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Did ’Cure’ for ’Feminine Boy’ Lead to Suicide of 38-Year-Old Man?

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Jun 7, 2011

Did a "therapy" to "cure" a "feminine" boy -- and administered by then-doctoral student George Rekers -- play a role in the suicide, at age 38, of the man who had been subjected to it?

That's the question CNN will investigate in the June 7 broadcast of "AC360º," a CNN.com article reported.

As a 5-year-old, Kirk Murphy was taken by his parents to a program at the University of California, Los Angeles. Kirk's mother, the CNN article reported, was "becoming a little concerned, I guess, when he was playing with dolls and stuff."

The child was "[p]laying with the girls' toys, and probably picking up little effeminate, well, like stroking the hair, the long hair and stuff," added his mother, Kaytee Murphy. "It just bothered me that maybe he was picking up maybe too many feminine traits." When Kaytee saw a television appearance by a psychologist who encouraged parents to be on the lookout for certain traits in their young sons, she decided to take Kirk in for treatment.

"Well, him being the expert, I thought, maybe I should take Kirk in," she recalled. "In other words, nip it in the bud, before it got started any further."

The treatment Kirk received was administered by George Rekers, who wrote extensively about a subject he referred to as "Kraig."

"Kraig, I think, certainly was Rekers' poster boy for what Rekers was espousing for young children," Jim Burroway told CNN. "We have been wondering where is Kraig? A lot of us have talked about it. Where is he today? Is he married or is he gay? Or specifically does he even know that Rekers has been writing about him?

"I found 17 different articles, books, chapters, that he has written in which he talked about Kraig."

"Rekers' work with Kirk Murphy helped him build a three-decade career as a leading national expert in trying to prevent children from becoming gay, a career as an anti-gay champion that would later be tainted by his involvement in an embarrassing scandal," noted the CNN article.

Specifically: Rekers, who co-founded anti-gay group the Family Research Council, was caught out by the press last year after having gone on a European vacation with a 20-year-old male prostitute he had hired on RentBoy.com.

If Kraig was indeed Rekers' pseudonym for Kirk, the answer to Burroway's question is that Kraig grew up to pursue a 12-year stint in the military before embarking on a career in finance. He was, the CNN account says, successful. But he hanged himself at the age of 38.

The article reported that the course of therapy Kirk was subjected to involved his mother withholding attention and affection if he played with the "wrong" toys. The father's role in the treatment was to physically punish Kirk for accumulating red poker chips, which stood for demerits earned for "feminine" behavior. Blue poker chips were awarded for "masculine" behavior and brought the boy rewards.

The punishment Kirk's father dealt out consisted of beatings with a belt--sometimes so harsh that the boy was left with welts "up and down his back and on his buttocks," according to Kaytee.

Kirk's sister Maris told CNN, "[T]he thing that I remember is that he never even showed anger. He was just numb."

Brother Mark was not "effeminate," but he participated in the red chip / blue chip system of rewards and punishments as a way of indicating to the young Kirk that what was going on was normal and appropriate. Seeing his younger brother subjected to such treatment troubled Mark so much that he tried to sabotage the course of the so-called "treatment."

""I took some of the red chips and I put them on my side," a tearful Mark told CNN, going on to describe what it was like to monitor the stacked chips as they accumulated over the course of the week.

"You looked and were like, 'What's the chip count today? What happened? What changed? How bad is it going to be?' And it was always bad. There was whipping every Friday night. There was no way out of it," Mark said.

The cheerful boy Kirk had been before the treatment started vanished, family members recalled.

"It left Kirk just totally stricken with the belief that he was broken, that he was different from everybody else," said Maris. "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."

Kaytee lays the blame for her son's death more than three decades later squarely on the punishing treatment he endured.

"I blame them for the way his life turned out," Kaytee told CNN. "If one person causes another person's death, I don't care if it's 20 or 50 years later, it's the same as murder in my eyes."

When CNN caught up to Rekers to ask him about the case, he indicated remorse at the eventual fate of his young patient.

"Well, I think, scientifically that would be inaccurate to assume that it was the therapy" that led to Kirk's suicide, Rekers told CNN, "but I do grieve for the parents now that you've told me that news. I think that's very sad."

As for the therapy, "That's a long time ago, and to hypothesize, you have a hypothesis that positive treatment back in the 1970s has something to do with something happening decades later," Rekers said. "That would, that hypothesis would need a lot of scientific investigation to see if it's valid. Two independent psychologists with me had evaluated him and said he was better adjusted after treatment, so it wasn't my opinion."

Rekers continues to deny that any sexual contact took place between himself and the young male escort he hired to accompany him on the trip last year. The young man who traveled with Rekers, however, has given explicit descriptions of erotic massages he says he was hired to provide daily.

"As recently as 2009, a book Rekers co-authored, 'Handbook of Therapy for Unwanted Homosexual Attractions,' cites Kraig's case as a success," the CNN article reported. "That was six years after Kirk Murphy took his own life."

"The research has a postscript that needs to be added," Maris told CNN. "That is that Kirk Andrew Murphy was Kraig and he was gay, and he committed suicide."

Maris added, "I want people to remember that this was a little boy who deserved protection, respect and unconditional love. I don't want him to be remembered as a science experiment. He was a person."

Reputable mental health professionals say that so-called "reparative therapy" or "conversion therapy," which purports to "cure" gays (in other words, make them heterosexual) say that there is no evidence such therapies actually work, and caution that they may do more harm than good.

While some so-called "ex-gays" say that they have been able to leave homosexual urges behind and embark on happy lives as heterosexuals, others attest to suffering deep, distressing damage from such attempts to "convert." What is unclear is how many "ex-gays" were ever gay in the first place, as opposed to being straights who were exploring their sexuality, or bisexuals who have successfully quashed consciousness of any physical attraction to members of their own gender.

Other "ex-gays" say that life for them is a continual "struggle" against innate sexual urges focused on others of the same gender. Some say that they have defeated all same-sex attraction -- but that no heterosexual urges have replaced them. Instead, they say, they have become asexual.

"The Sissy Boy Experiment," a special "AC360º" report investigating the treatment endured by Kirk Murphy, will air June 7 at 10:00 p.m. ET.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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