June 7th, 2011
11:59 PM ET

Therapy to change 'feminine' boy created a troubled man, family says

Editor's note: Tune in to AC360° beginning at 10pm ET for Part 2 of "The Sissy Boy Experiment."

Los Angeles (CNN) - Kirk Andrew Murphy seemed to have everything to live for.

He put himself through school. He had a successful 8-year career in the Air Force. After the service, he landed a high profile position with an American finance company in India.

But in 2003 at age 38, Kirk Murphy took his own life.

A co-worker found him hanging from the fan of his apartment in New Delhi. His family has struggled for years to understand what happened.

"I used to spend so much time thinking, why would he kill himself at the age of 38? It doesn't make any sense to me," said Kirk's sister, Maris Murphy. "What I now think is I don't know how he made it that long."

After Kirk's death, Maris started a search that would uncover a dark family secret. That secret revealed itself during a phone conversation with her older brother Mark, who mentioned his distrust of any kind of therapy.

"Don't you remember all that crap we went through at UCLA?" he asked her. Maris was too young to remember the details, but Mark remembered it vividly as a low point in their lives.

Wanting a 'normal life'

Kirk Murphy was a bright 5-year-old boy, growing up near Los Angeles in the 1970s. He was the middle child, with big brother Mark, 8, and little sister Maris, just a baby at 9 months. Their mother, Kaytee Murphy, remembers Kirk's kind nature, "He was just very intelligent, and a sweet, sweet, child." But she was also worried.

"Well, I was becoming a little concerned, I guess, when he was playing with dolls and stuff," she said. "Playing with the girls' toys, and probably picking up little effeminate, well, like stroking the hair, the long hair and stuff. It just bothered me that maybe he was picking up maybe too many feminine traits." She said it bothered her because she wanted Kirk to grow up and have "a normal life."

Then Kaytee Murphy saw a psychologist on local television.

"He was naming all of these things; 'If your son is doing five of these 10 things, does he prefer to play with girls' toys instead of boys' toys?' Just things like this," she said.

The doctor was on TV that day, recruiting boys for a government-funded program at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"Well, him being the expert, I thought, maybe I should take Kirk in," said Kaytee Murphy. "In other words, nip it in the bud, before it got started any further."

Kirk becomes 'Kraig'

Kaytee Murphy took Kirk to UCLA, where he was treated largely by George A. Rekers, a doctoral student at the time.

In Rekers' study documenting his experimental therapy, he writes about a boy he calls "Kraig." Another UCLA gender researcher confirmed that "Kraig" was a pseudonym for Kirk.

The study, later published in an academic journal, concludes that after therapy, "Kraig's" feminine behavior was gone and he became "indistinguishable from any other boy."

"Kraig, I think, certainly was Rekers' poster boy for what Rekers was espousing for young children," said Jim Burroway, a writer and researcher who has studied Rekers' work.

"We have been wondering where is Kraig? A lot of us have talked about it. Where is he today? Is he married or is he gay? Or specifically does he even know that Rekers has been writing about him?" said Burroway. "I found 17 different articles, books, chapters, that he has written in which he talked about Kraig."

Rekers' work with Kirk Murphy helped him build a three-decade career as a leading national expert in trying to prevent children from becoming gay, a career as an anti-gay champion that would later be tainted by his involvement in an embarrassing scandal.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Gay & Lesbian Issues
soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Carla

    I'm curious to know, how could any loving parents subject their child to such behavior? And then his mother had the nerve to seem to nonchalantly say, " I remember one particular spanking, where it was so bad, that the child had welts up and down his back." She should be brought up on child abuse charges. The mother herself said with her own mouth, that today it would be considered child abuse. Guess what? It is!!! Not to mention, they subjected their other two children to the suffering of their sibling. In my personal experience, sometimes boys just like playing with girl's toys , and sometimes girls like playing with the boys' toys, hence the term, "Tomboy". How can you possibly distinguish that a six or eight year old child will be gay, according to the toys they like to play with, I know several boys that played house with me, that grew up to be perfectly , normal, masculine, male human beings. And then they want to blame everything on the crazy scientist! Well guess what, the scientist couldn't come within a foot of my child, UNLESS I LET HIM!!!! AND THEY LET HIM. !!!!

    June 8, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  2. nylilady

    1st of all i think that any group or person that think they can change onther person sexual choice is just plan idioic. 2nd why is the goverment even getting involved with this study. It has nothing to do with how to run this country which is what thier job is. Plus if they are involved (paying for it) with this study what other things are they wasting our money on.

    June 8, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  3. Bruce Przybylski

    This makes me really mad @ all the parents who acted so oblivious to their actions and said they were only doing what the doctor said was right. A grown-up, especially a parent, knows what is right or wrong for a child. Beating or ignoring a child is abuse and the Mother should go to her grave guilt ridden knowing she was responsible for this treatment. Shame on the parents, shame on the doctor and shame on the U.S. government for paying for this experimental study.

    June 8, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  4. KH

    Thank you so much CNN and Anderson Cooper for reporting on this tragic and horrifying story. I feel overcome with sadness for Kirk and his family, yet I hope that their story will move others and help more people understand that non-heterosexualities need to be accepted at any age. Again, thank you for sharing this report.

    June 8, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  5. Randy

    Your story on "sissy boys" is quite revealing on the human condition. What was done to that young man was nothing more than the real definition of "Crule and Unusual punishment" for just being the person he was. Using the false results as fodder for advancement of Gay is bad is criminal. The real result is the sad life Sorriful death of that otherwise would have been a productive human life. Pitiful that we are so unwilling to accept life for what it is.

    June 8, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  6. jay

    i don't get it? why did his parents allowed this in the first place? why did his parents hand him over to this experiment in the first place? parents suppose to protect their children from this crazy scientist or doctor or whatever they are. and why did they participate in the so called experiment when he came out? can somebody makes sense to all of this atrocity ?

    June 8, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  7. Christopher Elmer

    The Sissy Boy Experiment was an eye opening report for me. I am 44 years old and am a gay male, and was raised Mormon in Utah. What opened my eyes is that our society has been a experiment in "preventing" homosexuality. The punishment Kirk endured by his father for "sissy" behavior does not seem much different than the punishment every gay child receives growing up gay. I remember my parents rewarding me with acceptance if I played sports as a child. But I also remember the ridicule I received from other children in my school if I played with the girls or did not want to play with the boys. I remember running home from school every day to avoid being beaten up by classmates who would wait for me after school. Fortunately I could run faster than them, as it was three to one. I saw how brutal they could be by witnessing them beating other children that did not appear "normal". This destroyed my self esteem, and has affected my life up to this very day. I too am not emotionally able to have a loving relationship, and I have been "out" as gay since I was 24 years old. I remember as a child hating myself and was terrified of anyone ever finding out that I was different (gay). I did not know what gay was at the time, but I knew somehow to equate negative comments about homosexuals to what I was. I remember a very significant day in my pre-pubescence, overhearing my parents making a comment about homosexuals because of something they must of heard in the news. I heard them saying that all homosexuals should be taken out to the street and shot. Fear filled my entire being, and I felt terrified immediately and I prayed to god that my parents would not find me out. I sat in the chair in the next room crying and wishing I was not evil. I was afraid my fate was hell. This is happening today, and I know that the gay teenage suicide rate in Utah is very high. But it is not always the parents that create this living hell for children, it is our society as a whole. Can you imaging being born a certain way, not ever knowing why, but your society hates you for it, and condemns you and keeps you as a second class citizen by denying you the ability to publicly express your love through civil marriage? There are many times in my life I wish I were dead, and thank god, the fear of dying has kept me alive.

    June 8, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  8. H.R.

    While I feel the experiments were unethical and cruel for this little boy, I blame the mother on this one. She wanted to "nip it in the bud". She allowed her son to continue to be treated for this, even though she knew it wasn't good. She also allowed her husband to abuse her son, and said in the interview "today it would be abuse". I have news for her, it was abuse then too. She consented to this form of counseling for her son, so I blame her too.

    June 8, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  9. Dianne Furey

    Hi Anderson,
    Please, Please say that you will continue to follow up on this horrible man.
    I cried and cried after watching this story.
    This is a life stolen for the sake of this researcher's low moral values.
    Thank you for your great reporting on important issues.
    Best regards

    June 8, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  10. Kenneth Van Wie II

    This story truly made me feel ill. I can't even put into words the depth of my feelings on this issue. When they spoke about the poker chips and the beatings every Friday night... I can't even make enough sense of the emotions I felt. I had a some what similar experience growing up, as in dreading coming home as I knew I was going to be beaten for something that I had no control over. I was lucky and was sent to live with my loving grandparents and so I was able to escape a whole childhood of such abuse but I deeply understand what it must have been like for this kid growing up and my heart aches for him.

    June 8, 2011 at 8:38 am |
    • Kenneth Van Wie II

      Also, I respect Anderson so much for shining a light on these types of stories that other journalists in his position might shy away from.

      June 8, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  11. Debbie Smith Johnson

    I am so very sad at viewing your story on Kirk Murphy. I lived next door to the Murphy's and babysat their children. I left the neighbor in 1972 when I married. My folks kept me in the loop but I didn't know about the study that Kay took Kirk to. I am beyound words. My heart is so,so very sad for Kay, Mark and Maris. I know that their father Rod passed away many years ago.I would really like to get in touch with this family.If you could help faciliate this I would be grateful.
    Debbie Smith

    June 8, 2011 at 8:17 am |
  12. jeanette mason

    as a straight woman i attended the 1st gay rights demo in the world back in the 60's & met & fell in love w someone; however i also had several non sexual love affairs w gay men, 3 of whom died because of our culture's denial of what is clearly found repeatedly in nature, when the 1st stories of an 'illness originating in the lower e side baths of manhattan' began 2 b published in the ny times; my remarkable gay male 'lovers' were so shamed by our puritanical society that when i frantically, as any loving partner would, xeroxed & mailed them 2 each, needing 2 find acceptance in 1 of the few social settings where they were free 2 b who nature/god had intended, they were powerless 2 resist. i, and our society, lost these 3 enormously remarkable, brilliant & talented gifts to the aids virus what, i've often wondered, would the world b like if, instead of stuffing our children from birth, with data, we simply stepped back 2 c what gifts they bring, innate gifts, when they enter 'our' world pity pity pity our ignorance jeanette mason

    June 8, 2011 at 3:49 am |
  13. madeline j.

    I was shocked and saddened by the story re: Kirk Andrew Murphy. It particularly bothered me to hear his sister's obvious distress over the fact that she knew that for three years he ate his lunch at school in the bathroom to avoid interactions with others. And I am stunned that his parents not only permitted someone to subject their young boy to such physical and emotional abuse, but basically participated in it themselves. As a parent, I could never inflict that abuse and pain on either of my children, and certainly wouldn't have stood by to allow a stranger to do so either.

    June 8, 2011 at 3:03 am |
  14. Lauren Haley

    I think what happened to Kirk is outrageous on him parents part because everyone is their own individual person and does not deserve to be treated that way! Everyone has their own preference in life and only they can change it!

    June 8, 2011 at 2:52 am |
  15. Joe Reid

    Whether it be chips, beatings, withholding love, humiliation, or any other attempt at changing who a person is, be it male or female, is destine to be a failure.

    As a 50-year old gay man, I have personally experienced similar behavior by my father. My heart aches for the family who lost their loved one and the man who had his soul stolen from him because he was perceived as GAY, not just effiminate.

    As his Sister said, his survival for 38 years was the biggest blessing of all. It's hard to know that the death that he would eventually experienced was hastened by fear and hate.

    God bless the child you were and the adult you couldn't become!

    June 8, 2011 at 1:46 am |
  16. Michael Bonanno

    The government should be sued. Why on earth would they ever FUND a program like this. This story is representative of the continued lack of priorities and consistent economic and troublesome issues America continues to face. Tax payers should band together and sue the government as well because it is obvious that they continue to waste our money on issues that are not directly related to the well being of our "Free" country.

    June 8, 2011 at 12:45 am |
  17. Jim Broyles

    Excellent feature. I am so glad this story is being told and such destructive "treatments" are being brought to light. I noticed this broadcast was sponsored, in part, by "Christain Mingle," an online dating service for Christian singles. It specifically offers its services for heterosexual people only, and does not allow for same sex relationship matches (in spite of the fact that a growing number of Christian Churches are gay affirming). In most cases, such businesses which have a religious orientation exclude services for gay people because they consider gay relationships "sinful" or "immoral." I wonder if CNN has considered the implications of supporting such an organization? A commercial such as this sends a subtle but powerful message, particularly for impressionable young people who may be struggling with their sexual orientation identity.

    June 8, 2011 at 12:10 am |
  18. Ilene Heyman Harris

    I just watched "The Sissy Experiment" on Anderson Cooper's 360 tonight. It gave me chills. In the mid 1960's I was an undergraduate student at UCLA and very interested in childhood psychology. One of the classes I took, was entitled: The Psychology of the Exceptional Child. It was taught by Dr. Ivar Lovaas. Dr. Lovaas was a proponent of "behavioral reinforcement" theory, which entailed rewarding "desired" behavior and punishing "undesired" behavior. I was shocked and appalled when Dr. Lovaas brought several of his autistic "clients" into the lecture hall and actually demonstrated this type of reinforcement theory. The experience had a tremendous effect on me and I decided not to pursue this field of interest. I became an elementary school teacher instead. But I've never forgotten. All these years later, I watched your program tonight and saw Dr. Lovaas's name flash by on the top of the graduate student's dissertation. I can't believe it! And, yet, I'm not surprised. I was only 19 at the time I took the class, but I intuitively knew that something was definitely wrong with the way the children were treated. It had nothing to do with being a "sissy" or trying to change homosexual behaviors. But, seeing this program tonight, I can see how the theories could be extended to that. How sad for these children...

    June 7, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
  19. cjnoyes

    I am so glad you carried this story. This is an example of how research can go terribly wrong, and mental health treatment becomes a form of barbarism.

    June 7, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
  20. Zack

    I don't understand how story after story like this can come to light in the media and yet people still have such hate for LGBT people. How can these so called "religious people", who's values are mainly based on love, hate so much? How can people continue to instill such hatred in others, when they are driving people to commit suicide? It just doesn't make sense to me. It seems to be completely against the main values of almost every major religion in the world.

    June 7, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
  21. Luis Martinez

    Blaming anybody for his suicide is like me blaming Burger King for been obese. Burger King is not to blame for my bad judgement and nobody is to blame for his suicide. Awful thing that happened though

    June 7, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
  22. Steven Goldstein

    I am a person who was treated in the same way as your story when I was ward of the state of Massachusetts. In fact I have records documenting how the people responsible for my care was outright hostile to me for having Gender Identity Disorder as a child. If you wish to discuss this further, I am happy to talk. It also turned out I was suffering from a Cerebellar Cognitive Affective Syndrome since I was born, but the therapy that was used "Behavior Modification Therapy" is proven to be ineffective and damaging to those with CCAS. One clearly can also state this was true for Gender Identity Disorder.

    June 7, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
  23. kdr

    As a mother of a 3 1/2 yr old boy, this story sickens me on so many levels. As parents our duty is protect our child no matter what and instead Kirk's parents not only threw him to wolves (the quack doctor) they actively participated in physical, emotional and mental abuse at the advice of this quack. It's dispicable and disgusting and I feel that if there is blame to be placed, it should be laid soley on the shoulders of the parents. I don't care what their excuse was about the social stigmas of the "times" in which Kirk was growing up. Sometimes, one has to go against the grain and use their own mind and heart to determine how they can best raise and nuture their children. This whole story just makes me sick.

    June 7, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  24. Marlene

    These so-called therapists and psychiatrists who promote this fraudulent "therapy" should be jailed for years, have their licences revoked, and forever denied access to patients. If a person attempted and/or completed suicide, then they should be charged with murder.

    June 7, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  25. Nikki H

    An important message. I hope people will watch this program and realize the damage that "Ex-Gay" therapy causes. It is a strong and important message for Evangelical Christians and other religions that teach that being gay, lesbian, or Trans is sin an.

    June 7, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  26. Bill Korduplewski

    When will each of the three parts of "The Sissy Boy Experiment" be airing?

    June 7, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  27. jessina

    Why is this filed under "Gay & Lesbian" and not "Transgender/Transsexual"? Great piece though. Hope it opens some eyes and minds.

    June 7, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  28. Joshua

    There is a lot of wacky stuff out there. I've had good experiences with my therapy for unwanted homosexuality. I know a lot of people have had negative experiences. A lot of people want therapy, and I think we should have access to it. I think we need to do more research and mainstream it so it would be subject to more professional oversight.

    June 7, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  29. Mike

    The grief in his brother and sister's voice and face rips your heart out. A beautiful person both as a child and as an adult. GodBless his soul.

    June 7, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  30. Rob

    After doing considerable research on this subject for a series of books I am writing, I am firmly convinced that the most fervent anti-homosexual crusaders are, in fact, themselves closeted homosexuals. If you look into their past, you will find that most of them come from deeply religious backgrounds where homosexuality is viewed as a serious sin, and they make it their mission to come out against those qualities that they most deeply despise about themselves as if by defeating the homosexual "demon" in others, they are either symbolically or literally destroying that same demon within themselves. Assuming that homosexuality as a disease which can be "cured" gives them hope that one day they will magically find themselves no longer feeling desire for same sex individuals. By "curing" others they hope to find a "cure" for themselves. It is, of course, a hopeless quest, but it impossible to convince them otherwise because for so long they have dedicated their lives to this, to give it up would be a repudiation of their own deeply held beliefs and would entail the acceptance of the fact that what they have done so far has been a waste of a good portion of their lives.

    June 7, 2011 at 2:07 pm |