Gender Identity ≠ Sexual Orientation: The Counseling Ban Sleight of Hand

COMMENTARY: Some jurisdictions are trying to ban counseling for gender-identity issues, right alongside bans on sexual-orientation ‘conversion therapy.’

The concept of 'gender identity' sees the sex of the body as not very substantial and potentially 'fluid.'
The concept of 'gender identity' sees the sex of the body as not very substantial and potentially 'fluid.' (photo: Ronnie Chua / Shutterstock)

You may be aware of the worldwide attempts to ban “conversion therapy” that “intends to change or suppress sexual orientation.” But did you know that some jurisdictions are now slipping in the phrase “or gender identity” into these laws? 

For instance, Scotland is considering banning any therapy that “intends to change or suppress sexual orientation or gender identity.” The Australian province of Victoria in 2021 used this language, as well. The addition of these three seemingly innocuous words, “or gender identity” compounds the problems of these already-problematic therapy bans.

In the first place, the concepts of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” are not precise analogues of each other, even using the terms as understood and promoted by their sexual-revolutionary proponents. According to the American Psychological Association, “sexual orientation” “refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic and/or sexual attractions” and is widely claimed to be an “inborn” “immutable” trait. The APA further states that “gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of being male, female or something else” and that transgender people are “persons whose gender identity, gender expression or behavior does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.”

In its explanation of its new law prohibiting therapy that “intends to change or suppress sexual orientation or gender identity,” Australia’s Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission describes “gender identity” as: “what you feel and understand about who you are as a person.” 

Wait a minute. Feelings are changeable, even volatile. Our self-understanding can certainly change. It is impossible in principle for a concept as subjective as gender identity to be “inborn” or “immutable,” as sexual orientation is said to be. 

The concept of “gender identity” sees the sex of the body as not very substantial and potentially “fluid.” By contrast, the concept of “sexual orientation” presupposes the importance of the sex of the body: A “gay” man insists on a male sex partner, not a masculine woman. A “lesbian” woman insists on a female sex partner: An effeminate man will not suffice. 

For transgender people, the sexual-revolutionary narrative prescribes medical interventions to make their bodies align with their feelings. By contrast, the very same narrative encourages people having a not-strictly-heterosexual orientation to accept their patterns of thoughts and feelings as reflecting their “true selves.” They must not intervene to change themselves. Even talking with someone about their options is forbidden. That’s what the ban on so-called “conversion therapy” is all about. 

The major alternative to medical interventions on transgender persons is “watchful waiting.” Give young people time to see whether the misalignment of their bodies and their feelings resolves itself. Several European countries have backed off from immediate and aggressive medical interventions for young people in favor of this “watchful-waiting” approach.

But part of the “watchful-waiting” protocol surely includes some forms of counseling. Therapy may allow the client to address other mental-health issues or explore the possible reasons for their discomfort with their bodies. This “watchful waiting” could easily be construed as “conversion therapy” that “intends to change or suppress gender identity.” 

By slipping “gender identity” into the language of these bills, the sexual revolutionaries are hobbling the chief competitor to their agenda, without having to explain or defend themselves. They are hoping that no one notices how inapt and inept their analogy between sexual orientation and gender identity really is. 

As the final nail in the coffin of this hocus-pocus trick, the studies that claim “conversion therapy” harms people (shoddy as they are) only examine therapy to change sexual orientation, not gender identity. An important 2019 critique of the American Psychological Association’s 2018 position paper on this issue noted that not a single study cited at that point had even examined gender identity. (And by the way, the APA reaffirmed that statement in August 2023.) The facile equation between sexual orientation and gender identity is simply untenable. 

Interestingly enough, some policymakers are calling this very equation into question. British Member of Parliament and Minister for Women and Equalities Kemi Badenoch observed that some boys with feminine personality traits who might embrace a gay identity are instead undergoing treatment to change the sex of their bodies. She stated, “Gender-affirming care for children could be considered a new form of conversion therapy,” that is, a set of treatments that aim to transform or “convert” a gay boy into a straight girl. 

Whether Badenoch will support a ban on “gender-affirming care” as part of a ban on “conversion therapy,” or whether she will abandon attempts to regulate the counseling room, remains to be seen. 

Let us state facts plainly: People can change their sexual orientation without doing themselves psychological harm. It happens every day. And, increasingly, people who once believed they were trans are detransitioning

I encounter men and women around the world who have journeyed away from a lesbian life, a gay self-understanding or a trans identity. I’ve listened to people still on the journey and some who have been comfortably married to opposite-sex partners for decades. There are whole groups of people who have left or are trying to leave the LGBT life, such as members of Courage/Encourage, Desert Stream/Living Waters, and Know His Love. You can easily look up the Voice of the Voiceless in Minnesota, the ChangedMovement in California, and X-Out-Loud in the U.K. And don’t forget the former Mr. Gay Italy 1990, who now dedicates his life to helping others with same-sex attraction. I don’t think the radical sexual revolutionaries can easily dismiss all of these people as deluded, crazy or lying. 

Every one of these individuals presents a threat to the ideological structure of the LGBT branch of the sexual revolution. Shutting them up is a high priority. The opponents of counseling freedom are really opponents of those who have successfully changed their lives and those who may someday wish to. Trying to ban sexual-orientation change therapy is bad enough. Trying to ban counseling for gender-identity issues, based on a sleight of hand, is indefensible.