13 October 2020

Bill C-6

On October 1st, the Canadian government proposed legislation banning conversion therapy on anyone under 18, using this definition of conversion therapy (C-6 proposal):

320.‍101In sections 320.‍102 to 320.‍106, conversion therapy means a practice, treatment or service designed to change a person’s sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to cisgender, or to repress or reduce non-heterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour. For greater certainty, this definition does not include a practice, treatment or service that relates
(a)to a person’s gender transition; or 
(b)to a person’s exploration of their identity or to its development.​

Unfortunately, that definition repeats a common error: It treats sexual orientation and gender identity as the same.  As pointed out previously however, there is no such thing as conversion therapy for gender identity: The existing evidence pertains to sexual orientation and only to sexual orientation.  [For a review, see Cantor, 2019 or Cantor, 2018.]

Although the proposal includes language apparently aimed at protecting legitimate therapy from the ban, the language is ambiguous (at best), so provides only ambiguous protection.  Especially in the current environment, we have every reason to expect extremists to declare that anything and everything other than immediate affirmation counts as conversion therapy.  Because there do not exist any manuals or research on conversion therapy for gender identity (again, there actually is no such thing), I do not know how a person, court, or policy-maker might decide what might be in or out.  Everyone has, so far, merely adopted something from sexual orientation conversion therapy attempts and imagined a gender identity equivalent.  One would reasonably predict a chill effect across licensed mental health providers making the service essentially unavailable.

I do not understand the language of part (a).  A practice that “relates to a person’s gender transition” would seem to cover every aspect of the entire issue, including efforts to avoid a gender transition.  Similarly incomprehensible to me is part (b), which together with the intro says, “conversion therapy means a practice…designed to change gender identity to cisgender [but] does not include a practice...that relates...to its development”.  It is not possible for something to relate to development and not relate to change.  Moreover, because the (purported) point of conversion therapy is to develop a new orientation/identity, this language would appear to excuse all of what it is attempting to ban.  I can imagine only that there must be legal/political meanings I am not appreciating, as these appear to me to be self-contradictory word salad.


Next, to refer to anything as an “exploration” is to assume there exists something solid and unchanging that we need only to observe.  Although the evidence indicates that sexual orientation fits that description, there is no evidence that gender identity does.  


Ultimately, the text does not resolve the basic situation: A child attends a clinic and does not know what their identity is.  “Exploration” can meaningfully include doing one’s best to feel comfortable with the original gender before approving medical or other dramatic interventions.  The efforts to become comfortable in the original gender would be indistinguishable from (or misrepresentable as) conversion therapy wherein cisgender is the goal rather than being the step that happens to have the least associated risk and therefore gets tried first.

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