Trans Issues Today: Dr. Zucker, Time to Retire to Sunny Boca?

03/21/2017 10:45 am ET

An open letter to Dr. Ken Zucker, former Director of the gender program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto:

Dr. Zucker:

Maybe it’s time to retire to Boca Raton.

Your work is widely regarded as detrimental to the trans community. Some have called your philosophy an act of violence toward already suffering individuals. Many have challenged your methods, data, and conclusions [find a few here, here, and here]. You have had countless opportunities to present your ideas and they have been judged as outdated and injurious yet you continue to speak, assuming the role of an authority.

I ask you to stop.

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The latest site of opposition was the USPATH (United States Professional Association for Transgender Health) conference in Los Angeles. Local trans women, many of color, protested by calling you out as a threat whose presence alone made them feel vulnerable. Security was called on the activists, producing a tragic series of events only further traumatizing some of the most marginalized in our community, people already lacking a voice and too often subject to harassment from law enforcement.

I stayed in the session to hear you out and, if necessary, to see that the protest was not brushed aside, then during Q&A asked you to describe your understanding of your relationship to the trans community given that your work has been widely rejected by the community itself; I genuinely wanted to know your thoughts on the impact of your work. Another mental health professional in the audience gave you the opportunity to address the reports that the gender program at CAMH, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, had been performing Conversion/Reparative Therapy during your tenure as Director, a practice condemned by almost all major mental health organizations and by WPATH (the World Professional Association for Transgender Health) itself, and widely seen as unethical. With both questions, you stammered through answers that didn’t seem to answer.

The reaction was inspiring. That night, the local trans women of color called for an impromptu forum to speak with WPATH leadership, during which the protesters insisted upon a formal apology and that your presentation the following day be canceled; so persuasive was the force of their argument that all the demands were met. Also, throughout the conference, numerous people thanked me for my question. And at the gala, nearly all the attendees stood in support of the community itself.

You faced similar protests at the WPATH (World Professional Association for Transgender Health) conference in Amsterdam last June, and in Toronto over the many years of your tenure; now you are scheduled to present at the upcoming European PATH meeting in April, once again over the same objections. There are countless writings against you online (and even once before by me here). The recent BBC documentary in which you appeared was universally panned by the trans community. The response has been consistent.

Your work is not merely ‘unpopular’ or ‘controversial’: your practices and ideology are no longer aligned with current standards of treatment, especially the groundbreaking work of Diane Ehrensaft and numerous others which makes clear that transgender youth are to be supported in their gender identity, and that encouraging them to remain aligned with their gender assigned at birth only furthers depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, leads to poorer performance at schools and increased ‘acting out’ at home. Study after study reconfirms that youth and adolescents have a clear sense of their gender identity, and when affirmed, do better. And it is long past time where our society is comfortable with outsiders defining the issues of a marginalized group.

Yet you persist, demonstrating a willful dismissal of the community being served.

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My relationship to you differs somewhat from that of the protesters: though trans and genderqueer myself and someone who has faced physical and emotional harassment via transphobia, homophobia, discrimination in education and employment, and antisemitism (swastikas were drawn on lockers in my High School), I am also Caucasian, have at least some financial privilege, and am a credentialed professional with a position of leadership. But I write this in solidarity with those who do not have access to a microphone like The Huffington Post.

Are we radical trans activists as has been alleged? Yes. We are also academics, researchers, mental health and medical providers, college students, sexworkers, parents, educators, law enforcement officers, librarians, taxi drivers, government officials, construction workers, chefs, and individuals of nearly every profession and lifestyle imaginable… people of color and not, people of privilege and not, a vibrant and diverse community acting to address our needs. We have earned the authority to speak on our own behalf. And we have wonderful allies from whom we derive a great deal of support.

So I request, with courtesy, that you to cease your public appearances, that you step down from the committee revising the WPATH Standards of Care and any other committees on which you sit, no longer allow transphobic articles on transgender youth in the Archives of Sexual Behavior where you are the editor, and stop all work on transgender and gender nonconforming issues altogether.

Lie on the beach. Sip margaritas. Develop your tan.

Enjoy your life. Let us enjoy ours.

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