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Tuesday, 9 July 2013

An Unusual Cure for a Transsexual

     Transsexualism, said Jan (originally James) Morris in her 1974 memoir, Conundrum "is not a sexual mode or preference. It is not an act of sex at all. It is a passionate, lifelong, ineradicable conviction, and no true trans-sexual has ever been disabused of it."
     Not many psychiatrists would dispute this, least of all the last statement. Although some hope is held out for children suffering from gender identity disorder, no effective treatment has been found, or even proposed, for adult sufferers. Ironically, the option of a sex-change operation has effectively sidetracked any research into a possible cure.
     All this makes the case of "John" even more remarkable.
     Firstly, it might be useful to clear up any misunderstandings. As Morris herself pointed out, you should not confuse transsexualism, the identification with the opposite sex, with homosexuality, the attraction to the same sex. The former is several hundred times rarer than the latter, and does not necessarily coincide with it. James Morris, as a man, appears to have been essentially heterosexual. The same could be said of a workmate of mine, who claimed to have always felt he was really a woman, yet was always sexually attracted to women, and only self-identified as a lesbian after the operation.
     So ... "John" is a pseudonym, and we are given no information on his sexual orientation. What we do know is that he was born in America in 1952, and for as long as he could remember, he wanted to be a girl. From the age of four he was using lipstick, and soon afterwards was cross-dressing in his sister's clothes. His parents did not get along, and when he was eight, his father left home. In retrospect, one wonders whether this had anything to do with his inability to relate to his own sex.
     In any case, the 1960s saw the beginning of the sex change operations at the John Hopkins Hospital, something John discovered at age fifteen. He started to correspond with them and, dropping out of school, spent his time researching the subject. On a visit to a strange physician, he told him he was on female hormones for an endocrine disorder, and required extra prescriptions. One must seriously question the doctor's medical ethics in supplying them without consulting his patient's mother, because he was still a minor. His family knew nothing about it until he was unmasked by a serious car accident at the age of sixteen. To cut a long story short, he ended up in the care of a team of psychiatrists and psychologists, who confirmed that he was otherwise of sound mind and body, and was a suitable candidate for a sex change operation.
     Let us not understate John's dilemma, and that of many like him. So serious was his discomfort that, despite having not yet reached his twentieth birthday, he was prepared to have perfectly healthy organs amputated, and his mutilated body remodeled with organs which could never function quite as well as natural ones, and to then subject himself to a lifelong course of hormone treatment - all without any possibility of having children, or any guarantee of peace of mind.
     He got a job managing a fast food restaurant and, in the winter of 1972 he began dressing and living as a woman. Under the name of Judy, he took legal steps to register his new identity. With hormone treatment, he was even able to pass as a woman when wearing a bikini. After that, things started moving quickly. Both the law and medical ethics insist that a patient live as a member of the opposite sex for a certain time before committing to the irreversible operation. I regret to say, however, that the US is a bit slack in this regard. Other countries require a provisionary period of several years, but it was still in the summer of the same year that he was referred to a clinic in another state for the operation. His doctors at home received a card to say he had arrived. I shall  now let Terry White take up the story from there.
     In the late autumn, Dr David Barlow was sitting at his desk when a research assistant carrying a half-eaten lunch of fried chicken,  rushed into his office shouting, "Judy is back at the restaurant, but she's not Judy anymore, she's John!" Several months later John was invited back for another interview with his doctors. He entered the office wearing a three-piece business suit and polished shoes, his hair was short, his fingernails clipped and his speech and body language were consistently masculine. The only evidence of his former femininity was a lack of facial hair.
     As he explained to them, the woman who owned the place belonged to a fundamentalist Christian sect whose beliefs were a foreign country to John. Nevertheless, they were close friends, and he had promised her that, before the operation, he would attend a certain physician in the same city as the sex change clinic. It turned out that the doctor belonged to the same church as John's employer. Having examined him, he declared that he would be quite capable of living successfully as a woman. However, he added that his real problem was demon possession. Would he like to be exorcised? John thought he might as well give it a go.
     Laying his hands on John's head and shoulders, the doctor began a session of prayers and exhortations lasting two to three hours. According to his reckoning, he cast out twenty-two demons, identifying each one by name as it departed. John fainted several times. When it was all over, he experienced the feeling of waves of divine love pouring over him. For the first time in his life, he felt like a man. Suddenly embarrassed by his long hair and 36B breasts, he hurried out to get the former cut off, and the latter allowed to shrink with the discontinuation of his female hormones. The rest was history.
     Needless to say, Dr Barlow and his associates were flabbergasted. Even with the evidence right in front of their eyes, they contacted the "treating" physician for confirmation. Indeed, when writing the case up for formal publication, they prefaced the Conclusions with a quote from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass:
"I can't believe that," said Alice.
"Can't you?" the Queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again, draw a long breath, and shut your eyes."
Reference: Barlow, David H., Abel, Gene G., and Blanchard, Edward B. (1977) 'Gender identity change in a transsexual: an exorcism', Archives of Sexual Behaviour 6: 387 -95,
cited in Terry White (1994) The Sceptical Occultist, Arrow Books (Random House). pp 254-6

Comment: I will be the first to admit that most of the cases reported in this blog rest on the testimony of only one or two people. However, this one appears to be much better attested: a paper in a peer reviewed journal by a team of specialists completely familiar with the patient, who witnessed the transformation, but who were not involved in it, and had no vested interest in the results.
     I shall also state up front that I have great difficulty accepting that gender identity disorder is caused by demon possession - certainly not by twenty-two demons. But what is the alternative? Suggestion? It can be a potent cause. Sorcery death is a well established phenomenon. Everyone in my country has heard how an Aborigine can simply will himself to death if a witchdoctor points a bone at him, and the phenomenon is not limited to Australia.
     The trouble with this theory is that John did not believe in demon possession, or any of the other aspects of the religion. He attended the doctor merely because of a promise to his friend. He had no idea what the doctor would do, and he accepted the exorcism just to please him. Moreover, even if he had been a believer, it would still be an extraordinary result, because all forms of psychotherapy have failed with adult transsexuals. If suggestion really was responsible, then it should be possible to cure transsexualism by hypnosis. But I am not holding my breath waiting for it to happen.
     Or perhaps it was just another miracle.
Addendum (3 July 2015): Of course, there are a lot of ignorant clergy out there who can't tell the difference between demon possession, mental illness, and moral defects. A number of videos exist on YouTube of attempted exorcism of homosexuals. Whether any of them actually work is open to debate. I have not seen any reference to it in the ex-gay literature. Nevertheless, the following report has just come to hand of a Nigerian exorcism. What I find interesting is not the exorcism, and its purported success, but the patient's claim that he had changed from heterosexual to homosexual in just a single night, after a dream. And people say they are born that way!

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