Your Child Is Confused About Sexuality: Who Knows Best? You? Or the State?

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In this country, you have the right to believe the lie that homosexuality and gender confusion are healthy, normal, or natural. But you don’t have the right to make others live that lie.

Yet, apparently, some Massachusetts legislators think they do.

That’s what’s at stake with a bill on Beacon Hill that would ban so-called “conversion therapy,” which consists of a therapist offering advice and techniques about how to leave behind same-sex attraction or transgenderism.

In support of the bill, legislators heard testimony Tuesday from a homosexual man who says he was subjected to electroshock treatment as an adolescent some years ago to try to overcome his feelings of attraction to members of the same sex. The treatment didn’t work, but it subjected him to a tremendous amount of pain.

Horrible. But also beside the point. No one arguing against the bill is arguing for electroshock treatment. As Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, pointed out during the hearing, the bill currently before the Legislature would ban “talk therapy.”

Another way of putting it is that it would limit what therapists and patients are allowed to talk about. Presumably if a patient expresses an interest in altering feelings about sexual attraction or gender identity, the therapist is either supposed to censor the patient’s sentiments or sit there mute. How is that serving the patient?

Consider the example of Walt Heyer, a biological male who at age 42 had a sex change operation. He lived as a woman for eight years, but eventually determined that he had always been a man and should live like one, so he transitioned back.

What’s this bill saying to Walt Heyer? That his journey from being a man identifying as a woman was legitimate … but that his journey back wasn’t? That he was entitled to psychotherapy as a person whose gender identity was confused … but that once he determined his biological sex and gender identity should line up, that he wasn’t?

Supporters of the bill looking for a narrow victory may counter that Heyer’s case doesn’t count because he was an adult when he went through his transitions. To be precise, in its current version the bill appears to affect only children:

“Under no circumstances shall a licensed professional advertise for or engage in sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts with a patient less than 18 years of age. Any licensed professional violating this prohibition shall be such subject to discipline by the appropriate licensing board, which may include suspension or revocation of license.”

Yet that observation is doubly wrong. To begin with, Heyer as a minor might have benefited from some healthy therapeutic intervention of the sort this bill seeks to ban. Perhaps he might have avoided the two painful journeys he ended up making — the one away from his real identity and the one back to it.

(One state representative who supports the measure called it a “consumer protection bill for parents.” Don’t bother with that pesky Internet, parents — just do what the state government says you should. Beacon Hill knows best.)

Second, the point of this bill isn’t really transgenderism. It’s to chill opposition to or even questioning of homosexuality.

A couple of generations ago, homosexuality was almost universally taken to be a bad thing. Nowadays, the reaction is mixed — in polite society, especially liberal society, everyone knows what he’s supposed to say, which can be summed up in the old Seinfeld line “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” If you’ve ever seen that episode, you know that the line is funny, in part, because through repetition it makes the point that the people saying it do think there’s something wrong with that. Privately, many (probably most) people still find homosexuality unfortunate at best, and not something they want for their children.

But here’s the point:  Whatever people think about human sexuality, they have a right to think it, and as long as it doesn’t involve force or physical abuse of a minor, they have a right to foster an approach they believe in within their own families.

Are you a secular liberal who sincerely believes that homosexuality is no worse than heterosexuality and that acting on it has no moral implications and you’re sure you don’t mind having a son or daughter so inclined? So be it. You’re wrong to think that way, but you have a right to be wrong. No one should force you or your loved ones to undergo a form of psychotherapy you don’t want or to refrain from engaging a form of psychotherapy you do want.

Are you a religious person who believes that God doesn’t approve of homosexual sex acts? Or someone who believes for non-religious reasons that homosexuality is unfortunate because of the emotional and physical damage it can do to people who experience it?

Supporters of this anti-conversion-therapy bill don’t just think you’re wrong — they want to prevent you from acting on your beliefs. They want to prevent you from calling on an expert who shares your approach to help you and your loved ones get to where you want to go emotionally.

If small children or underage teen-agers experiencing anxiety about sexual attraction or gender identity are the subjects we’re talking about, decisions about how to deal with these matters ought to be made by parents. If we’re talking about adults who are in this situation, then the individual adults ought to be able to make their own decisions.

Instead, though, this bill seeks to take those decisions away and impose one particular approach from the top down. It’s an attack on parents, families, and freedom.