Thursday, June 28, 2012

on an instance of collusion between knowledge and power

*On Facebook today I shared a story about a Georgia Federal District Court ruling against a woman named Jennifer Keeton who, in her personal and professional life (as a counselor-to-be) refused to pretend that she didn't believe that homosexuality was a disorder that required treatment (reparative therapy).  Her refusal got her kicked out of her master's program at Augusta State University.
My good friend Sean Lemson asked how I felt about "it."  Whether he meant the ruling, the story, the nature versus nurture debate or otherwise, I decided to post here and answer a question that Sean didn't really ask.
Sean, here is a quick and dirty response to the question of what I think about it.  My feelings on the matter are more complicated and harder to put words to.  ;)

power-knowledge in the news

Sean, I think it is an interesting collusion between “medical specialists” and “legal power.” This woman has been told that she is not to bring her moral prejudices into her work when, in reality, her field (psychology) is nothing other than moral prejudice. It just so happens that her moral position conflicts with the most recent authorized positions. Of course, the psychologist’s bible, the DSM, considered homosexuality a mental disorder up until 1980. An interesting question is this: to what extent is Keeton’s position truly conflicting with that of psycho-science?

At the precise moment that “homosexuality” was removed from the DSM, “gender identity disorder” was added. An authority on this “disorder” for a long time was a psychiatrist named Richard Green, whose book The Sissy Boy Syndrome was considered gospel, or at the least it commanded a good deal of respect. The point is, the current edition of the DSM-IV considers “sissy boys” to be mentally disordered. As Green insists that sissyhood is key to boys growing up to be gay men, it is hard not to see “gender identity disorder” as, at least in part, a strategic shift away from reparative therapy (too little, too late) to preemptive therapy.

It seems to me that the judge did not rule against Keeton because she was bringing moral judgments based on faulty metaphysics into her work in counseling people. He ruled against her because, in his opinion, the moral judgments based on faulty metaphysics that are brought into counseling sessions should be tightly controlled by the self-appointed self-governing authorities of psychology/psychotherapy/psychoanalysis (such as that of the credential-conferring institution that took punitive measures in response to her defiance). However capricious, flawed, or even dangerous the governing bodies of psychology/counseling/clinical therapy might be, the judge made it clear that it is nevertheless enforced by the power of the state. Shiver inducing, no?

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