CNN.com has a report today about Kirk Andrew Murphy, a man who committed suicide in 2003. His story is especially poignant because he was subjected to treatment when he was younger that was intended to force him into gender conformity. As part of it, he was given blue poker chips for rewarding masculine behavior and red ones for effeminate behaviors. The blue ones would get rewarded and the red ones would result in being spanked, once to the point of welts on his body.
While George Rekers, the doctor who convinced Kirk’s parents to follow these rules, used his case to build a career on the premise that homosexuality can be “cured”, according to his younger sister:
“It left Kirk just totally stricken with the belief that he was broken, that he was different from everybody else,” she recalled. “He even ate his lunch in the boy’s bathroom for three years of his high school career, if you want to call it that.”
If Rekers’ name sounds familiar, it’s because he was the guy who was photographed while traveling with a 20-year-old rent boy who claimed he had been paid to give Rekers nude massages. Given the research linking homophobia to same-sex desires, the whole situation is more than a little ironic.
During the “therapy”, Rekers consulted with two psychologists. One of them has died, but the other one reported that “the family was well adjusted and he did not see any “red flags” when evaluating Kirk.” Kirk’s sister responded that he had learned how to tell the experts what they wanted to hear. And in the end, his family is saying that he committed suicide as a result of being beaten and shamed for his gender non-conformity. While I think that this probably more complex than “this is what led to his suicide, ” the effects of such deep shame and abuse from both parents and medical professionals in order to “fix” a child are profound.
As a cisgender, queer man who’s most decidedly gender-non-conforming in some ways, this story both inspires anger and makes me feel fortunate. I’m fortunate that my parents let me be who I was, even though I had very little interest many of the things that lots of boys liked. I was fortunate that they let me discover who I was without shaming me for it. I was fortunate that they kept any anxiety they felt about that to themselves. Kirk Andrew Murphy didn’t get that. And too many young people today don’t get to have that, either.
How many more children and young people are we going to shame for letting themselves shine? How many more are we going to slut-shame and fag-bash in order to keep them in line? How much longer are we going to pretend that there are only two ways of moving through the world and we each only get one, depending on what we have between our legs? How much longer are we going to pretend that this is a prison for all of us? Some of us might be in solitary confinement, some of us might be trustees with a lot of privilege, and we are all behind bars.
There’s really nothing wrong with many of the aspects of gender roles. The difficulty comes in when we have to conform to all of them and visibly perform them in order to present as female or male. I’d love to live in a world in which we could pick and choose which pieces fit us. I’d love to see people put any of them on for a while, whether it’s for an hour, or a day, or a span of years, knowing that when it was time to take them off, that would also be just fine. And I really want to live in a world in which nobody was attacked, assaulted, or shamed because of which ones they happen to be wearing at that moment.