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Would the Real Conversion Therapists Please Stand Up?
Let’s see who’s doing the actual converting here
“Conversion therapy” is a hot-button issue nowadays, but not in the traditional sense. When most people think of conversion therapy, they think of attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation through such extreme aversion treatments as electric shocks and nausea-inducing medications. Even hormonal castration has been used to these ends (remember this for later).
Trans activists have quite successfully expanded the definition of conversion therapy to include efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, despite the fact that the practice has historically been used to refer to efforts to alter same-sex attraction only.
Nevertheless, I was genuinely curious to explore what rationale activists believe they have to make these claims and to once again co-op the gay movement, as they did by adding the T to the LGB.
“Gender Identity Change Efforts” is the term for the supposed practice of changing a person’s (non-existent) gender identity, and ideologues have supposedly traced the practice back to the ‘60s and ‘70s, when researchers like Robert Stoller and Richard Green tried to develop techniques for reducing gender non-conforming (i.e., feminine) behaviors in young boys.
Now, such practices seem to me to be far more rooted in homophobia but, to be as fair as possible, these researchers also seemed to be aiming to prevent such boys from growing up into transsexuals, which they also believed was a possibility for feminine boys.
However, keep in mind that this has nothing to do with “gender identity.” A gender non-conforming boy, even if he meets the criteria for “gender dysphoria,” is not “really” a girl trapped in a boy’s body. He does not have a female soul or a female brain. He is simply a gender non-conforming boy who, as we know through research and simple life experience, is more likely than his more-conforming peers to grow up to be same-sex attracted.
The more recent discussion around “Gender Identity Change Efforts” has been focused on American-Canadian psychologist and sexologist Kenneth J. Zucker.
Zucker has been the editor-in-chief of the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior since 2001. He was also the head of the Gender Identity Service at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health until he was forced out in 2015.
The Gender Identity Service came under fire in June of that year, when the Ontario NDP passed a bill to ban conversion therapy for “LGBTQ” children. As reported by Sheryl Ubelacker in The Globe and Mail,
Health Minister Eric Hoskins commended [Cheri] DiNovo for sponsoring the bill, saying conversion therapy has no place in Ontario, "where acceptance, respect and diversity are our most cherished strengths."
Hoskins says he'll work with health-care providers to make it clear that nobody should be "subject to this dangerous treatment," and that the government will protect people's right to be who they are.
DiNovo says she plans to celebrate passage of the Affirming Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Act at gay pride events across the province this summer.
A few days later, The Globe and Mail published another article by Ubelacker, titled “Ont. conversion therapy ban may see some gender identity clinics change approach,” where we get the following gem:
Conversion therapy, sometimes called reparative therapy, has been used by some practitioners — often religion-based — to encourage heterosexuality among gays, lesbians and bisexuals and to discourage those who identify as transgender from embracing their inner non-biological sex.
Just what, exactly, is an “inner non-biological sex”?
The conflation of sexual attraction (a real, physical attraction to members of one’s own sex) to gender identity (the nonsensical idea that one has a “non-biological sex” in conflict with their actual, physical sex), has caused such confusion that it may take years, even decades to unravel, if ever.
The article continues:
It's not clear how the new law will affect the Gender Identity Clinic for children at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, which has been treating young people for gender dysphoria for decades.
In February, CAMH initiated an external review of its program for kids and teens in the wake of widespread accusations from the transgender community that its director, Dr. Ken Zucker, and other clinicians were practising reparative therapy. Findings of the review are expected to be made public this fall.
Later that year, in December, the external review did find that the clinic was “out of step with currently accepted practice” (which, keep in mind, is affirmation-only).
The review was sparked by criticisms from the transgender community and others that the CAMH clinic headed by psychologist Dr. Ken Zucker was practising reparative therapy on young people who were questioning their physical gender.
Zucker had reportedly left the clinic, and the medical director of CAMH's Child, Youth and Family Program, Dr. Kwame McKenzie, issued an apology “for the fact that not all of the practices in our childhood gender identity clinic are in step with the latest thinking.”
This was, quite literally, an apology for wrongthink.
One of the external reviewers also apparently recommended that “the Toronto centre engage with the transgender community to determine its future direction.”
Here, we see an early example of the idea that clinicians are to function according to the consumer model when it comes to “transgender medicine.” In other words, not to base their practices on research but to simply give trans-identified patients, even children, whatever they want.
However, the external review later came under fire as well, and CAMH reached a settlement of $586,000 with Zucker in 2018.
Canada's largest mental health centre has apologized to one of its former psychologists and said it will pay him more than half a million dollars years after it published a report that erroneously described the doctor's interactions with patients.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health released a statement acknowledging that there were errors in an external review of its Gender Identity Clinic, which also detailed the practices of the head of the clinic at the time, Dr. Kenneth Zucker.
Just what, exactly, was Zucker doing that was so offensive? Well, thankfully, his practices have been very well documented, particularly in the 2003 book, The Man Who Would Be Queen, by sexologist Michael Bailey.
So what is Zucker’s position? First, he believes that the diagnosis of childhood GID is useful and valid, and the diagnosis is not merely a value judgment that boys who like girls’ activities (or girls who like boys’ activities) are sick or wrong. This is due to his conviction that children with GID suffer, and that the suffering is not only attributable to bullying by closed-minded peers and adults. Second, Zucker thinks that kids with GID often need to be treated with psychotherapy, and that their families do as well. These beliefs obviously distinguish Zucker’s opinion from that of the left—“leave masculine girls and feminine boys alone”—crowd, but Zucker also disagrees with the right’s emphasis on preventing homosexuality. Zucker does not consider this an important clinical goal, because he thinks that homosexual people can be as happy as heterosexual people, and regardless, he doubts that therapy to prevent homosexuality works.
Bailey considered Zucker a moderate between the socially conservative position that cross-gender behavior is morally wrong and the left-wing position that a cross-gender identity is no cause for concern.
Zucker thinks that an important goal of treatment is to help the children accept their birth sex and avoid becoming transsexual. His experience has convinced him that if a boy with GID becomes an adolescent with GID, the chances that he will become an adult with GID and seek a sex change are much higher. And he thinks that the kind of therapy he practices helps reduce this risk.
Zucker adopted a three-pronged approach to such children (who were disproportionately boys): (1) getting the entire family on board to send the child a consistent message such as “we love you, but you are a boy, not a girl,” (2) providing the boy with therapy “to help him adjust to the idea that he cannot become a girl, and (3) the discouragement of feminine play and dress to help the child accept his maleness.
I can imagine people on all sides criticizing Zucker, particularly for the final point. I might have something to say about it as well. But whatever criticisms one might want to level at these methods, it is not “conversion” therapy to attempt to help a child recognize and accept their own sex.
Over the past 30 years, Dr. Zucker has treated about 500 preadolescent gender-variant children. In his studies, 80 percent grow out of the behavior, but 15 percent to 20 percent continue to be distressed about their gender and may ultimately change their sex.
Dr. Zucker tries to “help these kids be more content in their biological gender” until they are older and can determine their sexual identity — accomplished, he said, by encouraging same-sex friendships and activities like board games that move beyond strict gender roles.
In 2008, an NPR article also profiled Zucker’s approach, contrasting it with that of psychologist Diane Ehrensaft.
Ehrensaft, who helped fuel the “Satanic Panic” of the ‘80s and ‘90s, believes that toddlers can send “gender messages.” For example, a little girl who is really a boy might tear barrettes out of her hair, while a little boy who is really a girl might unsnap his onesie to make a dress.
A proponent of the “gender-affirmative model,” Ehrensaft is described by the NPR article as a “gender specialist” like Zucker. However, she does not use the term “gender identity disorder” and instead describes gender non-conforming children as “transgender.”
When seen by the parents of one such effeminate little boy, Ehrensaft informs them that he is really a girl:
Ehrensaft did eventually encourage Joel and Pam to allow Jonah to live as a little girl. By the time he was 5, Jonah had made it very clear to his parents that he wanted to wear girl clothes full time — that he wanted to be known as a girl. He wanted them to call him their daughter.
When contrasting the approaches of helping a child accept their sex or telling a child that they are really the opposite sex, which one actually seems like the “conversion”?
Even those who want to take issue with Zucker’s approach of discouraging a child from gender-atypical play and encouraging them to adopt more stereotypical interests and activities can not make the good faith comparison to actual conversion therapy practices aimed at changing one’s sexual orientation.
Further to that point, what is the medical pathway for a “trans” child? Nowadays, after a child is “affirmed” as the opposite sex, they are generally shuffled along to puberty blockers, which lead the vast majority of the time to cross-sex hormones. Remember: one of the tactics of actual conversion therapy was hormonal castration. This combination virtually guarantees sterility, with “gender-affirming” surgeries being the final nail in that coffin.
“Affirming” a child, particularly a gender non-conforming child who has a higher chance of growing up same-sex attracted, is conversion therapy of the most barbaric sort. The child is affirmed in their belief that their body is wrong, and their future fertility and sexual function are stolen from them as a result.
Somehow, this atrocious reality is being conveniently ignored by lawmakers. In Canada, for example, the federal government unanimously passed Bill C-4: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conversion therapy) on December 1, 2021.
The Bill was contentious, but you wouldn't know it based on how quickly it passed. The legislation made it through the House of Commons and the Senate each in a single day, with zero debate and no amendments. Conservatives and Liberals crossed the floor of the House to hug one another after the vote. If you don't understand how unusual this is, I'll remind you of the "elbowing incident," wherein Prime Minister Trudeau allegedly elbowed a female Member of Parliament in the chest during a debate and was then shouted at by an opposition leader. This is what typifies the sort of inter-party House of Commons interactions Canadians see in the news: juvenile drama, not bipartisan hugs.
Canada is not alone. Many jurisdictions in the United States and around the world have enacted their own conversion therapy bans that consider not affirming a child’s cross-gender identity to be “conversion.”
This leaves therapists who want to help young people who are struggling with feelings of confusion and discomfort around their sex in a bind. Some say that “conversion therapy” bans are having a “chilling effect” due to fear of retribution from trans activists if they do not accept a child’s declaration at face value.
The fact that therapists are becoming afraid to offer treatment and advice they genuinely feel is best for patients should be concerning for everyone. It doesn’t mean we all need to agree on the right course of action for these serious issues, but we should be able to have discussions without governments stepping in and making one side fear losing their licenses or incurring criminal penalties.
As it is, the side that feels empowered is the side pursuing the only course of action that can actually be described as “conversion.” The dark irony of all of this would be mildly amusing, if only we weren’t talking about innocent kids.
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