I don't think I'm one of them either. I'm one of mine.

Category: Healthcare and Medicine

Conversion therapy is bullshit

(These are old memories, once thought to be lost, but they’re back again. Trauma tends to do that to people.)

I’m a survivor of conversion therapy.

No, I wasn’t diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder, but I did have a childhood diagnosis of Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), otherwise known as atypical autism. And it was the PDD-NOS diagnosis that my family used to suppress anything that was “abnormal,” including my gender dysphoria. They used Applied Behavioural Analysis, which uses operant conditioning (aka the methods used in dog training) to get people to conform to a particular behaviour pattern. If I did anything that was “for boys,” I’d be punished with an aversive stimulus, like having water sprayed in my face or forcing my hands to touch glue. (I’m transmasculine.) The goal was to get me to act traditionally feminine, even though I’d been androgynous or masculine before then. I’d never really liked dolls or anything like that before ABA. But after that, I was showered with doll after doll after doll on Christmas and birthdays. I did end up liking dolls after a while, but they were mostly characters for me to enact stories with, not a thing to enjoy in themselves. (I kept getting into trouble for giving them weird haircuts and drawing tattoos on them anyway.) If it wasn’t normative, if it wasn’t prissy, if it wasn’t cutesy, it had to be stamped out.

Everything was treated like a symptom, and therefore invalid and in need of cure. Of course, every single bit of the conversion therapy washed out. I was still masculine. I still preferred to play with other boys, since girls were socialised to be dainty and refuse to blow things up or get dirty. I still preferred to run out and play in the mud instead of have tea parties. When Mattel came out with Flying Hero Barbie, I was disappointed that she was rescuing cats from trees instead of beating up supervillains. (Not long before that, I’d drafted a letter to Mattel asking to create a superhero Barbie who defeated gun-toting evildoers. My mom confiscated it for her own amusement.) And whenever I imitated voices on TV, they were virtually always those of deep-voiced men. Of course, tomboys exist, but I wasn’t a tomboy. When I was much younger, I could tell that I wanted to be like the deep-voiced, flat-chested adults who were called “he.” Everything else matched that.

But nobody affirmed my gender identity and expression, and the only thing that changed when the conversion therapy wore off and I came out at 20 was that they were blaming Satan instead of autism, thanks to years of right-wing evangelical radicalisation. Regardless of whether it was Satan or autism, they saw it as a matter of behaviour that could be changed, not something integral to me and who I was. (Anti-gay conversion therapists think the same way. Virtually all sexists see gender nonconformity as correctable behaviour, not anything connected with a true self.)

I wasn’t even a person to them, just a flesh robot to be programmed. That’s what happens when you have a weird kid and want them to look normal and be compliant instead of wanting them to be happy. This is what happens when J.K. Rowling is connecting autism with trans self-discovery among youth. Leelah Alcorn’s suicide is what happens when you refuse to acknowledge who a trans youth is. And it’s what’s happening when Donald Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene make trans youth a political football in the run-up to this year’s elections.

But there is a word for parents who don’t care about their child’s happiness. And that word is “abuser.”

Conversion therapy is abuse.


Healthcare’s weight fixation is a scam

Take a cosmetic feature considered undesirable in a given society. Pressure people into making their bodies more attractive to meet society’s cosmetic standards, and berate them if they don’t. Create an entire industry that pushes people to conform to this cosmetic standard. After these efforts fail and fail again, they declare an “epidemic” of a new health condition, using a common insult as an “objective” medical term. With its new medical authority, the same industry continues to enforce this cosmetic standard, though it’s now tied to moral imperatives in ways it wasn’t before. Stuff this term of abuse in nearly every health article you can find online—and those who complain are being unreasonable because “doctors use it.” And by harping on this cosmetically offensive feature, you have now pushed your hapless victims to identify with their outward appearances in ways that are sometimes counterproductive (but not nearly as counterproductive as the fraudulent, bullying medical practices that pushed them in this direction). And you continue to profit because people are worried they’ll head to an early grave unless they fit their society’s attractiveness standards.

If you’re defending the use of insults as diagnostic terms, you’re a bully. (And taking a lot of regular, well-meaning doctors and researchers for a ride because they don’t know what it really means.) If you make money off people’s insecurities based on a “condition” that serves your financial interests, you are a scammer. I have zero respect for bullies or scammers.

Forget “fat acceptance.” (It’s too identitarian and superficial for me, and you can’t fight superficiality with more of it.) Try for something broader: don’t be an asshole. That should be good enough.