Friday, January 21, 2011

Changing Things

Why is it OK for a surgeon to perform a sex-change operation, but not OK for a psychiatrist to try to 'turn' a consenting homosexual?

This was apparently (and I'm quoting the Guardian's diarist Hugh Muir here) tweeted by Conservative MEP Roger Helmer. Helmer is an avid twitterer and you can follow him at @RogerHelmerMEP. Try and put aside any knee-jerk reactions you might have against a Conservative MEP. The idea that he would be a homophobic second-rater is simply blind prejudice.

Let's get in touch with our inner Baggini and treat the comment fairly. Which means analysing the question.

That surgeon will not have had one chat with a patient and gone for the scalpel. Previous, lengthy psychological consultancies will have taken place. Surgeons cannot carry out random sex-change operations on a whim. None of the consultants carrying out such procedures, I'm sure, will have gone into the discussions with their patient with any particular outcomes in mind.

But we do know of counsellors, mainly those who approach their work from a faith perspective, who go into consultation with gay patients holding the view that re-orientation is the most desirable outcome.

So the flaw in the question, I think, is the comparison of a last-resort procedure with one which we know some people discuss as only-resort or first-resort.

It is also the case that Helmer has form. We can suspect that the comment was deliberately phrased as it was to make mischief. But whether or not that was the case we do well to answer questions as clearly and carefully as possible. If we credit mischief-makers with the best possible motives and simply answer the question we will train ourselves the better to answer genuine questions when they arise.

I would be quite happy to concede that for some patients, for whom sexuality is a grey area, therapy which helps identify a preferred orientation even if such preference is marginal might be beneficial. Note the words 'some' and 'might.'

The answer, widespread across Twitter, that Helmer is an idiot, will not do. This doesn't mean he isn't.


fill said...

Do you think that there are many grown adult who find their sexuality as a grey area or simply not come to terms with it?

Marcella said...

There are some who would argue that sexuality is ALWAYS a grey area, no matter how old one is. Not only grey, but fluid and changing...

I reckon that any help, medical, psychological, whatever, shouldn't be a one-treatment-for-all job, but take into account an individual's situation and circumstances. I'm sure some people have been "cured" but that doesn't mean that we all can be, or want to be, or should be...

St said...

Fill, I genuinely don't know the answer to your question but if I was a counsellor and someone said they weren't sure of their sexuality I'd take the comment at face value I think. Marcella's comments helpful I think.

You two ought to communicate with each other direct. You both share similar history with me but not each other.

Anonymous said...

Vinaigrette Girl here.

Writing merely as a straight cis-woman friend of three transpeeps, all of whom are partnered by women, I'd say that there is no valid comparison to be drawn between transition surgery for gender dysphoria, and psychological counselling for the purpose of "turning" gay people into straights.

Ideally, we'd work towards a world where humans had such a wide variety of acceptable non-binary roles and behaviours that gender dysphoria ceased to exist. Gender complementarism is just one aspect of the way some faith communities deny humankind in its wonderful variety.

But in the meantime, transpeople and really most people, including straight cis-people, lose rights and opportunities on a daily basis, through mischief-making, which fosters an underlying acceptance that discriminating on the basis of sex and gender is ok: but especially ok if the subject is gay.