Demolishing New Ex-Gay Talking Point. Ex-Gay vs. Transgender

Thanks to Michelle Bachmann and her family business that offers Christian counseling, including “therapy” to help sort the gays, the media has once again highlighted ex-gay treatments and theories that say people can be “de-gayed.” Spokespeople for the anti-LGBTQ cause get on TV and spout their faulty ideas and talking points designed to legitimize their postition and convince the public that the treatments and theories are beneficial.

During this current media cycle ex-gay proponents introduced a new talking point. Dr. Jack Drescher, in his recent piece for Psychology Today, writes about the talking point and its emergence in the media.

“Why is it OK for doctors to help a person change their sex from male to female but it is not OK to try and change a person’s homosexual orientation to a heterosexual one?”

I first heard this question asked several weeks ago during Joy Behar’s interview of a so-called ex-gay man and his wife (at about 7:20 minutes into the video). Then I heard it again on NPR in Alix Spiegel’s August 1 interview of another “ex-gay” man (at about 7:30 minutes into the interview)…The questioners were either ex-gay or married to an ex-gay. But they also appear to make their livelihoods promoting and selling ex-gay “ministries” to (mostly religious) people unhappy about their homosexual attractions.

Dr. Drescher then shares the history of both transgender affirming treatments, including the specific Standards of Care that researched, designed, and regularly updated for the care of transgender individuals. These have have provided their own controversy among transgender people. In his piece Dr. Drescher juxtaposes these standards with the unregulated field of ex-gay treatment.

Standards of Care focus on important clinical issues such as who to treat, who not to treat, which treatments work, which do not, selection criteria for best candidates, and admission of errors when they occur. Selection criteria, for example, are an important way to prevent harm being done to patients who are not suitable for the treatment. However such care in selecting patients is rarely seen in the ex-gay movement. Perhaps this is because when doing faith healing, one can take all comers. Licensed medical and allied health professionals, on the other hand, are held to a different standard.


In his piece for the St. Petersburg Times, my partner, Glen Retief, also takes on the new talking point regarding unethical ex-gay treatment and medically-approved treatments for transgender folks.

The notion that ex-gays are “straight people trapped in a body with gay desires” has a certain superficial appeal. After all, who is the APA to decide that one kind of discomfort with self is more respectable than another? But this argument is based on a profound misunderstanding of gender and sexuality — and in perpetuating these misconceptions, the ex-gay movement continues a long tradition of peddling snake oil instead of real medicine.

Glen also highlights the difference in standards of care between transgender-affirming therapies and de-gaying treatments. He also points out the vast difference between motivations of pursuing these two treatments that ex-gays are trying to lump together (as they also seek to invalidate the transgender person’s experience and identity.)

To transition to another gender in our world is an act of great courage and rebellion, which requires confronting friends, family, and the world with a truth of the heart. The individual who does so takes significant risks for the sake of joy and psychic wholeness.

I’m not saying that a few rare individuals in ex-gay programs, who try to change themselves to please their pastors, parents and Bible teachers, don’t achieve peace when they try to live according to their personal interpretation of a 1,600-year-old book. But the vast majority of ex-gays are motivated by fear of punishment in this world or the next — not by brave integrity. The spiritual fruits of their quest for change tend to be terror, shame, numbness and self-hatred — a slow death of their true selves, which is to say of their souls.

I encourage you to read both pieces and share them widely. We need to challenge the talking point and not fall into the trap anti-LGBTQ people have set–one that offensively invalidates the lives of transgender people as it also seeks to legitimatize practices that ultimately harm people who are not heterosexual or gender normative. This is both an attack on transgender people and an ongoing attempt to insert ex-gay treatment into the mainstream. At its core ex-gay treatment is an attack on gender, particularly an attack on women and feminine-presenting males. It is a movement that insists on a gender binary with heterosexual males superior to females. They strictly adhere to gender norms and patriarchy. Ultimately it is an anti-fem movement.

This post has 6 Comments

  1. Bruce Garrett on August 15, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    The simple answer is it’s not okay to pressure or force someone into gender roles they are inwardly not. Whether it’s the gentle straight boy who would rather bake bread then slam heads on the football field, or the little racecar daredevil kid who would rather date guys then girls, or the trans kid who knows deep down inside that place of psychic wholeness lies in transitioning to a different gender, the central question is always about respecting the person within.

    Doctors who help someone transition to another gender are respecting the person within. Ex-gay therapy does not. There’s the difference. And it shows in the results. Who is happier, emotionally healthier, made more whole, by the experience, and who is worse for it? There’s your answer.

  2. clareflourish on August 30, 2011 at 2:34 am

    I think the point is that I have always been female. I was brought up male, but that was not the real me. Out of my own heart and soul came the need to transition, which has fulfilled me. So now I express myself as female, the real me, rather than through a mask which it seemed my society demanded that I use, for a time.

    Reality rather than a Mask. How many “ex-gay” people could look you in the eye and say the same?

  3. Riley Johnson (@LeatherBodhi) on September 3, 2011 at 10:21 am

    I like the quote about transition and courage and rebellion. I am a trans guy, who began this journey 11 years ago and is now living happily as an utterly boring married guy. While transition was happening, I never thought it particularly courageous – just deeply and profoundly necessary. Hindsight and your partner’s quote make me see otherwise.

  4. p2son on September 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    ah, I am glad. I shared your comment with Glen. Thank you for leaving it.

  5. Jennifer on September 11, 2011 at 11:23 am

    wth? As a transwoman who has been helped by psychiatric and medical care in order to find stability and wholeness in my life, I’m not sure why these people are trying to leverage established transhealth practices with the attempt to modify someone’s preferences.

    Bruce hits it on the head — a gender conversion for someone with the perpetual experience of gender dysphoria, in acceptance of the inner desire sense of identity, is fulfilling the best needs and desires of the patient. Ex-gay therapy is an attempt to deny the inner experience of the patient in order to fit an external standard.

    If a patient chooses to undergo ex-gay therapy, that is their choice… but usually it involves some degree of coercion from the external environment.

    In any case, the goal is wholeness and self-acceptance… which for the homosexual means not having to change one’s orientation and the transsexual not having to change one’s internal gender identify (and thus can lead to medical treatment to help the outer conform to the inner).

  6. kalany on October 18, 2011 at 4:51 am

    Reading comments above me and thinking to myself, it seems like the difference between the ex-gay ministries and the trans programs is that trans programs (and pro-gay programs) acknowledge the inner landscape as being the seat of identity, with the possibility that the body or society is “wrong” for the inner identity. The inner experience is held up as truth, to which the external is asked to conform. Ex-gay ministries treat the external as the truth, to which the internal is shaped to conform.

    As a non-binary trans* person, I experience this from the LGBT community as well as the faith community. Many conservative Christians will ask me why I can’t be happy as a straight woman. LGBT people try to fit me into a male or female box, and try strongly to encourage me to change my body: trying to force the body to change to fit the societal expectations of what a trans person “should” look like. It seems that both sides are unhappy with the idea of a non-binary person who lives happily in the body God gave her, prefers feminine pronouns, and likes multiple genders.

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