Dr. Keith Ablow, a practicing psychiatrist known as much for his media persona on the Fox News channel and elsewhere as his two New York Times bestsellers, wrote what I thought was a pretty savage, fear-mongering diatribe recently against parents letting their children watch any episode of “Dancing with the Stars” that features a person who has undergone transgender surgery, Chaz Bono.
His logic is a thing of beauty to behold in its twisted triumph: Because some children who may be watching may be undergoing their own self-identity and sexual transformation (as most teenagers do at some point in their normal development), they are “vulnerable:” “The last thing vulnerable children and adolescents need, as they wrestle with the normal process of establishing their identities [... is to watch an adult who's made the choice to change their gender].”
Except that Dr. Ablow says it in an emotionally-charged, vulgar manner so as to transform an immense and difficult decision into something that focuses solely on the physical aspects of a transgendered person’s identity.
I’ve typically come to expect shallow pop psychology from many of our media psychologists and psychiatrists. But somehow, I expected something more… well, thoughtful, from my colleague here in Newburyport.
It’s not as if Dr. Ablow doesn’t have the capacity for empathy and talking about a person’s sense of self (rather than focusing on shallow physical attributes). Because by the end of the very same article, he says:
And if all that failed, and if Chaz Bono wanted either to kill herself or to undergo gender reassignment surgery [Ed. - notice how he seemingly and not-so-subtly equates suicide to the thought of undergoing transgender surgery], I would have taken that journey with her, too. I would have talked her parents through the hell of it. We would make the best of it.
How does Dr. Ablow know this isn’t exactly what happened? I mean, most people who undergo the painful — both emotionally and physically — transgendered change do so only after lots of discussion usually accompanied by psychotherapy. It’s not like it’s a decision made on the spur of the moment.
Unfortunately, it degenerates from there:
But I would feel no triumph in it, no sense of any heroic overcoming obstacles and righting the flesh in accordance with the soul. I would feel pathos. I would feel the limits of my attempts to truly heal Chaz Bono, and I would wish her well with a life that had veered, seemingly unavoidably, into a very dark place.
Apparently in Dr. Ablow’s eyes, people who undergo the transgendered process are broken individuals, in need of repair. There are no transgendered people — only people who are confused and in need of treatment to alleviate their condition.
This is an exquisite parallel to how psychiatrists used to talk about homosexuality at one time in the dark ages of psychiatry (the 1950s and ’60s). They once believed — we now know mistakenly — that all homosexuals were simply “mentally ill” and in need of psychoanalysis or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to help “cure” them of their homosexuality. Luckily such prejudicial and ignorant views were enlightened by the 1980s, when homosexuality was all but removed from the psychiatric diagnostic manual.
In my opinion, it’s also a very judgmental thing to say about a transgendered individual — from a mental health professional no less (who ostensibly are supposed to check their judgment at the office front door.) It also suggests a prejudice against people who’s sexual and self-identity doesn’t fit in with Dr. Ablow’s own ideas of what sexuality and self-identity is acceptable. A prejudice that only goes to reinforce the stigma, ignorance and hate against people who are transgendered.
But after gathering my mouth from the floor, I have to go back to whether Dr. Ablow’s position — that children could be either irreprepably harmed or unduly influenced by watching a single series of a television show — is based in any sort of reality. You know, like scientific evidence.
Because Dr. Ablow appears to believe that watching some episodes of a dance competition where a transgendered person happens to be one of the contestants is akin to an indoctrination into transgendered society:
It would be wrong to think that gender dysphoria cannot be kindled by celebrating those who have undergone sexual reassignment surgery. Human beings do model one another—in terms of emotion, thought and behavior. By broadcasting, applauding and mainstreaming the journey of a very disordered person who endured, and likely will continue to endure, real suffering based on extraordinarily deep psychological problems, we suggest that that journey is a smart—even heroic—one to take.
So I have to ask myself — since Dr. Ablow didn’t provide any research backing to support his hypothesis — does the research back him up on this? Could children simply model themselves and base their identity on a reality TV show contestant after watching them for a few episodes?
An in-depth literature search turned up nothing. Not a single study could be found that associated watching television with directly (or indirectly) influencing childhood sexual development or self-identity. I couldn’t find research that even revealed just a correlation, much less a study showing a direct causation relationship between the two.
Which isn’t really all that surprising a finding, even if you used just plain common sense… Just think for a moment how much violence children watch on television. But most children don’t grow up to turn into violent criminals because of it. That’s not to say that television — or far more immersive, interactive media such as video games or the Internet — don’t play an impact in a child’s development and self-identity. They do. But there’s no evidence that they do so in a dose-related response where 5 or 10 episodes of anything is going to be a life-changing event for a child or teen.
Therefore the premise that watching 5 or 10 episodes of a television show of a person dancing would have any influence — much less a life-defining, definitive impact — on a person’s sexual- or self-identity is simply hogwash. There’s not a shred of scientific evidence to support such a ridiculous premise. It’s simply the personal opinion of a single individual who is promoting a specific prejudice against people he feels are broken and are in need of his help.
So I have to wonder — is this kind prejudice and passing judgment about a person he’s never seen professionally really the kind of thing one should expect from a respected mental health professional such as Dr. Ablow? Is spouting off about “vulnerable” children a responsible, thoughtful opinion, when a professional such as Dr. Ablow is in a position to help educate and dispel the myths so often associated with difficult issues such as sexual- and self-identity?
Or is Dr. Ablow simply perpetuating the stereotypes and pop-psychology nonsense professionals like himself have been doing for decades about things like child development?
Read Dr. Keith Ablow’s article: Don’t Let Your Kids Watch Chaz Bono On ‘Dancing With The Stars’
An excellent resource for more information: Gender Identity Disorder and Transgenderism
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 8 Sep 2011
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Grohol, J. (2011). Don’t Let Your Kids Watch Dr. Keith Ablow. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/09/08/dont-let-your-kids-watch-dr-keith-ablow/