Monday, March 7, 2011

The Nightmare of Aversion Therapy

I had to think hard and long about posting this because as a close friend said it is very personal and it is. If you wonder why I react vehemently when people tell me I was a “gay boy” then you should probably read this. If you wonder why I took issue with HSTS theories and what they said about me then this is something you might want to read. If you wondered why I was offended by the snide remarks made by some then you might want to read this.  If you wonder why I do not suffer assholes easily then this is a must read.
The only difference between some of them and certain doctors is they did not have access to my body and the machinery and drugs to hurt me and others like me but words can open old wounds sometimes. Words were a big part of the torture process called Aversion Therapy. Pain, words, images, chemicals, electricity, and humiliation were the methods of the day. It was a process “perfected” at another hospital in Massachusetts.  They made a documentary about it and the State of Massachusetts prevented the documentary from being publically shown for 24 years in the courts.  The documentary was called “Titicut Follies” and part of it can be found here and I cannot get too far into it but the accented doctor I know very well. He “treated” me several times.
My nightmare started on Tuesday June 17, 1963 in a private mental facility. I was transferred to State of Massachusetts care on Friday June 27, 1963.  It ended when I was released on Tuesday August 13, 1963. I came to grips with what was done to me over 40 years ago but it was one of the driving forces behind my decision to help kids like me if I could.
I have deliberately left out the graphic details because I doubt I could actually write down the actual process of what they did but believe me those of us that have been put through it can get a visual of it all too easily. The fear and morbid anticipation of when the pain will start is the worst part and the drugs that caused excruciating cramping of muscles and discomfort all in the name of a “cure” were the worst weapon. They try to break you so they can mold you to be what they think you should be. There is little difference between torturing someone for information and Aversion Therapy. The only real difference is one is legal and the other is banned by the Geneva Convention.
This is my personal documented nightmare from the summer of 1963 with a brief follow-up of how I managed to survive it.
This is a very long post so if that bothers you or if per chance you have a weak stomach then I would not recommend reading this.

It happened in a flash, so quickly I had no time to think or react, to move, to run, to even cry for someone to listen, or to even ask why. They put me in a straightjacket despite my violent struggles and hustled me down the grand staircase and out of the monstrous Victorian I grew up in while the neighbor that had attempted to rape me multiple times and viciously succeeded once sat on his porch and laughed. Other neighbors either watched in disbelief or turned away realizing something horrible was happening to the tortured child they knew as me because of the ambulance out front.
Kevin was dead, I was 17, and I was shaken to the core of my soul. I was not suicidal just overcome with grief over his death and my mother being hospitalized after she fell very ill the day Kevin was laid to rest. My older brother Ray was back in California and my younger brother Steve never said a single word or protested once over what happened but he was barely 15 at the time. He looked like he was in shock also.
While they dragged me down the central staircase I spied my grandmother and Rev. Banks standing to the side. Banks had an evil smirk that seemed like part contempt and part success since he had finally convinced my grandmother to commit me. My dear grandmother was my guardian with mother in the hospital and I was going down like a dog was what I envisioned her thinking.
There were two men in the front of the ambulance and two attending to me which was basically keeping me strapped to the gurney. I was quite hysterically crying and thrashing about.  One of the attendants said “she’s a crazy bitch” and the other one said “It is a boy” and they both had a good laugh at my expense.
The last time I had been physically harmed or threatened was in February 1960 when my neighbor violently raped me. Nobody so much as touched me after that and now all I could envision was being hurt again. I had no clue I would have gladly accepted those beatings over what lay ahead.
The ambulance took me to a private Mental Hospital in Hyde Park Massachusetts for the rich and famous and we will keep it totally quiet which would be called a Rehab facility today. They were ill equipped to handle a transsexual and especially one that had been on estrogen for 3.5 years. It turned out they had not been told I was transsexual or a freak as one put it and when my grandmother said she did not want me out they used an archaic law and classified me as a “sexual deviant” which was interesting because I was technically still a virgin but liking boys worked for them.
Before they decided they had suffered enough having me there for two weeks they did some weird things with me. They were obviously confused by my physical appearance when several days after I got there someone actually decided to talk with me. I was thrown into a room with the straightjacket on and was forgotten about and despite screaming for someone nobody showed up and scared is a distinct understatement.
I eventually met several doctors and both seemed confused why I was even there and neither had a clue what a transsexual was. This had been done to me on the spur of the moment because this joint was a place where you dumped the family freaks was my immediate reaction. I immediately got the feeling they wanted to have me removed because I caused quite a bit of consternation amongst the other loaded clients sent there to disappear. They came up with a solution to remove me and it was a living nightmare.
I was classified as a “sexually deviant youth” which gave them the right to turn me over to the State of Massachusetts Mental Health System and those two weeks in Hyde Park would seem like a summer picnic on Boston Common. Over the years I have deliberately lied about what happened to me there.  It was easier to stick it in the Way Back When Vault with several padlocks and just not think about it.  I told and still tell everyone I have no clue what they did to me but I remember every detail, every outrageous act, and every torture they put me through. I can tell you the date and time of everything but I just refused to think about it. Sometimes memories should not be remembered and sometimes they just have to be eventually.
When I first arrived in my straightjacket at the State of Massachusetts facility they shoved me in with the seriously dangerous sexually deviant criminals.  It was a Friday and I guess nobody was around to decide whether a fruitcake should be in with rapists, murderers, and serial sex offenders because that was where I ended up. Never forget this was Massachusetts and its history with state run facilities is the worst in the history of the United States.
They would not let you stay in your bed so I spent three days huddled in the corner of the main room fending off perverts that figured they had been offered fresh meat as a sacrificial lamb. Every few minutes another man would come over and stare for a few minutes and ask if I was a girl and I don’t think it really mattered to them. Not one member of the staff ever said a word to me or asked if I was ok. I sat in the corner and cried or sobbed depending on how terrified I was. I never realized fear could paralyze you but I found it almost impossible to move. I was too afraid to even go to the bathroom and that had consequences and resulted in the only attention I received except for the mandatory strip search in front of everyone every morning.
On Monday a male guard came over to me to ask who I was and for some reason took sympathy or maybe realized I was in the wrong area and by early afternoon I was moved to the “patient” area from the criminal area. In the early 60’s in Massachusetts the only way a sexual predator ended up in a mental facility was to be so fucked up they could not even hold a trial and believe me when I say these people were both sick and fucked up.
The second you arrive in a new locked area it was strip search time again.  It was not for the prevention of contraband but strictly for humiliation and “training” as one nurse said. I think her comment was “we need to make you perverts understand who the boss is” or something like that. I already knew who the boss was and it wasn’t me. I was a favorite to strip search target because 3.5 years of hormones made everything female except for one place and they all got a good laugh over that.
Think of a form of aversion therapy and they used it on me. Since I was a young feminine boy to them I was a homosexual so they started under that premise.  I was initially sure they had no clue what a transsexual was as I screamed at them that I was a transsexual.

Aversion therapy and "sexually deviant" youth

Aversion therapy is still sometimes forced on children and teenagers who violate sex laws, and especially on individuals believed to have deviant sexual feelings. These youths have been forced to smell ammonia, describe humiliating scenarios, or engage in other uncomfortable acts, while looking at nude pictures, listening to audio tapes describing sexual situations, or describing their own fantasies. In order to measure sexual response, devices such as penile plethysmographs and vaginal photoplethysmographs are sometimes used, despite the controversies surrounding them.
In 1992, the Arizona Civil Liberties Union challenged the Phoenix Memorial Hospital for its use of these methods on children as young as 10. They were defended by the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. Since then, policies have usually discouraged the use of forced aversion therapy on children under 14.[10][11]

They still do this today.
The first paragraph of this explanation says it all.

Aversion Therapy  
Aversion therapy is a form of behavior modification that employs unpleasant and sometimes painful stimuli in an effort to help a patient unlearn socially unacceptable or harmful behavior. The first recorded use of aversion therapy was in 1930 for the treatment of alcoholism, but by the 1950s and 1960s it had become one of the more popular methods used to "cure" sexual deviation, including homosexuality and cross-dressing.

They used everything they had on a more than regular basis over the first 5+ weeks in my personal hell. They were trying to cure me at first of being a homosexual; then of wanting to be a girl; then because I stupidly admitted I liked my female breasts; then because I told them I wanted a husband and a family; and eventually I firmly believe they just enjoyed themselves.  I think it made them feel like they held power over you and they did because I was a prisoner of the State of Massachusetts and the only crime I had committed was grief unless one considered being transsexual a crime. Some did!
Some days I faced multiple sessions of aversion therapy and I think I drove them a little crazy because I figured out if I lied they would stop and I lied like crazy. They never did correlate the concept that as a 17 year old I liked boys as a girl and the thought of a naked woman meant I really wish I had her breasts cause they are nicer than mine and of course the desired vagina. Plus the “equipment” never worked like expected and that just pissed them off completely so they would up the drug dosage or try other locations for the particular stimulus they were using..
They called me a “fag”, “gay boy”, “butt pirate”, “oral queen” (a favorite), and anything else they thought would embarrass me since I was perceived as gay. The verbal badgering was part of the process of embarrassment and humiliation they thought would “cure” me but it became personal after a while.  It all seemed personal in so many ways.
After a while you just learn to tell them what they want to hear. I overheard things in there that chill my soul to this day. One accented quack told a nurse I was not the first one like this they had encountered and several had not made it through.  I leave that to others to surmise what he meant by that. Read up on Titicut Follies and you will understand the total lack of compassion they had for anyone in their care be they criminal or simply patient.
They would do these horrible things to me that left me crying and quite hysterical but telling them what they wanted to hear even though I was sometimes in excruciating pain stopped it usually.  The only lasting effect is I still break out in a cold sweat if I get a leg cramp. I know all about leg cramps.
After the sessions or series of sessions were over they would put me through psychological testing and get really pissed at me.  I knew the tests because every shrink had given them to me and even my college put me through them. I tried to think like a boy so my tests would somehow say normal boy but it just does not work that way and I learned that quickly. I just wanted it to stop.
After each set of tests the aversion therapy actually got more aggressive and more violent. You eventually get to the point if they asked if you were Jesus Christ you would have screamed “yes” and launched into a sermon to make it stop.
Every day when you awoke from a drug induced nightly stupor the dread started. What would they do today? You prayed for ammonia because it was somewhat painless but why do something that was not physically traumatizing when you had this freak you could torment to your heart’s content. It became so very routine that I knew what would follow what and it sometimes felt like I was able to disassociate myself from my body.
It was almost impossible to make myself eat at times and I lost weight and I was already quite thin at 125 pounds for my 5-8 height. I was under 115 when I was eventually freed.
The other weird thing they did was they would strip search me for no reason to embarrass me in front of other male patients which got them aroused because I looked so female. They would have meetings with doctors and nurses and I would be brought in and told to strip which I refused to do. I would be berated by both doctors and nurses in meetings for the silliness of thinking I was a girl.  I would look around the room and for one of the few times in my life I admitted to myself I was much prettier than any of the nurses there.
I screamed this very fact at one meeting and within an hour was strapped to a table for more aversion therapy. When in doubt hurt someone seemed to be the main therapy concept. The sick thing is I did not have it half as bad as some others but they might have been the way they were because of the length of time they were subjected to this treatment.
If I cried too hysterically it meant electric shock and one session of that made me at least attempt to control my hysteria. Most of the time I was able to but if I did not it was electric shock and it was not for anything else but punishment. Put the bit in his mouth and crank up the voltage was a common comment.
They strapped you down on these tables and they differed based on the aversion therapy being used. They strapped me down tightly because as one male nurse said, “this freak has small hands and might get free” and I tried and actually was successful a few times. It didn’t matter since treatment took place in locked rooms with no windows and often they would strap you down and leave the room and turn the lights off so you were left in the dark. It was just another form of the aversion therapy process. If you were “terrified” and beyond “afraid” you would “cure” yourself was the thought process. It was like Pavlov and his dog only I learned to respond by telling them what they wanted to hear.
Nobody visited me in either facility until 5 weeks after the State of Massachusetts got hold of my ass and it was my brother Ray who had found out from a friend and not my family where I was. Ray said I looked like warmed over death and he did some things that forced both my family and the State to release me a week later. Well, originally we thought this but it was not what really happened.
I remember when I was released to Ray and he took me to a car he borrowed from a friend named Sticky and he drove as fast as he could westbound to get me away.  That evening in a motel in New Jersey he saw the results of my six plus weeks in hell. My ankles and wrists were raw from where I had been strapped down to tables and other devices and it was one of the few times I ever saw Ray cry which of course made me cry.
The trip is a little blurred in my memory because I think you go into shock after you escape and I talked to Ray the other day and he told me he borrowed a car from his friend Sticky and Sticky was with us on the drive to Ohio and I have no memory of that. I thought we might have flown but we drove. Sticky is hard to forget since he was 6-8 and about 290 pounds and arguably the toughest kid around. It is amazing I somehow missed him being there.
The really sad part is Dr. Benjamin never knew because he was in San Francisco and my mother was in the Hospital recovering from a stroke. It was my mother that actually got me released and I never knew that until a few years ago. When I translated a letter she wrote to Dr. Benjamin she explained what she had done which included a Lawyer and threats to expose certain family secrets she knew and I was freed or released.
I was so angry at everyone in the world but Ray that I ran from my family. I ran from Dr. Benjamin because he had not helped.  I just figured he betrayed me like everyone had and I was just scared to be honest. The fools at the hospital sent my family a letter saying they had cured me of my “homosexual desires to be a girl” and that I no longer “believed I was a girl” and they seemed quite proud of themselves.
They were of course wrong and Ray asked me immediately what had happened and I told him I did not remember. I lied because I did not want to talk about it and wanted to forget about it all. That would never be possible but I sure did put in one hell of an effort.
When I was back at school I had no money except what Ray had left me with. We were on a quarter school schedule so I snuck into my dorm a little early but within days they were opened and I had something to eat because I had little money for food even though Ray gave me every penny he had on him. Things would get even rougher.
Tutoring had given me some money to spend so I could eat on Sunday when dorm food was limited. Before this mom had sent me money but everything that came from there I returned to sender unopened. I wanted nothing to do with them and until early 1969 I basically had only Ray as family and I had no Dr. Benjamin but I had an open ended prescription for premarin. I pretended I remembered nothing because it was easier that way.
When my friend Karen arrived back at school from Cleveland she was shocked at my appearance and I told her just a little but she became even more of a mother hen to her shy little sort of girl friend. It got tense in the dorm because I had tutored everyone I knew for free before this but I needed the money now and it caused some hard feelings. Karen smoothed it over but I needed money to live and I charged for any help. Invite me over for free pizza on Sunday evening and ask me any questions you wanted to.
I took the athletic department up on an offer to tutor other student athletes and that helped plus I was asked to work on a project by my advisor Dr. Reed. None of this paid a lot of money and it is not cheap in college and I found that out quickly when my care packages from home were sent back by me.
Notebooks, pencils, pens, and sundry other items add up and I learned to never let a spare pencil or pen go unclaimed. Shampoo and just daily items are expensive when you have nothing and I decided to be as feminine as I could. To this day I am a notorious pen “thief” among those that have worked with me or for me over the years. I was conditioned well by that experience.
Karen would have taken me home for every holiday but I only allowed her to “adopt” me on Thanksgiving. The rest of the time including all vacations I was alone.  I went to the University and asked if my scholarship included summer school and it did so I arranged to go to school every summer. When Karen entered Medical School the only real friend I had was a phone call away in our Medical School but it might as well have been in London. I was not good at asking for help.
Somehow Dr. Reed learned something about what was going on so I had a lot of invites during “vacations” to join him for supper or cookouts. I knew I had to get through college and earn enough money to have my surgery.  I decided on a plan and it involved extra classes and summer school loaded with electives needed to graduate and they ended up being courses in fine arts and literature sprinkled with any courses offered in Engineering or Physics which led to planetary science and astrophysics. I knew I wanted my degree in Astronautical Engineering but I was now equally enthralled by the physics of space.
I was able to bury myself in school and the delight of learning but I still cried myself to sleep every night with my grief and I knew this education would get me a position where I could earn money and just get “it” over with.
It was a good thing we had free laundry facilities because I did not have much to wear and I needed to wash things at least twice a week. I had left cloths at home and there was no way I wanted anything from there. Everyone thought I was just a geeky girl and I started wearing my glasses outside just to keep boys away but it didn’t work. Karen gave me some of her cloths and I managed.
It was very difficult getting over Kevin and I handled it by implying I did not remember much about Kevin.  There was a definitive fog surrounding Kevin but I knew we had something special. If I didn’t talk about it then I might be able to not think about him so much. It took a while for me to get over him and if I am honest I never did. There were gaps in my memory going back to when I was 13 so I guess they succeeded in hurting me that way.
I got hooked into my first civil rights weekend in 1964 by a certain football player who swept me off my feet in February of 1964.  He just said you are a “girl” to me and I was his.  I was now 18 and I got my ass arrested in Alabama along with Karen and others and I was ushered into the female lockup in shitsville Alabama. Karen thought it was safer for me there but only if the redneck cops didn’t get too fresh. They copped plenty of “feels” from all of us but they were restricted to ass and tits thankfully. We drove the police nuts by asking to use the restroom constantly which was not available in our holding cell and after about 4 hours we were told to get our commie asses back north.  We were back on the next three day weekend and got arrested again. Always wondered what would have happened if those redneck cops realized I was not as “hot” as several thought I was? We were all so na├»ve yet so determined.
I had a wonderful 4 month relationship with my football player. In retrospect it was absolutely the best thing that could have happened to me. Being liked by another boy as a girl was the best way to at least mitigate the loss of Kevin. He was very good to me and other players knew but nobody said anything even remotely negative. In my heart I felt it was because they knew I was a girl but I do not care why. He made me feel good and even better when he did well professionally. He was always a gentleman.
Karen wanted me to go on our Spring break with her to Florida but what was I going to do in Florida? In retrospect I think she wanted me to go with her because she was black and going to spring break in Florida as a black woman might have been iffy. As much as I might want to wear a bikini it was not happening and too many kids knew I was not what I appeared to be so I stayed at school. I came from money and I soon had a full serving of poverty and I’ll take money please.
My first summer in college was a nightmare. There was nobody to tutor and even my position in the Engineering Department worked only sporadically. I was flat broke within a week and even though we were fed 6 days a week in my dorm it was horrible. Someone suggested waitressing but too many people knew and that risk I was not taking.  Any trouble and I could have lost the scholarship.  I was never their cup of tea.
The fall schedule could not arrive soon enough for me. I started tutoring a baseball player in the fall of 1964 and he would be my next boyfriend.  He seduced me in the stacks of the University Library and he didn’t have to work very hard at it. Tall, dark and handsome has always worked wonders for me. When he went off to his baseball career he would be my last relationship for nearly 5 years.
I basically wore the same cloths from 1963 until 1966 when I graduated from graduate school. I did not attend either my undergraduate or graduate graduations because I could not invite nor would I invite anyone to them.  I was alone and it was my own doing but I can be stubborn.
Dr. Reed got me an interview and I was to be flown to Texas and I was so broke he loaned me the money to buy a boy suit since I thought an attempt at boy might get me the job. It was a waste of money because I looked more lesbian in that damn suit than I did any other way but I was hired regardless. They already knew everything and surprisingly it did not matter. I had no money and my assigned Mentor gave me a small apartment above his garage in League City Texas to live in. I will forever be indebted to that ever so decent couple. He drove me to and from work in Clear Lake and often returned in the late evening if I stayed late until I had enough saved to get my own place and a car.
I survived 3 years where poverty would have been an upgrade but I survived. I would survive and thrive for 3+ more years until I could completely transition but then as Harry said to me later “you never did boy very well anyway so I am not sure we should think of you as transitioning”. It was kind of him to say that but believe me I was as nervous as anyone else when I finally arrived in NYC as Elizabeth in late summer of 1969 and probably just as clueless as most to be honest.
Sometimes privilege gives a family member the wherewithal to harm a family member they do not understand. Nobody should have to be put through this at any age. The next time I saw that home was as a young girl shortly before my surgery and it was 7.5 years later just before my 25th birthday. I swore nobody would ever hurt me like that again. I was never going to be a victim again and I have not and never will be again.
The worst thing about this entire saga is I was not the first one to go through it nor was I the last one to go through it.  Worse yet is the honest belief more kids will go through this in the future.  Dr. Blanchard in Toronto still uses aversion therapy on kids like me. Why do I wish someone would just kill him?
A friend of mine put it in words I will steal to end this post.

“If anyone believes the psychiatric patients are the really crazy people I suggest you look very closely at those masquerading as Psychologists, Psychiatrists, and caregivers.  Many make the patients look completely sane!”


Anonymous said...

I have to be the first to respond to this for so many reasons. Not least of which is knowing how hard it is to talk about this kind of trauma and how much I admire your courage for talking about this Liz. What is more poignant here is that at least one clinician in the North West believes this barbaric treatment actually works.
In the early sixties I read about this kind of so called "therapy" more accurately described as barbarous torture being perpetrated on girls like us Liz and so when my Mother said she would take me to doctors in 1962 I screamed the house down in the sheer terror that this is what was in store for me. Make no mistake this treatment was perpetrated in UK as well.
One has to ask why men who took a hypocratic oath can justify such sadistic barbarism never mind actually carrying it out. More amazing is that today this still goes on. There are no words to describe my feelings on this.
Carolyn (your friend and sister)

April said...

Elizabeth, Thank you for sharing what must have been very difficult to write.



Caroline said...

It was 1970/71 that I first tried to get help. The doctor flew into a rage and left me with a feeling of utter despair and hopelessness. At the time the city had a huge "mental institution" just outside the city boundary, really a small fenced village on it's own. Only later did I learn that as bad as my treatment was and it scared me for life, I actually had a very near escape!

You were certainly tougher than me by far, I gave up the fight and slipped out of society to live in seclusion for most of my life.

How doctors ever got their semi divine status I shall never know.

Caroline xxx

Anne said...

I can only say that I am sorry for what you suffered and echo your sentiments towards those that literally TORTURE children and in my case young adults. I must have been about 20 when I was "treated" to my own personal hell, IE, Aversion Therapy.

I am thinking that in my case, there still exists in me a deeply buried absolutely VISCERAL HATRED towards those that "declare" themselves "experts" in areas that in all reasonable truth, they know absolutely NOTHING about, except their own perverted understandings and experiences.

Yes, Sister. I hear you loud and clear.


Elizabeth said...

The people who produced movie went searching for people to help them get it viewed and found me before I transitioned.

I always felt guilty because I refused to help them by telling them I did not remember any of it. They were very kind because they knew the "patients" were put through but I did not want to deal with it then.

I was working in Houston and I rationalized I was too busy to just let them depose me. Too scared is more like the truth.

I think the worst is a quack like Blanchard still uses Aversion Therapy in Canada. They still use it in most countries actually.

It was more like the Inquistion than medicine and the one vision that has always stuck was the grins some had when they "treated" me.