Techniques for Trans Youth to Resist Conversion Therapy
This article is the basis for the video above
WHY WE’RE MAKING THIS: Conversion is increasingly being applied to trans youth. It doesn’t work, is considered harmful and unethical by every major health organization in the US (including the American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Medical Association, and the World Professional Association of Transgender Health). Studies show conversion therapy doubles the risk of suicide for trans people. In other words, transgender adults who underwent conversion therapy are about twice as likely to have attempted suicide as those who didn’t. Currently, unsupportive parents of transgender youth are collaborating online to help find conversion therapists for their trans and gender non-conforming kids.
The goal of this project is to give trans teens the tools needed to effectively protect their mental health.
WHAT A CONVERSION THERAPIST IS TRYING TO DO: Conversion therapists come in several flavors: ones who try to convince you to stop being trans because it is sinful, ones who think that you’re trans because of some sort of trauma, ones who think it’s due to internalized misogyny, and ones who will try to convince you that you should just learn to suffer with untreated gender dysphoria because it makes you a better person.
Initially, they will pretend to be on your side, that they accept you, they are concerned for you. The goal is to get you to talk, and then use what you say to hurt, shame, or gaslight you into agreeing with them.
Ultimately, they want you to doubt or hate yourself so much that you renounce your gender identity and never take any steps towards transitioning. They want you to believe that this is the best path for you and your family.
The techniques described here apply to any of these conversion therapist types.
WHERE THESE RESITANCE TECHNIQUES COME FROM: The techniques we discuss come from historical experiences of POWs. Conversion therapy shares some similarities with the “friendly” style of interrogation, which is actually the most effective. In conversion therapy you have someone involuntarily being questioned and can be punished for providing answers the interrogator doesn’t like, whether it is being shipped to a worse camp, or a for profit “troubled teen” facility. Unlike military interrogations, the conversion therapist cannot beat you or have you executed. They only has 55 minutes per session instead of hours, and they stop getting paid if you stop seeing them.
We use these differences to our advantage.
WHAT YOU ARE TRYING TO DO: Your number one goal is to mentally protect yourself. Conversion therapy is essentially an attempt by a stranger paid by your parents to gain your confidence, and then decide for you how you identify and who you should be. The only acceptable outcome to a conversion therapist is that you aren’t trans and will not transition. You are trying to give them nothing they can use to hurt you. Your resistance should be subtle enough that you don’t get punished for not cooperation.
WHAT YOUR STRATEGY IS: First and foremost, you’re trying to run out the clock on every session without giving them any information that can use against you. Long meandering non-answers, bathroom breaks, playing dumb, misdirection, and strategic use of questions directed at the therapist are all your friend. You can be (seemingly) cooperative and responsive, while providing nothing of value. Stony silence, angry outbursts, insults, and other actions that seem hostile to the conversion therapist will probably mean the end of sessions with them but increase the odds you get shipped off to a wilderness program, then a for-profit “troubled teen” program, where the conversion therapy will continue in a more prison-like environment.
FIRST THING TO DO IS ESTABLISH IF THEY ARE A CONVERSION THERAPIST: You came out (voluntarily or involuntarily), and your parents dragged you to a therapist you’ve never met before. Can you trust them? Figuring this out is surprisingly simple. Conversion therapists will rarely use your preferred name, and basically never use your preferred pronouns unless they match your sex assigned at birth. If you suspect you are being put in from of a conversion therapist, request that they use a preferred name and pronouns. Virtually any legitimate therapist will respect this basic request by a patient.
If the therapist does use your preferred name and pronouns, it’s probably safe to talk to them more openly, and you should work with them.
If they refuse either, start using delaying techniques immediately. They are not your friend, no matter how nice they seem. They are there to convince you that you’re not trans, and nothing you could say or do would cause them to accept your identity. Do not even try.
ABOUT THE TECHNIQUES: You need to mix them up and switch between them. You can even combine them (e.g. you’re feeling so tired that you give long, rambling answers that go nowhere). Don’t go to the well on any of them too often though, or the therapist will catch on to what you’re doing. Generally, don’t use them as soon as a tough question comes up, because that will tip them off on what things you don’t want to answer. The goal is to use rotate through them as needed to prevent the therapist from locking on.
TECHNIQUE #1: EXPLOIT THEIR DESIRE TO BUILD RAPPORT AND KEEP YOU TALKING — Avoid answering direct questions. Don’t tell them anything important or emotionally valuable. Instead, take advantage of this by answering questions long rambling stories about random unimportant stuff that goes nowhere. It’s easy to run out the clock this way, and trans youth who have been put in coerced conversion therapy have successfully used this technique. I When you get asked a question, drag it immediately into the weeds with segues like, “That’s really interesting. Good question. It kind or reminds me of my cousin Steve, who always used to drink a can of Coke before…”
It’s one of the best in your arsenal. If you need inspiration, watch videos of Grandpa from the Simpsons. This is just about the perfect example to take a conversation off the rails but does it in a way that gives the listener hope that it might come back eventually.
Don’t use this too much, though, as a smart one will eventually catch on to what you’re doing.
TECHNIQUE #2: REQUEST A BATHROOM BREAK — If the therapist denies a break, continue to repeatedly insist with growing desperation that you need one. As a last resort, you can simply let go and pee on their couch, cry, and claim you couldn’t hold it any longer and “why didn’t you just let me go?” Yes, you end up a disgusting soggy mess, but the session is effectively over, and provides a basis for filing a claim against the therapist with the state certification board.
This last part is high risk, however: it will likely be considered hostile, and could earn you a ticket to “troubled teen” camp.
At the very least, though, they’ll never ignore your bathroom requests again.
WARNING: Don’t use this very often, they’ll catch on to what you’re doing. Don’t use it when they ask a question you don’t want to answer; it helps the conversion therapist figure out what makes you uncomfortable, and you’re trying to avoid giving them information.
TECHNIQUE #3: PLAY UP PAIN, SICKNESS: Teens have been playing sick to get out of school since the beginning of time. If people think you are sick, and they’re not COVIDIOTS, they won’t want to sit trapped in an office with you. Always exaggerate how tired, sick, weak or injured you are. You can use it (occasionally) to duck out of sessions if you know they’re coming, or to provide slow, lethargic, monosyllable answers to questions. “I’m really very sorry, but I feel terrible, couldn’t sleep last night, have a splitting headache, and I just don’t have the energy for this,” should be a ticket out of any sane therapist’s office. A coughing fit just to ramp up the tension doesn’t hurt either.
Don’t overuse this, they will catch on, but keep it in your back pocket to get out of a session or avoid it altogether.
TECHNIQUE #4 EXPLOIT THEIR DESIRE TO BUILD RAPPORT BY ENGAGING ON THINGS YOU DON’T ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT — It’s actually better to talk about favorite sportsball teams when you couldn’t possibly care less about any sort of sportsball, because it gives the impression that you do, leading them to make incorrect inferences. In the early session, the conversion therapist will be working hard to build a rapport, and may go along with this in hopes that it will get you to open up later.
As long as the therapist is talking, you’re saying nothing, running out the clock, and you won’t seem hostile in the process. It’s almost as good as silence at ensuring you say nothing of value to the therapist, with none of the drawbacks.
TECHNIQUE #5 (EXPERT LEVEL) TECHNIQUE PLAY STUPID: One of the most spectacularly successful techniques ever used by an American POW to avoid interrogation was to play dumb. Doug Hegdahl was (seemingly) friendly and helpful to a fault but pretended to be too stupid to understand anything but the most basic commands of his captors. When you’re in with a conversion therapist, you can run down the clock by always asking for clarification. “I don’t understand the question” “Can you explain that a different way?” “I’m a visual learner, can you draw a picture?” “What do you mean?”
Pretending to misunderstand the question, and then giving answers that don’t address the real one, also buy you time.
This is an expert level technique, and difficult to pull of convincingly however. If you’re a straight A student, pretending to be illiterate (like Doug Hegdahl did) probably won’t fly.
TECHNIQUE #6: MISDIRECTION: Conversion therapists really want to get into your head to make you doubt yourself or accept that spending your life in pain is what’s best for everyone. Your job is to keep them away from the part of yourself that is LGBT. In Viet Nam, POWs would tell their captors things that they knew their captors already knew. Likewise, when you’re not babbling like Grandpa, you can talk about things that aren’t really the problem.
Saying “My math class is hard and stresses me out. Can we talk about how I should handle that?” is basically like putting out bait for therapists. Drag out this discussion as long as possible. It also potentially offers a chance to work on things you actually want to work on. In fact, some of them are weird enough to think that helping you deal with math will make you “not-trans”.
Note: Don’t offer up anything that could remotely be blamed for making you LGBT. Talking about math class, is okay. Divorce or death of someone close to you: no. They’ll try to blame your queerness on this.
TECHNIQUE #7: LONG, THOUGHTFUL PAUSES: Sitting in sullen, defiant silence isn’t a great option: it can actually make your situation worse. However, taking long, thoughtful pauses to compose yourself, consider your options, and choose a response in line with the techniques presented here is an effective way to buy time, comport yourself, remember your strategies, and think of good answers that follow them works in your favor. A therapist will rarely push you to answer quickly, and if they do, push back with, “I was thinking, and that disrupted my train of though. Give me a moment, please.” They generally won’t punish you when you’re appearing to be cooperative.
TECHNIQUE #8: MAINTAIN A SUPPORT NETWORK: The goal of conversion therapists, and parents working with them, is often to cut you off from the world, and anyone not actively working to undermine your sense of identity and worth as a queer person. Having people to help re-center yourself is crucial. Try to maintain a support network and failing that you can always call the Trevor Project crisis line at 1–866–488–7386. If you let them know you’re a teen who has been involuntarily placed in conversion therapy, they will make time for you. If you can, use a friend’s phone to avoid having your parents or therapist checking your call history.
TECHNIQUE #9: REMOVE YOURSELF FROM THE SITUATION: If you are seriously considering self-harm, go to the nearest Emergency Room, tell them your situation (suicidal ideation, plan to act on it, conversion therapy). Emphasize that you do not feel safe at home. Seeking out an ER (preferably one that doesn’t belong to a religiously affiliated hospital) and asking to be put in in-patient psychiatric hold is something you only should do if you are truly at the end of your ability to cope: some parts of the psychiatric community remain hostile to trans youth.
While there, you goal should be to ensure that you do not return home: If you are sent back to your parents there is a non-trivial chance you will be sent away to a “troubled teen” camp until you turn 18.
THINGS NOT TO DO #1: Do not use violence, aggression, anger, threats, yelling, or anything else that makes you seem difficult or dangerous. Don’t let your grades plummet or do anything destructive or criminal… that’s a one-way ticket to a “wilderness camp” followed by a for-profit “Troubled Teen” correctional facility in the Utah desert. If you thought life sucked at home, going to where they won’t let you be openly LGBT, talk with friends, can put you in solitary, forbid anyone from addressing you with your preferred name and pronouns, refuse medically necessary care, have frequent conversion therapy sessions, and only give you food you can’t eat, is way worse.
THINGS NOT TO DO #2: Do no tell them about anything important about your life, or anything that is even the least bit stressful or traumatic that ever happened to you that they can blame your transness on. Their goal is to use this against you. One of the most common techniques used by conversion therapists is to find something traumatic that happened in your past, no matter how minor or how long ago, and use it to blame your queerness on. If you confess you were sad when your pet goldfish died when you were 4, and they don’t have anything else to go on, they’ll try to use this as the reason why you’re LGBT.
THINGS NOT TO DO #3: Do not talk about anything LGBT related, or gender non-conforming with the therapist. One of the most successful strategies “friendly” interrogators use is to get the subjects talking about the subject of interest in a general sense, and then just letting them go without asking any actual questions. The conversion therapist is either interested in your “trauma”, or how you got “sucked into the trans cult.” Some even believe Manga and Anime make kids trans. The reason you’re plunked down in front of a conversion therapist is because you’re LGBT. They want to draw you out to attack the validity of that identity. The further you stay from the subjects they want you talking about, the better.
If they try to drag you back to the topic, use the techniques described earlier to avoid it.
THINGS NOT TO DO #4: Don’t lie and avoid half-truths. Conversion therapists will try to catch you in these and use them against you. They can serve as proof that you’re a pathological liar or suffer from some other disorder and thus need harsher treatment. Remember, they’re incentivized not to send you off, because they’re making anywhere from 60-$150 an hour while you’re babbling about nothing in their office every other week, as long as that babbling isn’t a lie.
THINGS NOT TO DO #5: Don’t go stone cold silent. If you are too uncooperative, they will eventually wash their hands of you, and may write up a diagnosis based on your silence that will allow your parents to ship you off to a “troubled teen” camp. If you go silent at specific points, it will tip them off as to which questions make you uncomfortable, and home in on that.
THINGS NOT TO DO #6: Do not attempt to engage in a battle of wits, reason with them, or prove anything to the conversion therapist. They professionally gaslight kids like you 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year. They coordinate with each other to overcome any rhetoric or ideas you might come up with. They will draw you out, and then go for the psychological jugular to cut your reasoning or facts to ribbons and then undercut you sense of worth efficiently and effectively. It’s what they do for a living. They’re better at this than you ever will be. Do not try to play their game: it’s like if a high school basketball team went up against the Los Angeles Lakers.
The only winning move is not to play.