“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
So spoke Justice Anthony Kennedy in his famous, or infamous, 1992 opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey largely reaffirming the right to abortion established twenty years earlier in Roe v. Wade. The passage has become the credo of modern judicial liberalism, the legal embodiment of a nonjudgmental therapeutic age in which the right to seek fulfillment, “actualization,” or solace in an array of psychological treatments of sometimes dubious validity is sacrosanct.
So long, that is, as the “concept of existence and meaning” that you seek to actualize is judged acceptable for you by the priests of nonjudgmentalism. If, however, it runs afoul of the ideological fashions of the day, then the political enforcers will come down on you and your emotional or spiritual counsellors like a ton of bricks.
One solution to the mystery of life that is particularly intolerable to the tolerant these days is the desire of some people who are primarily attracted to persons of the same sex to attempt to lead traditional heterosexual lives — perhaps because their predominant sexuality conflicts with deep-seated religious faith, intense desire to conceive and raise children the old-fashioned way, or simply with their sense of “who they are.” While in every other context, of course, liberals celebrate such a desire to “be yourself” (even favoring drastic medical and surgical alteration when, in the case of transgenderism, it conflicts with outward physical and sexual manifestations), in this one context they seek to legally prohibit it.
Starting in California in 2012, eight states and several localities have passed laws barring so-called “gay conversion therapy.” Until now the gay activists championing these bans have compromised by limiting their applicability to the counselling and treatment of minors. But a bill that was recently introduced in, and which will undoubtedly be passed by, New York City’s radical City Council extends this prohibition to adults as well. So therapists will be barred from engaging in any conversation with adult patients conflicted about their sexuality, other than to essentially read them a government-approved script. And the New York law will likely be the model for future bills elsewhere.
These laws are an unprecedented intrusion into the therapist-patient relationship and an appalling attack upon both freedom of speech and the freedom of choice to decide how to live one’s life that liberals claim to prize. They suggest that the cultural left does not really believe in personal autonomy and choice but rather in imposing its choices upon everyone else.
Contrary to the impression fostered by the proponents of these laws who have “demonized conversion therapy beyond recognition,” the laws are not limited to particular exotic or abusive practices or to those Big Bad Christian Therapist Bogeymen. “Conversion therapy” is typically defined, as in the law recently passed in Connecticut, as “any practice or treatment that seeks to change sexual orientation or gender identity” (emphasis added). So ordinary talk therapy is covered. As are nice liberal therapists on Manhattan’s Upper East Side who actually try to work with their patients to explore their feelings and desires rather than just ideologically browbeating them about “accepting their identity.” And “seeks to change” is a dangerously vague legal standard that could be triggered and untriggered multiple times in the course of therapy as the patient’s goals change.
Consider this scenario, which the New York City Council should but won’t: The city’s First Lady, Chirlayne McCray, was an out-and-proud lesbian before she met, fell in love with, and married future Mayor Bill de Blasio (incensing many of her gay friends, one of whom refused to attend the wedding). If McCray had been in therapy when she started dating de Blasio, and such a law had been in effect, the therapist could well have been in violation for doing or saying anything to encourage the relationship. If McCray had confided that she was less physically attracted to de Blasio than to women, the therapist would have been barred from suggesting ways to work on that. Given the threat of loss of license under most of these statutes, it’s highly unlikely that McCray’s therapist would have risked doing anything other than laying down the lesbian party line to her, rather than actually working with her on her emotional and sexual feelings. That’s therapeutic malpractice, and these laws require it.
The ironies inherent in these laws would be funny if they weren’t so cruel. Liberals deride everything they amorphously label “conversion therapy” as ineffective “quackery.” But if that’s the standard then an awful lot of therapists are going to have to go out of business. Funny how the same lifestyle liberals who support these prohibitions are often the first to rapturously embrace art therapy, dance therapy, EST, and every other New Agey fad therapy that comes down the pike.
Another irony, illustrated by McCray’s history, is that these laws rebuke the old cliché of the sexual left that “sexuality is fluid,” a contention with support in modern research (particularly for the adolescents to whom most of the laws are currently limited). But the same liberals who will still agree with this contention because it sounds so liberated are also the first to agree, in the present context, that sexuality is also “unchangeable.” Duh?! Highlighting this contradiction, the “Q” in the LBGTQ alphabet soup is sometimes said to stand for “Questioning” as well as “Queer,” but what does “questioning” mean if the question is only allowed to have one answer? Under these laws any therapist who in the course of treating a “questioning” patient dares entertain any but the left’s doctrinaire answer to the question faces fines and license revocation.
The crowning and cruelest irony, as alluded to above, is in the glaring contradiction between the left’s support for these therapy bans for those uncomfortable with their sexual orientation and its simultaneous support for invasive medical intervention in the case of those uncomfortable with their physical sex. So on the one hand, therapists are banned from even talking to to same-sex-attracted adolescents and teens (and, under the New York bill, adults). At the same time, liberals back the administration of powerful hormones to block puberty in children as young as eight and mutilating sex-reassignment surgery on 18-year-olds.
Finally, supporters of the therapy bans frequently play the suicide card to try to shut down debate, pointing to a few tragic anecdotes where young people such as transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn have killed themselves after allegedly being “forced” to undergo therapy against their will. There’s no hard data on such suicides, however. Moreover, whatever terrible abuses occurred in the past, gay teens and adults are no longer “forced” into therapy. As one leading conversion practitioner notes, “my colleagues and I always follow the lead of the client in goal setting because we understand that there is no genuine therapeutic process without client self-determination,” and in fact he declines to treat the majority of adolescent patients brought to him by their parents. “In these instances, my main focus becomes working with the parents and encouraging them to love their child.”
More fundamentally, it seems likely that the suicide argument is now a two-way street. Today, all the cultural signals are loaded not against same-sex attracted kids who are comfortable with their orientation but against those who are not. While the former are continually affirmed in the mass culture, the latter hear every day on TV that they can never change, and that it is shameful and deceitful for them to even attempt to. And now these laws require therapists to tell these desperate kids, “Get over it, get used to it.” How many of them will react by trying to kill themselves? Perhaps some activists realize this and think, “better these kids die than ‘our’ kids.” But a truly humane policy (an old-fashioned liberal policy) would be to try to minimize suicide on both sides of the cultural divide. The only way to do this to respect everyone’s right to choice and self-determination. These horrible statutes do not do this, and they will do far more harm than good.