In the summer of 1970, just before Kirk’s fifth birthday, his parents learned about a new federally funded research program at UCLA for young boys who were showing early signs of being effeminate. Concerned that Kirk was exhibiting some of the behaviors listed by a UCLA researcher on a local television talk show, Kirk’s parents decided to take him in for an evaluation and treatment. Ten months later, Kirk’s therapy was judged a success and his parents were reassured he would now grow up to be a normal, heterosexual man.
When Kirk was undergoing treatment at UCLA, he was under the care of a young grad student by the name of George Rekers. In 1974, Rekers and his mentor, Dr. Ivar Lovaas, published a landmark paper describing “Kraig’s” treatment — “Kraig” being their pseudonym for Kirk. That paper, which appeared in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, was “the first experimental study on the subject of childhood cross-gender problems.” That paper launched Rekers’s career, first as an expert in childhood sexual development, and later as an anti-gay activist.
Kirk survived his ordeal, and he continued to grow up under relative anonymity. Neither he nor his family knew that he was the subject of nearly two decades of discussion among behavioral therapists working to change their clients’ sexual orientation. Through it all, Rekers wrote that Kirk had a “normal male identity, had normal aspirations for growing up to be married and have a family, and was well-adjusted as a teen-age boy in general.” The truth was far different. His suicide attempt at the age of seventeen was unsuccessful. But twenty years later, he took his life on December 21, 2003. He was 38.
Rekers’s career came to an end on May 4, 2010, when two reporters at The Miami New Times revealed that he had been photographed at the Miami International Airport while returning from an overseas trip in the company of a handsome, blond twenty-years-old man who Rekers found on Rentboy.com. Rekers protested that he had hired the escort to help him with his luggage, but his escort himself begged to differ. Rekers’s colleagues began distancing themselves from him, and he eventually resigned from the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), a group composed of dissident therapists who believe that homosexuality is a pathology in need of treatment, despite the findings otherwise of every major medical and mental health organization.
Today we can reveal the full story behind the story. In an original BTB investigation, “What Are Little Boys Made Of?” we take you through extensive interviews with Kirk’s mother, brother and sister, ex-wife, friends, and others to bring you up to date on the truth behind Rekers’s “success.” We also investigate the state of psychology in 1970 when Kirk first came under Rekers’s care, and the profound changes that the profession underwent in the forty years since then — changes which Rekers steadfastly resisted. It is all right here.