Perhaps the most personal thing I’ve ever written.
Content warning, obviously.
I’ll explain at the end.
I went to a posh boys school where homophobic bullying was rampant. From both the students and the teachers.
So of course, I was in the closet for a long time. Even though I always knew I was trans.
One day, something happened to someone in our friendship group. It’s not my story to tell, but it suddenly put a lot of things into perspective. We were all shell-shocked.
That night, I stayed over at a friend’s house, and I came out to them. It wasn’t a big deal, and it went a thousand times better than I expected. We’re close friends to this day.
The second person I came out to was a school counsellor.
There were multiple people on the counselling team (big school). But one of them was also a teacher, and he ran many of our school’s assemblies.
I felt like I knew him already, and he always seemed so calm and thoughtful. So I booked an appointment with him.
In the first appointment, I immediately told him “I think I’m transgender” and then had a panic attack.
He immediately talked me through some breathing exercises, and all I did in the first session was practise how to calm down.
He guided me through some ‘mindfulness’, which mostly involved paying attention to my own breathing. It felt like a kind of meditation. And it worked really really really well.
It felt great to be able to regulate my own emotions like that. I felt in-control. And I walked away from that first session feeling invincible.
Looking back, I now know that this ‘great feeling’ became one of the main reasons why I stuck with the conversion therapy for so long.
Then I came out to everyone. It was super easy. I felt silly for waiting so long. The vast majority of people were fine. The occasional person acted weird.
Either way, it gave me a rush - an endorphin high.
It was the beginning of those
"wow, you're so brave and beautiful" comments that I’ve now learned to hate.
Looking back, the thing I actually enjoyed was the ‘relief’ of it all. I didn’t have to hold on to a secret anymore. If someone didn’t know, it weighed me down.
During this time, the sessions carried on. And all I did was breathing exercises. Every time I turned up, I was in such a nervous state that all we did was more ‘calming down’.
It felt great.
But I found it weird that we didn’t talk about what I originally said. Instead, we did more and more and more ‘mindfulness’.
He taught me more techniques for calming down. I became very good at it. I learned how to be patient.
Going to a session became a high. I always left feeling confident.
But that’s not what I booked counselling for. I went there because I was trans, and I wanted to do something about it. I didn’t want to be calm. I didn’t want to be ok with the status quo of my life.
He often asked me about girls. He asked me if I liked girls - if I was dating girls.
And he was pleased for me if I was. He congratulated me for “getting a girlfriend”. Although, at that age, it felt more like “playing couple”, rather than a real relationship.
He never considered that I might like guys.
And anyway, why would he ask me about all that? I wasn’t there to talk about relationships. I didn’t want to. But I trusted he had a good reason. After all… he helped me in other ways.
He asked me if I masturbate or not. He asked me how often I masturbate. He asked me if I enjoy it.
I didn’t know why he asked. But still I told him.
He introduced a new concept to me. I can’t remember the exact wording or terminology, but it was something like “The Man” or “The Inner Man” or “Man One” or something.
He told me that there was a man inside me. And I needed to foster that man, and let him grow, and let him blah blah blah.
If only I would discover my true manhood, then I wouldn’t be trans anymore.
As instructed, I practised being more ‘manly’ and squashed down any feelings of being a woman.
I look back now with disbelief. Why did I listen to him? How did I not see this for the transphobic rubbish it was? How could I possibly go along with it?
He told me “I’ve worked with someone like you before.”
“He even thought he was going to take things further. But he eventually realised that he was happy as a man.”
How did I not see the signs. I want to scream at my younger self. Get out of there.
He got me to do an exercise where I put a cushion on my lap. I had to hit it with both my hands and shout “No”.
This was supposed to be part of developing my ‘inner man’.
At one point he commented on a nervous tick I had. I kept pulling my jumper down at the front.
I’ve had various nervous ticks throughout my life, and I still do the jumper one today! Though not as much as I used to.
He told me that I pull my jumper down because I’m ashamed of my penis. I should be proud of it instead.
A strange thing to say to a minor.
Many years later, I discovered that the counselling department emailed my parents when I started sessions.
The email said something like “You’ve done a great job, but we’ll take it from here.”
It was completely unfair on my parents, and it served to maintain the secrecy of those sessions.
Time went on, and I got better at getting calm. I got better at controlling my breathing. But I grew miserable, and empty.
And I desperately sought the approval and affection of others to fill that void.
I became bitter. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. I mean I did, but I…
I had given up on the idea of persuing any more transition.
“It’s for the best,” I thought. “It would be too difficult and awkward. I’ll be much happier as a man.”
I eventually left school and went to university. I went to royal holloway, university of london, which has a large queer community. So much so, that some people affectionately call it “royal hollogay”.
It was a kind of awakening for me. I was far away from school, far away from everyone I knew. And everyone was lovely. It was a fresh start.
I was gently encouraged by friends to try again.
I went to the doctor. I told him “I’m transgender. I want you to refer me to the gender clinic so I can go on hormones.”
He booked me up for counselling instead.
I went back to the doctor. I told him, “No”.
“I don’t want counselling. I want you to refer me to the gender clinic.”
I went back to the doctor week after week. I asked repeatedly at the reception if my referral had been sent off yet. They always said it hadn’t, but they’d let me know as soon as it happens.
I went back to the doctor. But this time, I booked an appointment with the nurse. I explained what I wanted, and how the doctor wasn’t doing anything.
She looked shocked. Horrified even.
She booked me another appointment with the doctor, and she told me it would work this time.
I went back to the doctor. This time, he reluctantly filled in the form with me. I think the nurse gave him a stern talking-to.
He made some off-hand comments that made me feel weird.
“If this is REALLY what you want to do then…”
I don’t think he believed me. I think he hoped I would go get counselling, and then I wouldn’t want hormones anymore.
Mate, I already tried that.
I went back to the doctor. Because, back then, you had to jump through various hoops to get your referral sent off.
I had to have an hour long session with a psychologist. I had to repeat everything to her.
She wrote down on a piece of paper that I wasn’t insane.
I went back to the doctor. I had to have an hour long session with a psychiatric nurse.
He asked me all sorts of things.
He asked me if I’ve ever taken drugs.
He asked me if I masturbate or not. If I enjoy it. How often I do it. If I watch anything while I do it. If I have any fetishes.
He asked me to recount every single sexual partner I’ve been with - in detail.
He had no idea what “transgender” meant. He’d never heard of it before, and he found it very confusing.
He eventually wrote down on a piece of paper that I wasn’t insane.
I went back to the doctor. I had to do ‘talking therapies’ which is basically counselling.
In my first session, they gave me a questionnaire to find out how depressed and anxious I was.
They were very confused by the answers. Because at that point, my mental health was better than ever. I felt like I was finally getting somewhere, and overcoming the challenges in my way!
“We’re not sure why you’ve been referred to us” they said.
I explained it was just one of many hoops I had to go through to get referred to the gender clinic. They had no idea what “transgender” was. But they discharged me, and wrote down on a piece of paper that I wasn’t insane.
I went back to the doctor. I finally went through all the hoops! He told me he would send off my referral.
I went back to the doctor. I regularly checked on the status of my referral.
At the reception, they always told me “We haven’t heard anything back, but we’ll let you know as soon as we do.”
I went back to the doctor every week. The women at the reception desk began to know me by name.
“No, not yet.”
I started going back every month instead of every week. But still no luck.
I started to lose hope.
“We think you should stop coming to check.”
I think I was starting to annoy them by turning up so much.
“We’ll contact you if we hear anything.”
I stopped checking, and I completely gave up. It was too much trouble.
I went back to the doctor because my joints started to ache a lot. My wrists were killing me. The same doctor that refused to send off my referral injected my wrists with steroids to stop the pain.
Many years later, I found out that I developed psoriatic arthritis, triggered by stress. I now have to take heavy immuno-suppressants to stop my body attacking itself.
Many years later, I found out that my referral was never sent to the gender clinic. The doctor never did it. He didn’t think it was the right thing for me.
Life went on, and I had no hope of living as I wanted.
I was successfully ‘converted’.
When certain things happen to you, you gain a new sense of perspective. A diagnosis, a death, a global pandemic.
When these happen… things which once felt big… start to feel small.
Combined with stubbornness, perspective can go a long way.
When someone wants to make your life a misery, the best revenge is to do what makes you happy.
Don’t let them win!
As a knee-jerk reaction to my bad experiences with counsellors and doctors, I hated masculinity - especially my own masculinity.
I eventually realised that this was a knee-jerk reaction to those bad experiences.
I actually like a lot of my masculine traits. But I also like a lot of my feminine traits. True freedom came from acting independently of the trauma they gave me.
Nowadays, I’m leading the life I want to. It took a long time, but I’m finally there.
I skipped out a lot, but things feel different now. Hurdles are annoyances that I’ll get through eventually. I don’t have a choice.
I don’t think people know what conversion therapy is.
It’s often described as something that involves electric shocks, or religious rituals. It certainly can involve those things. But more often than not, it has a more mundane appearance. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
I want to help demystify it.
My counsellor abused his position of trust. He manipulated me into thinking that I wasn’t actually trans. He tried to ‘convert’ me.
It was psychological abuse - psychological torture. It left me with long-lasting damage, both emotional and physical, that I’m still not rid of.
More indirectly, my doctor tried to stop me from continuing my transition. I don’t really care if you think this is truly ‘conversion therapy’ or not. Either way, he abused his position of power to try to make me change course.
Some years later, there was an inquiry into that doctor. Many queer people reported abuse they received from him. As requested, I shared details of my experience there. I hope something happened as a result.
If you’re a queer person, maybe you now have more awareness of what conversion therapy can look like. Maybe you’ll be more prepared to sense it, if it starts happening to you. Please learn from my mistakes.
If you’re a cis or straight person, maybe you’ll be more equipped to spot it - and call it out.
Maybe you think that conversion therapy is a rare thing, and it doesn’t happen to anyone you know.
Well, now you know someone.
There’s a ridiculous idea that floats around some transphobic circles. They think it’s really easy to start hormones.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
I recently started documenting every single unusual loo visit of my life in the Lu loo tales.
I didn’t expect it to resonate so much with people. Many have contacted me to reach out, or thank me, or share their own experiences.
It feels funny to me, because it’s just one of the mundane realities of my life. But for others, maybe it’s not. I wonder if this conversion therapy story will resonate with people too 🤷
When people tell you about the hardships they experience, maybe you should just believe them.
When someone shares the abuse they receive as a queer person, as a black person, as a woman… Maybe you should take them seriously.
Maybe this post will prompt you to think about that. Maybe not.
I share personal things because I think the world would be better if we understood each other better. If we empathised with each other more, there would be more cohesion, more cooperation, more peace.
It doesn’t take a genius to understand that.
The lying tory government still refuses to ban conversion therapy here. It’s still completely legal in my country.
I looked up my school counsellor. He is still working in schools today. He is still abusing his position of trust to harm people.
He is still asking kids if they masturbate.
This is happening right now.
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