US conversion therapy laws: Conflating homophobia with helping gender-defiant kids feel whole

One of the many unfortunate consequences of the marriage of transgenderism with the lesbian/gay movement is the wholesale acceptance that “conversion” therapy (also referred to as “reparative” therapy)—rightly condemned as coercive attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation—is equivalent to helping a child or teen feel at home with his or her body.

Why shouldn’t attempts to change “gender identity” be seen as identical to efforts to convince lesbian and gay people to abandon their homosexuality?

Because they are actually polar opposites. Anti-gay conversion therapy tells a healthy human being that they are not ok as they are, in the body they have, with the sexual feelings they have for other humans.  But therapy aimed at helping a young person accept and reconcile with their healthy,  evolution-molded body, as well as their gender nonconformity, actually encourages wholeness and the integration of body and mind.

In an Orwellian twist, the trans activists have hoodwinked the public into believing that these two approaches are one and the same, even though pro-trans “affirmative therapy” leads a young person not only to reject themselves as they are, but to start down a path which can lead to multiple surgeries, lifelong drug injections, and irreversible sterilization—with all the risks and hazards associated with being a permanent medical patient.

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Never before in recorded history has every sector of society—political leaders, journalists, medical doctors, psychotherapists, and the legal system—enthusiastically promoted the mutilation, drugging, and sterilization of children’s healthy bodies. Never before have adults conspired to encourage a child in the warped notion that their very own body is a hated, alien monstrosity to be recoiled from in utter disgust.

What’s more, a side effect of this pediatric transition propaganda is the proactive conversion of same-sex attracted young people into surgically and hormonally manufactured heterosexuals. It has been well known for decades that the vast majority of “gender dysphoric” young people resolve those feelings and grow up to be gay and lesbian. We not only have peer reviewed research to back up that assertion. We have the anecdotal life experiences of gay and lesbian adults.  And not only that: Media story after media story reports about the trans men who started off as young lesbians—with no comment or question from the journalists about what happened to that former lesbian identity. And many of these young trans men start testosterone and even have “top surgery” before the typical age when women realize and accept their lesbian orientation—on average, from age 19-early 20s.

That anyone has unthinkingly accepted the false equivalence that anti-gay/lesbian conversion therapy is the same as helping a child avoid self hatred is absurd. That our legal system, from the President of the United States on down, is promulgating this fiction is something I predict will eventually go down in the history books as one of the greatest examples of medical malpractice, homophobia, and mass delusion ever perpetrated by the human race.

So just where do we stand in the United States vis-à-vis “conversion” therapy laws, as they apply to “gender identity”?

Before I provide summaries of existing US legislation, let’s take a peek behind the curtain to see which organizations are behind the conflation of LGB with T in the legislative arena.

Powerful, well-funded activist groups often write “model legislation” that is then cloned and heavily lobbied for in US state legislatures. Two of the pressure groups involved in the conversion therapy effort are the Human Rights Campaign, a major player in trans activism, and the absurdly named National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). A recent post on 4thWaveNow highlighted the role of NCLR in helping to push trans activist-crafted policy in US public schools. NCLR was also an original signatory to a damaging boycott-petition targeting the now-defunct Michigan Women’s Music Festival (a private event held for 40 years on private land whose only crime was politely requesting that only biological women attend).

So once again, we find NCLR involved in actually harming young same-sex attracted girls by working to prevent concerned clinicians from helping these girls come to terms with their lesbianism. Could it be any more Orwellian?

As you’ll no doubt notice in the excerpts from US state laws below, the wording of the “model legislation” peddled by the NCLR and HRC is strikingly similar to that in the actual conversion therapy laws on the books. Staff attorneys at NCLR and HRC know what they’re doing. Reading the profile for NCLR staff attorney Samantha Ames (the attorney listed as contact person in the model bill PDF), it’s clear her social justice heart is in the right place. But what will it take for women like Ames to have an epiphany: that the trans’ing of young same-sex attracted girls is actually homophobic conversion therapy perpetrated on minors who are being denied the possibility to even find out if they could enjoy a life free of medical intervention as happy lesbians?

So far, four states, the District of Columbia, and the city of Cincinnati, Ohio have passed legislation that has tacked “gender identity” onto the definition of what constitutes conversion therapy. Summaries/excerpts from the pertinent sections of the laws are below, with links to the full legislation for each.

While the wording is vague and undefined—with the terms “transgender,” “gender expression,” “gender identity” and the like seemingly hastily appended to the language about sexual orientation—we should all be asking what, exactly, is meant by conversion therapy in regards to gender identity.

In a recent guest post by a psychotherapist whose preteen daughter has been questioning her gender identity, a lively discussion ensued in the comments regarding what is and isn’t conversion therapy. Does it mean (as more and more seems to be the case, in my own personal experience and in that of many other parents who contribute to 4thWaveNow) that a therapist dare not even ask why? when a young client announces they are transgender? Is it now verboten to explore a child’s mental health history, social media habits, or other possible contributing factors? What about social contagion? And what about the experiences and opinions of the child’s parents? If a mother says her daughter showed no signs until a month ago of any discomfort with her body, is the parent simply to be dismissed as a transphobe in need of reeducation (a type of conversion therapy in itself)?

The signs are not good, but ethical therapists owe it to themselves—and above all, their young clients—not to place anyone at unnecessary risk of the irreversible changes that will be induced by hormones and surgical treatments.

As grim as it seems right now, there is a glimmer of hope. The conflation of anti-gay reparative therapy with efforts to help children feel comfortable in their own skin is something new, and the legislation has yet to be tested in courts of law by intrepid lawyers who know better. The language in the bills is vague and open to challenge and judicial interpretation. There is a window of opportunity, for clinicians as well as for lawyers.

Note/caveat: Regular readers of this blog know that everyone at 4thWaveNow strongly supports “gender nonconformity” and rejects the enforcement and policing of stereotyped “feminine” or “masculine” behaviors or activities. To the extent that these laws protect young people from attempts to enforce such stereotypes, we applaud them. The problem is that gender identity and gender expression, while actually two very different things, are blurred and undefined in the legislation. So, for example, support for “gender expression” could protect a girl who wants a short haircut and “boys'” clothes; but how very harmful it would be to prohibit therapy that helps that same gender-defiant girl realize she is still 100% female, with a body perfect just as it is, even as she rejects gender stereotypes.

Thanks to overwhelmed for summaries and research assistance on this US legislation. The specific language varies somewhat from state-to-state, and it’s worth a close reading to parse the actual intent of each law. Click the name of each bill to access full text for the legislation.

 

California

SB-1172 Sexual orientation change efforts

“California has a compelling interest in protecting the physical and psychological well-being of minors, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, and in protecting its minors against exposure to serious harms caused by sexual orientation change efforts.”

(b) (1) “Sexual orientation change efforts” means any practices by mental health providers that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.

(2) “Sexual orientation change efforts” does not include psychotherapies that: (A) provide acceptance, support, and understanding of clients or the facilitation of clients’ coping, social support, and identity exploration and development, including sexual orientation-neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices; and (B) do not seek to change sexual orientation.

865.1.

Under no circumstances shall a mental health provider engage in sexual orientation change efforts with a patient under 18 years of age.

865.2.

Any sexual orientation change efforts attempted on a patient under 18 years of age by a mental health provider shall be considered unprofessional conduct and shall subject a mental health provider to discipline by the licensing entity for that mental health provider.

Illinois

House Bill 217: Youth Mental Health Protection Act.

 “Sexual orientation change efforts” or “conversion therapy” means any practices or treatments that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation, as defined by subsection (o-1) of Section 1-103 of the Illinois Human Rights Act, including efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings towards individuals of the same sex. “Sexual orientation change efforts” or “conversion therapy” does not include counseling or mental health services that provide acceptance, support, and understanding of a person without seeking to change sexual orientation or mental health services that facilitate a person’s coping, social support, and gender identity exploration and development, including sexual orientation neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices, without seeking to change sexual orientation.

New Jersey

Sexual Orientation Change Efforts

 b.    As used in this section, “sexual orientation change efforts” means the practice of seeking to change a person’s sexual orientation, including, but not limited to, efforts to change behaviors, gender identity, or gender expressions, or to reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward a person of the same gender; except that sexual orientation change efforts shall not include counseling for a person seeking to transition from one gender to another, or counseling that:

(1)   provides acceptance, support, and understanding of a person or facilitates a person’s coping, social support, and identity exploration and development, including sexual orientation-neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices; and

(2)   does not seek to change sexual orientation.

 Oregon

House bill 2307

 A mental health care or social health professional may not practice conversion therapy if the recipient of the conversion therapy is under 18 years of age. (2) As used in this section: (a)(A) “Conversion therapy” means providing professional services for the purpose of attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including attempting to change behaviors or expressions of self or to reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender. (B) “Conversion therapy” does not mean: (i) Counseling that assists a client who is seeking to undergo a gender transition or who is in the process of undergoing a gender transition; or (ii) Counseling that provides a client with acceptance, support and understanding, or counseling that facilitates a client’s coping, social support and identity exploration or development, including counseling in the form of sexual orientation-neutral or gender identity-neutral interventions provided for the purpose of preventing or addressing unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices, as long as the counseling is not provided for the purpose of attempting to change the client’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

 Washington, DC

Amendment  to Mental Health Service Delivery Reform Act of 2001

“Sexual orientation change efforts” means a practice by a provider that seeks to change a consumer’s sexual orientation, including efforts to change behaviors, gender identity or expression, or to reduce or eliminate sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward a person of the same sex or gender; provided, that the term “sexual orientation change efforts” shall not include counseling for a consumer seeking to transition from one gender to another, or counseling that provides acceptance, support, and understanding of a consumer or facilitates a consumer’s coping, social support, and identity exploration and development, including sexual orientation-neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices in a manner that does not seek to change a consumer’s sexual orientation.”. (b) A new section 214a is added to read as follows: “Sec. 214a. Prohibition on sexual orientation change efforts for minors.

 Cincinnati, OH

Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity Change Efforts

Prohibits within the geographical boundary of Cincinnati, Ohio, “sexual orientation or gender identity change efforts,” commonly known as conversion therapy, by mental health professionals.  The prohibited therapy is defined as:

conversion therapy, reparative therapy or any other practices by mental health professionals that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or to change gender identity to a gender other than that with which the individual personally identifies, including efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.

Excluded from this definition

psychotherapies that provide acceptance, support, and identity exploration and development, including sexual orientation-neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices, and psychotherapies that do not seek to change sexual orientation or to change gender identity to a gender other than that with which the individual personally identifies.

The fine for violating the ordinance is $200 per occurrence.  Each day that a violation occurs constitutes a separate violation.

 

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The surgical suite: Modern-day closet for today’s teen lesbian

Despite the fact that trans activists are diligently trying to lower the age of consent for cross sex hormones and surgeries, as a general rule children under 18 in the US cannot access these “treatments” without parental consent (Oregon being a notable exception). I have argued that even 18 is too young to make such permanent decisions, given that executive function skills are not well developed until the early 20s.

But there is another, equally important reason to question medical transition for adolescent girls. According to several peer-reviewed studies (which I will be discussing in detail in this post),

  • 95-100% of girls who “persist” in gender dysphoria at adolescence are same-sex attracted; these girls are typically offered cross-sex hormones by age 16, and  surgeries as young as 18.
  • The typical age that a young lesbian has her first sexual experience and/or claims her sexual orientation is between the ages of 19 and the early 20s.

Let those two statements sink in for a moment.


Here’s the reality of what’s going on in gender clinics around the world right now. An increasing number of adolescent girls diagnosed with “gender dysphoria” are asking for, and receiving, cross-sex hormones and surgeries. The World Professional Organization for Transgender Health (WPATH) officially recommends cross-sex hormone treatment to begin as early as age 16, with SRS surgeries to be offered at age 18.

The vast majority of these girls presenting to clinics admit to being same-sex attracted. Yet data from studies of LGB (lesbian, gay, and bisexual) people shows that most young women don’t fully crystallize a lesbian orientation until 19 or older.

To take one of several examples, this 1997 study of 147 lesbians and gay men by Gregory Herek et al, “Correlates of Internalized Homophobia in a Community Sample of Lesbians and Gay Men,” found that

 The mean age for first attraction to a member of the same sex was 11.5 for females and 10.3 for males. Mean age for first orgasm with a person of the same sex was 20.2 for females and 17.7 for males. On average, females first identified themselves as lesbian or bisexual at age 20.2, whereas men did so at age 18.7. Mean age for first disclosure of one’s sexual orientation was 20.5 for females and 21.2 for males.

A 2014 study of 396 LGB people, “Variations in Sexual Identity Milestones Among Lesbians, Gay Men, and Bisexuals” [full article behind paywall] by Alexander Martos and colleagues reported a similar finding for age of first sexual experience:

Women self-identified as nonheterosexual when they were almost 3 years older than the men (age 17.6 vs. 14.8) and reported their first same-sex relationship when they were 1.4 years older than men (19.1 vs.17.7).

And not only do young lesbians take longer to realize and accept their sexual orientation than their gay male counterparts. Coming out to oneself, and to loved ones and the world, takes time. It’s a developmental process that evolves over a number of years, from the first signs of puberty into early adulthood, with several stages, as Martos et al say in their 2014 study:

Coming out is not a single event but a series of realizations and disclosures. The age at which sexual minorities first recognize their identity, tell others about their identity, and have same-sex relationships varies, and people may take different amounts of time between one milestone and the next. Scholars have proposed and tested models of sexual identity development for over 30 years. Cass (1979) developed an influential model, which outlined a six-stage linear psychological path of sexual identity development. Troiden (1989) built upon Cass’s model and reframed it within four stages: (a) sensitization, which may include a person’s first same-sex attraction and their first questioning of their heterosexual socialization, (b) identity confusion, a period during early to mid-adolescence that is marked by inner turmoil and often the initiation of same-sex sexual activity, (c) identity assumption, when a youth self-identifies as LGB and begins to reveal their “true self” to select people and seeks community among other LGBs, and (d) commitment, which is marked by the initiation of a same-sex romantic relationship and disclosure to a wide variety of heterosexual people (Floyd and Stein 2002). These models suggest that healthy and stable sexual identity development necessitates the full permeation of sexual identity into all aspects of a person’s life.

So the process of integration–“full permeation”–of one’s sexual orientation is a process that takes place over a period of years.  It involves “identity confusion” and “inner turmoil” in adolescence. And not to put too fine a point on it, but most lesbians don’t even begin to express and realize their orientation until 19 or 20 years old.

Yet same-sex attracted girls who present to gender clinics–many of them still with the concrete, either-or thinking of a child (e.g., if I like girls, I must be a guy), internalized homophobia, and overall lack of maturity and self reflection typical of their age, have been “socially transitioned” for years; have had their puberty “blocked” (such that they don’t have the opportunity or desire, in most cases, to actually experience a physical relationship with a love interest); and then move on to “transitioning” to….a straight male.

Here they are, girls without sexual experience, conditioned to reject their bodies and begin irreversible medical “treatments” before they’ve had a chance to embark on the years-long process of discovering their own bodies as sexual beings.

In a 2011 Dutch study “Desisting and persisting dysphoria after childhood, Steensma et al note that 100% of the girls who “persisted” in gender dysphoria by age 16 were same-sex attracted. As they indicate, this finding corroborates that of other researchers over many decades. A 2013 study,  also by Steensma et al, revealed the same information, but added more granularity: between 95.7 -100% of the 16-year-old (average age) girls reported exclusively same-sex attraction, fantasy, and behavior (defined as “kissing” because, as the authors note, that was the extent of their sexual experience). Age 16–well before the average age of coming out as lesbian noted in the studies I highlighted earlier.

With regard to sexual attraction, all persisters reported feeling exclusively attracted to persons of the same natal sex, which confirmed their gender identity as they viewed this attraction as a hetero­sexual attraction. They did not consider themselves homosexual or lesbian.

…the majority of adolescents kept their sexual attractions to themselves. Both boys and girls indicated that, as a result of fear of rejection, they did not speak about their sexual feelings to others, and did not try to date someone. Furthermore, most adolescents felt uncomfortable responding to romantic gestures from others.

In summarizing their findings, Steensma et al note that

…. The third factor that seemed to be associated with the persistence or desistence of childhood gender dysphoria was the experience of falling in love and sexual attraction. The persisters, all attracted to same- (natal) sex partners, indicated that the awareness of their sexual attractions func­tioned as a confirmation of their cross-gender identification as they viewed this as typically hetero­sexual.

These adolescents at age 16 regarded their same sex attractions as “typically heterosexual.” It’s fascinating that the study authors make this statement without any examination of exactly why the 100%-same-sex-attracted persisters viewed themselves this way, and whether this might give pause to the practice of medical transition—especially since in the very next paragraph, Steensma et al refer to earlier research findings that LGB people are late to claim their sexual orientations:

 All persisters reported feeling exclusively, and as long as they could remember, sexually attracted to individuals of the same natal sex, although none of the persisters considered themselves ‘homosexual’ or ‘lesbian,’ but (because of their cross-gender identity) ‘heterosexual.’

As for the desisters, about half of them were sexually attracted in fantasy to individuals of the same natal sex. Yet, all girls and most of the boys identified as heterosexual. The difference between the reported sexual attractions and identities may be related to the timing of the ‘coming-out’. The literature shows that the average age of the first feel­ings of same-sex attraction is generally during puberty and before the age of 18 (e.g., Barber, 2000; Herek, Cogan, Gillis & Glunt, 1998; Rust, 1996). However, the moment at which men and women identify and come out as gay, lesbian, or bisexual generally lies above the age of 18, at the end of adolescence or in their early twenties (e.g., Barber, 2000; Herek, Cogan, Gillis & Glunt, 1998; Rust, 1996).

Steensma et al give us what we need to know, but they don’t connect the dots: these same-sex attracted young adolescent girls undergo “transition” before they have the opportunity to experience themselves as sexual beings in their healthy, original bodies.

Why are we robbing our kids of the right—the basic human right—to discover their sexuality without preemptive tampering by the medical and psychiatric profession?  “Transition” prevents them from learning whether they might be gay/lesbian, freezing them at an immature stage of development when the only possibility they see is that they are heterosexuals trapped in the wrong body.

Trans activists like to say that gender identity and sexual orientation are completely unrelated. But obviously, it just ain’t so. Study after study, anecdote after anecdote, media story after media story, tells us that most “trans men” start off as same-sex attracted adolescents. But no one outside the blogosphere—no one –is pointing out the obvious: that girls who would naturally mature into lesbian adults are having the process of realizing their sexual orientation short-circuited by medical transition.

Who will step forward to stop this? Who with power in our society—the Congress, the President, the publisher of the New York Times¸ the child and adolescent psychologists–will raise their voices? Where are the lesbian doctors, lawyers, heads of LGBT organizations? Which of you will name this preemptive conversion therapy for what it is?