Ray Blanchard's problematic place in history

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All of Ray Blanchard’s work is about to be eclipsed by what will be Blanchard’s most enduring legacy: the broad expansion of “paraphilia” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) to further oppress sex and gender minorities as mentally disordered. Blanchard plans to expand it to include attraction to anyone who is not “phenotypically normal” (ASTAR 2009). Blanchard now wants to expand this disorder to include attraction to people who are too fat, too skinny, too old, too young, too tall, too short, too disabled, or any other characteristic that makes people not “normal.”

His taxonomy of trans women has already reduced all our relationships to paraphilia. People who love trans women have a paraphilia he calls “gynandromorphophilia” (Blanchard 1993), and trans women who get in relationships are merely using their partner as a paraphilic prop in a narcissistic fantasy (Sullivan 2008). This echoes outdated assertions that gay people can’t have a “normal” relationship.

It’s amazing to me that someone whose sexuality was depathologized by psychiatry the very year he got his Ph.D. would be so hell-bent on imposing that very oppression on others. Yet here we are. The biggest step backwards in the history of sexology is about to happen, thanks to Ray Blanchard. He probably won’t live to see what a problematic figure he will become within his own field, becoming like John Money: someone where it’s hard to separate the good from the bad. The DSM-V will be Blanchard’s “John/Joan” case (Diamond 1997): the cringe-inducing career misstep that will define his life and career to the lay public.

What’s most interesting is how these “experts” feel entitled to define and label others, then get their panties in a bunch when labels and motivations are ascribed to their own actions. It’s as if they use “science” and self-mythologizing to assert a “truth” about themselves and their unassailable objectivity. I’m sure Ray thinks that being openly gay would bring his own objectivity into question. Good science stands up to that scrutiny, though. With good science, someone’s professional or personal information is irrelevant. The only place the identity of the scientist comes into play is with subjective stuff like plethysmography or proposed taxonomies and terminology. When a subjective claim about an object of study is made, it is scientifically imperative to examine the subjectivity of the person making the claim. Hence this analysis.

Perhaps Ray Blanchard’s peers will see what a remarkable psychological case study he is. Better yet, perhaps some day Ray Blanchard will be a little more open and honest about himself. All this might help explain why he believes other people can’t be trusted to be open and honest about their sexualities.

Good scientists make full disclosures so peers are aware of potential bias and conflicts of interest in their work. Perhaps Ray Blanchard will finally start making full disclosures. It would be far better if he let everyone know that his entire career has been undertaken for the most personal reasons imaginable. But as we’ve seen in his case, Ray Blanchard is more interested in applying labels to others than acknowledging labels that apply to him. It is his blind spot and his hubris; the flaw that sends him stumbling away from sound science and down the unlit paths of pathology and oppression.

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First published 2 November 2009.

Next: Notes and references