As the genocidal attacks on queer and trans people—especially targeting children—continue to grow in this country, with books banned, teachers silenced, parents under surveillance, and LGBTQ+ people smeared as “groomer” pedophiles, a two-day event at SparkArts in the Castro brings home the horror and history of trans youth abuse and erasure via “conversion therapy” that existed for decades.
California was the first state to ban conversion therapy for minors—basically, coercing queer and trans young people to become “straight” through psychological torture and physical abuse—in 2012, and State Senator Scott Wiener, among others, deserves plaudits for efforts to extend the ban to decree all businesses offering it to adults as fraudulent (in a 2018 bill that was eventually shelved).
The phrase “conversion therapy” brings to mind Red States, evangelical Christian programs, and other deeply conservative forces. Few can imagine that some of the most culture-shaping conversion therapy was developed not only in California, but in liberal Los Angeles of the 1960s and ’70s at UCLA’s prestigious Neuropsychiatric Institute under the Gender Identity Research Clinic (GIRC). UCLA’s GIRC developed clinical conversion therapy through experiments on white children, creating the concept “gender identity” in the process. Our current debates surrounding trans youth need to consider this history to avoid reproducing harms of the past.
Written, directed, and produced by Sé Sullivan and Mauro Sifuentes (with consulting producer/local film hero Marc Smolowitz), the doc delves into the stories of trans adults, including Sé, who survived the brutal practice while telling the tale of its development at the clinic—and how some of the framing around trans issues being used today emerged from it.
On Fri/6 and Sat/7, an art show and staged reading at SparkArts will raise funds for the film and awareness of this history. The art show, which is open to the public and free all-day Friday and on Saturday afternoon, will “include a range of unique hanging objects that telegraph Sé’s larger journey as an activist and survivor of conversion therapy, provocative medicalized installations that feature parts of Sé’s childhood transcripts and conversations with doctors, and other ephemera that interrogate themes of bravery and trauma and how those things intersect with gender identity.”
Then on Saturday night, a fundraising staged reading will take place. “The evening will be a ticketed event with seating for 60 people and will feature excerpts from Sé’s childhood medical transcripts at UCLA that shed light on their unique traumatic journey with transgender conversion therapy.” Those reading the transcripts include community leaders and activists Glodean Champion, Malachi Garza, Emer Martin, and Susan Stryker, with host Sister Roma of Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.