gwen smith

At the end of January, a lawyer representing Doctor Ken Zucker threatened Professor Lynn Conway with a lawsuit.

Conway is a transsexual woman who—while she transitioned a great many years ago—has been active within the transgender community for a bit less than a decade. Professionally, she is a professor at the University of Michigan specializing in electrical engineering and computer science.

She’s also been outspoken against a number of sexologists, including the aforementioned doctor.

Zucker is a psychologist and sexologist hailing out of the controversial Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) at the University of Toronto, more commonly known as the Clarke Institute. Zucker is also the chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) workgroup on sexual and gender identity disorders for the next revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). He is a proponent of “curing” young transgender people, in much the same way gays and lesbians “are cured” by reparative therapy.

Zucker’s lawyer was accusing Conway of libel, based on material presented separate to Conway’s own website, and only linked from her site as part of a newsfeed.

To quote Peter M. Jacobsen, Zucker’s attorney, “Your website contains very serious false and defamatory allegations of criminal conduct and sexual abuse by Dr. Zucker. These allegations clearly exceed the limits of free speech and public discourse…. Please be advised that we have also notified the IT User Advocate at the University of Michigan of this defamatory posting…. Please confirm receipt of this libel notice immediately and advise us immediately of what steps you have taken to have this defamatory material removed from your website.”

Conway has opted to not remove any such thing, and instead took this story public.

It is worth noting that the site that contained the supposedly defamatory materials, belonging to the Organisation Internationale des Intersexués (OII), received no take down notice. Only Conway seems to have received such.

Furthermore, the lawyer’s claim—false allegations of criminal conduct and sexual abuse—are not on the OII-hosted page he noted in his letter to Conway. That page discusses an APA booklet on intersexuality that Zucker and many other had a hand in.

Given Conway’s longstanding challenges to people like Zucker, Dr. Ray Blanchard of the Clark, Dr. Anne Lawrence, and junk sexologist J. Michael Bailey, it would seem clear that she would be a target of some ire from Dr. Zucker—and, as Conway suggests, this is a deliberate attempt at suppression on Zucker’s part.

On the other hand, it is quite likely that the lawyer in question made more than a couple mistakes, likely fueled by his client’s dislike of Conway’s own critical writings and a misunderstanding of how the Internet works.

Elsewhere on the website for OII, I did find a page that does speak to the very thing Zucker’s lawyer is talking about: A request by OIIs founder, Curtis Hinkle, to have Dr. Zucker and the CAMH investigated due to sexual harassment and other grounds. You, dear reader, can see this at http://www.intersexualite.org/Zucker-complaint.html.

I might assume that this had been on that same newsfeed at some point, though it is not part of that fee’s archive. Many other articles from the OII were linked within. Perhaps someone assumed it was there. Either way, it would seem just as likely that someone not well-versed in the ways of the Internet may have assumed that Zucker was still surfing Conway’s own site, rather than being elsewhere on the Web, and wrongly accused Conway.

All this said, what is Zucker upset about? Simple: The request for investigation that Hinkle put out there, that may or may not have been linked to Conway’s site, accuses Zucker of some very serious ethics violations. It includes a letter from an unnamed former patient of Zucker, accusing him of sexual abuse based on the treatment from Zucker—including two “sexual incidents” that this person was too ashamed to come forward with previously. Based on this, Dr. Zucker should indeed be reviewed and, should these accusations be true, he should be removed from the APA.

As I said before, Conway is no friend to Zucker. Perhaps there had been a mistaken assumption that it was Conway, not Hinkle, who was behind this accusation. Or, maybe the doctor was attempting to “kill two birds with one stone.” It’s all but impossible to say either way.

What I will say is this: The Clarke Institute is well known in transgender circles for decades of questionable treatment, and the actions of doctors like Zucker—beyond the complaint from Hinkle—are the matter of record. All Conway has done, in my opinion, is bring further light on this doctor and his actions.

People like Conway and many others represent where a lot of transgender care has been headed over the last decade. Discontent with doctors who don’t have their patients’ needs in mind, transgender people have sought to step out of the shadows of a often uncaring medical establishment, and tell our own stories.

These actions can be more harmful to Dr. Ken Zucker and his ilk than any single webpage. It is the same road that led to homosexuality being removed from the DSM by the APA back in 1974 and has put reparative therapy for homosexuals into the same bin as phrenology and chelation therapy.

As Mahatma Gandhi put it: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Zucker’s lawyer is not ignoring or laughing—and neither should we.

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