In 2003 I was given the option to either leave a spiritual centre I’d been attending for 3 years or commit myself to ‘meditate the gay away’. They’d called me in for a private chat about my ‘progress’ but I knew it would be all about the gay thing. “We’ll give you 6 months to accept you’re heterosexual,” they said. “Meditate daily, and you’ll realise that being gay is an illusion created by your ego. Once you’ve chosen truth over lies, and we hope you will, we’d love to have you back. Who knows, you might even meet your future wife here!” The last thing I heard as I walked out the door was, “Remember Menno, sodomites end up in the 7th hell!”
In the current debate around conversion therapy (CT) my experience might well be considered an example of the kind of thing that needs to be legislated against, particularly as these days religious and spiritual practices constitute the main form of CT in the UK (although evidence about its prevalence is thin on the ground). I cannot, however, be explicit enough in how strongly I oppose the bill as it stands. It’s an absolute scam that only seeks to code ‘gender identity’ into law (more important than ever to the Alphabet Soup Lobby after the UK dropped ‘Self ID’ last year). At the same time it would effectively legalise medical and surgical gay conversion. It will lead to more Keira Bells, while leaving therapists, parents, schools and just about anyone who doesn’t chant the mantras in the lurch. We must stop it.
How will it lead to more Keira Bells? One of the key targets of the CT bill is ‘talking conversion therapies’ for under 18s. In an attempt to allay any fears and appear sensible, the consultation document states “Banning conversion therapy must not result in interference for professional psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, counsellors and other clinicians and healthcare staff providing legitimate support for those who may be questioning if they are LGBT.” What does this mean for a distraught 14-year old girl who is adamant her authentic self is male and the only thing she’s questioning is why she can’t get on ‘puberty blockers’? We all know young girls are the most vulnerable cohort and that feelings of shame around a nascent homosexuality could easily lead to misidentifying as trans as the latest magical identities get love bombed while ‘same sex attraction’ is being shamed. Recent research by Lisa Littman showed that 23% of detransitioners realised in hindsight that struggling with being LGB led them to seek medical intervention, and a staggering 55% believed they had not received adequate evaluation. Keira Bell too, feels the Tavistock should have challenged her more (she went on ‘puberty blockers’ after just three (!) one-hour appointments), but the proposed bill would outlaw the very thing that could save a person from going down a medical path if they don’t present as ‘questioning’.
The ban will be the final nail in the coffin for neutral and objective therapy around ‘gender’ distress. The coffin itself was laid out in 2017 by the second edition of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). Originally drawn up to establish a professional code to oppose gay conversion therapy, it only took 2 years for it to become an activist mandate to ‘trans the gay away’ by tagging on the nebulous notion of ‘gender identity’. It does not use the word ‘affirmation’, but the ambiguous phrasing and lack of clear definitions instilled a climate of fear among practitioners that ‘gender identity’ cannot be questioned and that concerns cannot be raised. For a recent example of what this looks like in practice simply look at how quickly trainee therapist James Esses was expelled from his training institute for starting a petition to safeguard explorative therapy earlier this year. Allegedly, his training provider acted after pressure from the UKCP (United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy), a driving force behind the MoU2. James has started legal proceedings against both.
Young people struggling with emotional distress deserve better than to be treated as prospects for a lifetime of medical treatment – they deserve to be seen as whole human beings, not reduced to identity labels and body parts.
In 2019 a revision to the MoU2 upped the ante even further with a statement that it is not “intended to stop medical professionals from prescribing hormone treatments and other medications to trans patients and people experiencing gender dysphoria.” Why this was included in a position statement for therapists is not explained, but I read it as a warning – not only should therapists never question gender identity, neither should they interfere with the medical treatment of their clients. TransgenderTrend takes a more chilling view, considering it a call for therapists to be given the green light to prescribe hormone treatment. Out with the talk, in with the drugs! It doesn’t take three guesses to see who’s winning here.
I don’t know how else to say this – the whole thing stinks. The way counselling has been captured stinks. The way the consultation is being rushed stinks. The way sexual orientation and gender identity are lumped together stinks. Fancying someone of the same sex and wanting to have your breasts cut off ARE NOT THE SAME THING! This forced teaming only serves to sell the idea that irreversible surgery and powerful drugs are the One True Way to find your ‘Authentic Self™’. No! Young people struggling with emotional distress deserve better than to be treated as prospects for a lifetime of medical treatment – they deserve to be seen as whole human beings, not reduced to identity labels and body parts.
The idea of CT evokes very strong emotions and for very good reasons – lesbians and gay men have historically been subjected to horrendous practices from ‘reparative rape’ to chemical castration and lobotomies. The strength of these feelings is now being weaponised to push legislation that will put younger generations at risk. It simply doesn’t do what it says on the tin; it actually puts LGB youth in harm’s way and stops therapists from being able to help them. It really isn’t rocket science – even the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) recognises that the overwhelming majority of children with gender dysphoria grow out of it by adolescence and that a large proportion will grow up to be gay or lesbian. We need to stand against this CT ban for them. We were those kids once.
I never went back to that ‘spiritual centre’. I did spot one of their leaflets on a noticeboard at a Sainsbury’s recently (a carbon copy of the one I’d picked up in 2000). I showed it to the manager and told him the centre believes homosexuality can be ‘meditated away’. He didn’t care and told me to write to the council. Had the CT ban been in place, would I have been able to take action? Would it have made an actual difference? I don’t know. What I do know is that stopping gay conversion in certain fringe religious or spiritual settings should not come at the expense of neutral, objective talking therapy that provides distressed youth the help they need: a space to understand themselves beyond gender identity buzz words; a space to really get to grips with the issues at hand; a space for their full being to unfold – not crammed into a medical cookie cutter.
If you are against gay conversion, I implore you to stand against this CT bill. Don’t let it become the gender brigade’s crowning glory.
TAKE ACTION NOW!
The Conversion Therapy ban consultation closes on Friday 10th December at 11:45pm.
Find guidance on how to respond to the consultation on the TransgenderTrend website here.
Sex Matters will also be releasing guidance in the following days.
Write to your MP about the Conversion Therapy ban via the Sex Matters website here.
You can visit MrMenno’s YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCV3876CGo9uVUvoZuUZsMgg
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Illustrations by MrMenno