Falling Through The Looking Glass
The Shutdown of Conversation on Gender Identity within the Talking Therapies
I have previously written about significant concerns within the therapeutic community of poorly worded legislation criminalising conversion therapy for gender identity.
However, today I share a story about what is considered to be the precursor to legislation - the ‘Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy’ (MoU). This is a document signed up to by all main therapeutic bodies in the UK and governs the way in which therapists must engage with clients who feel they are trans. Major concerns within the community have been levelled at this document since it was first created, including the ambiguity of language, the potential for therapists carrying out ethical, explorative therapy to be caught by it and the lack of transparency and accountability surrounding it. Furthermore, the strong partisan nature of the MoU is worrying. For example, trans activist and lobbying groups including Stonewall and Gendered Intelligence, neither of whom are therapeutic organisations, are both involved to a significant degree with the document itself.
The first iteration of the MoU in 2015 focused solely and correctly on the harms associated with conversion therapy aimed at changing the sexual orientation of those who are gay, lesbian or bisexual, based on both research and the wider shifts in public and professional opinion. However, in 2017, the MoU was extended to include conversion therapy for gender identity, crucially lacking in empirical evidence and regarding which there is significant ongoing disagreement and debate as to best treatment pathways, especially for children. The significant change to the MoU was brought about without any meaningful engagement with therapists around the country.
When I co-founded Thoughtful Therapists at the start of 2021, it’s aims included seeking an open, constructive, respectful dialogue regarding both the MoU and the government’s proposed legislation on conversion therapy that we knew was on the horizon.
We decided to begin with contacting the ‘Coalition Against Conversion Therapy’ – the organisation that oversees and controls the MoU.
Within a few hours, we hit a roadblock - one that would pave the way for things going forward. We couldn’t find them. In fact, we couldn’t find anything. No website. No email addresses. No phone number. No minutes of meetings. No policies. Nothing.
All we could find was what was contained within the MoU itself, namely, the content and the list of signatories. Already there were red flags. Here was an organisation responsible for a document that governs how almost every registered therapeutic practitioner in the country needs to practise in this area and yet they appeared to be an utter enigma.
The logical next step, we thought, was to reach out individually to the signatories to find out exactly who holds the pen and governs the MoU. Generally, although these individuals and organisations have very literally signed the document – we were met with bewilderment, confusion and inconsistency. Some organisations claimed the MoU was governed by the central ‘Coalition’, others said it was governed by each organisation individually. Some thought the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) governed it, others thought it was British Psychological Society (BPS). Some even thought Stonewall govern it but Stonewall are not even an official signatory to the document.
When asked about opportunities to feedback concerns on the MoU or input into future Coalition meetings, we were met with a brick wall. In fact, when we reached out to one particular signatory, Gendered Intelligence, they were quite blunt and told us that there was no need for feedback because the issue as far as they were concerned was “resolved”. When asked if they were open to hearing differing views, the individual responded that they felt “worried and uncomfortable” and promptly drew the conversation to a close. It began to feel as if we had fallen through the looking glass.
Eventually, we were given, by one of the signatories, the name Dr Igi Moon, who is the Chair of the Coalition, along with an email address. We were also told that there was an upcoming Coalition meeting in a few weeks. At last, it felt that we were beginning to make real progress.
While all of this had been going on, a number of practitioners within Thoughtful Thrapists had been developing a short, evidence-based, referenced set of submissions – setting out some of the fundamental concerns with the MoU.
We emailed Dr Igi Moon, copying in all the signatories to the MoU, introducing ourselves, attaching our proposals and asking for an opportunity to meet and discuss.
We waited, feeling hopeful. Within 24 hours we received a response directly from Dr Moon. Needless to say, we did not get the response we were expecting. Without so much as acknowledging, let alone responding to, any of the substantive points raised, Dr Moon informed Thoughtful Therapists that they did not want us contacting them and that our email address was to be blocked, before going on and instructing the individual signatories not to respond to us either. In a separate email, Dr Moon stated that many people who challenged the status quo on this topic were “ignorant and opinionated”.
We could not believe it. Here we were, a group of concerned practitioners, effectively being stonewalled by the head of a coalition of signatories regarding a highly important therapeutic document.
We subsequently wrote to each individual signatory and asked them to meet with us directly, regardless of Dr Moon’s instructions. Every single one of them either failed to respond or simply refused to meet with us.
The unfortunate truth is that the vast majority of therapists have little knowledge of what is going on within their governing bodies and many that do are too fearful to speak out, for fear of being cancelled.
However, if clinicians cannot engage in open and respectful dialogue on this issue, it will be to the detriment of both the clients and the profession as a whole.
There is something painfully ironic about the fact that a vocation which centres itself around listening to others and enaging in diaglogue is, on the topic of gender identity, shutting down conversation.