Leelah Alcorn, may she rest in peace, left her home in December 2014 after leaving a suicide note on Tumblr and walked into the path of a semi truck on Interstate 71. Her conservative Christian parents had sent her for conversion therapy instead of helping her find her way forward. Her case is sad, but sadly far from the only one. Resist the temptation to be overly hard on her parents for doing the wrong thing, these were good people convinced that conversation therapy would “cure” their “son”. Rather be appalled that we tolerate the practice.
Tragically there are 5,400 attempted suicides among teens in the US each year. There really are many reasons. LGBT teens are at a much higher risk of suicide than non-LGBT youth. Some 40% of transgender teens will have attempted suicide by adulthood. The Trevor project states LGB teens are 4-6x more likely to attempt suicide. The CDC also has figures for LGB teens. Sadly the CDC doesn’t seem to have bothered to report on trans teens either in aggregate or separately, which seems either callous or a deliberate oversight for a significantly at risk group. The do state that one study of 55 trans youth reported 25% attempted suicide.
In fact I found other papers like one from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center that furthers the impression I commented on in an earlier posting about gay groups not caring about trans rights to not caring about trans lives. It is hardly a debated fact that trans youth and adults are at a significantly higher rate of suicide, yet a whitepaper from them states:
This paper highlights the higher risk of suicidal behavior among lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth. This higher risk may well extend to transgender (T) youth.
I mean, ya think?
This article on Vocativ show a risk graph for trans, gay and “normal” population groups for risk of suicide. They reference The Williams Institute as their source for the data. I found their front page so interesting it instantly became a bookmark.
In the early days, which I think included quite a bit of time before I came out, I used to watch videos on YouTube for inspiration. I kept watching after and I still watch sometimes, although when I was trans people the focus is very different. It’s fairly rare for me to watch one of those boy to girl videos, but they can be inspiring if you’re depairing about what’s really possible.
I lost track, I really did, of how many parents quite literally threw their kids out the door when the child came out to othem as trans, and this happens for gay and bi children too. As a parent it has long perplexed me how a parent can abandon a child for any reason. I’d watch a movie and the father would say “You are dead to me now” or the mother would say something like that and my heart would say “How?”.
But these abandoned children are not part of a novel or a movie, they are flesh and blood, they breath, love and fear, and need shelter and food. If they’re mostly adult when this happens perhaps it is somewhat painful but can be bourn, the ripping feeling of losing your birth family and sometimes siblings because of their (usually) religious conviction that you are unfit.
However, for younger children with essentially no means to survive and little knowledge of the environment they’ve been thrust into it becomes a war of survival. The endpoints? Mostly not so good and not so different as for runaways and a dreadful indictment of our society.
They face sexual exploitation, violence, drug use, and not a whole lot of people reaching out to help. 40% are LGBT. Of course these dreadful living arrangements and forced prostitution with what seems like a bleak future unsurprisingly leads to a higher suicide rate.
There’s this incredible, totally in error stereotype that it is now cool to be gay or trans. That all the stigmas are washed away and that nobody calls a gay teen a “faggot” anymore or a feminine boy a “sissy”. These are people who’ve never walked in our shoes.
- From the CDC, who we can again thank for basically ignoring trans youth, we see that around 1 out of 5 LGB youth are bullied. Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? Maybe this is part of the reason for the high suicide and drug use rates?
- Perhaps this is more telling to understand how unpopular being trans is. In NYC’s PFLAG (now inclusive of LGBTQ families) reports that 1 in 5 students is assaulted due to sexual orientation and 1 in 10 because of gender expression. Given that most figures on trans prevalence has trans as around .6% (gender variance is higher) and LGB prevalence at around 3-4%. That means that being trans is roughly twice as likely to result in assault as being LGB. Again, part of the picture of drug use and suicide and self-destructive behavior.
We see that far from being “cool” it is still a relatively abusive environment even now, after more than 40 years of work on LGB rights and around 20+ years of increasing trans tolerance.
For trans adults in many parts of the country who are not living stealth or are not capable of passing, there are often no laws to protect their right to housing, employment or, as we’ve seen in many places recently, the ability to use a public restroom. This last issue has lead from a simple legal issue to direct threats on the part of idiots (all men) to commit felonious acts up to and including premeditated murder for the alleged crime of peeing in the ladies room.
As far as I can tell all the bathroom laws have resulted in are charges against cis women who are relatively gender fluid and dress androgynously or cis men invading the ladies room because they thought someone went in who shouldn’t be there. Shouldn’t they be arrested if anyone? Not that I’m condoning this state of paranoia. The notion that someone would envision committing a sex crime in a well trafficked public place is the most moronic idea I’ve ever heard.
Violence against trans women has happened plenty of times though both in ladies rooms and not, as well as murders, primarily against trans women of color. On top of society’s general apathy toward minority crime (do they not bleed, feel pain?), you have the further othering of trans people to let a blind eye be cast.
Last as it was first in this discussion is conversation therapy. I can’t do it full justice here, but perhaps I can put together a reasoned discussion on what people hope to accomplish, why it’s a complicated issue, and why it should be outlawed entirely.
What is it? Conversation therapy (also known as Reparative therapy) is a practice that posits that being gay or trans is a disorder and can be cured by operant conditioning. The easiest references that most people are familiar with are Pavlov’s dogs, who were trained to come for food and later to salivate at the sound of a bell. B.F. Skinner also famously did training exercises using operant conditioning.
I don’t think there’s any real question that behavior modification in the form of operant conditioning (rewards and punishments as it were) works on people. In broad strokes, that’s how we raise children. If homosexuality or transgenderism was something non -innate then using behavior modification might not be unreasonable, especially if the person undergoing it wanted to have it changed.
Sadly, there’s no evidence it works.
In a recounting of his experience, Sam Brinton says in part:
“My hands were tied down and ice was placed on them while I was shown pictures of men. Later sessions would include copper heating coils, needles in my fingers, and electric shocks,” all while Sam was shown gay porn.”
If you read the rest you’ll see extreme psychological manipulations were put in place as well. The thing is, this business of torture (because that is what it is) does work. The individual does form an association between being aroused by his or her same sex attraction with pain.
But, and it is a mighty big but, that doesn’t end the attraction. It just makes that innate attraction into something painful. Sometimes this results in a “victim” temporarily suppressing their sexuality, this tends not to be a lasting state.
The same goes for trans people. Being trans and being gay are innate characteristics. They are not dysfunctions that have cures, unless you define allowing yourself to be yourself as a cure. Perhaps that’s as good as anything.
However, the psychological damage does last. From the Human Rights Campaign site:
- 8 times more likely to attempt suicide
- 6 times greater incidence of depression
- 3 times more likely to abuse drugs
Why outlawing it is complex
There are two rather different cases of the application of conversion therapy. There are willing adults who have extreme guilt over their feelings and needs and think, given the information they’ve had supplied, that this is the right solution for them.
The second case is the often unwilling minor child who is forced into conversation therapy. What makes this complicated is the general first amendment prohibition of interference of religious freedom. No freedom is absolute and religious freedom is no exception. Any religion requiring something would likely or definitely result in a followers death would find itself in trouble rapidly.
For the minor child there’s also the question of parental autonomy. However, parental autonomy is much less of a solid thing. We generally agree as a society that no parent has a right to treat their child in a way that would likely harm the child.
Why it should be outlawed
There is substantial evidence that conversion therapy is ineffective in either making people “straight” or making trans people happy as cisgender. There is also substantial evidence that the actual results of conversation therapy are extremely detrimental to the victim, vastly increasing their risk of death or disability. There is no support by any professional medical association of conversion therapy, nor any scientific evidence of it being effective.
Since conversion therapy is arguably a form of child abuse for minors, it should be banned as such and it should be a felony to perform it on a minor child.
For adults, in my opinion, there should be a requirement of informed consent at minimum. Adults are entitled to do stupid things, and if they’re told the facts and choose to go forward perhaps that is on them.
That said about adults, I’d just as soon see it banned as a form of felony assault. Legally it would be interesting whether one could hold the people performing it guilty of involuntary manslaughter if a victim later commits suicide and there is evidence linking it to the therapy.