Why did people start talking of conversion therapy? Therapy is treatment intended to heal a disorder. We could call it Conversion brainwashing, perhaps, or indoctrination. I will call it Personality suppression. Psychotherapists and counsellors, spiritual advisors and exorcists, should not attempt to suppress personality.
Talking therapies help a person understand themselves, their unconscious desires and inner conflicts, and the ways they interact with the world. Personality suppression is an attempt to change the person into something they are not. When we change in therapy, we are realising our potential. We might reduce unwanted traits, such as angry outbursts, but that is because of seeing better options. The angry person gets to understand their own anger, and so is not surprised by it when it erupts but senses it, and can use its energy.
Those who support conversion therapy say they are reducing unwanted traits. The converter says that “same sex attraction” is wrong, and harmful for the person, because it stops them having children. That’s why we say we are “born that way”- my sexual orientation is simply who I am, not a diseased or deviant attribute which can be “cured”. Or the anti-trans campaigner say that an AMAB person attracted to men transitioning is “anti-gay conversion therapy”, but that is ridiculous: the androphilia is the personality, not the fact that this appears to be same-sex attraction.
It’s clearly personality suppression where a brainwasher attempts to force someone to pretend to be what they are not. The child XY attempted to conform to masculine gender stereotypes, and was withdrawn, miserable, shy and unhappy.
The brainwashers do not see themselves as brainwashers. They think having a different gender identity or sexual orientation is wrong. They say girls will grow up to be women, and despite patriarchy including male privilege, oppressive feminine gender stereotypes and sexual violence, that is a good thing to be. Well, yes, usually, but tell that to Ky Schevers. I glanced at a hate site which put “conversion therapy” in scare quotes for a different reason: arguing that it is truly therapy, and calling it “conversion” wrongly implies it is objectionable. The writer claimed “conversion therapy” was not brainwashing, but “talking to a child about their gender identity distress”. She does not understand the damage she would do. She cannot conceive of trans as just part of human diversity.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists position statement on “Supporting transgender and gender-diverse people” defines conversion therapy as attempts to suppress or divert trans people’s gender identity. When I considered it, I was completely hung up on the thought of living as a feminine man, a pansy. My father managed it, quite well all things considered. Why couldn’t I? Why did I have to pretend to be a woman? This is the kind of internalised transphobia that the personality suppressors exploit. Ky Schevers sought a butch identity, a way of being female, but re-transitioned.
It may be that someone imagines they are trans, and should transition, and are wrong. The personality suppressor believes they are always wrong, that desire to present as the other sex is an error, not really part of their true personality at all, a gender identity disorder that must be expunged. Anyone with that belief should not be a psychotherapist, and certainly should not see anyone exploring their gender identity. People with that belief are campaigning against the conversion therapy ban, or seeking to apply it to sexual orientation only.
A therapist should help the patient explore themselves and their relation to the world. Knowing ourselves better we make better decisions. We transition less fearfully or ignorantly. There will always be transphobia, in society and in ourselves, and we can learn to deal with that better. The thing which should be illegal, and which can be defined in statute to make it illegal, is personality suppression.
Liz Truss’s comment is welcome. She wants “to make sure that trans people are free to live their lives and don’t face the type of horrific conversion therapy that currently has been going on here in the UK”.