Action Against Conversion Therapy

It is with outrage and sadness that we write this update, following the news from UKCP last Friday of its decision to withdraw from the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on conversion therapy https://www.psychotherapy.org.uk/news/ukcp-update-on-conversion-therapy/#background.

 

We feel outraged and saddened because we know that this is having a direct and harmful impact on people’s lives, and that the pain such decisions make, is often unacknowledged.

IFT has always taken a clear position against conversion therapy and given this news, we are looking into how we can directly sign the MoU ourselves.

 

As an Organisational Member, we have been in discussion with the UKCP’s College of Family, Couples and Systemic Psychotherapy (CFCSP) to share our concerns about why this decision was made, how it was made without any consultation with its organisational members, and to explore what conversational spaces can be created to consider the impact of this decision on people’s well-being and mental health. It is important to say that, Kate Waters, Chair of CFCSP has responded positively to our calls for an extraordinary general meeting. In fact, the College itself, have also expressed concern about the lack of consultation with them and the impact on its own members.

 

In aligning ourselves to, and embedding, bold ethical values we have been reflecting upon how organisations should not rely solely on governing bodies to safeguard clients and define ethical principles. We believe that ethical practice has to be accountable to marginalised voices and feedback from people with lived experience; the real lives impacted on by dominant oppressive ideas. Being ethical also includes calling out abuse of power such as transphobia and racism, which we know is embedded in all of our institutions.

 

This is in the context of increasingly vocal transphobia emerging within wider society and more specifically our psychotherapy profession. An example of this being a recent article within the Association of Family Therapy and systemic practice (AFT) Context magazine about the use of personal pronouns; following complaints of which, the online article was pulled, and a statement written by AFT in the most recent Context edition explaining why (although the hard copy is still in circulation).

Below are two examples of complaints about this article written by senior members of IFT:

 

Dear AFT
I write to you with a heavy heart and to be honest, full of rage, as I have just read a copy of the latest CONTEXT magazine. As I am no longer a member of AFT I do not get the magazine so am only now reading its contents. I am utterly appalled by Mark Hurst’s article entitled ‘pronoun cons’.
 

There are so many things wrong with this article, and it is so full of nonsensical, offensive and harmful statements that I do not know where to start. Mark Hurst rightly describes language as politically laden, and then goes on to use language to dog whistle, and just blatantly whistle, to transphobia (such as trying to appeal to those who believe that there is a conspiracy of transgender people who are trying to gain access to gender-specific spaces only cis-gendered people are entitled to).

Using medical terms such as ‘gender incongruence’ and ‘gender dysphoria’, and referring to a ‘small minority of people’, and ‘preferred pronouns’ as well as suggesting that respecting people’s pronouns is ‘fashionable’ echolalia, and ‘not consequence-free’, not only betrays his own ignorance, biases and prejudices, but is incredibly dangerous. To refer to self-description as conjecture is highly offensive. He also refers to ‘vulnerable children’, in relation to pronoun use, as if children are harmed by being encouraged to love and respect themselves and each other.

Despite presenting itself as a benign theoretical piece about the semantic implications of how we understand and use words like male and female, man and woman, his and her, the article is actually deeply harmful to real people living real lives. Personally and professionally, I know people who are routinely harmed and wounded by this type of rhetoric, essentially, questioning or dismissing their existence (imagine being forced to routinely read ‘debates’ about whether or not you exist). As a working class, racially minoritised African woman, I am also all-too familiar with this type of dehumanising rhetoric – for example, when racists complain about the ‘consequences’ of immigration, asylum seeking, or ‘multi-culturalism’. As if our mere presence is detrimental to ‘humanity’ (a humanity we are not considered to be part of). What is of particular concern is the way in which this author uses systemic theory to undermine the use of personal pronouns and describe its ‘consequences’, all while refusing to situate himself, critically reflect on his own views and assumptions (e.g. who did he assume the audience was?) or highlight the dire consequences of transphobia in society, having direct impact on people and their wellbeing.

The author ends his piece by claiming that our responsibility to act ethically extends beyond mere politeness. And yet he showed no understanding whatsoever about his own responsibility to act ethically towards all people, including transgender people. 

Yes languages is politically laden – to be on the side of progressive inclusive humanising politics in service of a genuine belief in social justice is indeed a political act. Problematising inclusion, social justice and respect for all people, rather than problematising a prejudiced, oppressive and violent world, is also a political act.

Did the editor not review the author’s reference list? If they did they would have seen some worrying additions, such as the book ‘Cynical Therapies: Perspectives on the Antitherapeutic Nature of Critical Social Justice’ by Val Thomas, whose (very concerning) ideas, are the antithesis of what AFT claims to stand for.

I wonder what the editor thought this article would add to the systemic community. I am also left wondering about the author himself – why this topic? Why does he have an issue with personal pronouns? Why does he believe he is an authority on what transgender people need? 

I am truly despairing of a (systemic) community where being asked to make the slightest effort in how we refer to people, in an effort to be non-violent and not harmful, can be so openly, and brazenly ridiculed, challenged and undermined, as having too negative a ‘consequence’ on the ‘rest of us’. This is not the first time that calls to be respectful and humanising of socially marginalised and oppressed people is twisted into some sort of ‘socially coercive practice’ that is ‘oppressing everyone’.

This is not just hurtful to transgender people but to anyone who has ever sat with a suicidal young trans person forced to live in a transphobic world.

I am hoping that AFT can act swiftly to interrupt this process by not only pulling this article, but making a public comment about the pervasive transphobia that is embedded in our profession and how it will make a concerted effort to address how it is showing up within parts of AFT itself.

I look forward to your response.

Best wishes

Taiwo

18.2.2024

 

 

Dear AFT

I am writing to express my great concern over the article appearing in Context this month by Mark Hurst on Pronoun Cons. I found this a deeply offensive and “othering “article towards queer, trans and nonbinary people, their families and friends. The article completely excludes and denigrates the experiences of LGBTQIA+ people and seems to have wilfully chosen to silence these voices, as such it is colonising in its intent and effects. I think this being published in Context, which is so widely read by the systemic community, is deeply worrying and potentially dangerous, whilst apparently masquerading as “common sense”, and thus condoning anti trans sentiments and fostering their spread in the systemic community. I would have hoped that systemic therapists would strongly resist and stand against the fierce level of anti-trans debate so predominant in the press currently, which dishonour queer people and feed into malice, prejudice and misinformation. This has real and serious consequences for people in the world.

I would like to see this article removed from the digital copy of Context and an apology made.

 

Regards

Karen

 

Dr Karen Partridge

 

Consultant Systemic Psychotherapist and Clinical Psychologist

Mindfulness Approaches

UKCP and HCPC Registered

16.2.2024

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