Some of you may have heard or read NPR’s recent piece (and followup Q & A) on two young boys expressing female “gender preferences.” The boys’ parents each sought the help of a different psychologist. One went to Dr. Diane Ehrensaft, a psychologist and gender specialist in Oakland, CA. She described the boy as transgender, and said she does not think the parents should try to change their child’s behavior. The other went to Dr. Kenneth Zucker in Toronto, whose said he preferred to try and make the child, Bradley, comfortable with the gender of his birth. That meant depriving Bradley of favorite activities:

So, to treat Bradley, Zucker explained to Carol that she and her husband would have to radically change their parenting. Bradley would no longer be allowed to spend time with girls. He would no longer be allowed to play with girlish toys or pretend that he was a female character. Zucker said that all of these activities were dangerous to a kid with gender identity disorder.

Zucker, as it turns out, is the darling of groups such as NARTH, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. In his book Gender Identity Disorder and Psychosexual Problems in Children and Adolescents, co-authored with Susan Bradley, he writes:

The rights of parents to oversee the development of children is a long-established principle. Who is to dictate that parents may not try to raise their children in a manner that maximizes the possibility of a heterosexual outcome?

Zucker is treating gender identity the way sexual orientation was treated until fairly recently, as something that can be “cured.”

Awful stuff, but why am I telling you this now? Because the American Psychiatric Association just named Zucker as the Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Chair for the work group that will revise the Manual for Diagnosis of Mental Disorders (DSM), the handbook for medical and therapy professionals. The revision would include the entry for “Gender Identity Disorder.” Zucker’s mentor, Dr. Ray Blanchard, is also in the work group. The transgender community and allies are outraged at this. Mercedes Allen writes about it at Bilerico and Transadvocate, as does Jenn Burlton of TransActive; Autumn Sandeen had a piece on Ex-Gay Watch last year warning about Zucker. (Thanks to her for the quote above from Zucker and Bradley’s book.)

Thirty-five years ago, “homosexuality” was listed in the DSM as a disorder. We now know better. Mercedes Allen at Transadvocate cautions, however, that simply removing Gender Identity Disorder from the DSM may not be the best solution:

My concern is that the existing entry in the DSM-IV provides us basic access to medical services, from GPs to therapists, from HRT [hormone replacement therapy] to surgery which could swiftly dry up without there being some medical acknowledgement whatsoever. Without legitimization in the medical community, our entire treatment becomes a “cosmetic” issue, and some could make the case that things like HRT are “harmful behaviours.” Additionally, without the existence of GID as a possible diagnosis, we will see more of our sisters and brothers (particularily the youth) diagnosed with other inaccurate things, such as Dissociative Identity Disorder.

I don’t have the expertise to offer an opinion on this, although it seems a reasonable position. What I do know is that anyone whose views coincide with those of the “ex-gay” movement should not be deciding how and whether to change any gender-related definitions in the DSM.

Please sign the petition to remove Drs. Zucker and Blanchard from the APA work group.