Seek empathy, not prejudice, as therapy

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Date a really beautiful woman – this is one of the first pieces of advice given to Muhilann Murugan by the psychiatrist his family took him to when they realized he was gay. It was just the start. A Doppler exam, countless tests and medication followed.

“They asked me to pull down my pants and had a scan of my abdomen and private parts, then did some tests on me. I have always taken care of my sexual health and I didn’t like them doing the tests without my consent, ”says Muhilann. “The doctor kept telling my mother that I could be ‘healed’ and the drugs would make me all right,” says the architect, who was also asked to visit the temple and try floral medicine.

Muhilann is one of many in the LGBTQIA + community who undergo “conversion therapy” – practices that claim to change a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation through medication, treatment. shock or religious rites, including exorcism – even today. And that’s why community members are thrilled with the recent Madras High Court ruling, which suggested that medical professionals be barred from attempting to medically “cure or change” people’s sexual orientation. LGBTQIA + in heterosexuals or the gender identity of transgender people in cisgender.

In his order, Judge Anand Venkatesh also ordered the National Medical Commission, Indian Society of Psychiatry and Rehabilitation Council of India to take action against professionals involved in any form of conversion therapy.

An order that was long overdue because the cruel practice still exists. In 2020, 21-year-old Anjana Hareesh committed suicide after undergoing conversion therapy after revealing herself bisexual to her parents.

“Previously, healthcare professionals believed this was a psychiatric problem that could be solved with electroconvulsive therapy. Homosexual men received injections of testosterone, ”explains L Ramakrishnan of SAATHII.

Transgender activist Kalki Subramaniam, who was taken to a doctor in Pollachi when she dated her parents when she was 14, has also been prescribed testosterone tablets. “He asked me to undress, examined me and gave me the tablets but I only took them for a few days because I felt suicidal,” says Kalki, who then had to spend a month in a center. mental health clinic in Vellore. . “Fortunately my doctor was good and advised my parents. “

These practices also continue because they are lucrative, with doctors charging Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 per session. Amesha, 21, a medical student who identifies as gay, says: “I met a psychiatrist at JIPMER in February 2021 because I was experiencing marked physical dysphoria. My mother and sister insisted on talking to him and he billed her 2,000 rupees per call. In one month, he invoiced Rs 50,000, ”says Amesha.

Later, on the doctor’s advice, the family then asked Amesha to cut herself off from gay friends and social media. “I realized that my social media posts had been leaked to my family along with a few personal things that I had only shared with the doctor. He wanted to introduce me to my father, so I stopped consulting him, but he continues to text my sister and my mother, ”says Amesha, who collects resources and asks people for help.

Vinay Chandran, who runs Swabhava, a Bengaluru-based NGO that works with the LGBT community, and Arvind Narrain, human rights activist and lawyer, have written a book “Nothing to Fix: Medicalization of Sexual Orientation and gender identity ”after working on a project that examined how the medical system – psychiatrists, psychologists and sexologists – views sexual orientation and gender identity and treats community members.

“Conversion therapy can involve several things. In psychiatry, they offer aversion therapy, using electroshock to “treat” people, “says Vinay, adding that some practitioners even attempt orgasmic reconditioning. “They are asking you to please yourself with your homosexual fantasy and, as you are on the verge of orgasm, change the fantasy into the kind that should appeal to you,” he says, adding that the exorcism is also common.

Such “therapies” affect the physical and mental health of the individual. “You will often find that medical journals or articles will say that the conversion treatment has been successful since the patient got married, but they will also report that the patient was suffering from severe depression. They suggest that depression is a natural side effect of trying to change your sexual orientation, ”says Vinay.

Many people are also victims of violence. Homosexual women are forced to marry. “Shock therapy and invasive scans of various parts of your anatomy are often done and ‘corrective rape’ is common,” says Namithaa, an independent queer feminist activist.

Transgender activist Kalki Subramaniam says she was also taken to a doctor in Pollachi when she went out to her parents’ home when she was 14. “He asked me to undress and examined me. And I prescribed testosterone tablets, but I only took a few days because I felt suicidal, ”says Kalki, who then had to spend a month in a mental health center in Vellore. “Fortunately, my doctor was good and advised my parents. “

In India, in 2018, the Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS) issued a position statement saying that “homosexuality is not a psychiatric disorder and we recognize same-sex sexuality as a normal variant of human sexuality just as we do. ‘heterosexuality and bisexuality’. also said that there is no scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed by treatment.

“When parents bring their children, I do an appropriate psychiatric assessment to see if they have any underlying mental illness. If so, I treat it, but if not, I work with the person and their family members to understand what is going on and what can be done, ”explains psychiatrist Dr N Rangarajan. “But I have parents who ask me to ‘change’ or ‘heal’ their children.”

A problem that sex therapist Dr Narayana Reddy also faces. “Conversion therapy is not scientific. The medical fraternity has accepted homosexuality as an alternative sexual orientation, we cannot ‘convert’ them, and all the experiments that are done only cause more damage, ”he said, adding that parental acceptance is. the key. “Many parents refuse to accept that their son is gay and abuse me when I refuse to ‘treat’ them. We need more awareness and education.

Organizations like Orinam, along with other groups, have run campaigns like the Open Minded Campaign to End Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. “This was in response to the alarming increase in attempts at conversion therapy,” says Ramakrishnan. “But the practice won’t end until the practitioners are sued and their licenses revoked. “

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