ministry of Health in an attempt to force the Ministry to reinstate public funding of sex reassignment surgery. In summary, there is a readily accessible, 24-year-long, completely public record of my support for hormonal treatment and sex reassignment surgery for transsexuals.

Ok. Pause. I mentioned Janice Raymond’s Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male first in reference to Bailey’s similar tome, The Man Who Would be Queen. But the similarity does not stop with Bailey’s writings (Blanchard, by the way, is Bailey’s mentor). While Raymond refers to MTF transfolk as “male-to-constructed-females” and plods along continuing to refer to transpeople by their assigned birth sex, Blanchard takes a number of similar steps in his interviews and research approaches.

In a June 2004 article, Blanchard broadly states in regard to female-identified transwomen:

Toronto psychologist Ray Blanchard, one of Canada’s leading — and most controversial –gender experts, argues the transgender movement is rife with delusion. . . . he says, “A man without a penis has certain disadvantages in this world, and this is in reality what you’re creating.”

Huh. Clearly I was wrong in believing that a critical part of being trans-friendly – or even friendly to gender variance and difference – was supporting the choices that people make regarding their own bodies and their own gender identities. If I tell you that I want to use male pronouns and that I’m male-identified, I expect you to see me as somewhere along that spectrum and treat me as such (keeping in mind that Blanchard doesn’t really seem to have a place for biologically female-bodied people in his world view on “gender disorders”). Referring to me as a “woman without a penis” somehow just doesn’t feel like respecting my decisions about my identity. Maybe I’m mistaken?

Unfortunately, Blanchard again demonstrates the similarities in approach that you’d expect from someone of Raymond’s intellectual lineage. His theory of “autogynephilia”, which he coined in 1989, provides us with yet another example.

First, Blanchard generally sees GID as a paraphilia. “Transsexualism” isn’t really about gender at all to Blanchard (side note: I generally don’t endorse the “trapped in the wrong body” explanation either, which is usually positioned as the opposite of the Blanchard-Bailey-Lawrence hypothesis). It’s about sex. More specifically, it’s about men either being aroused by the idea of having a woman’s body (“non-homosexual transsexualism” or “autogynephilia”) or about “the desire of homosexual men to establish permanent relationships with male partners” (exclusively “homosexual transsexuals” or “androphiles”). He also notes that it’s possible that the reasons for GID and the desire for SRS could be so bizarre that no “normal” doctor has been able to imagine them in order to create a study: “. . . the desire for sex reassignment surgery . . . [is] perhaps the desire of other paraphilic men to bond with their paraphilic objects in ways no one has thought to observe.” In essence, Blanchard says that GID is a fetish. A mis-directed sex drive. Either MTFs want to become women because it is erotically stimulating to have a woman’s body, or it is easier to couple with men as a women and the “homosexual transsexual”‘s desire for men is so strong that they wish to become a women in order to more easily “establish permanent relationships with male partners”.

The tally so far stands thus: we have the overt homophobia embedded in these statements and the negation of someones ability to have a non-traditional gender identity that is not rooted in sexual perversion and dysfunction. We also have Blanchard categorizing his patients as “homosexual” or “non-homosexual” based on their assigned birth sex. Side by side, we see Raymond’s refusal to acknowledge any transperson’s expressed gender identity and Blanchard’s refusal to treat transpeople as anything other than sexual fetishists in addition to his refusal to I.D. them in accordance with their chosen gender. Although Blanchard does believe that he is helping people – and he certainly does let a small number of those that come to CAMH (the Clarke Institute, a.k.a. Jurassic Clarke) transition – I can’t see this complete lack of respect as anything other than transphobic. Sorry. Back to the letter.

The second false notion is that I support reparative therapy (sometimes called conversion therapy), which is a term that denotes the attempt to change homosexual orientations to heterosexual orientations. I do not now, nor have I ever, advocated therapeutic attempts to alter sexual orientation, either in adults or in minors. I have never written any document that could possibly be interpreted to mean that I hold, or previously held, such views. I have never stated that I think the alteration of sexual orientation is desirable or that I think it is possible.

No one accused you of advocating “reparative therapyfor sexual orientation. What myself and others have accused you of is advocating something very similar to “reparative therapy” for gender identity in children as well as some adults. Since there is no name yet for this kind of bogus and harmful treatment (ala Zucker in the recent NPR interview), probably because differences in gender identity and gender expression are still viewed as disordered by the vast majority of people and no treatment process has been streamlined outside of WPATH’s efforts, calling your form of help “reparative therapy” seems the most accurate. This is a claim that I still haven’t seen you answer. And as Zucker is another of your mentees and he calls “transsexualism” a “pre-homosexual condition”, this combined with your other research seems to indicate that the accusation is solid.

On the contrary, my considerable body of work on the origins of sexual orientation has stressed that sexual orientation in males is probably determined in prenatal life, a theoretical viewpoint that is basically incompatible with the notion that “therapeutic” interventions could alter basic sexual orientation. My publications on biological (and, by implication, immutable) influences on sexual orientation cover a 16-year period from 1992 to 2008.

Very true. You do stress that these “paraphilias” are determined early in life. As defects. Your other flunkie, Bailey, even goes so far as to suggest that homosexuality as well as gender diversity are “evolutionary mistakes”.

The foregoing facts are indisputable. Any statements on the Internet claiming that I am either opposed to sex reassignment surgery or in favor of reparative therapy are simply erroneous.

Ray Blanchard, Ph.D.

Head, Clinical Sexology Services
Law and Mental Health Program
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Professor of Psychiatry
Faculty of Medicine
University of Toronto

No one said that you’re opposed to sex reassignment surgery, Dr. Blanchard. In fact, you have a very long history of providing such services. But the facts above – your own words, in fact – are also indisputable. While you may be operating out of a desire to help the trans community, the ideological system that you peddle is too disrespectful and harmful for your “help” to really feel like help. Just because an abusive spouse tells you that you’re no good and that they are “helping” you by allowing you to even be with them, doesn’t mean that abusive spouse isn’t abusive. The same applies to you.

Please step down, Ray Blanchard. Your word count is up and your silence is long overdue.

Seed Newsvine


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