Chase's  review of  Burke's Gender Shock  
by Gene Chase
Christianity and Homosexuality
Phyllis Burke. Gender Shock: Exploding the Myths of Male and Female. NY: Anchor/Doubleday, 1996.

My biases first. I lived with a schizophrenic mother whom I visited in a hospital every week for years, in a setting similar to what is described for 'Jamie' here. This book gets me in the gut at that point. I was the fellow who was inept in sports and ran "like that"--but none of my friends would tell me what "that" was, or what to do about it. This book gets me in the gut at that point too.

Burke is a lesbian parent who wants to release us from the trap and myth of thinking about gender in only bipolar ways. The foil throughout the book is the poet Robert Bly, whose _Iron John_ holds up the stereotype of needing a father as a role model. But the gender police (my term) never ask of a child, "Does he have a heart? Does she use power properly?" Burke says those things are more important.

Burke argues "Gender is not sexuality." "Behavior is not body." Men's and women's bodies differ in reproductive design, but to force the intersexed to fit a bipolar model violates the most basic of ethical principles, found in the Hippocratic Oath: do no harm.

The bulk of the book is about behaviors. Passing mention is made of appearance and of scientific studies to round out the book.

Among behaviors, Burke debunks penis envy and the whole Freudian shtick (my term). More basically, she debunks Gender Identity Disorder. About "treating" GID she says that behavioral modification is cruel, that gender roles are only social anyway, that GID is not pre-homosexuality, and that GID need not be related to rejection of one's anatomy.

Burke's description of "Jamie's" barbaric electroshock treatments for schizophrenia is blood-curdling. Jamie finally escapes to live life as the (m2f pre-op) transsexual that she is. Whatever is the relationship of this to GID? Since schizophrenia is the inability to cope with reality, GID was often treated as a kind of schizophrenia, where the reality was one's own gender. In our kinder and gentler time, add to behavioral modification techniques to "treat" GID psychopharmaceuticals like Thorazine and other antidepressants. I grew up checking that my mother was taking her Thorazine, so this section was a hard one for me to read.

Burke quotes with approval a drag queen, "[W]e don't believe in gender dysphoria. We believe in gender euphoria." Burke prefers Sandra L. Bem's 1974 inventory for "The measurement of psychological androgyny" to quote the title of Bem's article. Body type as stereotype is widespread among both straights and gays, "an equal opportunity distortion." (p. 178)

The message of Burke's journalistic research is clear. Love me, don't love the me that you want to change me into! 

Visit the Bridges-Across GID Page

Gene Chase's review of Zucker and Bradley

Nancy Sharp's Medical Abuse of GLBT Youth

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text © 1998 Gene Chase