3 min

Doctors trouble trans activists

MDs may change mental health guide

no caption Credit: Xtra Files

The appointment of two Toronto doctors to a committee revising medical definitions of gender identity has infuriated trans people across North America.

Trans activists are also worried that Kenneth Zucker and Ray Blanchard both work at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), which will decide who is eligible for sex reassignment surgery (SRS) once it is relisted under the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.

The two are part of a working group addressing sexual and gender identity for revisions to the US-based American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM is viewed as a definitive guide for mental health professionals in North America.

Trans activists say Zucker and Blanchard think trans people need reparative therapy and even that transsexuality is a fetish. They say Zucker’s approach to treating children is especially harmful.

“Look at his reparative therapy,” says Rosalyn Forrester of Canadian Transexuals Fight for Rights. “I know a number of people who have gone through that, I know the damage it’s done and how far it’s set them back. It just kills the child.”

Arianna Davis, the cofounder of the Gender Identity Coalition and president of the California Transgender American Veterans’ Association, agrees.

“He tries reparative therapy for children whose gender identity is the opposite of what they were born as,” she says. “It amounts to, I would argue, torture. He denies these children care.”

Davis says Blanchard’s work is just as damaging.

“His theory is that people with gender identity disorder are either extreme homosexuals or they have a fetish and see being women as a turnon,” she says.

Gender identity is already listed as a mental disorder in the DSM, but activists say it’ll be much worse if doctors like Zucker and Blanchard get their way.

“It’s kind of moved from being a bad illness to being something that could cause stress,” says Tim Simboli, the executive director of Family Services Ottawa, an independent charity whose Around the Rainbow project is sending a letter of concern to the APA. “But this could send us back to where the thinking was 50 or 60 years ago.”

Davis says gender identity should be removed from the DSM completely and agrees possible changes could make things even worse.

“That would further stigmatize a lot of transsexual and transgender people,” she says. “If someone tries to get a job the company can point to DSM as a basis for denying that person employment. In media trans people would become even more of a laughingstock.”

Zucker insisted all interview requests go through the APA, which was unable to arrange interviews with him or Blanchard by Xtra’s press deadline. The APA did provide a statement on Zucker’s appointment.

“The goal of treatment is a well-adjusted youth, regardless of ultimate gender identity or sexual orientation….” says the statement. “Dr Zucker has offered a variety of treatment options, understanding that options may vary greatly with the age of the client. For younger clients therapy options include helping the child to overcome discomfort with his or her body, ie, helping clients learn to live comfortably in their natal sex.”

The APA also released an open letter from Blanchard denying the charges against him.

“There is a readily accessible, 24-year-long, completely public record of my support for hormonal treatment and sex reassignment surgery for transsexuals,” states the letter.

But trans activists are concerned that CAMH — where Blanchard is the head of Clinical Sexology Services and Zucker is the head of the child, youth and family program of the Gender Identity Clinic — will be the gatekeepers for SRS in Ontario.

“Based on past treatment of patients they’ll be treated side-by-side with child molestors, predators and rapists,” says Davis. “I for one would never, ever want to set foot in CAMH.”

Forrester says CAMH approves few candidates for surgery, discriminates against sex workers and the disabled and endangers its patients.

“If you’re a sex worker you won’t be accepted,” she says. “You must be able to work or volunteer for 40 hours a week, which discriminates against the disabled. They want you doing one year living full-time in your chosen gender without use of hormones, which is dangerous. It sets you up for a lot of violence.

“For a lot of people it’s going to keep them as second or third-class citizens. It isn’t going to move the community up at all.”