AC360 digs into the dark world of “reparative therapy” in “The Sissy Boy Experiment”

How hard is it to love a 5-year-old child unconditionally, or a child of any age for that matter? If you believe God created each of us, how do you decide some of his creations, especially children, are disposable – that they are junk?

Yet, that’s what happens in the sick world of the charlatans who pass themselves off as “reparative therapists.” These people aren’t harmless quacks. They are psychological assassins who use fear to convince confused, vulnerable parents to give up their children to programs of mental terror.

Anderson Cooper 360 launched a three-part series about this on Tuesday. It included interviews with the mother and siblings of a preschool boy sent to a government-funded “reparative therapy” program at UCLA in the 1970s. The program was supervised by the infamous George Rekers, whose writings have been widely discredited but are still used by some who want to promote this violent destructive idea.

Varmints like Rekers, feigning professional credibility, work in communities in Texas and across the country. Some get rich, and many develop personal followings by holding out false hope that they can change the most fundamental aspect of a child’s psyche.

The disgusting unforgivable part of what they do is that those actually trained in psychology know better.

No credible study shows this type of “treatment” can alter something that basic in any human. In fact, the potential for irreparable harm is so great the American Psychological Association has issued an official statement opposing this practice. It reads:

Psychotherapeutic modalities to convert or “repair” homosexuality are based on developmental theories whose scientific validity is questionable.  Furthermore, anecdotal reports of “cures” are counterbalanced by anecdotal claims of psychological harm.  In the last four decades, “reparative” therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure.  Until there is such research available, APA recommends that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals’ sexual orientation, keeping in mind the medical dictum to First, do no harm.

Cooper interviewed family members who recalled instructions Rekers gave to withhold maternal empathy from the boy and to construct a merit-punishment system for his behavior. That system included weekly beatings from the father that raised welts on the 5-year-old boy’s butt and back as punishment for not showing “masculine behavior.”

Cooper’s investigation works, because so far it hasn’t fallen into a political or theological “he said v. he said” debate. (Parts 2 and 3 air Wednesday and Thursday.) Part 1 had a narrative arc that found truth by tracing the undeniable impact and human toll of Rekers’ “experiment” more than 30 years later.

We learned in that story the boy quickly withdrew from all social interaction, and that he was unable his entire life to form lasting friendships or any romantic partnership. Seven years ago, at the age of 38, the man he grew up to be hung himself from a ceiling fan, half-way across the world alone in a small apartment in New Dehli, India.

I’m a bit puzzled that Cooper didn’t fully identify Rekers. Perhaps it’s because we all know in the back of our mind how stories like this usually play out.

Decades after Rekers tortured that child and others at UCLA, after using his “research” and “experiments” to make a national name for himself and testifying against gay adoption and gay marriage, and after serving on the founding board of the Family Research Council, Rekers was busted last year in a Miami airport returning from a European vacation with a male escort from

I don’t have children, but I was a gay kid. I also was a board member and volunteer years ago at a gay teen support organization in Austin. Some of those kids had been sent to “reparative therapy.”

One weekend, I got a panicked call from one of my favorites about another teen in our weekly “rap group.” The other kid had slit his wrists. I rushed to where they were, and we got him to a hospital. He lived, but I’ll never forget visiting that bright, sweet, handsome boy barely in his teens in a psychiatric ward with bandages on his wrists. An image like that stays with you the rest of your life.

American Winter: The Right’s War on Education and Contraception

It’s a shocking historical juxtaposition. The pro-democracy movement known as the Arab Spring is in significant part a consequence of rising literacy and declining birth rates in the Mideast. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the Right is mounting a direct assault on education and a renewed war on contraception. This ought to tell us something.

It may be spring in the Mideast, but a chill wind is howling in America as America’s Right puffs its cheeks like Old Man Winter. Education and the personal freedom to control one’s body and sexual life fuel powerful democratic movements. What kind of movement then is America’s Right engaged in?

French social scientist Emmanuel Todd is explicit about the democratizing power of literacy and reproductive freedom. They lead to:

…the transformation of the political system, a spreading wave of democratization and the conversion of subjects into citizens.

But the American Right seeks the opposite, the conversion of citizens into subjects. That they do so while speaking of liberty is just more authoritarian “denying and distorting of information” in the words of Italian humanist, Auschwitz survivor and anti-fascist Primo Levi.

Is the Right really mounting a war on contraception? While far-right conservatives have largely succeeded in snookering the credulous news media into framing its anti-birth control agenda as all about abortion, they seek much more than an abortion ban.

In a moment of unintended candor, a leading conservative Texas state legislator, Wayne Christian, recently confessed. The Texas Tribune asked Christian whether he was engaged in a war on birth control. He answered: Continue reading “American Winter: The Right’s War on Education and Contraception”

Good Will, Good Faith, Good Grief

Given an understanding that politics is not much more than war without weapons (usually), it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s a lot of ill will involved.

Still, it seems today like all the good will and good faith have been drained from the American political environment. When Nevada Nut Sharron Angle says it’s time to turn to guns if conservatives don’t win at the ballot box, she means it. Her hatred of liberals is so intense she wants to kill us, and she doesn’t keep it a secret. It’s barely even news.

What led us into this awful circumstance? Is it just economic anxiety?

Consider this: conventional wisdom tells us the Republicans are going to gain significantly this election, perhaps retaking the House and maybe even the Senate. Now, the GOP is the party that caused the economic crisis. And voters are poised to return them to power because they advocate the very policies everyone knows led to the collapse?

That can only happen when there’s a significant disconnect between reality and the political sphere, or what remains of the political sphere. It’s a dangerous situation. Those in charge of the lifeboats don’t even know if the ship is sinking.

It’s the distant and artificial nature of today’s politics that makes shooting liberals and burning Korans thinkable for some.

Jurgen Habermas noted fifty years ago that the public sphere in the west had vanished.

The extent to which the public sphere as an element in the political realm has disintegrated…is measured by the degree to which it has become a genuine publicist task for parties to generate periodically something like a public sphere to begin with.

In other words, it’s the job of political professionals to create an audience – not a conversation or debate. It’s pretend politics, or Disneyland politics as a sitcom or video game where you can just hit reset if too many liberals get shot or too many women’s health clinics get bombed. It’s not real, so what does it matter?

Continue reading “Good Will, Good Faith, Good Grief”

Requiem for Reality

Emerson said, “…wise men pierce this rotten diction and fasten words again to visible things.” It’s in his essay, “Nature,” and he was talking about the sacrifice of sacred truth to profane ambitions:

When simplicity of character and the sovereignty of ideas is broken up by the prevalence of secondary desires, the desire of riches, of pleasure, of power, and of praise,–and duplicity and falsehood take place of simplicity and truth, the power over nature as an interpreter of the will, is in a degree lost; new imagery ceases to be created, and old words are perverted to stand for things which are not; a paper currency is employed, when there is no bullion in the vaults. In due time, the fraud is manifest, and words lose all power to stimulate the understanding or the affections.

Oh how I wish America had listened. The reality of visible things is in retreat, and in its place we have Glenn Beck, Drudge et al, masters of the art of replacing simplicity and truth with duplicity and falsehood.

It’s no idle worry. When that infamous Bush aide scoffed at the idea of a “reality-based community,” he meant it. Nearly 20 percent of Americans believe President Obama is a Muslim, more, probably, than know what a Muslim is. For many, the villain is not unemployment. The villains are the unemployed. Bush didn’t wreck the economy, Obama did. Health insurance companies aren’t the problem, government is the problem.

Cry, baby, cry, for reality is in retreat, driven back by the power-mad and the impossibly irresponsible. Reality’s assailants do not realize that once they’ve virtualized the earth, they too will float free of its blue assurance, vulnerable to the next big illusion. Gravity needs mass, and right now American politics is massless.

Continue reading “Requiem for Reality”

Mark Twain on the Interview

In a newly discovered essay, Mark Twain takes down interviewers of all stripes. Take that O overpaid interrogators of contemporary American media. When the guy who quipped that Wagner’s music is better than it sounds takes you down, you feel it. Here’s Twain:

The Interview was not a happy invention. It is perhaps the poorest of all ways of getting at what is in a man. In the first place, the interviewer is the reverse of an inspiration, because you are afraid of him.

The perils of confronting an interviewer are many, Twain writes.

You close your shell; you put yourself on your guard; you try to be colorless; you try to be crafty, and talk all around a matter without saying anything: and when you see it in print, it makes you sick to see how well you succeeded. All the time, at every new change of question, you are alert to detect what it is the interviewer is driving at now, and circumvent him. Especially if you catch him trying to trick you into saying humorous things.

And, by flitting quickly from subject to subject, the interviewer pulls just enough words from you to be hanged by them.

Now his interruptions, his fashion of diverting you from topic to topic, have in a certain way a very serious effect: they leave you but partly uttered on each topic. Generally, you have got out just enough of your statement to damage you; you never get to the place where you meant to explain and justify your position.

I have interviewed and I have been interviewed. Believe me, it’s better to ask than be asked, which journalists past and present will gladly admit. Ah, the power, the power. The mighty undone and the drop of a pencil on a pad, a raised eyebrow that disconcerts and discombobulates the interview subject….those were the days, my friend, those were the days….


moonshineWilliam Tyndale once ridiculed the poor logic of a 16th Century blowhard by writing that, “the proof of his whole conclusion…hangeth by moonshine.” Tyndale of course, ultimately became a victim of moonshine when he was condemned as a heretic and strangled by real rope – and burned as well – for translating the Bible into English.

Moonshine, a fine word for unreal or laughable lies, shines on. Our political sphere is positively aglow with it. It is never eclipsed, and its source never sets.

The debate over health care reform, for instance, has been bright with it. Just about every word uttered by the opponents of health care reform has been moonshine. Every word, and everyone knows it.  The House managed to shield its eyes from the glare just long enough to pass a health reform bill. And in retrospect, the attacks on reform look all the more ridiculous.

We were told that freedom would be destroyed by our better health. We were told health care reform was communism, or fascism, for socialism, or some other non sequiturism. We were told we’d go broke. Or maybe die. Well, at least if it makes us sick we can afford to see a doctor.

Continue reading “Moonshine”

Balloon Boy and GOP Press Strategy

BalloonBoyLost in the hoohah over the Colorado balloon boy incident is the simple fact that the strategy is practiced daily by a GOP that long-ago sacrificed truth to their inflated drive for power.

For instance, the GOP alleges that Obama has hidden his communist/fascist/socialist agenda in his ascending balloon that casts a shadow over freedom and the future of America. Weren’t George W. Bush’s weapons of mass destruction in Iraq precisely like the boy who wasn’t in the balloon?

Maybe the GOP’s balloon is shaped like a giant teabag instead of a bag of stove-top Jiffy Pop, but the right wing still has an awful lot in common with the Richard Heene family. To be fair, this kind of melodramatic, mortal-danger bait-and-switch is the very stuff of successful advertising. Inside every box of cereal is said to be the key to perfect health. Shame-free Republicans simply took the skill to a new level. If it works for laundry soap, why shouldn’t it work for politicians?

Democrats do it too, of course. The national press is like a dinner-theater audience. Easy to please and slow to recognize even stupid stage effects as fake, they almost beg us fool them. Still, by and large, the Democrats’ tether to reality has never come loose.

It’s telling that the Heene family perpetrated their hoax to boost their chances of getting cast in a TV reality show. Reality show. Let’s idle at this intersection a moment. Tomfoolery and fiction is the road to reality, at least when it comes to television. Okay, let’s get away from the intersection while we still can.

Continue reading “Balloon Boy and GOP Press Strategy”

The (Media-Assisted) Rise of the Christian Right: And Now the Fall

American Great Awakening
American Great Awakening

Back in the late 1980s, I had a conversation with Molly Ivins about the religious right. I think they were calling themselves the Moral Majority then, doublespeak for being neither. At that time, about 90% of Americans identified as religious, and conservatives and liberals were each hovering in the 40% range with the rest of the population in the middle.

Molly and I mused about the boom and bust cycle of evangelical religious “awakenings” in U.S. history, which started with big surges followed by a disaffected generation of children seeking refuge in liberal religion or secularism. Molly commented that, if the usual trends applied, the decline of the religious right would start during the Reagan years. However, she thought the decline would be delayed until after 2001 by an artificial high from the once-in-a-millennium turn of the calendar and all the religious fervor and hoping for rapture it would generate.

Turns out she was largely right about the timing. However, the surge of the religious right has also had long legs partly because it was aided by right wing corporate money, which created five think tanks to move American religion rightward. Protestant and Catholic opposition to the Contra wars had done some damage to Reagan’s Central America policies, and conservatives were furious. In 1983, “60 Minutes” depicted the moderate to liberal World Council of Churches and National Council of Churches as communist fronts, one of the worst pieces of propaganda I have ever seen passing itself off as journalism. The Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD), one of the think tanks begun in the Reagan years, had a mission to move mainline Protestants hard right or eviscerate them.

In addition to the think tanks, evangelicals recruited on college campuses. As of 2005, Campus Crusade, InterVarsity, and a couple of other smaller groups were spending around $700 million per year on higher education. At the same time, the largest mainline Protestant campus ministry program—and one of the few with a serious program—was the United Methodists’, which spent $20 million a year.

Continue reading “The (Media-Assisted) Rise of the Christian Right: And Now the Fall”