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An Investigation Into Contemporary Conversion Therapy – And the Attitudes Surrounding It

It’s something we might associate with the 1960s, but “conversion therapy” is still alive and kicking in this day and age. The archaic practice has been gaining mainstream media attention again after a petition has been sent around the internet, calling for it to finally be banned in the UK. It may no longer legally involve violent methods in the Western world, but contemporary “conversion therapy” still has plenty of dark aspects to it.

Often given alternative names such as “reparative” or “aversion therapy”, “conversion therapy” aims to reform an individual of non-heterosexual tendencies.

In some cases, this extends to transgender individuals, trying to make them feel wholly comfortable with the sex they have been born into. Health organisations around the world have argued it is a disgusting practice.

After all, we know homosexuality is not something that can be learned and unlearned. It’s a valid sexual orientation that is biologically wired into a person’s identity.

For some, this line of thinking comes from institutionalised religious beliefs. For others, it’s more secular, and springs from a belief that procreation is the pinnacle of our species’ function

The methods between older and more contemporary “conversion therapy” differ greatly. It’s very unlikely in the 21st-century West that someone admitted to a facility would be shown erotic images of the sex they’re attracted to while having apomorphine pumped into their veins. But the sentiments remain starkly similar: gay isn’t natural, homosexuality is wrong.

For some, this line of thinking comes from institutionalised religious beliefs. For others, it’s more secular, and springs from a belief that procreation is the pinnacle of our species’ function.

Instagram posts depicting the aforementioned petition have shown the account of a Northern Ireland-based organisation as evidence of the practice’s endurance. I looked into the organisation: Core Issues Trust.

Their logo of a love heart-shaped apple reminded me of the biblical message of “Be fruitful and multiply”.

Dr Mike Davidson claims that in his younger years he had homosexual tendencies that he managed to quell

Their website is filled with inflammatory blog posts: how same-sex parents harm their children; how the NHS claims puberty blockers for gender-diverse children are “irreversible”; how schoolchildren are being indoctrinated because they are being read books about gay acceptance.

The site also contains biblical references, and images of natural landscapes as though to suggest a conversion to heterosexuality is a return to nature.

The figurehead of the organisation, Dr Mike Davidson, is of the Christian faith. Davidson claims that in his younger years he had homosexual tendencies that he managed to quell. He went on to marry a woman whom he has been with for 40 years.

He told The Irish Times:

“For me, the bedrock of sexual politics is the whole construction around orientation – it now carries a notion of a fixed, unalterable category of existence. But new neural pathways can begin. I have some experience in terms of my own homosexual stuff. That’s there. It’s like your hard drive: you can’t remove everything from your hard drive, but you work with your hard drive. You clean it up, and new ways develop”.

In this discussion, he also claims that many people feel a need to connect with people of the same sex emotionally and that this is misinterpreted as being a sexual desire due to childhood trauma. He poses the question of how we connect with others in a “healthy” way without “objectifying” them.

Core Issues Trust claims to support LGBTQ people’s rights, but then claims heterosexuals have an intrinsic monopoly on matrimony

On the Core Issues Trust website, they try to maintain they have a strong ethical compass:

“It [the organisation] respects the rights of individuals who identify as ‘gay’ who do not seek change, and supports dignity for LGBT persons”.

However, in the same paragraph, they state: “It does not support gay “marriage” – usually considered an “equality” issue, premised on the belief that being gay is “biological” and is therefore unchangeable”.

The trivialisation of same-sex marriage in this remark suggests a sharp sense of cognitive dissonance; Core Issues Trust claims to support LGBTQ people’s rights, but then claims heterosexuals have an intrinsic monopoly on matrimony.

Despite the website being awash with heteronormative rhetoric, there’s a surprising absence of information on the services provided. There is only a weak allusion.

70% of people who had been through conversion therapy have suffered from suicidal thoughts

It discusses how clinicians must behave and how the sessions can commence, saying: “At the outset of treatment, clinicians are encouraged to provide clients with information on change-oriented processes and intervention outcomes that is both accurate and sufficient for informed consent”.

I contacted Core Issues Trust, asking for more information on their services. They did not respond.

After trying to contact them, I researched into any governmental plans (or lack thereof) to ban conversion therapy. I was severely disappointed.

On the petition that has gained more than 210,000 signatures so far, a government statement from June 21st, 2020 reads: “Before any decision is made on proposals for ending conversion therapy we must understand the problem, the range of options available and the impact they would have.”

We already have an assortment of information on how harmful “conversion therapy” can be. I have to wonder how much more insight the government feels it needs before it can take appropriate action; people across the UK are suffering at the hands of this reprehensible “therapy” daily.

The majority of people going into conversion therapy are emotionally vulnerable

The Ozanne Foundation conducted a survey that discovered 70% of people who had been through conversion therapy had suffered from suicidal thoughts.

Therefore, we can see how the majority of people going into conversion therapy are emotionally vulnerable and susceptible to many kinds of manipulation – even being forced into copulating with someone of the opposite sex.

In their statement, the government maintains how “corrective rape” is illegal, regardless of whether it happens within “conversion therapy” or not. Still, they maintain that “conversion therapy” is a “very complex issue”, so it’s hard to discern what constitutes as “conversion therapy” and what doesn’t.

The practice is unsettling. The government’s lukewarm aversion to banning such a practice is just as unsettling. Is the government conflating someone being manipulated with someone exercising autonomy?

If this is the case, it goes to show how misguided some of us are in approaching contemporary “conversion therapy”.

Plus, perhaps, the most troubling conclusion of them all, is that some of us probably aren’t as passionately opposed to this archaic practice as we should be.

Ryan James Keane 

If you are affected by any of the issues mentioned in the above article, please take a moment to visit one of the following websites for further information and support:

NHS Support and Advice For Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Individuals

Minding Your Head Support and Advice for Individuals Questioning their Sexuality

Featured image courtesy of  Victoria Pickering via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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