Dancing With Keith Ablow
Houston – On September 2, Dr. Keith Ablow, the Fox News psychiatrist, advised parents not to allow their children to see a transgender person on television because he feels that doing so might turn children into transsexuals. The statement was made in response to an announcement that Chaz Bono, a transgender man, would appear on the next season of Dancing with the Stars:
Here’s why: Many of the children who might be watching will be establishing a sense of self which includes, of course, a sexual/gender identity. Some will be girls becoming comfortable with dramatic changes in their bodies. Some will be boys coming to terms with integrating the dawn of manhood with exquisite feelings of vulnerability. Young viewers will include tomboyish girls and sensitive, less stereotypically “masculine” boys. They will also include children who have sustained the losses of loved ones and are wrestling with depression, perhaps wondering who they are absent their deceased mothers or fathers.
Ten days later on the Howard Stern Show, Ablow claimed that transsexualism is like getting a tattoo: “… if a person came to me tattooed as a zebra,” adding, “I’m not going to have my kids watch a show in which people pretend to be farm animals.” Ablow is famed for his Chris Angel-like “Street Therapy” addressing the traumas of strangers on the streets of New York and claiming to resolve their mental health issues within minutes.
Ablow worked his way towards media celebrity in the 1980s working in New York television and writing columns for the Washington Post. He increased his celebrity as a frequent guest on day-time talk shows Sally Jesse Raphael, Maury Povich and Gerardo and “infotainment” programs Inside Edition and Glen Beck. Recently, Ablow has enjoyed best-selling author status after co-writing a book about family values with Glen Beck. He is now a paid commentator for Fox News.
Ablow generated controversy earlier this year when he claimed that allowing a boy to paint his toe nails would cause him to become a transsexual. The Daily Show’s John Stewart spent a significant portion of his April 13, 2011 show openly mocking Ablow’s assertions.
Ablow’s most recent statement was discredited in its entirety by sitting President of the American Psychiatric Association, Dr. John M. Oldham:
“The American Psychiatric Association (APA) recognizes gender identity disorder (GID) as a psychiatric disorder that involves significant distress or impairment in functioning. The APA supports access to appropriate diagnosis and treatment for persons with GID and recognizes that the decision to undergo gender transition is a deeply personal one. The APA opposes all forms of discrimination against persons with GID. There is no evidence that viewing a television game show with a transgender contestant would induce Gender Identity Disorder in young people.”
- Dr. John M. Oldham, American Psychiatric Association President
Cristan Williams, Executive Director of the Transgender Foundation of America, spoke with ABC News about the controversy Ablow initiated, saying, “Ablow is a pop-psychologist trained in criminal psychiatry. He’s making claims about a specialized field of medicine and psychology that he’s simply not qualified to make. He’s making the same sort of debunked claims made by known hate groups and while he’s entitled to his personal opinions, it certainly seems unethical to use the platform Fox News gives him to make claims that are not only demonstrably false, but can be incredibly harmful to transgender children who are already at significant risk of bullying as suicide.”
No credible information available today suggests that being exposed to transgender people causes someone to be transgender. What we do know, however, is that ignorance about transgender people, and lack of exposure to gender diversity, may be factors leading to negative attitudes, discrimination, and violence directed at transgender and gender nonconforming people. Further, more and more gender experts are coming to understand childhood gender diversity as normal and non-pathological. What “tomboyish girls and sensitive, less stereotypically ‘masculine’ boys” need is to know that they are not alone, and that they are valued just as they are. For all these reasons, Chaz Bono’s appearance on Dancing with the Stars presents parents with a unique opportunity to open an important dialogue with their children, whatever their child’s gender expression or identity may be.
- Dr. Karl Bryant, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies, State University of New York
On September 2, 2011, Ablow admitted he never interviewed, diagnosed or treated Bono in a professional setting. He wrote in his opinion piece on FoxNews.com, “Chaz Bono didn’t come to me for help, though. She [sic] didn’t ask me for my opinion. But when she [sic] decided to promote gender reassignment surgery in the media as a happy triumph, she [sic] ended up getting my attention, anyhow… Would you not prefer that they try every available medication to impact mood, thought and perception before going under the knife?”
Reparative therapy is an effort rooted in the fundamental belief that gender identity is malleable. In other words, those who subscribe to the idea that transsexualism is a psychiatric condition believe that a female-to-male transsexual can choose to posses a female gender identity if a therapist can apply the right combination of ‘therapeutic’ techniques ranging from electroshock therapy and sexual stimulation to shame tactics and heavy medication. The postulation is that if transsexualism is an acquired psychological pathology, it should be responsive to psychotherapy. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of psychotherapy for the purposes of “curing” transsexualism is exceedingly poor and reparative therapy efforts have been abandoned by the ethical psychological community.
Gender Dysphoria or Gender Identity Disorder is a neuroendocrinological condition present at birth. It is not contagious. It is not about sex per se, but rather about one’s core identity. Such individuals make good citizens, productive workers, and loving parents. Why is there so much discrimination and misunderstanding?
- Dr. Collier M. Cole, Rosenberg Clinic
Lou Weaver, President of the Transgender Foundation of America said, “I’m grateful to see a transgender role model in the media.” Weaver, like Bono is a female-to-male transgender person and feels strongly about the importance of transgender people in the media. ”I admire Chaz for what he has done, and for remaining in the spot light. I know that it is difficult to constantly be under observation; but the best way to educate others is to allow them to hear our stories. I wish there had been someone like Chaz out there when I was younger, it could have erased years of suffering for me. ”
“It is really important to teach our children about the diversity of gender identity. This education is an important step toward increasing acceptance of transgender people. Chaz Bono’s story of courageous transformation is one that many children, and many adults, can relate to, regardless of whether or not they are transgender.”
- Dr. Kristen Schilt, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago.
In a 2006 open letter, the Gender Identity Research and Education Society laid out the case for a biological cause to transsexualism, citing the growing mountain of studies that trace the transsexual phenomena back to physiological causes. Since then the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, a 40 year old organization that writes the medical and psychological standards of care for transgender people, has stated, “The psychopathologlisation of gender characteristics and identities reinforces or can prompt stigma, making prejudice and discrimination more likely, rendering transgender and transsexual people more vulnerable to social and legal marginalization and exclusion, and increasing risks to mental and physical well-being.”
As a Navajo transgender woman, we are a valued identity to our tribe, and that is what the rest of American society needs to catch up with, to love our sisters and brothers, as my people loved me for the journey I have made in my life.
- Aveda Husniyah Adara is a “Nádleehé” (the traditional Navajo word for “transgender”) member of the Navajo Dine Tribe of the Kiyaa’ani and Dibe Izhiini clans
Ablow’s statements contribute to a culture of shame that, all too often, endangers the mental health of transgender people. The findings of a recent landmark study of the transgender community highlights the impact of anti-transgender bias which is oftentimes justified by misinformation. In this study of more than six thousand American transgender people found that a staggering 41% reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population. Additionally, transgender students in grades K-12 reported alarming rates of harassment (78%), physical assault (35%) and sexual violence (12%); harassment was so severe that it led almost one-sixth (15%) to leave a school in K-12 settings or in higher education. Sixty-three percent (63%) had experienced a serious act of discrimination and almost a quarter (23%) experienced a catastrophic level of discrimination.
Transgender Foundation of America (TFA) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that seeks to improve the quality of life for transgender people.