Friday, May 21, 2010

George Rekers and child abuse

People continue to dig into the past of Dr George Rekers. While we are inclined to laugh at him now, it's important to remember that he is a brutal hypocrite who has actually caused great harm. As Frank Rich writes,
[O]nce we stop laughing, we must remember that culture wars are called wars for a reason. For all the farcical shenanigans they can generate, they do inflict real casualties....

Rekers is no bit player in these wars. Though he’s not a household name, he should be. He’s the Zelig of homophobia, having played a significant role in many of the ugliest assaults on gay people and their civil rights over the last three decades....

Thanks to Rekers’s clownish public exposure, we now know that his professional judgments are windows into his cracked psyche, not gay people’s. But there is nothing funny about the destruction his writings and public activities have sown. His fringe views have not remained on the fringe. His excursions into public policy have had real and damaging consequences on a large swath of Americans.

The crusade he represents is, thankfully, on its last legs......But the rear-guard remnants of the Rekers crowd are not going down without a fight.....
An example of Rekers' activities and their consequences is reported by The Miami New Times (who broke the original story).
What do you do with a little boy who likes cross-dressing and playing with dolls? If you're George Alan Rekers, you "extinguish" the boy's feminine behavior with a sometimes violent Pavlovian regimen while your scientific team observes through a one-way mirror.

....In 1974, Rekers, a leading thinker in the so-called ex-gay movement, was presented with a 4-year-old "effeminate boy" named Kraig.....Kraig received red chips for feminine behavior and blue chips for masculine behavior. The blue chips could be cashed in for candy or television time. The red chips earned him a "swat" or spanking from his father. Researchers periodically entered the family's home to ensure proper implementation of the reward-punishment system.
More detail comes from a 1970's newspaper article describing the program Kraig was in, posted at As Good as You, that describes Kraig's "progress":
Now, he regularly returns aggressiveness in his male-peer interactions. In fact, the researchers write, Kraig's mommy was alarmed at her son's transformation into 'a roughneck' -- so reckless in play that he was hurting himself and damaging the furniture. The psychiatrists reassure the mother that her son's 'mildly delinquent ' behaviour would be far easier to overcome in later years than effeminacy.

(The article also notes that Rekers had a colleague in this program "known for his use of electric cattle prods in behaviour modificaiton therapy on autistic children." Even for the 1970s, that seems very grim.)

The Miami New Times picks up the story again:
After two years, the boy supposedly manned up. Over the decades, Rekers, who ran countless similar experiments, held Kraig up as "the poster boy for behavioral treatment of boyhood effeminacy."

At age 18, shamed by his childhood diagnosis and treatment, Rekers's poster boy attempted suicide.
How many lives and psyches were wrecked by this man? How many of his victims were successful in ending their lives as a result of his own self-loathing internalized homophobia? We may indeed enjoy mocking his spectacular flame-out with the RentBoy. But let us not forget that most of this story is not the least bit funny.

And these arguments aren't over. Remember, in the Prop8 trial, so-called "experts" testifying about those Horrible Gay People included those who cite Rekers (though they try to deny it, he's in their list). Some speculate that this scandal may influence the Prop8 trial..

Still, as Andrew Sullivan says,
It's time we took a stand against tortured gay men abusing children to vent their own demons.
And George Rekers, a man who claims to be Christian, should beg his victims for forgiveness.

Update This article from the St Petersburg Times describes the arguments he used as an "expert witness". More on that lucrative business here.

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