In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) decided that gay people were no longer mentally ill, but that changed nothing for trans and gender-variant people. In fact, "experts" led the push to create a new disease called "gender identity disorder," which they successfully got added to the APA's big book of mental illnesses, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Though trans activists have been protesting to get this mental illness removed in the 2012 revision, these Toronto "experts" hold key positions among the people doing the revising.
Even worse is a sub-disease they created called "gender identity disorder in children." They have made a lot of money claiming to "cure" hundreds of children who are "too feminine." While they also treat kids who are "too masculine," in most clinics which have adopted their methods, 5 to 30 times more children assigned as males are treated. The methods? No playing with dolls, no drawing with the "wrong" colors like pink or purple, and no playing with or drawing pictures of girls. The anxious parents who bring their children in to be "cured" are expected to enforce all rules. They are sent home with instructions to make the child go through all their possessions and remove anything "inappropriate," as well as ways to use reinforcement to "correct" their child's thinking and behavior. How did nonconformity become a disease? And how did Toronto become infamous for this? It's a textbook case of pathological science with roots in the 20th-century eugenics movement, and it shows how a few misguided people can have impact all over the world.
(Screenshot: gender reparative therapist Kenneth Zucker appearing on TVO Parents) The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH, formerly the Provincial Lunatic Asylum) is a sprawling complex that includes what used to be called the Clarke Institute, named after eugenicist Charles Kirk Clarke. During Clarke's tenure as head of Canadian "mental hygiene," foreign-born patients comprised more than 50% of the incarcerated population in Canada's asylums: Bolsheviks, suffragists, degenerates, developmentally disabled, and other "defectives."
Thanks to generous provincial funding, CAMH has become a power base for eugenic ideology, though they started calling it "sociobiology" after that whole Holocaust thing. One of the most notable devices developed at CAMH is the penile plethysmograph, a device hooked up to male genitalia to see what arouses the subject (usually administered involuntarily). Though most courts treat this plethysmograph like a polygraph (lie detector) and deem it scientifically unreliable and inadmissible as evidence in criminal trials, that hasn't stopped the CAMH people from using it to create evidence about all kinds of sex and gender minorities.
One reason these guys have been able to stay in business so long is the politics around "paraphilia," especially attraction to people under the age of consent. Politicians tend to throw money at this issue because no politician wants to deal with an opponent's ad that says they voted against funding for stopping pedophilia. CAMH has capitalized on the moral panic around pedophilia and other sex offenses to generate revenue for all of their programs.
With this job security, they have been able to gather a group of like-minded psychologists under their roof. Ken Zucker and his colleague Susan Bradley have led the movement along with US and UK counterparts like Susan Coates and Richard Green. Remarkably, some of the "experts" advocating this reparative therapy of gender-variant children are gay men who would have been incarcerated at those Toronto facilities in the past, or subjected to "cures" used in the past like castration, shock therapy, etc. Luckily, most of these "experts" are middle aged or near retirement, and there don't seem to be too many younger "experts" lining up to replace them. Most mental health professionals under 40 have a more compassionate and progressive view on gender variance, and they don't want to be on the wrong side of history. To use a movie quote, you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
1. Let your friends and loved ones in Canada know that their taxes are supporting this kind of child abuse. Ask them to contact their legislators. Share this article with them.
2. Tell your friends and loved ones who are psychologists and psychiatrists about this controversy. Ask them to think about the parallels with pathologization of gays and lesbians. Share this article with them.
3. Support non-profits like TransYouth Family Allies, a group of parents and professionals who honor and support gender-variant children. I joined their Board to help stop this child abuse emanating from Toronto. These young people tend to be very bright and creative and outgoing until they start getting psychology-approved aversion therapy at home and on the playground. TYFA seeks to end the shame and fear inflicted on these young people in their formative years.
Drop the Barbie! (Brain, Child Magazine)
Child Gender Identity (TVO Parents)
Gender Madness in American Psychiatry: Essays From the Struggle for Dignity (recommended book)
Gender Shock (recommended book)
Andrea James is a writer, director, producer and activist based in Los Angeles. Her work often focuses on consumer activism, the free culture movement, exogenous mysticism, humor, and LGBT rights.