In light of the recent statement by the British Psychoanalytic Council and others including NHS Scotland and The Royal College of General Practitioners about “conversion therapy” with regards to sexual orientation and gender identity, this gender abolitionist Green thinks it’s about time we looked a bit more closely at the two concepts.
Trans rights activists make many arguments which rest on the concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity being the same. They do this to win over the hearts and minds of people, especially people on the left and within the Green Party. Nice and good people all recognise that lesbian, gay and bisexual people have had to fight and continue to fight for acceptance, and they wish to support that struggle.
Trans rights activists want you to believe that the fight for trans rights is all part of the same kettle of fish. They want you to know that if you have any questions or concerns then this is akin to bigotry – if you question the rights of the T, they would have you believe that you are as bigoted as if you question the rights of the L, the G, and the B.
They do this in a number of ways. They make a number of comparisons which at root, for their argument to work, require gender identity and sexuality to be analogous concepts. Well guess what. They aren’t.
We all have an understanding of what the term “sexual orientation” means. Whilst people’s personal feelings regarding sexual orientation may be complicated, sexual orientation as a concept is fairly straightforward – it has a comprehensible definition. The majority of adults when asked would be able to offer a reasonable explanation of what it means, it may not be dictionary perfect, but all the responses would be similar. It’s not tricky, it’s who we are romantically/sexually attracted to, if at all.
“Gender identity” however, as a concept, does not offer us the same concreteness. The standard definition offered is usually something along the lines of “the gender that somebody identifies themselves to be”. That helps us not at all, as it is circular. Well, fair enough, I don’t mind doing a bit of work to get to the bottom of this. The problem is though, that it doesn’t matter how hard you work, how much research you do, how many activists you converse with (I’ve tried) – there are no answers which make any sense. This is a concept that cannot be pinned down any more than you can pin blancmange to a wall. The nebulosity of this concept is explored well here .
It’s a great talk and I urge you to watch it if you can, but to try and summarise – gender identity cannot be defined without being circular or without reference to harmful stereotypes or a distinct male/female brain or some sort of gendered soul. Nobody knows quite what it actually means when someone refers to their gender identity. Certainly, if you asked most adults, whilst they may be able to give you the circular definition, they would be able to tell you little else. And certainly if you asked most adults if they had a gender identity they would not be able to relate to it as a concept the way they do with sexual identity. I certainly don’t have a gender identity, I don’t feel like a woman, I simply am a woman, on account of my anatomy. It’s nothing like being able to say who you want to have sex with.
It is utterly disingenuous then for the trans rights movement to draw parallels between these two concepts in a way that pretends to back up any argument. This doesn’t stop them from doing so though, sometimes quite convincingly. I know I have fallen prey to this deception.
For example, I have had a good few conversations that go something like this:
me: “I’m not sure about the term “cisgender”, I don’t feel that I identify with my “gender”, isn’t gender a social construct? I don’t want to be held to society’s expectations of gender”.
transactivist: “It’s just descriptive, it means the opposite of “transgender”, like how heterosexual means not being gay. You know, people objected to the term heterosexual, when that first started being used too. You’re not homophobic are you?”
At first glance, it does seem that questioning cisgender as a term is terrible. But once you realise that trans activists are relying on you believing that two completely different concepts are the same, you realise that your concerns are well founded.
The idea that any discussion around someone’s feelings about their gender identity is “conversion therapy” is also used by trans activists to shut down anything other than blind acceptance that anyone is the sex they say they are.
It’s clever because we all know that to attempt to coerce someone out of their sexuality, as in conversion therapy, is a bad thing. However to explore with someone their reasons for feeling like they are in the wrong body does not compare. Who you like sexually is a clear cut concept; whereas being a man and “feeling” like a woman, for example, which relies on the concept of gender identity, is totally different. It is an intellectually dishonest analogy. It serves its purpose however, and so we now have a whole bunch of organisations denouncing “conversion therapy” when applied to sexual orientation and in the same breath, to gender identity as well.
This attempt to label any discussion about someone’s feelings as ‘conversion therapy’ means a whole host of issues can be conveniently set aside, in therapy, and also within general discussion including within the Green Party. All sorts of reasonable questions can be labelled as bigoted. We cannot ask to what extent gendered stereotypes might be influencing a person’s feelings. We cannot examine the very worrying trend of increased referrals to gender clinics of young girls in terms of societal attitudes towards females, such as objectification and the increased prevalence of porn. It seems likely that a young girl going through puberty and realising that society now sees her as an object may unleash some difficult feelings. But we must not speak of this.
It may seem that what I have written above is just getting the wrong end of the stick (I’m all for making excuses and hushing myself for being hysterical after all! Help Patriarchy along like a good girl!) and that this is not at all what is meant when these organisations refer to conversion therapy. Their wording is rather vague, after all:
“Conversion Therapy is the term for therapy that assumes certain sexual orientations or gender identities are inferior to others, and seeks to change or suppress them on that basis.”
However in a series of tweets the British Psychoanalytic Council have confirmed, on behalf of all signatories, that the careful considered approach of Dr. Kenneth Zucker, featured recently in the BBC documentary Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best? IS conversion therapy.
This documentary’s approach takes note of the fact that many children (about 80%) desist in their dysphoria, many growing up to be gay/ lesbian (yes, affirming a child’s gender identity can therefore be seen as conversion therapy itself, making the lumping together of these two apparent conversion therapies (of sexuality and “gender identity”) a complete mindfuck). It takes note of the fact that detransitioners EXIST, and the programme features one woman’s heartbreaking story. It takes note of the fact that a high percentage of trans kids are autistic – higher than in the general population. It takes note of an awful lot of evidence and knowledge about child development that should be taken into account.
Zucker says “Taking any behaviour in isolation when thinking about gender dysphoria is not the way that I think about it,” He doesn’t believe that a child with gender dysphoria is necessarily expressing an inner innate identity, and the desistance figures and the fact that some detransition back this up. It’s an entirely sensible and sane approach to helping children with difficult feelings around gender and/or their sexed bodies. You can read more about the documentary and Zucker’s approach here .
This cautious approach is categorically not comparable to trying to coerce someone out of their sexuality or saying that heterosexuality is preferable to homosexuality. The comparison fails. Homosexuality, by virtue of its widely understood, actual definition is simply about who you want to have sex with. It requires no medical or surgical intervention, no hormone blockers, no mastectomies. How might we help someone who is struggling with being homosexual? We can give them support to come to terms with how utterly homophobic society still is. Help them deal with any specifically difficult relationships they have, unaccepting parents perhaps. Only if we were trying to stop their same sex sexual orientation would we think about giving hormones – a practice that has no place in a progressive society.
What happens though when we stick to the party line about how we approach gender identity if we belong to one of the listed organisations, and we wish to avoid “conversion therapy” as applied to gender identity? Well we must not do what Zucker does, that has been made very clear. So this leaves affirmation of a child’s gender identity. This means social transition, drugs and surgery; exploration of why the child may feel this way or helping a child to come to terms with their sexed body is out of bounds.
It becomes even clearer then that the only valid comparison to be made is between this gender affirmative approach and gay conversion therapy itself. It may be that transition is the right course of action for some, but not for those kids that belong to the 80% that will desist and are likely to be gay. We should not be pushing to prevent these children from going through puberty and robbing them of the chance to become happy gay or lesbian adults.
Yet this is exactly the position that those who commit to the statement linked to at the beginning of this article support. So trans activists have successfully taken two completely incomparable concepts, played on the progress made by the L, the G and the B and managed to convince trusted organisations, that the T is just the same.
It’s more than nonsensical to put gender identity conversion therapy and gay conversion therapy in the same boat, it’s actually totally contradictory. The organisations involved need to stop and think and unpick this disingenuous lumping together of these two concepts and start thinking about evidence, facts and the best interests of children.
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