National Comment Comment

The government must reverse its transphobic decision on conversion therapy

Ruby Brown and Daniel Wilson argue politicians are ignoring the 'realities of transgender lives'

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Image Credit: Ted Eytan

In the last month, the government announced that it would enforce a full ban on conversion therapy. However, after much deliberation, No.10 has decided to exclude trans people from the scope of the ban, reinforcing long standing criticisms that the Conservative Party is waging a war on the rights of transfolk.

Conversion therapy covers a myriad of methods fundamentally seeking to change or ‘cure’ one’s sexual or gender identity. With no legal minimum age it means that trans children are legally allowed to be subject to practices such as electroconvulsive shock, food deprivation, and/or medicines such as vomit inducing drugs. According to a government led survey, 7 percent of LGBT people have been either offered or undergone methods of conversion therapy - a figure that rises to 13 percent when discussing trans people specifically.

In recent weeks, Johnson described gay conversion therapy as “utterly abhorrent”, though alluded to the “complexities and sensitivities” of discussing gender as opposed to sexuality in attempt to justify the ban. This response from the Prime Minister has left a sour taste in the mouth for many, giving the impression that trans identities are in some way unconventional and not to be protected. Whilst Johnson apologised to those “organisations concerned”, and vowed to uphold its promise to tackle prejudice wherever possible, the policy U-turn has symbolised how disposable transfolk are to those in the highest echelons of government.

Transgender people remain one of the most marginalised groups within UK society, with many facing the risk of verbal and physical abuse within their daily lives. A Galop poll conducted in 2020 states that 93 percent of its respondents had experienced transphobia in the year prior to completing the survey, with 70 percent of respondents also claiming that transphobia had an impact on their mental wellbeing. These shocking statistics illuminate how detrimental the government abstaining from banning gender conversion therapy could be.

The lack of protection for trans people under the revised policy reinforces the institutional narrative that transgender people are inherently broken and are in need of correction, whether it be physically, emotionally, or otherwise. This discourse merely serves to uphold transphobic arguments often used against trans people, and thus amplifies the oppression faced by the community.

It is also striking to note that when Boris Johnson speaks on matters of trans identities, the only example discussed is men wanting to transition to women. In outlining the rationale behind keeping conversion therapy legal for transfolk, the Prime Minister played on arguments around the protection of children from discussions about gender, the disadvantage posed to women when “biological men” compete in female sporting events, and the need for biological women’s only spaces. These arguments carry connotations that trans people pose a level of threat to cisgender people, and therefore foster arguments for imposing greater protections for cis-straight individuals whilst systematically excluding transfolk.

Furthermore, this inaccurately portrays the realities of transgender lives in the UK. With a whole spectrum of identites falling under the transgender umbrella including - but not limited to - trans women, trans men, non-binary, agender, and genderqueer people, the recent discourse perpetuated by the government merely reproduces the idea that there are only certain ways to be trans.

In ignoring how gender to some people is a fluid concept, political discourse further divides and discriminates against the LGBTQI+ population, in turn creating a homogenous image of gender, sexuality, and identity.

Further, such a narrative often culminates in the idea that transitioning and ‘sex reassigment’ is the pinnacle of trans peoples’ lives. However this is not case - many trans people live fulfilling lives without the desire for sex reassignment, showing how gender and biological characteristics do not necessarily coincide with one another.

One common misconception about sex, and a common argument used against trans people, is that sex exists on the binary scale of male or female. However, this is not the case, due to the natural occurrence of intersex people being born with a combination of male and female sex characteristics. Occuring in 2 out of 100 people, similar statistics to those with green eyes, intersex people often face genital mutilation at birth to appear more ‘typical’, shedding light on how fragile societal conceptions of sex and gender are.

In a society whereby both intersex and trans identites are encouraged to physically change, whether it be genitial mutilation at birth, or being pressured into conversion therapy later in life to erase themselves of their supposedly ‘mistaken’ identity, the government’s latest decision to allow gender conversion therapy is a matter of gross misconduct. In fighting against institutional transphobia, education around LGBTQI+ identities is paramount. Ultimately, by discussing trans issues and encouraging one another to learn about the ways in which gender discrimination operates within society, we will collectively be better prepared to fight against such top-down acts of oppression.

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