Trans man speaks out over reporting psychiatrist for ‘conversion therapy’

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The session on 11 August 2021 began normally enough, albeit taking place on Zoom, as has become common during the pandemic.

“He started getting a family history,” said Lyle. “He asked me when I started identifying as trans.” Lyle then told Dr Hakeem about how he felt about his own body. “The best way to describe it,” said Lyle, “is there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s just not mine.”

The questions soon began to form a pattern, according to Lyle. These included a comparison between trans people and those who pretend to be different races.

“He would say, have you ever heard of trans-racial people?” said Lyle, adding that Dr Hakeem mentioned the infamous case of Racheal Dolezal, the American civil rights activist who for years presented herself as black but was later revealed to be white.

The comparisons continued. “He said, ‘When I was 15, I was a goth and I thought I would always be a goth and we had a whole subculture, all my friends were goths. And then I grew up, and I wasn’t really a goth anymore. What would you think the difference between that and being trans is?’”

As the session progressed, the slant of Dr Hakeem’s enquiries became clear to Lyle – that gender identity isn’t real or substantial and transitioning solves nothing.

“It felt like every question he asked was very, very leading,” said Lyle. “And every question was about painting a picture of what it means to be trans… that will make me doubt myself and change my mind.”

The questions moved onto how transitioning would affect Lyle in future relationships. Because most of his experiences so far were of people being accepting, Lyle said he didn’t think it would be that much of a problem. Dr Hakeem did not agree. “He implied this was quite naïve.”

When Lyle said the proportion of trans people who regret medical transition is very low, he said Dr Hakeem disputed this.

“He said, no, that’s not true, because gender clinics don’t keep very thorough records of their ex-patients.”

A 2021 meta-analysis of 27 studies relating to 7,928 trans people who’d had gender affirmation surgery found just 1 per cent regretted it.

Dr Hakeem talked about the group therapy he holds for trans people, in which he mixes up post- and pre-operative trans people.

“He gets them to challenge each other. He wants to get them to realise that gender doesn’t really exist,” said Lyle. “He said that as a result of that he has a very high percentage success rate at getting people who previously wanted to transition to not transition – to change their mind.”

They began to argue about gender. If Lyle made comparisons between gender identity and sexual orientation, “[Dr Hakeem] would say, ‘Well, no, gender and sexuality are completely different because sexuality is biological, and gender is society – it doesn’t really exist.’”

The purpose of this exercise for Lyle felt clear: to prove “there’s no such thing as gender, and no such thing as changing gender unless you’re pretending.”

Lyle wonders how it constitutes good practice to repeatedly introduce your beliefs when the session is supposed to be “neutral”.

Lyle said he told Dr Hakeem that presenting as male, using a male name and pronouns, has made him so much happier. But rather than be reassured by this, Dr Hakeem “pointed out the absurdity of it,” said Lyle.

All of which “felt uncomfortable and manipulative,” he said, “like I was being steered into particular answers. And by the questions he was asking, he was attempting to discourage me from transition. It was never said explicitly. But every single question he asked was trying to make me doubt myself. Like he was trying to catch me out.”

The session was beginning to unravel as each party could see how wide the gulf was between them. The last question Dr Hakeem asked, said Lyle, was about “the reasons behind” his gender identity. Lyle said there aren’t reasons other than the simple fact that he is trans – and tried to explain that his gender identity, his sense of self, was deeper and greater than any feelings connected to it. That it’s just who he is.

“And he didn’t agree with me. He said that I was being too concrete, and not open minded enough, and I was lacking in curiosity.”

Soon after this, Dr Hakeem ended the session after roughly 25 minutes and, according to Lyle, added he would not be referring him for more appointments until Lyle “become more open minded.”

“I stayed in the room for another 20 minutes because I was terrified that if I left early my mother would get angry at me,” he said.

The effect

Lyle was left wondering what had just happened.

“The overall implied intention, that was never said explicitly, was to make me understand that gender doesn’t exist, that it’s impossible to change sex or gender, that it’s very, very difficult to live as an adult, and be trans and that no one really believes you.”

Afterward Lyle was “shocked, angry and scared,” he said. “If I hadn’t been as confrontational as I am, it would have been very different – much worse. I felt he would have very easily been able to manipulate someone who was more uncertain and more susceptible to believe him, because he is in a position of power. He has a very authoritative manner. It’s to the point of arrogance. Very patriarchal.”

Since the appointment, Lyle has been trying to make sense of his experience.

“He advertised it as a neutral exploratory space. But it felt nothing like exploratory. He never at any point asked me what I wanted to talk about, what I was comfortable talking about,” said Lyle.

Nine months on, he’s beginning to identity why just one session disturbed him so much: because his sense of self seemed to be denied. “The hardest bit was not being believed,” he said.

In a follow-up letter to Lyle, seen by i, Dr Hakeem described what was discussed in the appointment: whether living as a man was “merely superficial and whether they really indicated maleness”. Whether “the sudden change of gender identity at the age of 17 was to do with sex and gender” or “something you had found out through friends”. And whether “adopting characteristics of another race or gender would be impersonation”, adding, “I asked whether it could be considered a form of appropriation”.

Dr Hakeem wrote: “I asked whether you thought there may be any negatives or drawbacks to switching gender” and “whether you might change your mind or regret your decision”.

He continued: “We then talked about what I am able to offer which is a neutral exploratory space to think about gender and try and work out why you have now found yourself thinking and feeling how you do and rather than trying to help you through a transition or persuade you against it but merely to try and think critically about what it is to be any gender and to how this affects you.”

In a letter to Lyle’s mother, Dr Hakeem referred to “the rapid onset of Gender Dysphoria”. But the American Psychiatric Association, alongside 120 medical organisations, has condemned the use of the diagnosis “rapid onset gender dysphoria” due to “the lack of rigorous empirical support for its existence”.

In a statement to i, Dr Hakeem said: “I am unable to comment on any specific cases due to patient confidentiality; however I always strive to provide a neutral thinking space for my patients rather than impose any outcome on them.”

Before Lyle attended the session, he thought it might not affect him too much because he didn’t agree with Dr Hakeem’s views on gender. “But it still gets to you,” he said. “There’s all sorts of horrible feelings of dehumanisation, manipulation, or not being trusted.” He’s now trying to manage the effects.

“It’s not like you sign a consent form for thoughts to enter your head,” he said. “Just by hearing the stuff, it gets in.”

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