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Paula Zahn Now

Homosexuality: Nature or Nurture?; Trapped in the Wrong Body?

Aired June 27, 2007 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody. Glad to have you with us tonight.
We appreciate you joining us for a special hour that we're doing on a fascinating topic, human sexuality. It's part of the network's daylong initiative: "Uncovering America," fighting for acceptance. We are going to take a look at some of the issues affecting gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people.

Now, I want to be clear. The things we are talking about tonight are extremely controversial, going to the very core of who we are and who we are attracted to.

Can people actually choose to become gay, or is it hardwired into the brain? Also, is it possible for gay people to become straight? Can nature trap us inside the wrong body? And is transsexuality different from homosexuality?

I want to start off tonight with a 7-year-old I just met. By the time he was only 4 years old, he was feeling trapped in the wrong body, biologically a boy, but mentally a girl. His parents, Shannon (ph) and John (ph), agreed to an interview if we didn't show their child's face, use his name, or identify where the family lives.

In the time we spent together, they spoke very candidly. Don't be confused when the mother refers to a girl and the father to the same child as a boy. They are talking about the identical child, one who made a dramatic transition at a remarkably young age.


ZAHN (voice-over): On the surface, they are a typical American family. John and Shannon have five boys, ranging in age from 17 to 9.

Their sixth and last child is now 7 years old. We will call him George.

SHANNON, MOTHER: So, we bring home this sixth little boy, whom we thought was going to be just like the others. And it became readily apparent very early on that she was not anything like them.

ZAHN: John and Shannon watched in disbelief as their 18-month- old little boy was drawn to all things pink, pretty and feminine.

SHANNON: Well, as a boy, she would never play with any stereotypical boy toys.

ZAHN: No cars, no trucks?

SHANNON: No cars, no trucks.

ZAHN: No LEGO blocks.

SHANNON: None of that. She had no interest in those things. She wanted Barbie and Bratz dolls and Cinderella and princesses. All the pretty things, she wanted.

JOHN, FATHER: I offered to buy her any toy, as long as it was a boy toy. I would buy her any toy. And it did not work. I tried to buy her trucks and stuff. And she -- even though we bought them, she wouldn't want -- they would -- my other boys would just play with them. She wouldn't.

ZAHN: At first they thought it was just a phase. Maybe it would pass. The family struggled to make sense of what was happening. They try to embrace their son's differences. In the privacy of their home, they let George play with dolls.

Shannon describes what it was like the first time she let her 4- year-old son dress up as a girl.

SHANNON: The pink gown was a little odd. It was a little -- it took a little getting used to. But, when I saw the sheer joy on her face and just how she came out of her shell, it was very easy to look past the pink nightgown.

ZAHN: But her husband, John, was in shock.

JOHN: I thought, oh, my God. What is going on here? What is he doing dressing up as a girl? Is it Halloween? Is it a joke? What -- this is the last straw. You -- my son was playing with dolls, and now he's dressing up as a girl.

ZAHN: Soon, just dressing up at home wasn't making him happy.

SHANNON: Her life became centered on the fact that she could not be who she wanted to be. So, anything that we did, whether it was going out in public -- you know, dad would take the other boys to the restroom, and she didn't want to go. She wanted to go with me.

ZAHN: They started seeing changes in their son's moods. Shannon says George was depressed, angry, and even attempted to cut off his penis with scissors.

SHANNON: She didn't want to go to school. She would cry every day: "Please don't make me go. It's too hard to be a boy." She would tell me: "Mommy, I'm not a boy. I'm a girl."

ZAHN (on camera): And, when you heard that the first time, what did you think?

SHANNON: In my heart of hearts, I knew that she was telling me the truth. She is physically a boy, but, mentally and emotionally, there is nothing male about her. ZAHN (voice-over): Preschool was a turning point. George wanted to play dress-up, as he had so many times at home, but the teachers felt it was inappropriate for a boy to wear skirts and dresses.

Shannon and John now faced a life-changing decision. Should they, could they, let their son live as their daughter?

(on camera): As a parent, how hard is it to surrender to this?

SHANNON: It wasn't an option for me. I felt as though, if I did not surrender to this, my child was going to take her own life, whether it be tomorrow, next week, or next month.

ZAHN (voice-over): John had a much tougher time with it.

JOHN: I had basically lost my son. And it was just like someone came into your house and took your kid away and kidnapped them, and they were gone.

ZAHN: To help the transition, they decided to transfer their son to a different first grade, where no one knew him.

On December 19, 2006, George became Ashley. That's pseudonym, too. A new name came with a new look. Ashley showed up at her new school with long hair, painted fingernails, and frilly dresses, just like the little girl she says she always dreamed of being.

Ashley has decided to keep her past a secret from her new friends, and agreed to talk with us only if we didn't show her face.

(on camera): So, how did it make you feel when you wore boy's clothes?

"ASHLEY," 7 YEARS OLD: Really, really sad. I just wanted to take all my clothes, throw them in the garbage, and I would go to tell my mom that I want more girl clothes.

ZAHN: What was making you feel sad?

ASHLEY: Because I couldn't be who I wanted to be.

ZAHN: How hard is it for you to be dressed like a girl, to feel like a girl, and have to hide the fact that you were physically born a boy?

ASHLEY: Well, it is hard to hide that secret.

ZAHN (voice-over): Shannon and John say doctors have told them that Ashley is transgendered, born genetically a boy, but showing persistent interest and behavior typical of a girl. They know they will face difficult decisions as Ashley reaches puberty. But, for now, they say they will do whatever it takes to make their child happy.

(on camera): Your mom told me, when you were younger, you wished you could be a little girl. Do you remember dreaming that? ASHLEY: Yes.

ZAHN: What did you see in that dream?

ASHLEY: Me being a girl, having a happy time, with all my dolls, with all my boy toys out, and all the girls things in. That's my happy dream.

ZAHN (voice-over): Finally, Ashley's dream has come true.


ZAHN: And I want to bring in CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen to talk more about it.

You know, when you look at Ashley, which is a pseudonym, as we mentioned, she is remarkably feminine. There is nothing about her physical appearance that would make you even think she was physically a boy. And, certainly, she's not a alone. There are a lot of other families around the country facing the same challenges her family is.

What do they face as time goes on?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are a couple of different things that happen.

Doctors tell us that, sometimes, children like Ashley will, as they get older, decide to go back to their original gender. So, Ashley is committed now to being a girl. It is possible that, in the future, she will decide that, really, she wants to go back to being a boy.

Sometimes, that doesn't happen, of course. And, in that case, sometimes, parents will choose to give hormone-suppressing drugs, so that, as the child approaches puberty, let's say around 11, it would stop. So, for example, Ashley would not get hair on her face. Ashley would not develop a deep voice. It would just stop all of those developments.

And, then, when the child reaches around 15 or 16, and is really devoted to switching genders, that's when you give different types of hormones. So, for example, in Ashley's case, she might be given estrogen, so that she would develop breasts.

The decision to actually surgically go ahead and do the whole gender transformation, doctors say, usually, that doesn't happen until the child is an adult and can make that decision on their own. But there are different things that children decide at different stages.

ZAHN: And, of all of the things that Ashley told me, I guess I was really hit hardest by a comment she made about being 4 years old and feeling so trapped that she even had suicidal thoughts.

How common is it for a child to feel that strongly at such a young age? COHEN: You know, children do feel strongly about the gender that they have. We usually don't really notice it, because they identify with the gender that they are born to.

So, doctors say that, by age 3, and certainly often earlier, children will say, I'm a girl. They know that they are a girl, or they know they are a boy. You see 2-year-old boys, they want to dress like boys. They want to play with other boys. They want to be very physical. And a 2- or 3-year-old girl will want to dress often in pink dresses. They will -- they know that they are a girl. They know that they usually want to do girl things and play with other girls. This happens at a very young age.

ZAHN: And, before we move on to the rest of the show, I would love for you to clear up something, because, a lot of times, a distinction isn't made between sexual preference and one's gender.

COHEN: Absolutely. This gets very confusing. And, so, I will clear it up.

When a child identifies with a certain gender, that is not the same thing as choosing a sexual preference. Sexual -- gender identity means that you have chosen the gender that you think you are: I'm a boy. I'm a girl.

Sexual preference is choosing: I'm attracted to men. I'm attracted to women.

That's different.

And, now, I will have a piece coming up that helps explain what makes people gay or straight. Is it something you are just born with? Or is it a choice that you make later in life?

ZAHN: That will certainly spark some controversy. We have been...

COHEN: Absolutely.

ZAHN: ... arguing about that for a long time.

Elizabeth Cohen, thanks.


ZAHN: See you in a little bit.

Moving on, we're about to consider one of the hottest, most controversial debates in medicine. As Elizabeth just touched on, are people born gay? Is homosexuality a result of nature or nurture?

And, a little bit later on: someone who was fired because he became a she.

And, in less than an hour, "LARRY KING LIVE" brings us Paris Hilton's exclusive first TV interview since getting out of jail. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Can gay people turn straight? Coming up in tonight's special hour: Advocates of a controversial therapy start having some second thoughts.

Tonight, we're spending the hour on one of the most controversial subjects in America: gender, sexuality, and what makes some people straight and others gay. It's part of CNN's daylong initiative, "Uncovering America."

And one of the basic questions about sexuality is one that continues to divide this country. Just look at this brand-new CNN/Opinion Research poll. Forty-two percent think that homosexuality is due to upbringing and environment. Thirty-nine percent say it's something you're born with.

So, what does the current science have to say about that?

Medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen looks into that for tonight's "Vital Signs."


COHEN (voice-over): Do you think this little boy will grow up to be gay or straight? How about this girl, gay or straight? Look carefully. See what you think. And we will tell you the answer in a minute.

But, first, you might be wondering, why does this matter?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's abnormal. It's an abomination.

COHEN: Here's why. Some people, like these protesters, think people aren't born gay; they choose to be gay.

But Gerulf Rieger, a psychologist at Northwestern University, says no one chooses their sexual orientation, and these home videos prove it.

GERULF RIEGER, PSYCHOLOGIST, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY: We see that gay people start to behave differently from straight people at the very, very young age.

COHEN: Observers who looked at about 100 home videos of children, each for just a few seconds, were able, with surprising accuracy, to tell which ones would grow up to be gay.

Rieger thinks the observers were picking up on nuances, the sort of mannerisms you see exaggerated or parodied in portrayals of gay people in movies and TV.

RIEGER: So, a stereotypical mannerism of a gay man is that -- the limp wrist or how you tilt your head and so on, or that you smile and so on. And it turns out that, to a certain degree, this is true.

COHEN: His study suggests, your sexual orientation is with you from birth. And most of the current research agrees.

Rieger's colleague Michael Bailey studied identical twins, and found, if one was gay, the other was relatively likely to be gay, too. Other studies suggest gay men are more likely to be lefthanded. And get this. According to a current study at California State University, gay men are more likely to have hair that whirls in a counterclockwise direction.

Many experts say the physical differences between gays and straights are so significant, genetics must play a role. In fact, some researchers are now looking for gay genes.

RIEGER: It doesn't seem to be the parents or the peers that make you gay. It seems to be something that comes from within.

COHEN: Rieger himself is gay, and so are some of the other scientists who do this research. And that makes some cry foul, like a professor of child and family studies at the University of Nebraska.

DOUGLAS ABBOTT, PROFESSOR OF CHILD, YOUTH, AND FAMILY STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA: The researchers have values and biases, and they bring those when they do research.

COHEN: He thinks people choose to be gay.

ABBOTT: There is no evidence of a gay gene.

COHEN: Whether sexuality is a choice or not may never be settled.

But, in the meantime, here's the answer to the quiz. She grew up to be straight. He grew up to be gay.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, Atlanta.


ZAHN: And now I want to turn to tonight's panel to talk about all of this, Eric Metaxas, author of "Everything Else You Always Wanted to Know About God (But Were Afraid To Ask)," psychiatrist Justin Richardson from Columbia University, and Sean Kennedy, features editor for "The Advocate," a magazine focusing on gay and lesbian issues.

Glad to have all of you with us tonight.

So, Sean, what do you think about the idea that someone could have told that you were gay when you were 4 or 5 years old simply by the way you carried yourself?

SEAN KENNEDY, FEATURES EDITOR, "THE ADVOCATE": Well, apparently, that is what the new science is telling us. It's a little bit shocking.

But, in other respects, it definitely dovetails with what many gays and lesbians have been saying for years, that they knew when they were 3, or they knew when they were 4, they knew when they were 5, that they were gay or lesbian. And I think that, if there's science that is now showing that people, you know, can perceive them as gay or lesbian at that early of an age, I just think that's -- it just makes sense to me. It's pretty consistent.

ZAHN: But you all saw what the prevailing public opinion is. And we're going to put that statistic up again to show that 42 percent of all Americans polled believe that you are gay due to upbringing environment, and less to do with how you're born.

Eric, what do you think about that? Do you think it's a mistake to believe it's nurture and not in the genes?


ERIC METAXAS, AUTHOR, "EVERYTHING ELSE YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT GOD (BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK)": I think it's really complicated, but I honestly don't believe people are born gay.

I think to say that is -- it sort of smacks of determinism. It's telling you what you are. And I think that you have to be careful about that. I think that people can be, on some level, what they want to be. It is complicated, but the idea of telling somebody, you are this or you are that, it feels funky to me.

ZAHN: But no one told Sean that. Sean said he knew.

METAXAS: Well, that...

ZAHN: No one told you, you were gay, right?

KENNEDY: No one told me that I was gay. No one probably told Eric that he was straight, you know? And we are straight. We are gay.


METAXAS: Actually, my wife did tell me today, earlier today. It's my birthday. I told her to tell me.

DR. JUSTIN RICHARDSON, PSYCHIATRIST, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: I think it might be helpful, actually, to break sexual orientation into its components, because there are sexual attractions and fantasies. That's a component. There is sexual behavior, what you do sexually with whom. And there is sexual identity, which is, I am gay or I am straight.

And, while we can suppress our attractions and behave in a way that's heterosexual, or say, I'm heterosexual, scientists tend to think that sexual orientation is really based on what your attractions and what your fantasies are. And we really believe that the attractions and fantasies do not tend to change, particularly in studies that attempted to change people's sexual orientation.

ZAHN: But you heard what critics of this kind of science have to say. You are openly gay, and they would accuse you of steering research to support your theory that it has something to with one's genes.


RICHARDSON: Right. You can make that accusation, and people will say it's -- that science is determined by politics, but, actually, it's not.

You know, there are many, many years of evidence that has been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. It's not about opinion. There are -- there are actually scientific studies that -- you referred to the Bailey studies, which looked at the sexual orientation of identical twins and fraternal twins and adopted siblings, and found that, if an identical twin has a brother who is gay, he is about 50 percent likely to be gay himself.

ZAHN: It is not the easiest thing being gay in America today. Have you ever attempted to say, you know what, I don't -- I can't live this way; I want to be straight?

KENNEDY: Well, I'm sure -- just like many gays and lesbians, and when they are first coming out to themselves and to others, I mean, that's definitely a thought that goes through -- it went through my head, certainly, I mean, you know, in part because we are living in a culture where people are still saying that you're -- you turn gay, that you are not born gay.

I mean, it's that kind of an anti-gay -- it's almost -- it's hostility, in a way, that just makes people -- you know, they don't want to be gay because of that. But it doesn't mean they don't want to be gay because they're gay. I mean, it's the external, you know, discrimination that is out there.

And I think that's what this really comes down to, when you're talking about nature vs. nurture. I think it's a kind of discrimination that gay people suffer that straight people don't, because nobody ever asks straight people whether they were born straight or whether they were -- became straight because of nurture.

ZAHN: Sure.

KENNEDY: Do you know what I mean?

ZAHN: Sure.

Well, we have got to move on, because we have got plenty more contentious things straight ahead.

Thank you, all, for joining us.

Should changing your sexual identity be a firing offense? That's exactly what happened to this man.


SUSAN STANTON, TRANSGENDER LOBBYIST: Every day, transsexuals are fired. You just don't hear about it. What made my case, in particular, significant was that it happened on camera. It happened in a very visible way.


ZAHN: Coming up next in our special hour: a former city manager who was fired for only one reason. He became a she.

And we are counting down to the top of the hour, when "LARRY KING LIVE" has his exclusive, Paris Hilton's first TV interview since getting out of jail.


ZAHN: We continue CNN's daylong "Uncovering America" effort to highlight this country's diversity, focusing tonight on gender and sexual orientation.

A little bit earlier on, I introduced you to a 7-year-old who just began living as a girl, rather than the way he was born, as a boy. But, for some people, that decision comes much later on in life.

Steve Stanton was the city manager in a small Florida community when he revealed he was having a sex change. Well, that decision rocketed him into the headlines, tore his community apart, and cost him his job.

But, tonight, as Carol Costello reports, he's putting his life back together as a woman.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These days, many of his friends might not recognize Steve Stanton, the man who used to be in charge of managing the city of Largo, Florida.

STANTON: Like it almost never existed.

COSTELLO: He is now living life as a woman. And she has legally changed her name to Susan.

(on camera): Does that mean you do something different?

STANTON: No, I wouldn't do anything different. I miss the job. I miss my friends. I miss my passion. But I have been so busy with so many other things, and I guess this whole journey has been so refreshing.

COSTELLO (voice-over): He can smile about it now, but Stanton was once considered a successful up-and-coming city manager, a civic leader. Then he was fired by the city after announcing that he was going become a woman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... terminate Mr. Stanton.

(on camera): You didn't expect you were going to be fired?

STANTON: Not at all. COSTELLO (voice-over): Then his marriage fell apart. He couldn't continue his life as Steve.

STANTON: What you feel when you're growing up with this condition is, you feel that the outside doesn't match the inside, in a very real way.

COSTELLO: But the new Susan Stanton has been reborn. She is lobbying for laws that would stop employers from firing other transgendered people, like she was.

She even lobbied a Florida congressman who knew her as a male city manager.

(on camera): From his perspective, that must have been -- well, it must have been an unusual thing, to know Steven...

STANTON: Yes. Yes.

COSTELLO: ... and now to talk to Susan.

STANTON: He did what most people are unwilling or too quickly uncomfortable to do.

He said: "I'm a little uncomfortable in this situation. I never met" -- I had other people from the community with me. "I have never met other transgender people. I'm -- I'm learning."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This 2007 Visionary Award to you, Susan Ashley Stanton.

COSTELLO (voice-over): She's also receiving awards from political groups for being so visible.

STANTON: Every day, transsexuals are fired. You just don't hear about it. What made my case, in particular, significant was that it happened on camera. It happened in a very visible way with somebody that had a really outstanding track record.

COSTELLO: Stanton did try to get another job as city manager in Sarasota. She came in third, and says the experience proves she still has a future in politics.

(On camera): But what was the biggest payout from all that you went through?

STANTON: Yes, the biggest payout is being -- being who you are, being authentic, coming out from under a very heavy shell that I have lived under throughout my life.

COSTELLO (voice-over): Even her family is coming around. Her son has now seen her as a woman.

STANTON: And he says, "Well -- well, now, you look real pretty, daddy."

And, more importantly, he still calls me daddy, because I'm his dad. And, hopefully, he will never stop calling me daddy.

COSTELLO: Positive ought to be Stanton's middle name. The only thing left to do is find the right job for an up-and-coming professional woman.

Carol Costello, CNN, New York.


ZAHN: And, for years, some people have argued that, with the right therapy, gays can become straight. We are going to look at that very controversial claim in just a few minutes.

But there's something else ahead you don't want to miss. Larry King just talked with Paris Hilton. What did she say? Larry joins me next.



PARIS HILTON, HEIRESS: They say when you reach a crossroad or turning point in life, it really doesn't matter how we get there, but what we do next after we get there. Usually you arrive there by adversity, and it is then and only then that we find out who we truly are and what we're made of. It's a process, a gift, and a journey. And if we travel it alone, although the road may be rough at the beginning, you find the ability to walk it, a way to start fresh again.

It's neither a downfall, nor a failure, but a new beginning.

And I just felt like this was a new beginning for me, just sitting in jail and I just used it as a journey to figure out myself and who I am and what I want to do. And there's just so much more to me than what people think.


ZAHN: That was Paris Hilton reading some of the things she wrote in jail and reflecting on what impact that experience had on her. It's a LARRY KING LIVE exclusive, her first on-camera, post-jail interview. IT happened just a little bit about, and like everything else about Paris Hilton, even her arrival for the interview, was a media circus. And you can see the whole thing at the top of the hour.

I talked with Larry just before we went on the air and asked him to give us a preview. Here's how Paris dealt with the question that a lot of skeptics out there want to know. Did jail change her at all?


HILTON: It was a very traumatic experience, but I feel like God does make everything happen for a reason. And it gave me, you know, a time-out in life just to really find out what was important and what I want to do, figure out who I am. And even though it was really hard, I took that time just to get to know myself.

LARRY KING, LARRY KING LIVE: Think it changed you?

HILTON: Yeah, definitely. I have a new outlook on life.

KING: Was there a couple of days -- when did it happen -- and quickly or did it happen over a period of time?

HINTON: The beginning was really hard, really hard for me. It's kind of a blur, it was so, you know, traumatic. But, after being there awhile, I had to accept I could either make the best of it or make the worst of it. So, I just went with the motto: Don't serve the time, let the time serve you.

ZAHN: You know, Larry, a lot of people are coming into this interview tonight really skeptical that this woman, who has led such an indulged life, will have learned anything at all from this experience. Did you find her sincere and what do you think has really happened as a result of this experience?

KING: Well, it's kind of a double-edged sword. I think she's -- there's a kind of denial over having done anything wrong. She denies ever having used drugs ever. She, later on in the interview she says the alcohol incident was a .8 -- that means she had one drink and she was just going over to buy -- so, I think, she doesn't think she thinks she did anything really wrong, she thinks she got a raw deal.

But on the other hand she says she's used jail for her benefit. Now, all we can do is all we can do. All we can do is interviewers is ask the best questions we can ask. I did a lot of that. I asked a lot of questions. And then let the audience make a judgment. I think Paris thinks that she hasn't done anything wrong.

ZAHN: But she also said, repeatedly, in the parts of the interview that I have seen so far, that this is going to have a dramatic impact on her life somehow. Did you get any sense at all how she's going to change the way she lives or if her life will continue to be the same, nonstop parties?

KING: The last question I asked was are we going to see a new Paris Hilton? Will, starting tomorrow, there be a different Paris Hilton. Well, she says she's going to get involved in charity work, she's going to forward with her business, doing two movies this summer, less involved in parties and change a lot of the scope of the way she looks at life. I think we shall see what we shall see.

ZAHN: And there was a really interesting part of the conversation when she talked about the claustrophobia she suffered and that's why she left jail the first time. And then went on to describe to you what it was like when she said she tasted freedom for the first time in 23 days.


HILTON: It was one of the happiest days of my life. Like, it's had to even describe. It was so excited even just being in the fresh air and looking up at the skies and the stars and being outside. And then it was just pandemonium. And then as soon as I saw my mom, I just ran to her to give her a hug. So, that was really exciting for me.


ZAHN: And she went on to defend the actions of the sheriff, as well. She still says that she served longer for this infraction than a lot of people.

KING: And we had a vote on our Website. And 63 percent of the voters, oddly enough, thought she got a fair deal from the L.A. courts.

ZAHN: Well, we will be watching the whole interview tonight, Larry King, and happy travels.

KING: Thank you my dear.

ZAHN: We'll see you here in New York City tomorrow.

KING: See you tomorrow. It will be good to finally see new person!

ZAHN: All right Larry, thanks.

KING: Thanks, Paula.


ZAHN: And right now we're going to get back to our own special hour. Coming up next, the claim that is sure to start a pretty heated argument. Can gay people turn straight?


ALLAN CHAMBERS, EXODUS INTERNATIONAL: I have absolutely 100 percent no desire to be involved in homosexuality or be with someone in the same sex. That's different than temptation, it's different then attraction, but I'm not gay.


ZAHN: Coming up next, is there really a cure for homosexuality?

And then a little bit later on, we're going to take you to the town some people call the sex change capital of the world.


ZAHN: We are uncovering America's diversity tonight, spending the hour on a subject that drives so many Americans apart and that is the issue of homosexuality. Some religious leaders will tell you homosexuality is a sin against God and nature, even though as we've seen tonight, there's a lot of scientific evidence showing it's perfectly natural. Some will say homosexuality can be cured. But that's not what most people think. A new CNN opinion research poll, out today, finds that only 36 percent of Americans believe that gays can change their sexual orientation, 56 percent say it's not possible.

Well tonight, Deborah Feyerick looks at the controversy over to so-called ex-gay movement, whose leaders say you can overcome sexuality.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In his cramped office, Alan Chambers points out books on homosexuality.

(on camera): Here's "God's Grace and the Homosexual Next Door.

CHAMBERS: That's my book.

FEYERICK (voice-over): There are dozens of them promising hope and change. But is change possible?

CHAMBERS: I came out of homosexuality...

FEYERICK: Chambers, now married with two kids, says it is.

CHAMBERS: I think that the best hope that we can give each other is by being really honest.

FEYERICK: He heads up Exodus International, an umbrella group of over 170 ministries across the country meeting this week. The group caters to so-called ex-gays, men and women, like Chambers who say they have overcome homosexuality.

CHAMBERS: I have absolutely 100 percent no desire to be involved in homosexuality or be with someone in the same sex. That's different than temptation, it's different then attraction, but I'm not gay.

FEYERICK (on camera): There are critics who will say all you've succeeded in doing is suppressing your real sexual urges.

CHAMBERS: I challenge anyone to say what I have isn't authentic and it isn't real, because no one can say that.

FEYERICK (voice-over): And yet, that's exactly what many men and women maintain who went from gay to not gay and back again.

Darlene Bogle, once a major voice in the ex-gay movement, appeared today with other former Exodus leaders to say they were wrong.

DARLENE BOGLE, FMR EXODUS INT LEADER: I apologize to those individuals and families who believed that my message of change was necessary to be acceptable to God.

FEYERICK (on camera): Indeed, there are many programs, from team workshops to support groups, to one-on-one therapy, some of it unconventional.

All say they cure what they call same-sex attraction, though none offer any scientific proof.

(voice-over): Yet some people, wrestling with their sexual identity, will try anything.

Father, I just pray for these men, Lord, that...

FEYERICK: Take this live-in program in Memphis, Tennessee. The rules are strict. There's no flamboyant behavior, no provocative clothing or underwear. Men travel in groups of three, read Bible passages dealing with sexual immorality, and keep journals, what they call "moral inventories."

Other techniques used in non-religious based therapies includes something called bioenergetics to release painful memories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mom! Mom! Why did you do that to me!

This psychiatrist denounces this therapy. He says they are harmful.

FEYERICK: Psychiatrist Jack Drescher, specializes in homosexuality. He denounces these types therapies had harmful.

DR JACK DRESCHER, AMERICAN PSYCHIATRIC ASSN: It's unfortunate that that there are people who are willing to accept, because of their desperate homosexual feelings, to accept this kinds of treatment.

FEYERICK: Which is why some therapists, like David Matheson say keep God out of it.

DAVID MATHESON, GENDER WHOLENESS THERAPIST: It is an emotional and a psychological issue, not a spiritual or religious issue, similar to diabetes. Not to compare the two, but if someone was dying of diabetes, I'd send them to hospital and not to church.

FEYERICK: That may help explain a recent shift in parts of the ex-gay community towards choice, not change.

WARREN THROCKMORTON, PHD, GROVE CITY COLLEGE: If the sexual identity therapy puts the emphasis on how do you want to live? What do you believe is valuable? What are you beliefs? What core beliefs do you have? And how can we help you, then, live in alignment with this?

FEYERICK: In some cases that means celibacy. And succeed or not, however one defines that, sees that, it is certainly likely to be a lifelong struggle.

Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.


ZAHN: And back to our panel, now. Eric Metaxas, Dr. Justin Richardson, and Sean Kennedy.

I want to put that poll back up on the screen, right now, because I think it's really interesting, showing that the majority of people don't think you could change your sexual orientation. Still, about a third of the folks out there think you can.

Sean, can you?

SEAN KENNEDY, FEATURES ED, THE ADVOCATE: Well no, you can't. You can't. And I think it's great that the American public is starting to realize that. I believe, I saw it on CNN today, that poll, and I was really excited when I think this was the first time that an American majority understand that gay people can't change their sexual orientation, just like straight people can't change their sexual orientation.

ZAHN: And this is something, Dr. Richardson, you've studied a lot, and you think there are three key components to one sexuality.

DR JUSTIN RICHARDSON, PSYCHIATRIST: Yes, and just as Alan Chambers explained -- he's the president of the Exodus ministry -- his attractions haven't changed, but he's found a way to suppress them. And that's what we think that homosexual attractions are not changeable, that people who have fantasies about somebody of the same sex.

That won't change, but if it is great conflicts with their religious beliefs, that they will struggle to find a compromise to both have their religious affiliation and have their sex and love life. And that's a struggle, which we feel compassion about.

But what won't change is the sexual fantasies. And the one thing I would love to do is to dropped the word "cure" from the bottom of your screen, because, you know, the American Psychiatric Association, over 30 years ago said homosexuality is not an illness. So, it doesn't make any sense to say...


Yeah, it's been over 30 years, so we should be past that.

ZAHN: But Eric, we aren't and I know you have friends who lived gay lifestyles who now have gone straight. Are they living completely straight lives, free of even this fantasy life Dr. Richardson was talking about?

ERIC METAXAS, AUTHOR, "EVERYTHING ELSE...": Yeah, it's strange to hear this kind of stuff, because I total -- I absolutely know people, know them well, they're friends that have totally changed.

Now, that's incendiary to say that, and yet it's true. In other words, I don't think this because that's true...

ZAHN: With all three of those components, though? Do they still fantasize about... METAXAS: But, we don't hold straights to that. In other words, I think straights all across America fantasize about people other than their spouses. Right? And we don't say to those people, you are an adulterer, you need to accept the fact you want to be with other people, you need to be like a prisoner of your own desires. We can choose what we want to do.

KENNEDY: And have you asked your friends whether, you know, they went through turmoil or anxiety or depression on their road to being "straight," that's what people tell me.

METAXAS: When you tell people what they are -- I mean, it's kind of like if somebody looks at a gene and says, No, Sean, you're straight. It really doesn't matter what you do or what your feelings or anything, you're straight. You know, you would be offended by that, because you say, I have free will and I am what I say that I am, not what genes say that I am. It's -- there's something -- in other words, there's a double standard and I just think we have to be careful about the double standard.

ZAHN: Dr. Robertson, have you ever wanted to be straight?

ROBERTSON: You know, when I was a child, it was a terrible and humiliating thing to grow up to be gay. That was a long time ago. It's a little bit easier now, but it's not that much easier for young children. So, of course, kids and teens who are growing up and recognizing that they are gay, feel a terrible amount of turmoil, and if then they're in a position where they're a part of a religious community or society that says if you were gay, you're a sinner, or you have to leave this family, that's a terrible position for them to be in. They either have to renounce this part of themselves or that part of themselves and that's...

ZAHN: You get the last word, Sean.

KENNEDY: Oh, thanks. I just wanted to point out Paula, that you know, the American Academy of Pediatrics are against reparative therapy. They say that, you know, kids and teenagers and adults can't be changed, their sexual orientation, they say, furthermore, and only is it not successful, but that it does create a lot of anxiety and depression and mental problems in these people, so...

ZAHN: All right, we're going to have to leave there, tonight. Why do they always blame the mom? Aren't the fathers ever the fault for anything?

Eric Metaxas, Dr. Justin Richardson, Sean Kennedy thank you all.

We found a town that attracts people from all over the world for sex change operations. You're about to hear some of their stories.


MONICA DUNLAP, FORMERLY MARK: I remember going to bed at night praying to God, please, let me wake up a girl. I remember feeling those feelings for all my life. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Coming up next, how did a one-time mining town become the sex change capital of the world?


ZAHN: We're spending the hour on something that is really personal, but is also among one of the most controversial issues in this country and that is sexual orientation and gender identity. It's part of the network's day-long "Uncovering America" effort to examine America's diversity. And a little bit earlier on, we met a transgender man, a woman trapped in a man's body. He had surgery to change that. And now Thelma Gutierrez takes us to a small Colorado town where thousands of people have gone for sex change surgery.


THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Trinidad, Colorado, a small town in the West and an unlikely destination for transsexuals about to transition. Here, Mark Dunlap will become Monica.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, let's take a look at this.

GUTIERREZ: It's the end of a 38 year journey for a man who says he's always really been a woman trapped in a man's body.

We were invited to witness the transformation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're removing the erect tissue.

GUTIERREZ: The couple's love story began 11 years ago, when Mark and Chris Dunlap married. But from the time this man was a boy, he knew something was different.

M. DUNLAP: I remember going to bed at night, praying to God, please let me wake up a girl.

GUTIERREZ: Mark and Chris had Sophie, and even though life seemed perfect from the outside, Mark was in turmoil on the inside until three years ago, with his wife's blessing, he began living as Monica.

M. DUNLAP: I always thought, well, all I need is a girlfriend and the feelings will go away. Then all I need to do is fall in love or that I need to have, you know, get married and have children. I couldn't run from who I was.

GUTIERREZ: For better or worse, Chris says she's committed to their marriage.

CHRIS DUNLAP, MONICA'S SPOUSE: It's still the person and the soul that I fell in love with and that I pledged my life to.

GUTIERREZ: The final step in transition, gender reassignment surgery. For that, the Dunlap's had went to this remote town in the mountains.

(on camera): This is Trinidad, Colorado, it's right near the border of New Mexico. It's an old mining town that some say is now the sex change capital of the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's pretty good, in a way, because it brings money into the town.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It don't bother me. It don't bother me. Everybody has a right to live the life that they want to live.


GUTIERREZ: Dr. Marci Bowers it the surgeon who will head the team that will transition Monica into a woman.

BOWERS: The tissues that are female anatomy are there in male anatomy and just kind of rearranging the deck chairs.

GUTIERREZ: Dr. Bowers performs more gender reassignment surgeries than anyone else in the country. She was trained by Dr. Stanley Biber, a pioneer of the surgery. Since 1969 more than 5,000 people have come here for sex change operations.

(on camera): It's not the kind of place that you would think of as the sex change capital of the world.

BOWERS: That's true. Yeah, I used to say this is a town of beans, boots, and pickup trucks, pretty much.


GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Dr. Marci Bowers knows what her patients are going through.

BOWERS: You have to accept losing a great deal of your life, if you make the decision to change.

GUTIERREZ: Dr. Bowers knows about change. This was Dr. Bowers, Dr. Mark Bowers, 10 years ago. Married with three children and department chair at a Seattle hospital.

BOWERS: A nurse had approached me and said: "Did you hear the news?" and I said, "No, what news?" and then she said, "Well, you were voted sexiest man on labor delivery."



GUTIERREZ: Marci Bowers never looks back. Now, she will help Monica complete her transformation.

(on camera): How long will it take this patient to be able to function normally as a woman?

BOWERS: We had somebody call the other day and she had their first orgasm after three weeks and she had sex in four weeks.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): After 3-1/2 hours, Monica's surgery is complete.

BOWERS: She did great.

C. DUNLAP: I love her and I can't imagine going through life without her.

BOWERS: What I give patients is just -- I give them identity.


Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Trinidad, Colorado.


ZAHN: Just minutes away from the top of the hour and LARRY KING LIVE, the exclusive for the first time on TV, Paris Hilton talks about her three weeks in jail. Do you think it'll change her life, folks?