Straight-Up Evil

The history of medical experimentation in America is not a pretty one. From the Tuskegee syphilis experiments to J. Marion Sims' experiments upon slaves to the U.S. Government's experiments with drugs and radiation and bioweapons, America has seen many grotesque abuses of the oblivious and the helpless.

Still, experiments occasionally have the capacity to shock us — particularly when they are related to, and conducted in support of, medical practices that still exist today.

Case in point — the experiments of Dr. George Rekers. You might remember that Rekers, formerly a prominent member of the "being gay is evil, and we can cure you" movement — was caught, as dramatic and narrative convention now requires, hiring a rent-boy to go on a European vacation with him.

If you're wondering whether to view Rekers as sad and tortured, or overtly malign, consider the experiments he conducted in pursuit of his belief that being gay can be "cured":

In 1974, Rekers, a leading thinker in the so-called ex-gay movement, was presented with a 4-year-old "effeminate boy" named Kraig, whose parents had enrolled him in the program. Rekers put Kraig in a "play-observation room" with his mother, who was equipped with a listening device. When the boy played with girly toys, the doctors instructed her to avert her eyes from the child.

According to a 2001 account in Brain, Child Magazine, "On one such occasion, his distress was such that he began to scream, but his mother just looked away. His anxiety increased, and he did whatever he could to get her to respond to him… Kraig became so hysterical, and his mother so uncomfortable, that one of the clinicians had to enter and take Kraig, screaming, from the room."

Rekers's research team continued the experiment in the family's home. Kraig received red chips for feminine behavior and blue chips for masculine behavior. The blue chips could be cashed in for candy or television time. The red chips earned him a "swat" or spanking from his father. Researchers periodically entered the family's home to ensure proper implementation of the reward-punishment system.

After two years, the boy supposedly manned up. Over the decades, Rekers, who ran countless similar experiments, held Kraig up as "the poster boy for behavioral treatment of boyhood effeminacy."

At age 18, shamed by his childhood diagnosis and treatment, Rekers's poster boy attempted suicide, according to Gender Shock, a book by journalist Phyllis Burke.

The very people who condemn homosexuality and claim that it can, and should, be "cured" are philosophically disposed to assert that moral relativism is wrong, that some things are wrong and some things are right regardless of circumstances, and that there are both good and evil in the world. In the spirit of that philosophy, let me say this: this conduct is evil.

[Hat tip to Chris.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. eddie says

    Would you label such conduct as evil if the same motivational methods were used to influence a different kind of behavior, such as to stop bedwetting or to encourage doing homework or chores?

    If SO: your complaint is not about "curing" homosexuality, and thus not a proper criticism of anti-homosexual sentiment; rather, your complaint is about child abuse.

    If NOT: why is "curing" homosexuality different from other behaviors that parents might want to encourage or discourage in children, such that attempts to do so are evil? Are there any other such behaviors, or is sexual orientation/identity/activities the only thing which parents are morally forbidden to influence?

  2. Charles says

    First of all, Eddie, yes, these methods would be barbaric if applied to bedwetting.

    Second of all, the premise that homosexuality is a "collection of behaviors" that can be "corrected" has been proved false over and over again, as one ex-gay leader after another is caught with his pants down with another man.

  3. Chris Berez says

    These techniques are most definitely barbaric and evil, regardless of whether they're applied to sexual orientation or something else. Creating an environment where a child is punished for random behaviors that are arbitrarily labeled as "wrong" (in this case, feminine) is cruel and psychologically torturous on a staggering level. Even if such methods were applied to something like bed-wetting, not only would they not solve the problem, the child would be looking at years and years of therapy. Shattering a child's self-esteem and forcing them to live in constant fear that the slightest misstep will result in harsh punishment is barbaric no matter what context it is used.

    It's also worth noting that the rate of suicide or attempted suicide is higher in gay teens than any other demographic. Ignorant, cruel shit like this is one of the reasons.

  4. says

    Anthony Burgess based the "terror chair" scene in "A Clockwork Orange" on reparative therapy, which was widely used on young gays at the time.

  5. says

    Yes, eddie, if the same methods (withholding affection, contact, and even acknowledgment to four-year-olds based on vague and ambiguous behavioral parameters; encouraging parents to alternately beat or reward four-year-olds based on vague and ambiguous behavioral parameters rooted in the parents' insecurities — say, by trying to cure a kid of "acting low-class") — I would condemn it as evil.

    This sounds like a method calculated to research how easy it is to give a kid Reactive Attachment Disorder.

  6. astonied says

    I guess we should see how well electric shocks work to "cure" a proclivity for rent a boys. Better yet I think Kraig should design an experiment to be used to "cure" Rekers.

  7. says

    What makes this even more odd, and nobody has mentioned it, is the obvious fact that Rekers seeks out much younger male partners for sexual companionship. One wonders if he got off on torturing this young boy…

  8. Robin says

    Yep. This practice is morally wrong. Are you then agreeing with critics of moral relativism? That part confused me.

  9. says

    Terrible stuff. Like something out of a David Cronenberg film. Mr. Rekers should've been brought up on child abuse charges for carrying out this 'experiment'.