First of all, what even is conversion therapy?
Conversion therapy refers to any form of treatment or psychotherapy which aims to supress a person’s gender identity. It is based on an assumption that being LGBTQIA+ is a mental illness that can be ‘cured’. These types of therapy have been proven to be extremely harmful and all counselling and psychotherapy bodies and also the NHS have condemned the practice.
You might have heard about the use of electric shocks, but ‘conversion therapy’ practices vary widely. They range from ‘talk therapy’, involving counselling, psychotherapy and faith-based interventions such as prayer, to physical ‘aversion therapy’, where the person is simultaneously subjected to a distressing sensation and a stimulus they associate with their sexuality or gender identity. Torture is also used, including so-called corrective rape.
“it is still happening”
Even though evidence suggests it is extremely harmful, it is STILL happening, more often than we actually realise. Stonewalls LGBT in Britain report recently showed that one in twenty people are being exposed, pressured and even forced into conversion services. The number rises to one in ten people that are aged between 18-24. Also, one in ten LGBT people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds and also disabled people are also within the higher risk category. Those already experiencing social injustice, made to feel even more out of touch with the world around them.
Conversion therapy perpetuates outdated views regarding gender roles and identity. Furthermore, those exposed to it, are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, drug use, and even suicide. There is also a connection between homelessness, as someone may be pushed out of their own home for not conforming to who they ‘should’ be. It can make the individual feel extremely rejected by loved ones, particularly if it is a family member pushing them to change who they really are. Trying to make them something that they are not and making them believe that they are ‘wrong’ ‘sinful’ or even unwell. Not to mention the trauma involved with the methods used, and lifelong memories.
The UK government has banned conversion therapy however not for those who are trans. Why is it ok to subject any individual to this brutal torture is beyond me.
The government’s national LGBT survey in 2017 found transgender people were actually twice as likely to have been offered conversion therapy than their gay and bisexual counterparts. Also, a large study has found that transgender people who reported receiving conversion therapy were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide during their lifetime than their peers who had engaged in other types of therapy, and for those who were younger than 10 when they underwent attempts by practitioners to align their gender identity with their sex assigned at birth, the relative risk of attempted suicide was more than four times as great.
The study, based on a 2015 survey of nearly 28,000 transgender people, also found that conversion therapy survivors were 1.5 times more likely than peers who underwent other kinds of therapy to have experienced “severe psychological distress”
The Rainbow Project, said any ban that did not include transgender people was “not a real ban”. Labour MP Nadia Whittome said it was “still not good enough”, before adding: “LGB comes with the T, and the Tories are not on our side”.
Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live, Jayne Ozanne, a conversion therapy survivor and chair of the #BanConversionTherapy coalition, accused Boris Johnson of throwing LGBT people under a bus, adding it was “utterly ludicrous” that transgender people were not included in the ban.
Everyone has the right to feel safe and protected from this. I am calling for the government to not exclude anyone from this bill. Why are we subjecting anyone to this type of therapy is truly heart-breaking? So, what would I like all counsellors to know?
Please, listen. Allow people to explore safely and consider specialist training on how to support those who are LGBTQIA+ as chances are, we have already been subjected to rejection by someone we know and love. I am pansexual, and have been made to feel like there is something wrong with me by loved ones. I also do have a history of mental illness, so I have been told to go to therapy and they will ‘straighten’ you out. These comments made me feel like there was something wrong with me, I supressed who I really was, not allowed to be me, which led to low self esteem and also a loss of identity.
Luckily when I did bring my sexuality up with my counsellor, I was allowed to explore it, without judgement and realised it is OK to be myself, if others have an issue with my sexuality, that is on them, not me. Their outdated views and opinions, I can not help or choose who I am attracted to, it just does not work like that, being told to go and be ‘straightened out’ just made me feel worthless. Like I was letting them down, like there was something wrong with me. I can choose what I want to do with their comments, and I can choose to ignore them. For many they are unable to, they live with these people and can not simply walk away. Hench the increased suicide rates.
I was fortunate enough not to be subjected to conversion therapy. However, a very close friend of mine was not so lucky, sadly they are no longer with us to share their story, They took their own life over two years ago now. This was down to conversion therapy, down to not being accepted by family and left to feel like they were not ‘right’. Forced into counselling to ‘make them straight’. Not a day goes by where I do not think of her.
This does not mean those that are questioning their sexual and gender identities should not have access to a therapist at all, going to see a therapist can be extremely beneficial. Some psychotherapists and counsellors are able to help people clarify their sense of self. The one piece of advice I will give anyone reading this, is if you are unsure and questioning your identity, seek a therapist with experience or training in LGBTQIA+ so they are well equipped to allow you to explore safely. You deserve to feel safe and explore your whole authentic self. Be the person you are meant to be and live your life to the full.
We have been through enough as a community. We stand together.