Conversion Therapy

Why it does and does not apply to gender identity

Conversion therapy is typically understood to be the practice of trying to change someone’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. Numerous methods of various invasiveness and cruelty have been employed in an to attempt to alter an individual’s same sex attractions toward the opposite sex, and virtually always to no avail. The practice is banned for minors in many countries (or at more local levels in countries without a nationwide ban) because it is so psychologically harmful as well as ineffective at it’s stated purpose.

If you were to make an attempt to Google conversion therapy: what it is, how it’s done, where it’s illegal, etc. you will end up with results that conflate ‘gender identity’ with sexual orientation, with introductory sentences like “Conversion therapy is any attempt to change a person's sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.” Gender is just wedged in there, as if it’s one in the same with sexual orientation. Much like how the T was just tacked on to the end of a list of sexual orientations, despite not at all being a sexual orientation. The recent conflation of gender identity with sexual orientation has enabled trans activists to remove what should be an obvious distinction between gender dysphoria and same sex attraction.

We need to dig into gender dysphoria for any reader who may be unfamiliar with it or why it is distinct from sexual orientation. (If you’re here, I doubt that’s you, but I like to pretend I’m not always preaching to the choir, so indulge me.) Gender dysphoria is a psychological discomfort one feels toward their sexed body and/or the associated social role that body relegates one toward. It presents in both homosexual and heterosexual people alike. Sometimes connected to one’s sexual orientation, and sometimes distinct from. It is the different types of dysphoria that are important and relevant to the conversion therapy conversation.

I have to get personal here. Gender dysphoria for me feels like my sexed body is grotesque and wrong (we’ll call this sex dysphoria) as well as people engaging with me or referring to me as a woman feels like an uncomfortable lie and I would rather isolate than endure it (we’ll call this social dysphoria). For me it has nothing to do with my sexual orientation, and gender identity disorder feels more accurate a descriptor of my experience than ‘gender identity’. Transition did resolve the vast majority of my dysphoria, but where did those feelings come from if my brain isn’t ‘male’? (It’s not.) I strongly suspect it resulted from early life experiences that enforced rigid gender conformity. I was a tomboy who internalized ‘girls don’t behave that way’ to mean I wasn’t really a girl, and any part of my body that separated me from the other boys was ‘wrong’, rather than recognizing the restrictions were wrong.

The dysphoria I described above is quite common in female to male transsexuals. But again, where does it come from? I have spent a significant amount of time in online communities and forums for trans men, where I found the majority are self-described survivors of childhood or adolescent sexual abuse. Most however do not make a link between what happened to them and their dysphoria. Read what I described in the previous paragraph again but from the perspective of a young women subjected to sexual abuse or even repeated sexual harassment, rather than my relatively mundane experience. It actually seems like gender dysphoria would be a very normal and likely result of such abuses. And, to put this not so delicately, I think we are treating what is a form of anxiety or PTSD with blunt force transition.

Why aren’t we examining the underlying forces that lead a person to believe their body is wrong?

“Because that is conversion therapy.”

Now hold on. It’s not about changing anyone’s orientation or identity. It’s about safeguarding and appropriate medical diagnostics and treatment.

“You think you can force a trans person to identify as cis through talk therapy? That’s the definition of transphobia and it’s exactly what the homophobes were doing to gay people 30 years ago. The bigots didn’t win then and you won’t win now.”

We’ve all heard it. The endless conflation of trans with gay. Obviously this makes no sense in relation to the female to male trans experience I described above, but it actually does make sense when you realize the majority of trans activists lobbying for ‘affirmative’ only therapy are autogynephilic. That is, males who are sexually attracted to themselves as women. Their ‘gender identity’ is ‘woman’, but the foundation of that identity is their sexual orientation. The two are inextricable for them. In this context the conversion therapy label makes sense and is appropriate. However, they vehemently deny why it makes sense and instead all gender dysphoria is blanketed under ‘gender identity’ and presumed innate and immutable. The entire false conflation is a house of cards that depends on maintaining ignorance via hyperbole and smear campaigns against anyone who attempts to look too closely. My advise is to not cower and instead look closer.