The British government is holding a public consultation (open till 10 December) on taking legal measures against conversion therapy.
This has distressed me as it reminds me of the days I sought to be cured of being trans with the help of religious leaders. It also distresses me because of past experiences dealing with governments. I'd like to offer advice on the latter in my next post but just for now I'd like to talk about conversion therapy itself.
The consultation on LGBT conversion therapy is here (for UK citizens): UK Gov online consultation
There is a serious issue with this consultation as it states (Q2) that cisgender people can be converted to being trans and this has implications for assistance to genuine trans people, especially young ones. More on that next time.
Conversion therapy is basically an attempt to cure a person of their sexual orientation or transgender nature, usually by spiritual, emotional or psychological means. So it tends to involve religious leaders, psychologists, life coaches or family and friends acting to 'straighten' the LGBT person.
I have mentioned this before in this blog, notably in my answers to Lynn's "Our Different Journey" project (here), that I was brought up in a very religious household. Although nominally within an everyday, mainstream religion, the faith I was actually brought up in was, in fact, very idiosyncratic and bore little resemblance to the main branch. A one-family cult, almost. This difference became a problem when I left home and started attending mainstream places of worship.
I am not going to state what my religion was as it is irrelevant to the subject of conversion therapy and might result in some readers thinking "Tut! Well, what do you expect from that lot. Now MY religion (my atheism/my agnosticism) is the true path and that would never happen where I'm from."
Present-day mainstream religions are largely obsessed with issues around fertility and food, which does imply their origins lie in early agricultural societies. An essay for a different site, no doubt. Conversion therapy is connected with the fertility aspect - gay people don't procreate, and that's no good since no procreation = no new generation of breadwinners (putting that all-important specialised food on the table). The fact that gay uncles or transgender aunts might exist by natural selection as they provide an unprocreating extra pair of hands helping with child rearing and family income is not something that most religions seem to consider. Again, let's leave this point for another day.
So... From about the age of 5 I started imagining myself as a girl. From about age 7 I started playing with dolls and secretly reading books about fairies and stuff. From 9 I started dressing as a girl regularly. And that was all fine and neither my religious upbringing nor secret life as a girl had any relevance to one another. Then one day, aged 12, in the voluminous religious literature I was expected to study I found the tiny throwaway line that boys and girls shouldn't swap clothes. This was a devastating revelation because I was officially classified as a boy no matter how much I might secretly prefer to live as a girl.
At much the same time a teacher of mine used the word "transvestite."
I had to look the word up and it was a revelation. You can imagine my confusion now. I was a transvestite, it would seem, but that was bad. A source of ridicule in secular quarters and a source of condemnation in religious ones.
My teens were therefore troubled not only by the usual trials of puberty but also in trying to reconcile my reality with the opposition all around. I tried a legalistic approach with my deity, leafing through dictionaries and encyclopaedias to ensure that what I wore didn't strictly clash with the no-girl-clothes injunction: kilts are fine - Scotsmen wear them with pride. But are other skirts? My dictionary told me that tights were worn by acrobats and gymnasts. So they were OK. But with a kilt, too? They have acrobats in Scotland, right? And so on. Teenagers are barrack-room lawyers at the best of times so this approach worked for me. I couldn't ask my parents what was going on with me - I was too terrified of them. Then I went to college and got involved in the student clubs associated with my religion and realised that I was only fooling myself and that my deity would hate me if I carried on in this way.
So, aged 19, I sought a suitable spiritual leader to help me overcome this compulsion to dress and behave as a girl. He wasn't my regular spiritual contact because I felt a stranger was someone I could walk away from in case of rejection or threat - I honestly had no idea at all how my opening up might be taken. He was also relatively young so I felt less generational disconnect. He was the first person I ever spoke to about this.
Our interview was fairly short, and unexpectedly positive, or rather a relief. He commended me on my openness and honesty and suggested that I should join one of the various groups for young people that the religion had going in the area since that would give me regular social and spiritual support from people of my age and faith and that would no doubt help with overcoming my tendencies since I was genuinely wanting to change. I explained that I was already in the university club and he said this was excellent. This was certainly a more positive response than I had expected. I then explained that, although I was genuinely wanting to end my feelings and behaviour, I had so far found it very hard to do so. I was worried about relapsing. "Then do try to cut down on these things," he said. I did feel he had some compassion towards my struggles and seemed impressed with my wish to please the deity. Unfortunately, neither he nor I really knew about being transgender - if the word or even the concept existed in the public mind then - and I didn't help by implying that this was probably a sexual problem.
This kind of worked, though, and I felt I was cured. I also felt happy at overcoming a problem. I never mentioned it to anyone else except hinting to two female friends that I was feeling less troubled (I never said what about). For six months I overcame my transness, purged my female clothes and anything associated with my previous girly life.
But then it all came back when two things happened. Firstly, I had begun to notice inconsistencies and contradictions in all that religious literature, and this started to trouble me. Higher education does have this nasty habit of making you analyse stuff and think for yourself. Secondly, once home for the long holidays without the social and spiritual support of my peers that my contact had recommended, I relapsed. I remember sitting in my bedroom one day, fully dressed in the loveliest outfit I could create, and feeling this was actually right; and for the first time ever I admitted that I was something other than a boy. I told the deity aloud: "This is who I am: I am really a woman. Do you understand? This is me."
The focus of my religious struggle became more and more with the religion and its contradictions, its repressiveness, its threats, and with trying to deny how miserable it was making me. Once more, at age 21, some visiting spiritual leaders giving talks invited students to come and see them privately if they wanted to discuss anything. Once more I mentioned my struggles with fighting off this desire to dress as a girl, only this time I had a lot to get off my chest about my theological struggles too. My intelocutor suggested that I needed to find inner peace. I asked him how one achieved that. He shifted uncomfortably, and it was clear I'd taken more of his time than he'd allowed for, so he suggested I "try to find that peace" and I would if I really wanted to. And to keep regular with the place of worship and the club. He touched me, a sort of encouraging pat! This avoidance of the question didn't help, nor the pat, nor the proposed laxative to keep me spiritually regular - I soon stopped going to the student club and simply went to another place of worship. The twisted theology and callousness of its proponents - from parents to peers to leaders - was getting to me.
I struggled on with these same spiritual and trans issues till age 26 when I decided the problem was me, that I was being wilfully awkward and that it was time to shape up spiritually again. I sought out my third spiritual guide - a stranger again - and went through the spiel about crossdressing yada yada. He was unphased - bored almost - and brief: OK, avoid it in future. He had other people to see and I left. But this time it took. I now realise that it wasn't the guidance from these people that was determining my approach to converting from being trans but my own spiritual needs at these different times. The help from these people wasn't very deep because I think - in hindsight - I had made a much, much bigger issue of what was defining and vital for me but was actually a fairly minor problem for the religion.
In the end I lost my religion. Its theological complexity couldn't support the weight of its innate contradictions and my faith collapsed dramatically like a house of cards. I was angry - so angry - at having had nearly 30 years of my life poisoned by the interminable threats of punishment if I failed to comply with religious diktats, including forcing myself to reject and deny who I really was: a transgender woman. I was so terrified of retribution, rejection and ostracism from my religious family and friends that it was five years before I told anyone I had lost my religion, and another ten before my anger subsided and a further ten years before I was able to look back more objectively at the abuse, of which suppressing my trans nature was just one part. On abandoning that religion, the first thing I did was to acknowledge fully, finally and fairly that I was transgender (Those biggest resolutions) and here I am.
Recently, I came to understand that the ban on crossdressing that had shocked me at 12 was just sloppy interpretation of rules by religious writers. Also sloppy is the assumption, and insistence in the face of evidence, that there are boys, girls and nothing in between. How intersex people deal with this cancellation, I do not know. Biological and social realities don't fit in with many religions.
As far as conversion therapy goes, it was I alone and on my own initiative who sought it; I was not coerced. I was not abused by the spiritual guides I sought - indeed, they were somewhat indifferent. I wasn't shamed, still less effectively imprisoned and worked over by verbal and physical manipulations for weeks as one poor trans woman I knew was; BUT I felt very under threat by the general nature of the religion to come out to someone in authority and seek conversion to cisgender norms and to suppress my nature and condemn myself for previous failings. The shame and the fear were relentless and have made much of my life very miserable even after leaving that religion. I still have flashbacks to the threats from relatives and spiritual leaders on the terrifying consequences of non-compliance with the requirements of the deity who, believe me, was a dictator who would have impressed Hitler, an Orwellian Big Brother of overbearing malice, unpredictable narcissistic rage and a micromanager of one's whole being and demeanour, who sees mankind as a species specially intended for brutalisation at every moment of every day now and in the hereafter - Orwell's famous "boot stamping on a human face for ever"-, a deity cooked up by ancient psycopaths and maintained by modern ones for coertion and control, who insist on forcing it on tiny children who have no alternative reference points. THAT is abuse that governments could do with criminalising, not coming up with poorly-conceived consultations like this. Respondents to the consultation study had experiences similar to mine.
Please excuse me about this upset but I'm tired of religious hate.
Next time: why this consultation is flawed and could be misused to stop transition, how it contradicts the studies that it is supposedly based on and why it is being proposed by a malign and corrupt government. And how to deal with answering such things when the recipients and processors of the public's comments couldn't care less.
A dip in the archives
My previous post (More Trans Wins) was to show that trans people are making progress in public life and visibility despite the war against us on many fronts. Life as a trans person can be wonderful. I've tried as much as possible to reflect that in this blog though sometimes things, like the above, can get to me. So in contrast, here's a link to my post that ended 2011 when being trans was ... perfect :-) Readers even got three kisses after my sign off! lol
Summing up 2011