In a society that is generally far more accepting than it has ever been of an individual’s right to define their own sexuality, it seems astonishing that there are still communities in apparently developed and modern-thinking countries who remain marginalised over their sexual identity.
While the battle for lesbian, gay and bi rights seems all but won, at least in terms of receiving the formal recognition and protections deserved, the same cannot be said of those asexual (Ace) or transgender communities who continue to feel persecuted for their gender and/or sexual identity.
This discrimination isn’t just about the ill-informed or the ignorant who need to access to better education, and nor is it just about the bigoted minority whose world view is always that much harder to shift.
It is marginalisation that also sits at the heart of government and at the heart of our legislature.
The announcement by the Government in March that it was committing to ban conversion therapy in the current Parliament (in other words, before the next General Election) should have been a welcome and much-needed step forward to be universally celebrated by the LGBTQ+ community.
Instead, it attracted howls of complaint for those the ban intended to exclude, which is pretty much the Ace community, those who are or define themselves as transgender, and anyone else who doesn’t fit into the slightly more binary definition of gay, straight, or bisexual.
Much has rightly been written about the transgender fight for recognition and rights, so in this article I particularly want to focus on asexuality, which enjoys little awareness and even less understanding and empathy.
First, though, let us remind ourselves of what we mean when we talk about conversion therapy. Conversion therapy, at the simplest level, is any emotional or physical therapy used to ‘cure’ or ‘repair’ either a person’s attraction to the same sex, or their gender identity and expression.
In practice, these ‘therapies’ might range from talking therapy, to steroidal or hormonal intervention. But in cultures where some forms of gender and sexual identity and expression are seen as evil, the ‘therapy’ can range from verbal persecution to beatings and even exorcism.
Whichever way you slice it, it’s just plain wrong – the archaic present-day equivalent to the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest approach of performing a lobotomy on anyone not deemed to be mentally ‘normal’ – whatever ‘normal’ might be.
By excluding Ace individuals and others from the ban – which the Government claims is intended to protect under-18s whilst allowing adults the right to choose ‘non-invasive’ conversion therapy by consent – what message are we hearing?
At a base level, what the government is really saying (perhaps tacitly, perhaps not; perhaps deliberately, perhaps not) is that those who are not sexually attracted to another human being, of whatever gender, are broken. That they need to be cured, or fixed.
There are two recognised and valid disorders around asexuality – Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD) and Female Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder (FSIAD) – and, crucially, neither are considered disorders because of the absence of an interest in sex.
They are considered disorders because of the emotional impact of asexuality on the individual. Both tend to apply to individuals who are emotionally or mentally distressed by their own lack of sexual attraction or appetite.
In most HSDD and FSIAD cases, some form of professional or formal emotional support is beneficial, and it is almost always sought voluntarily by the individual. However, in the majority of cases, those who identify as being Ace are – or have become – perfectly content in their own sexual identity.
There is another issue at play here, though.
Whether the Government likes it or not, in failing to include Ace people (and trans people) within the ban it is positively implying that those individuals are in some way abnormal and therefore need to be treated differently by the law.
That raises an interesting – but worrying – question about what kind of inclusivity is afforded to Ace and trans people by existing or potential employers.
In failing to clarify exactly how it identifies Ace and trans people in legislation, it opens the door for disreputable employers to also differentiate in the way they care for and welcome sexually and gender diverse employees.
The conversion therapy ban will now not be passed into law until Parliament returns from its summer recess, spending the summer in the box marked ‘For Liz or Rishi to Deal With’.
But one thing is for sure, whoever sits in the big chair, the issue needs to be sorted out, and quickly.
And having served for two years as the Minister for Women and Equalities, Liz Truss may find herself under particular pressure to unpick the mess if it is she who is finally ushered through the door of Number 10 on September 5th.