If you’ve been following the news on LGBT+ issues in the UK lately, you could be forgiven for being confused by the news.
After ITV News revealed a leaked briefing that the government planned to scrap a legislative ban on conversion therapy, the government made another U-turn, saying it will move forward with the legislation, but with one difference: transgender people would no longer be protected.
As someone who has been through conversion therapy – and helped lead a movement to end it for the past decade – I can say without a doubt that the practices trans people undergo in such “therapy” will never help and likely cause irreparable harm.
I am not trans, but I did experience the harm this can cause. During my conversion therapy sessions, I was told how a man should stand, walk, dress, speak and act at all times. The stereotypes my counselors relied upon conflated gender expression, sexuality and gender identity. If you’re a boy attracted to other boys, it might be because you don’t play sports. If you’re a woman with a short haircut, you might be in danger of becoming a lesbian. So went their logic. And they were far from an outlier.
According to a 2018 UK survey, practices used in efforts to change either sexual orientation or gender expression tend to be similar. In the conversion therapy hand book my counselors asked me to memorize, the language was clear: “We want to encourage each client, male and female, by affirming your gender identity.” The handbook went on to say that “mannish/boyish attire” on women or “excessive jewelry” on men create what they term a “False Image.”
Do those in power truly believe that asking trans kids to adopt these superficial, stereotypical characteristics will help them?
In 2017, NHS England and many other major psychological bodies published a memorandum saying “the practice of conversion therapy, whether in relation to sexual orientation or gender identity, is unethical and potentially harmful.” Trans people are roughly twice as likely to undergo such practices, according to a national LGBT survey by the UK government in 2018. Despite this, the government’s assumption seems to be that conversion therapy can truly work when it comes to trans identity, as though a rigid gender ideology which enforces modified external behavior could help, not harm, trans youth.
It seems to me that the only rational reason for the government’s decision is a desire to appease the gender critical crowd who remain skeptical of affirming therapies, or practices which uphold a positive view of all identities. Putting youth at risk in the name of skepticism is unconscionable.
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However, according to a recent study by JAMA Pediatrics, affirmative therapy reduces the risk of self-harm and other negative outcomes in LGBTQ individuals; it also saves a great deal of money. Any government which does not listen to the facts is in danger of providing only for the few and not for the good of all.
For the sake of our lives, I’m willing to put aside my own skepticism and give the UK government the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps those in power do not know what it feels like to have one’s every movement scrutinized, to be “corrected” at every moment, to live the rest of one’s life with trauma, never feeling comfortable in one’s own body.
That’s what conversion therapy has done to all of us who have survived it, and until the entire practice is banned, none of us will be safe from it.
Garrard Conley is the author of “Boy Erased“and the creator and producer of the podcast”Unerased: The History of Conversion Therapy in America”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.