Conversion Therapy Consultation – A Lesbian Perspective

Banning conversion therapy which prevents anyone from attempting to ‘cure’ or change a person’s sexual orientation is welcome news. However, the proposed legislation lumps sexual orientation in with gender identity. These are two very different things which in fact contradict each other in the context of conversion therapy, making this proposed bill unworkable and dangerous.

Conversion therapy for sexual orientation happens because people take issue with who we love and who we are attracted to – namely a member of the same sex (natal women) – and attempting to force us to be attracted to the opposite sex (natal men). Specifically for lesbians, conversion therapy covers a whole host of behaviors from pressure to have sex with men: “You just need a good f***”, “You haven’t met the right man yet”, “I’ll show you what a man really is” etc. or talking therapies which attempt to ‘treat’ the ‘illness’ of same sex attraction, through to corrective rape.

Young women who come out as lesbian in the rainbow community nowadays will invariably be asked when they will be transitioning to male – “if you like girls then that means you’re a boy – are you sure you’re not trans?”. Many of us who have short hair are asked about preferred pronouns far more often than colleagues or friends who are ‘gender conforming’. Many young lesbians in fact tell us they attempted transitioning to avoid lesophobia. We consider this a form of conversion therapy.

Contrast this with the situation in Iran, whereby rather than allow same-sex attracted people to live their lives, the state forces them to undergo so-called ‘sex reassignment surgery’, thereby ‘converting’ them into heterosexual, at great cost to their physical and mental health. This is rightly considered a form of conversion therapy and is utterly wrong. It is also not very different to the type of pressure to transition some young lesbians report here in the UK.

A further difficulty that young lesbians report having to navigate is the new ideology which tells them that to have a preference for the same sex and to state a sexual boundary which excludes male bodies, however they identify, is bigoted and that they should accept male bodies into their dating pool. This is another form of conversion therapy as it coerces lesbians to accept males as intimate partners.

What does conversion therapy in the context of gender identity mean? The term gender identity is not actually defined in law yet. Thus, there is a degree of confusion as to what gender identity conversion therapy is. Talking therapies are widely referred to in the consultation document and although the document makes it clear that talking therapies which seek to provide a supportive and open space for genuine questioning are not the target of new legislation, we have concerns that recent trends towards the experimental affirmation-only approach with gender identity could create an environment in which caregivers or clinical professionals do not feel able to explore in talking therapy anything other than a transition pathway with young dysphoric people. For example, the possibility of dysphoria due to sexual orientation. Studies have shown that a significant number of those who struggle with gender dysphoria in youth will grow up to simply be same-sex attracted without the desire for any gender identity or medical transition. Indeed many of us lesbians ourselves went through such a dysphoric phase before coming to terms with our sexual orientation, and some continue to live with it far into our adult lives. The affirmation only model is in itself a form of conversion therapy against lesbian or gay sexual orientations and this is just one reason why the legislation is completely unworkable.

Regardless of sexuality, shouldn’t we first seek to help all young people struggling with gender dysphoria to feel more comfortable in their own bodies? The medical interventions of gender transition are often played down or even glorified, yet they are still experimental with uncertain outcomes, have high complication rates and can require lifelong treatment. Therapists should not feel under threat of prosecution for stating such facts.

 It is widely known that this consultation process is being rushed through due to next year’s international LGBTQ+ conference. There is legitimate concern that this will lead to a rushed precedent on the definition of gender identity. This could end up setting a worrying legal precedent for the further conflation of sex and gender identity.

Surely it makes sense to get this right the first time. Why not wait for the Cass review (Independent review of gender identity services for children and young people) and truly show due diligence?The wellbeing of many young people is at stake.

Find guidance to fill out the conversion therapy consultation here

Read more about the problematic attitudes that butch women and lesbians encounter regularly in this excellent article by Kay Knight in Lesbian And Gay News