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Trans Conversion Therapy in the UK is Everywhere, Hidden in Plain Sight



 


On March 31, 2022, ITV News leaked information showing Boris Johnson’s government attempting to back-track on ‘vows’ to ban conversion therapy. This information shows that BJ’s government decided to back-track on the back-tracking.


To put it simply, someone(s) in office suggested, “let’s not ban conversion therapy,” to which other someone(s) replied, “Why not?” and after a few days of waiting decided that this might be a bad idea, for some reason.


The plans to ban conversion therapy towards non-heterosexual people are once again underway, but non-cisgender people are left to fend for themselves.

Conversion therapy is regarded as a ‘treatment’ which is used in attempt to shame and dissuade non-heterosexual or non-cisgender people. (Non-heterosexual and non-cisgender are used in place of listing people who are: trans*, gender non-conforming, agender, two-spirit, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and all others who are not regarded as ‘normal’ under the cisgender, heterosexual regime.)


The NHS denounced conversion therapy for its “unethical and potentially harmful” practices (source). We might ‘laugh’ at the idea of potential harm under conversion therapy.


The UK government, officed by the Tories since 2010, has seemingly been ‘debating’ whether or not to ban conversion therapy for years. Thousands have signed petitions for the government to ban the practice of conversion therapy – and every year, government officials shun the practice publicly: but privately, they seem to do absolutely nothing.


In 2018, “former Prime Minister Theresa May [vowed] to ban the ‘abhorrent’ practice of trying to turn gay people straight under an action plan to improve the lives of LGBT people.” Of course, this vow does not include transgender or otherwise non-conforming individuals. Nor does the back-tracking (of the back-tracking) under BJ’s government include the safety of transgender or non-conforming people either. (source)


The UK government’s debate on the rights of LGBTQIA2S+ people shows, yet again, how officials are absolutely fine with the torture of innocent people.

Theresa May is quoted across reports: “we can be proud that the UK is a world leader in advancing LGBT rights.” But many reports neglect to add the overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary.


On the 25th January 2022, The European Parliamentary Assembly stated: “The Assembly deplores these phenomena, which can be observed throughout Europe, regardless of the extent of protection already afforded to the human rights of LGBTI people in any given country. It moreover condemns with particular force the extensive and often virulent attacks on the rights of LGBTI people that have been occurring for several years in, amongst other countries, Hungary, Poland, the Russian Federation, Turkey and the United Kingdom.” (source)


In April 2021, Northern Ireland banned conversion therapy – a ban which includes trans* conversion therapy.


 


It’s important to note the ways that the UK’s treatment of Trans and/or GNC people encourages people to de-transition, to ‘convert back’ to ‘normality’ (a.k.a. cisgender-dom).


Though an apparent “eight percent of transgender respondents said they had been offered conversion therapy, while four percent had undergone the practice,” most trans* people in the UK can speak from experience of the struggle against wanting to be accepted. Other struggles also include the fight for treatment – which, under the NHS, can require waiting for up to 7 years for an initial appointment – and the inability to find inclusive, safe areas to exist: such as safe places to work, safe places to live, support against transphobia or recovery from trauma, and so on.


In 2020, for example, UK court refused a transgender man’s application to be seen as a father to their biological child was refused – on the basis that “motherhood is defined as being pregnant and giving birth regardless of whether the person who does so was considered a man or a woman in law” (Booth, 2020), (Verloo and van der Vleuten 2020, p. 227).


A 2015 study by Soja J. Ellis, Louis Bailey, and Jay McNiel showcases ‘Trans People's Experiences of Mental Health and Gender Identity Services’:


"One participant stated, “I lied that I had ever been interested in or had fallen in love with girls... I told the doctor I only liked boys” because they had felt that admitting to being attracted to both males and females might be used to question their gender identity." (Ellis et al. 2015, p. 12)

Perhaps the most important part of this study, in regard to the pressure to de-transition, is the significant amount of people who “reported feeling that they had been pressured into doing things they did not want to do in order to “prove” their gender to professionals in GICs.” This includes GICs (Gender Identity Clinics) requiring people to change their name, to dress ‘as the opposite gender’, to “get a proper job,” and so on – in order to attain the treatment they wanted. (p. 13)


"One of the most commonly reported perceptions was that (NHS) mental health practitioners lack adequate experience or knowledge around trans issues." (p. 10)

The study further notes that “the most commonly reported worry” for transgender people seeking mental health services was the fear “that being trans would be seen as the reason, symptom, or cause of their mental health issues.” (p. 10) Out of 396 trans* people, 33.8% reported ‘dissatisfaction’ with their experiences in the NHS. (p. 9) In a question about honesty within Gender Identity Clinics, 30.9% of 311 respondents “reported having withheld information or lied about something,” with the ‘predominant’ reason being that their honesty “might affect their access to treatment.” Reasons for dishonesty included depression, anxiety, trauma, sexual activity or orientation, and employment. (p. 12)


"Fifty percent of participants who had attended GICs had felt uncertain of their gender at some point while attending a GIC." (p. 12)


 


The issue of trans* safety is not just about educating cisgender people on ‘how to be inclusive’, but also about the lack of gender non-normative legal response.


A lack of legal ‘response’ means that there is a distinct lack of legislature and judicial recognition surrounding gender non-normative individuals, which creates a disarray of misunderstanding, bigotry, and societal oppression. The UK’s lack of ‘response’ is exemplified, today, not only with the Tory government’s refusal to ban conversion therapy, but with the neglect of ‘non-normative’ people as a whole.


An example of legal ‘response’ is proposed by Verloo and van der Vleuten, when Bulgaria “decided not to ratify the Istanbul Convention of the Council of Europe to combat gender-based violence, because ratification was argued to increase the likelihood of young people identifying as transgender.” (Verloo and van der Vleuten 2020, p. 224).


Clearly, the fear arises that young people will question prior gender categorisations, and so it is preferable to wish violence on the innocent, rather than allow society to progress past the need for gender categorisation and the resulting violence.


We cannot but wonder if the inactivity of the government reflects this same ideology – that, in banning conversion therapy, and in making the UK a safer place for non-conforming people, somehow a rise in ‘abnormal’ people will threaten the function of current society.


The right for trans* recognition requires the recognition of trans* rights in the first place. That is to say, legal rights endorse the humanity of a person or group – that they deserve protection and freedom from discrimination or, in this case, freedom from torture.


Dan Irving states that, “legal freedoms and protections are earned by individuals who can demonstrate their value through participating in free market production and consumer relations – activities that bolster national competitiveness within the global political economy.” (Irving 2013, p. 327)

Irving refers to the capitalist nature of exploitation and refusal to recognise people as inherently worthy of rights.


Under capitalism, a person must produce something of value before even being considered worthy of protection – in other words, a person’s worth is in how much money they make for the system they are under. For many trans* people, under a system of trans* discrimination, this means that we are completely unable to attain ‘legal freedoms and protections’. There is nothing inherently productive in being trans* – of course there is nothing inherently productive in anyone – but our socially ‘productive value’ is made worse by the countless limitations that a cis-normative society forces us under.


What I wish to convince you of - essentially - is that trans* people will never be safe in a society where there is a 'normal' way to experience gender. Whether that be reflected in lack of legal protection, or in the way we are recognised in medicine or law.

It's always worth spending the time to analyse your experiences, the experiences of your friends, and your current surroundings - and ask yourself, "am I being told I am 'abnormal'?" If the answer is yes, you are experiencing the societal attempt to make you 'normal' - to 'convert' you to its regime.



 


Reading Sources:


Verloo, Mieke; van der Vleuten, Anna (2020): Trans Politics. Current Challenges and Contestations Regarding Bodies, Recognition, and Trans Organising. In Politics and Governance 8 (3), pp. 223–230.


Ellis, Soja J.; Bailey, Louis; McNeil, Jay (2015): Trans People's Experiences of Mental Health and Gender Identity Services: A UK Study. In Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health 19 (4), pp. 4–20.


Irving, Dan (2013): Against the Grain. Teaching Transgender Human Rights. In Sexualities 16 (3-4), pp. 319–335.


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