Anjana Harish was a young queer woman who was sent to de-addiction camps in hopes that she would return to being “normal.”
On May 12th, a young queer girl committed suicide in Goa. Anjana Harish was juts twenty-one years old when she came out to her parents as bisexual. Believing her sexual orientation to be ‘unnatural’, her parents sent her to Conversion Therapy. Conversion Therapy is ‘believed’ to cure youngsters of their ‘disease’ of being queer and restore them to the normal orientation: heterosexuality. Anajana was sent to two de-addiction centers without her consent, and was put on medication over a period of three months. Her friends reported that she had completely changed in appearance, going from a healthy individual to looking tired and unlike her previous self. Anjana posted a video on Facebook about what was happening to her and flee to Goa, just three days before the national lock-down was announced. She committed suicide by hanging, as reported by the police. Her death caused a major social media uprising and has brought to attention to conversion therapy.
Anjana’s story is one of the millions. As much as we like to believe that we have progressed, stories like hers appear and remind us of the harsh reality of the stigma that still lingers. When it comes to the Queer community, we have normalized the stigma so much that we resort to baseless ‘therapies’ that will bring them back to the ‘right’ path. When we do this, we’re causing more harm to queer individuals.
Section 377 was decriminalized in India in 2018, but since then, socially and culturally, very little has changed. Stories like these make us realize that when we take one step forward, we always end up taking two steps back. It’s disheartening to live in the twenty-first century when the society we live in does not act like it. This only goes to show how much we have progressed as a society.
Conversion Therapy is a common practice used by ‘professionals’ who claim to ‘change’ a person’s sexual orientation from being a homosexual/bisexual to a heterosexual. This has no evidence in science and is potentially more harmful to the individual who is forced into this. The American Psychiatric Association released a position statement regarding the ineffectiveness of conversion therapy. And although The Indian Psychiatry Society (IPS) released a statement in 2016 that homosexuality is not an illness, many Indians still stick to their old beliefs and force their children into these camps.
Conversion therapists believe that sexual orientation can be changed. They also believe that homosexuality or bisexuality is can be caused by genetic factors, or by familial relationships and childhood trauma. Desperate parents usually fall into this trap by many ‘professionals’ trying to milk out money from these parents. Usually found in religious groups, these professionals claim to cure individuals of their queer identity through prayer or in some cases, demonic exorcism. In other settings, shock therapy is used. But most commonly, professionals who practice conversion therapy use behavioral and cognitive techniques to ‘cure’ individuals.
There are no set guidelines or rules for conversion therapy. Since it has no empirical evidence, the practice of conversion therapy stands unethical and unscientific. But this doesn’t stop people in India practicing it. Baba Ramdev, a spiritual leader, has said to have cured thousands of individuals of this ‘disease’ through yoga.
Techniques of Conversion Therapy
What techniques and tricks do these practitioners use? In a article, it is written that,
According to a 2009 report of the American Psychological Association, the techniques therapists have used to try to change sexual orientation and gender identity include inducing nausea, vomiting, or paralysis while showing the patient homoerotic images; providing electric shocks; having the individual snap an elastic band around the wrist when aroused by same-sex erotic images or thoughts; using shame to create aversion to same-sex attractions; orgasmic reconditioning; and satiation therapy. Other techniques include trying to make patients’ behavior more stereotypically feminine or masculine, teaching heterosexual dating skills, using hypnosis to try to redirect desires and arousal, and other techniques—all based on the scientifically discredited premise that being LGBT is a defect or disorder.
Before it was removed in the second edition of DSM, homosexuality was considered as a mental illness. Behavioral Modification was common and the techniques used were extreme i.e, using drugs to induce vomiting/nausea while showing same-sex images.
Another technique is ‘reparative therapy’. It postulates that same-sex attraction is an individual’s way to cope with feelings of insecurities and inferiority. This forces a young individual to suddenly be a heterosexual. Many accounts of young individuals who went through this can be found online, where they talk about the distress caused by these therapists.
Does it work?
No. Plain and simple, conversion therapy does not work and has had barely any success rate in the research experiments carried out by psychologists. One may use Robert Spitzer’s research as an argument to this. In 2001, Spitzer had two hundred participants and he claimed the 66% of the male participants and 44% of the female participants had achieved what he claimed to be ‘Good Heterosexual functioning.’ However, in 2012, he renounced and retracted his study and apologized to the community for the harm his study had caused.
In 2009, the American Psychological Association conducted a comprehensive review of the published literature on these practices. The APA stated that, “The results of scientifically valid research indicate that it is unlikely that individuals will be able to reduce same-sex sexual attractions or increase other-sex attractions through Sexual Orientation Change Efforts.”
What is the impact of conversion therapy?
In 2009, the APA Report concluded the risks involved for patients who go for conversion therapy which include: depression, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, shame, social withdrawal, suicidality, substance abuse, stress, disappointment, self-blame, decreased self-esteem and increased self-hatred, hostility and blame toward parents, feelings of anger and betrayal, loss of friends and potential romantic partners, problems in sexual and emotional intimacy, sexual dysfunction, high-risk sexual behaviors, a feeling of being dehumanized and untrue to self, a loss of faith, and a sense of having wasted time and resources.
The impact of it is worse on minors who have an increased rate in attempted suicide, depression and anxiety. The impact on mental health is worse for queer individuals who have been forced into conversion therapies. They often end up with severe trauma that could damage their sense of self and could lead to fatal results.
Pause for Perspective’s Stance
We realize the stigma that is attached to being queer and know that there’s a long road ahead of us to fight homophobia. But this doesn’t mean that we stop. To get rid of the stigma, we have to constantly educate everyone around us and make systematic changes. Like we mentioned before, unless we shun the patriarchal ideas of heteronormitivity, we cannot be free. Other ways to make small changes include starting or joining support groups to make queer individuals feel included and accepted.
In our last article, we mentioned how mental health is a fundamental consideration of our existence.
It is dangerous to conflate what is “healthy” with what is normative and vice-versa. It is necessary to keenly listen to the ways of the world to understand how one’s mental health intersects with structural and political inequities, what we know of the brain and what we theorize about the mind.What’s “Wrong” with you: Diagnosing Mental Health Distress through DSM, Pause for Perspective.
Because queer individuals live in the margins of the society, it means that their orientation is considered abnormal, and this can have adverse affects on mental health which leads to a contributing factor in the rates of depression, anxiety and suicide. However, if they find support in friends, therapists and family, then they have the potential to live their lives fully.
We are a queer-affirmative organization with therapists who are informed and educated on Queer Issues. If you’re a queer individual seeking mental health services, you can contact us on Instagram.
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