Conversion Therapy Bans Make Good Health Care Illegal

“No one will help us.”

This refrain is echoed in story after story of parents whose child has suddenly announced that they are transgender.

The parent of a teen with Asperger’s grieves that she cannot find “a professional that would consider her diagnosis of ASD” as possibly contributing to her gender dysphoria.

When her daughter declared herself to be a boy, an anonymous parent writing at The Federalist looked for a “therapist who could help her sort out what her gender dysphoria meant.” What was going on in her daughter’s life that might be making her feel disassociated from her body? This mother “quickly discovered that it is nearly impossible to find therapists who do this kind of work.”

Another parent at The Kelsey Coalition laments that "due to the laws prohibiting any exploration of alternative causes of bodily distress … we were unable to find a US-based therapist who can work with our daughter to explore how her OCD, ADHD, same-sex attraction, and peer pressure may be contributing to her sudden desire for a medical transition."

If Conversion Therapy Bans continue to pass in state after state it will soon be impossible for any parent to find a legal therapist who can help their children learn to love and accept their own bodies.

Twenty states have introduced and sixteen states have already passed bills like Minnesota’s pending HF12 which condemns any practice “that seeks to change​ an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change behaviors​ or gender expressions.” These bans apply even if such practices are voluntarily chosen and follow well-established, evidence-based methods of therapy. 

What is considered standard high-quality care in any other situation is now deemed destructive and harmful abuse if applied to someone who thinks they might be transgender.

Many anti-conversion therapy laws, including HF12, label as fraud any “services or products” that hold open the idea that a client's sexual orientation or gender identity can change.  This means that if HF12 passes the state senate, Minnesota parents and teens will not be able to buy books, videos, or other education materials supporting the idea that sexual desires or gender identity can be brought into harmony with one’s biology.

Somehow seeking psycho-physical alignment in our children is now considered a fraud.

It is not only parents who are alarmed by the government enforcement of transgender ideology; teens and young adults lament how their therapists and doctors completely ignored the mental health issues which they now believe underlie their experience of gender dysphoria.

On this Reddit forum, desisters (people who want to or have de-transitioned back to their biological gender) can share their stories and find support.  One biological female looking for help de-transitioning wishes that her doctors “had screened for the mental health (and social) issues that I have dealt with for a long time that made me feel disconnected from myself as a female.  … I really feel that they should have compassionately suggested counseling for me or compassionately suggested other alternatives before undergoing transition.  I think they should have at least talked to me about alternative treatments.”

Even though children and adolescents have an 80-95 percent desistance rate, no one even talked to this young woman about the possibility of learning to identify with her own body.  That is unacceptable, but a state near you is legally forcing therapists into this kind of neglect.

Contrary to transgender dogma, kindly questioning an adolescent’s assumptions and beliefs is not abuse; it is genuine care.  It’s what parents and teachers and therapists do.  There is a reason that adolescents aren’t allowed to buy cigarettes and alcohol; they don’t yet know what is best for them.  An adolescent's prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that makes long-term judgments, is not fully developed until a person’s mid-twenties.  Teens are still learning about life and about themselves, and they need the adults in their life to guide them toward right beliefs and wise choices.

A desisting girl called “Maxine” shared her story on 4thWave Now, a website for parents who question the affirmative-only approach to treating gender dysphoria in youth.  Rather than resenting her mother’s concern, Maxine is thankful that her mom “didn’t believe I was a boy trapped in a girl’s body.  I’m glad she found a psychologist who saw how scared and angry and hurt I was and who wanted to help me with those things first.”  Maxine sees that “kids need their parents and sometimes a psychologist to help them think about why they feel the way they do.”

When adults fail to lovingly challenge and guide young people, they are responsible for the serious harm that results.  And the harm is real.  The stories shared by desisters and those who regret their transition therapies are heart-breaking.

A grieving young woman at Reddit wonders, “How could I have done this? … I have been trying to destroy myself.  … I was told that I knew myself better than anyone.  I should have body autonomy.  … I wasn’t competent but they said that I was.… I am devastated that my breasts are gone.”

If this young woman had been offered evidence-based medical care and told about the real possibility of learning to love and accept her own female body, she would not have to experience the anguish of a permanently disfigured body.

Although Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria rates are higher among biological females, many boys are suffering too.  Looking desperately for connection and understanding, one young man shared, “I honestly don’t know what to do with myself anymore.  Before I trans’d, I was lonely and desperate with extremely low self-image.  I used to self harm whenever I talked with anyone.  … I really bought into people saying being trans would make me happy and fix my problems.”

But simply affirming this adolescent’s immature beliefs and ignoring his social and mental health issues has not helped him.  He suffers more than ever.  “Fast forward four years and I still f**king hate myself! I’m so lonely and I have no friends … The whole ‘being trans will make you happy’ thing failed me … Am I a boy? No.  Am I a girl? No.  What am I? Disgusting.”

Ill-defined conversion therapy bans are legally requiring therapists to withhold the legitimate mental health care that clients like this young man want and need.  These laws are hurting our children, not protecting them. 

Annie Crawford lives in Austin, TX where she teaches rhetoric and literature and serves on the Faith & Culture team at Christ Church Anglican.  She holds a Masters of Cultural Apologetics from Houston Baptist University and is an editor and contributor at An Unexpected Journal.