Apr 21 • 57M

Ep. 76: A New Kind of Conversion | James Esses

J.D. Richmond
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By Neil Barnes

The complexity and controversy surrounding transgender rights, and in particular the right to self-identification and medicalisation for children is one of the most salient issues of our day.

The dramatic and unprecedented rise in the trend of gender dysphoria, particularly amongst young girls, coinciding with an ever-present narrative of medical intervention as an answer to emotional and identity issues should warrant enquiry and a deeper understanding of what is happening. Not to mention, the claims of gender dysphoria being life threatening, specifically through suicidal ideation. The drivers for such enquiry should be the safety and wellbeing of young people, the effectiveness of proposed treatments, and understanding the causation of this explosive trend. 

There is huge growth in the multi-billion-dollar biotech industry, including pharmaceutical treatments such as puberty blockers, feminizing hormone therapy, testosterone therapy, and sex reassignment surgery. The controversy around statistical evidence in itself should be a reason to take pause and better understand what is working, and what is not. It seems possible to find “evidence” supporting both the effectiveness and absence of effectiveness of treatments, their reversibility, and their impact on suicidal ideation.

Biotech is not the only industry to have gained financial benefit from the distress of young people. Social media, entertainment, and the fashion industry have capitalised on opportunities to sell a narrative with a product or service to back it up. 

Furthermore, there is an ideological driver too, identity politics has risen in popularity and influence over the last few decades, not just through academia and human resources departments, but increasingly in schools where our children are educated to accept concepts that have yet to be fully understood. Perhaps more disturbing is a growing trend in schools, and on social media, to encourage children to break away from their families due to “lack of support” if their parents do not immediately affirm their new identity.  

James Esses recognised the growth in these trends over a number of years whilst volunteering for Childline, a counseling service for young people in the UK. In fact, it was the rewarding experience of counseling young people that lead James to seek a career change from criminal lawyer to psychotherapist by enrolling on a 5-year psychotherapy training course.

He decided to raise awareness of these issues by lodging a public petition to safeguard therapy and counseling for vulnerable children with gender dysphoria. Despite his right to do so, and a response from the government, who agreed to many of the safeguards he had been seeking, the petition caused a social media backlash against James. This culminated in his expulsion by email from his course provider – Metanoia Institute. In addition, Childline ended James’s 5 years of voluntary service.

All this despite the fact that James recognises and supports that for some, gender reassignment will be the appropriate treatment. For others, it will not. Careful and appropriate talking therapy allows each individual properly to explore underlying causes and options for their care. This is the approach that therapists pursue for all clients, and it should be no different for gender dysphoria.

The push to accept only gender-affirming therapy has, in effect, become a new form of conversion therapy, not dissimilar from the backwards treatments often witnessed in religious communities, which have been appropriately maligned. A new evangelism replaces the old, but the puritanical rituals and collateral damage are unchanged.


In the Hold my Drink — navigating culture with a chaser of civility, and Counterweight podcast, Episode 76, Neil and Jeff speak with James Esses on his expulsion from his psychotherapy course and his abrupt removal as a volunteer therapist in the UK. While attending school and volunteering for a national helpline, James was taken aback by the rise in gender dysphoria among children and the resulting therapy prescription that not only advocated but also pushed for gender transition as the only and best solution for children struggling through the confusion of puberty. James likens this therapeutic trend to a new kind of conversion therapy, which has had damaging effect on the health and well-being of children. James discusses his efforts to safeguard – not outlaw – gender affirming therapy as one of many alternatives, and his resulting defamation and cancellation. All discussed with a chaser of civility, of course, and a beer.

Hold my Drink welcomes all people with all kinds of beverages to join us as we explore the truths of a chaotic and beautiful world, together.

Find us on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, or watch the conversation unfold on YouTube, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.


What James is Reading

Cynical Theories, Helen Pluckrose & James Lindsay

Rationality, Steven Pinker

What Neil is Reading

Agency, William Gibson

The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky

Entangled Life, Merlin Sheldrake

and listening to

Awakening from the Meaning Crisis, John Vervaeke

What Jeff is Watching

The Disintegration of Woke, Zarathustra's Serpent

In Search of Walt Whitman, Part One: The Early Years (1819-1860), East Rock Films


James began his career as a Criminal Defence Barrister before transitioning into the Civil Service. Since then, he has held several policy posts relating to criminal justice, including Head of Prosecutions at Transport for London and Head of Policy at the Crown Prosecution Service.

Most recently, he was Head of Strategic Legislation at the Home Office.

After he was expelled from his psychotherapy program, James co-founded Thoughtful Therapists.

You can find James’ Crowdfund here - https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/expelled-university-free-speech/