In the wake of Leelah Alcorn’s death, there have been renewed calls to legally end the practice of using so-called “reparative therapy” to change children’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Laws in California, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., have banned the practice. These laws have stood up in court, and no further serious challenges appear to be on the horizon.
But that hasn’t stopped the right from pushing hard on talking points claiming that transgender teens need to be pushed into (religious) “therapy” that no reputable, licensed mental-health professional would provide. Their rationales are riddled with half-truths, logical fallacies, and outright lies.
Here are the facts, though.
FACT: Transgender and gender-nonconforming youth do better in homes that are accepting and supportive of their gender identity.
What proponents of reparative therapy always leave out of their talking points is that research by the Trans Pulse Project, the Family Acceptance Project, and the Williams Institute repeatedly shows that the best indicator of positive mental-health outcomes in transgender and gender-nonconforming youth is familial support.
Just so we’re clear here: Putting a child in reparative therapy, telling them God will send them to hell if they don’t stop being transgender, accusing them of being delusional, punishing them for stepping outside gender norms, and denying medically necessary care doesn’t fall in the “supportive” category.
FACT: By the time a transgender youth reaches adolescence (like Leelah), it is very unlikely that their gender identity will change or that their gender dysphoria will resolve itself spontaneously.
Even studies quoted by opponents of transgender equality acknowledge that children with cross-gender identification after puberty rarely change their minds. According to one such study:
One reason for the differing attitudes has to do with the pervasive nature of gender dysphoria in older adolescents and adults: it rarely desists….
According to neurobiologists Dick Swaab and Ai-Min Bao, writing in the 2013 textbook Neuroscience in the 21st Century: From Basic to Clinical:
Gender identity (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) [and] sexual orientation (hetero-, homo-, or bisexuality) … are programmed into our brain during early development. There is no proof that postnatal social environment has any crucial effect on gender identity or sexual orientation.