Ten percent of the population is estimated to be part of this group. My mother’s older sister was and she was, according to my mother, converted through a cruel conversion therapy while in elementary school. Her left hand was tied behind her back so that she would be forced to use her right hand.
I am a 10 percenter. Books have been written about left-handed people. In one study, I read that we have more auto accidents, we are clumsier than the norm, and that it is an aberration to be changed. By the time I was in elementary school, the practice of conversion had mostly stopped being applied to left handed children, but not completely. Now we see that several presidents of the United States are left handed and it is not uncommon among people in the sciences. When it turned out that I was left handed, my mother remembered her sister’s struggle as a child in school and told me to let her know if any teacher tried to convert me to being something I was not. Because that was how I was born and it was perfectly all right to be left handed. When it came to having gay offspring, she held the same attitude. We are born to be who we are.
The Minister of Education Rafi Peretz (I will avoid a Monty Python joke here) is a fan of conversion therapy which has been considered unethical by mental health professionals for quite a while. It is even illegal in some states in the United States. Here in Israel, as I have been told by a friend who is an expert in these matters, unethical “therapists” hired by families looking for a “solution” for their gay child, often meet their clients on park benches or hotel lobbies. This is not therapy, it is coercion. No ethical or moral therapist would meet a client in a public place for therapy.
It is easy to understand, especially for religious families, that there is fear, shame, worry, and hope among the emotions felt by families when they learn that their child is gay. Their child is feeling the exact same emotions. For families with their sons or daughters coming out to them, it is time to breathe and talk. And cry, if you must. But it is not a time to judge, yell, or shun. Or to try to change by coercive and frightening measures.
If therapy is offered, it should be with the goal of self-acceptance and to learn coping skills against a world that is often cruel and difficult for young gay people. Recently, I learned of another suicide of a young gay man in the United States. And yes, it happens here in Israel also. Recently, I separated from a friend I truly loved because his obsession with judging gay people went over the top and he allowed some of the worst anti-gay language to remain on a thread on his Facebook timeline. All I could think was about a 14 year old gay child reading this and wishing his life away. I cried when I read those words, allowed to remain in a public forum where hate often is fostered more than love.
My left hand is precious, as is every life of every gay child. We know about bullying among teens, we know the effect it has on young people who just want to be accepted for who they are. Minister Peretz is wrong and encouraging families to see “conversion therapy” as a path to “curing” a gay child is wrong.
In my long life, some of the most successful relationships and careers I have seen are among the LGBT community. Forty year relationships, stellar careers in business and academia, and children raised in a loving environment…..these are the norms in the LGBT community. This is what parents can aspire to for their children, all of their children whether heterosexual or LGBT. When conversion therapy is provided to young gay kids, it is possible that this feeling of shame is embedded into their consciousness. It actually might do the opposite of what is intended. Instead of a full life with family and work and community, it might shove that teen into a life of hiding in the corners and making bad choices that includes substance abuse to shut down the shame and suicidal ideation.
We can all do better when thinking about and reacting to “the other.” I doubt that Minister Peretz or his followers will read this, but I wish they would. As with my left handedness, with which I was born, LGBT young people need to be protected from attempts at “conversion” and need to be allowed to be who they are, as they were born.