The MoU (Memorandum of understanding) is a joint document signed by 20 health, counselling and psychotherapy organisations which aims to end the practice of conversion therapy in the UK. https://www.psychotherapy.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/UKCP-Memorandum-of-Understanding-on-Conversion-Therapy-in-the-UK.pdf
It gives us a working definition of conversion therapy as:
‘an umbrella term for a therapeutic approach, or any model or individual viewpoint that demonstrates an assumption that any sexual orientation or gender identity is inherently preferable to any other, and which attempts to bring about a change of sexual orientation or gender identity, or seeks to suppress an individual’s expression of sexual orientation or gender identity on that basis.’
Conversion therapy can come in many forms: talking therapy, hypnotherapy, counselling, psychotherapy, re-education, prayer and aversion techniques. Aversion techniques include such things as vomit-inducing medication, elastic band snapping and electro-convulsive therapy.
Modern attitudes understand that these practices are wrong on so many levels. It is impossible to ‘convert’ an inherent human instinct, nature, identity or trait such as an individual’s gender or sexuality. Put simply: just as you cannot ‘convert’ someone away from being heterosexual or cisgender, you cannot convert someone who is transgender or homosexual away from their identity. Whether we choose to openly acknowledge it or not, as humans we are all on a spectrum of gender and sexuality, and there is not one end of the spectrum that is preferable.
We know that conversion therapy is dangerous, abusive and harmful, both physically and mentally. It breaches the human rights of the person subjected to it, and it should definitely be classified as an illegal act.
These better-known aversion techniques might be ‘extreme’ methods of conversion therapy, but it is important to recognise that not all conversion therapy is extreme. Consider these following well-heard phrases:
- You will grow out of it
- It’s just a phase
- If you have a vagina you are a girl
- Boys don’t wear dresses
- You will bring shame on the family if you think like that
- You shouldn’t try and change how you were made
Sadly, even GP surgeries and GICs across our country have been known to follow this narrative with language seeking to suppress the patient’s gender incongruence.
- Are you sure that you feel like this?
- Do you think you will pass as a woman?
- How is this different to simply being a lesbian?
- You shouldn’t use puberty blockers to block your natural puberty
- You shouldn’t take hormones to change your external appearance
- You need to experience a natural puberty to understand your gender
- Your child will most likely grow out of this
- You are not old enough to know how you are feeling
- Most young people grow out of these feelings
- Come back next year and see if things have changed
Sadly, these are very real accounts of comments and advice that has been given to trans patients of all ages when they have accessed NHS services before coming to GenderGP. We know because we have been told first-hand by those who come to GenderGP to tell us what they have experienced.
All of these comments fit the definition of conversion therapy in that they seek to suppress an individual’s expression of gender identity on the basis that a step away from acknowledging their gender identity is a preferable outcome. They are therapeutic approaches and individual viewpoints which deny the trans person the care they aneed. They seek to suppress that person’s expression of their gender.
At GenderGP we believe that people know their own identity. They know how they feel and they are experts in their own experience. To deny someone care when they are asking for it, or to make them wait in case they ‘change their mind’ or in the hope that they reach a ‘more favourable outcome’ is in itself conversion therapy.
I know that there will be people reading this who will simply say ‘what’s the rush?’, ‘they should take things slowly’. But what they may not understand is that during the time that trans individuals are being prevented from accessing care, irreversible body changes are taking place and with that comes the risk of mental health deterioration and reduced life progression in terms of education and careers.
Doing nothing is not a neutral option. Trans people need gender-affirming attitudes, recognition and medical care. Anything that inhibits a trans person in their gender identity, in the hope that they convert to a more favourable outcome of not being transgender, should be classed as conversion therapy and as such, should most definitely be illegal. The question is, where does one draw the line?