Detransitioner’s mum: I may be accused of ‘conversion therapy’

11, February 2023

Earlier this week, BBC Radio 4’s PM programme had a fascinating interview with a brave young woman who had ‘detransitioned’. Her mum was also interviewed.

The BBC’s Evan Davis spoke to the pair at length about their experiences of the transgender movement and its impact on relationships within the family.

They charted one of the most challenging scenarios any parent can imagine.

As a young teenager, Ruby (not her real name) became very unhappy. Moving into secondary school and discovering the internet for the first time around the age of thirteen, she found out about trans people.

She decided that she was really a boy and began asking people to use ‘he/him’ pronouns and call her a new name. For five or six years, most teachers and pupils at school were willing to go along with it.

Ruby’s mum Kath (not her real name) was not so convinced.

Kath said she wanted to keep Ruby’s options open. She and Ruby’s father decided they would only use the name they had chosen at birth. Kath knew that if they went along with everyone else, affirming Ruby as a boy, she would find it impossible to ever be comfortable with her female body as she progressed through her teenage years.

Although Ruby pushed her parents away during this time, they were always clear that they loved her no matter what. They would ask questions like ‘what is it about being a girl that means you can’t live the life you want to?’ Ruby says if she’d been given the chance to transition she’d have taken it straight away.

But later in her teenage years, she began to reconsider her view of her gender and her belief that she could ‘only be happy through transition’. Her mental health began to improve and she made strong friendships.

She started to realise that life-altering medical intervention wouldn’t change who she was on the inside. She chose to ‘detransition’ – to stop living as a boy – before she had taken more radical steps.

Evan Davis asked about the plans to ban ‘conversion therapy’; “trying to talk people out of being gay or being trans”.

“Obviously you don't want to torture somebody with an identity and make them feel like there's something wrong with them. But your experience obviously ... brings some complexity to this.”

“It absolutely does” said Kath.

“It is very clear to me that there is a risk that my husband and I could be accused of having done conversion therapy on our child…”

“I mean, I do think we were open to her in adulthood, making her own decision. But we did argue quite strongly with her that we felt it didn't ring true for us, given what we knew about her.”

Their story shows one of many dangers of a conversion therapy ban. It is vital that parents are able to challenge their children’s assumptions about the world when they sincerely believe them to be mistaken. It is not a responsible parent’s role to simply affirm everything their child claims about themselves.

As Kath points out, she could have faced accusations of ‘conversion therapy’ just for doing what any parent should. It would be a tragedy if we had a law like that.

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