So it’s goodbye for the blog

In not making a decision, it seems a decision has been made. My year continues busy and not the easiest and whilst I do like the blog and the idea of keeping it and making it around other issues such as gender and sexuality, I’m not sure I want to be that person. I was happy with the identity of the trainee therapist blogger, and now I am happy with the identity of the therapist who runs the mentoring scheme, I don’t feel like I have enough space in my head to talk about gender and sexuality week in week, or not outside of my client work, anyway. 
My client work has, for the last two years, been about building a client base and creating a counselling charity that now has four counsellors (including me) and a waiting list of clients, and we are largely LGBTQ-based. We see whoever comes to us, but most of our clients are LGBTQ. All but one of my clients is LGBTQ and of those all but one, all but one of *those* is in some way trans (in that they are either binary or non-binary trans). Add to that my own transition to a formal non-binary position and I feel that I do a lot of my time around LGBTQ issues. 
There may be occasional updates- especially if I can get all of the mentor pages moved on to the pink therapy site and can change the URL here (some of the pages are already up there, but I have not yet been organised enough to ask for the rest to be done), but for now I just want to thank everyone who has read along with my trainee journey. 
I made it 🙂

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A wait is over

For those of you following along on Twitter, you might have seen that my confirmation email came yesterday; I passed the exam board. I am now a qualified counsellor/psychotherapist with a PgDip in person-centered counselling and psychotherapy. 

And now I am waiting to see a client- my first client as a qualified counsellor. It is an odd feeling- like riding a bike without stabilisers. In reality, not much has changed; I haven’t been to my training institution since June (the end of term) and my cohort had their first week of their last year a couple of weeks ago. I have the same supervisor, the same clients, the same room. But here I am, fresh and new. I have done many counselling hours (well over twice that of a level four trained counsellor), but I am about to do my first hour (or possibly get my first DNA) as a trained counsellor. There is something different in that. 
In many ways it’s full of possibilities. In other ways, it is stagnant- this is my counselling service (there are now seven of us affiliated with it, including me) and that I guess isn’t something a trainee usually does. But I saw the gap and I made it work. We have three working counsellors and a waiting list. I’m not moving ‘on’ to anywhere- this charity is what I want to spend a good long while building. That’s why ‘stagnant’- change happens slowly. We are waiting for charity status to be awarded so that we can move forward to the next bit. And the next bit and the next bit. So still, a lot of waiting. 

I was very relieved when I got the email confirming. I entertained thoughts about it all going wrong at the last moment, of course. But it didn’t. Everything is fine. 
I’m taking a couple of weeks’ break here and next week will probably be the move to the new name (as yet to be thought of!) whilst I ponder my new direction.

A time to wait…

In every degree there is a time; a time to wait. 

In fact, in every qualification. In every academic piece of work. And probably many times in fact. That’s certainly my experience. Send assignment in. Wait. Get assignment back- with grade. 
And now, it is the final wait for me – for this academic qualification at least. My understanding is that my exam board met today and that at some point in the next two weeks I will know if I passed or not. Right now, I don’t know. Right now I am waiting. And it’s a nice mirror; I am sitting on the stairs in the Quaker centre where we run out counselling service from, wondering if my client has been delayed, or if they are not coming. That wait at least, will be shorter. 
It is an interesting time of judgement. I have passed all of my academic assignments. I have passed all of the required hours to give me a BACP qualification. I have also passed all the hours that allow me to be given the PgDip in psychotherapy and counselling (for which I have to have a UKCP level of hours apparently – 240),  but two mishaps happened. In swapping over my note-taking formats earlier in the year, I didn’t realise that I was missing some hours that I had done. It didn’t matter as I had enough hours anyway, but I have a general spreadsheet with hours, and a specific one. I totalled my hours from the general one for something I handed in, and then I had to hand in a final piece of work with less hours (but still over the 240). And also, I had to complete 120 of my own counselling hours. I’ve done that, but instead of a form, I handed in a letter. 
So- I have fulfilled my requirements. There shouldn’t be any reason for me not to pass, but both of my documents are- irregular. I haven’t heard from my old tutors about this, although I have asked for confirmation that it is ok. Right now, I am back to waiting. Two weeks. 
But, it seems, my client isn’t coming. 

Get it wrong. Please. 

So this is more on gender, whilst I try and gather enough headspace for anything else. Having a second family member diagnosed with terminal cancer in a little more than six months does nothing for your mental health, I’ll tell you that for nothing. 

People have asked me why I chose ‘they’ as a pronoun and various people have intimated that something such as ‘xie’ would be easier. Oddly, I chose ‘they’ partly because it was IN common use already and was trying to make things easier. My reasoning was that no-one would have to use a new word. But that seems to backfire on me a bit. This blog is partly about that and partly about being able to say to readers, therapists, trainees, ‘get it wrong’ (which might seem different to previous posts).
I was recently out for a drink with friends I love dearly, and who I believe respect my gender identity. And yet throughout the afternoon they consistently gendered me as she. I corrected a couple of times, but it kept happening. Later in the evening, we were joined by another friend who, when I was out with her the week before and introducing her to various people, had a mental blip and referred to me as ‘he; she.. they!’ – the brain understanding of gender change was there, but possibly the comfort of ‘they’ in English had stopped something from registering properly as a specific choice of pronoun (rather than just as an unknown gender). 

Anyhow- after that blip, she mostly genders me correctly now. Joining my other friends, she slipped and gendered me wrongly and then corrected herself and that seemed to make all the difference to my other friends. Suddenly they started to gender me properly (and oddly, later made exactly the same ‘he; she… they’ slip as my friend had previously). But it seems that until they had heard someone else ‘admit’ to getting things wrong, they hadn’t been able to get it consciously wrong themselves and had considered with what might be viewed as an unconscious slip (I have no idea if it was or not!). 

Some of this seems to come back down to power. Much like racism and people who ‘don’t see colour’, it’s easier to pretend there is no difference and therefore you can’t be getting it wrong (even in the face of evidence). It then falls to the marginalised person to point out that you’re wrong, but when you’re in ‘fingers in ears’ phase singing ‘la la I can’t hear you’ because it’s really uncomfortable to think you might be hurting someone) it’s hard to get that point across. Also I think, because cisgender people (that’s anyone whose gender is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth) can feel that their pronouns don’t matter very much to them. That’s probably because they get called the right pronoun most, if not all of the time. Ask a binary trans woman how much it hurts when she is called ‘sir’ or someone cos who is considered ‘butch’ if and how pronouns matter. You soon start to get a different story. Not all cisgender people get given the right pronouns and it *doesnt* matter to all of those people who get the wrong one but it does matter to some. That’s why a ‘sorry’ followed by a correction means much more than what can feel like blanket ignorance and refusing to be vulnerable. As trans and non-binary people, we have no choice but to be vulnerable. As cisgender people, you can meet us in that vulnerability. 

On my last training weekend a similar thing happened. I was misgendered all the time by one person (more than one but they are the specific focus here). It hurt. Repeatedly. When I eventually forced the issue, they said they had always been aware they were getting it wrong, but hadn’t been able to acknowledge it, because (it feels to me) they didn’t want to try and publicly get it right and still get it wrong. If that trainee is reading and would like to comment, please do- I will publish it 🙂
It takes being willing to be vulnerable, to get it right out loud. And I understand that. I’m not keen on being vulnerable (or being wrong, for that matter) and to both make myself vulnerable AND (possibly) get it wrong is really hard. 
I promise you though, when you get it right, and every time you get it right, people notice. In a good way. 

‘Or as we have to say now…’

I watched a presentation at BAPCA that consistently talked about ‘gays’; ‘gay rights’, ‘gay pride’ etc. that’s not unusual (although it IS annoying). I spend a lot of my time pointing out to people that ‘it’s not ‘gay pride’, is it?’. But there came a point in the presentation where the presenter said ‘or LGBT, as we have to say now’.  I stiffened, and the presenter corrected themself to ‘as we should say now’, and moved on. 

Later on I was talking to a lesbian and a heterosexual person about that presentation and I mentioned the incident. I found it had been read very differently by each person. The person not identifying as LGBT hadn’t perceived it as a problem at all, and indeed had felt it was positive – an acknowledgement that there is more to non-normative sexuality than ‘gay’. The person who identifies as a lesbian however, had had much the same response as I had. She had been insulted and felt marginalised by ‘or as we have to say’, as I had. 
I am not speaking for what the presenter meant in their statement, but for how it was received. It was received as an injury, that those of us not ‘lucky’ enough to be (just) gay, now were causing extra work to people who otherwise think of themselves as inclusive. 
Research demonstrates that most people do not think of themselves as racist, homo/biphobic, transphobic, etc. in fact, they work quite hard *not* to be. But in situations where people don’t have time or capacity to think, ‘slips’ happen. And it’s those ‘slips’ from seemingly otherwise non-discriminatory people that hurt the most. Macro discriminations, we often expect. The overt, easy to spot comments. Those are easy to write off as being ascribable to ‘a bigot’ etc. but the comments from ‘supportive’ people are harder – ‘but they are such a nice person!’ etc. The heterosexual person didn’t really get why it might be a problem, why LGBT people (of all types- including gay men) might have been affected by that. 

These are microaggressions. I’ll write more about these I’m sure (and have- people not gendering me correctly is a microaggression), and their effects. But two microaggressions happened in that presentation. First the use of ‘gay’ for all things LGBT and second the attempted correction. 

(how) Do you see me?

This is the second of two or three (I haven’t decided) parts about the BAPCA conference.

In the lead up to the conference, it occurred to me that it might be an interesting idea to get BACPA to challenge some assumptions and at the same time, help me personally, and so I sent an email and asked if, on people’s name badges, it could look like:

NAME
Pronoun……

After some explaining about what this meant, and that it wouldn’t be ok to write ‘pronoun: he/she/other’, with two people who both said ‘yes this seems ok’, I was excited and hopeful that for one weekend, I would immediately be known for who I was and wouldn’t have to explain myself to everyone (although I foresaw some conversations about my choice of pronoun). When I got to the conference, I cannot describe the disappointment I felt when I realised that the badges just said NAME on them. I was crushed. This was a conference on diversity, supposedly at least in part for and about people like me, and something I had requested had been theoretically agreed to but not carried out. I wondered if perhaps it had been an administration error, so I asked the first person I’d spoken to what had happened. She told me that it had been discussed, and they couldn’t see why THEY would need a pronoun on their badges, and if I wanted one, I could just write one on. I responded and said ‘that immediately ‘others’ me’ and in her face I recognised that I had made sense in that moment.

I walked away, to be met by someone else who said ‘Oh – you’re the one who’s going to write ‘they’ on your badge aren’t you? you need to tell me about that, because I don’t get it’. And I kind of mumbled something and went away. I was uncomfortable with the idea of having to explain myself and just wanted to get away. I decided from that point that I wasn’t wearing my badge. If i couldn’t be fully known for who I was, on equal terms, I would be known on my terms. I felt pestered by the same person on two more occasions to educate them. I eventually flat-out said ‘no, I won’t. Please feel free to look online’.

My four days was spent never really being seen. Most people got my pronoun wrong most of the time. Some people really tried hard, and I can see that and don’t have a problem with it. Some got it right (few), and a lot more got it wrong, corrected themselves and moved on. A lot more clearly weren’t able to risk admitting potentially being wrong or uncomfortable, and so carried on (either that, or they never noticed that despite me talking about it, and showing up to the evening event in my facial hair, that ‘she’ was potentially inappropriate) and it was ‘she’ all the way. Others performed great linguistic feats to never gender me. I suspect it would have been much easier work to say ‘they’, rather than not use ANY pronoun.

I have to say, going out in the evening in my facial hair was something I’d never done before. That has previously been confined to my house. Aside from a couple of positive comments, no-one said anything or reacted externally, which was just what I wanted. It was great (both the positive and the lack of negative). I was able to relax and have fun in a way I didn’t think I’d manage, the first time I walked out of the bathroom and into public.

But it was back to ‘she’ for most of it.

Readers, those who say you’ll work with LGBT clients, have a think. It’s not enough to think you’re accepting. When you get it wrong with me it’s ok; I’m resilient. When a client who has never outed herself to anyone before comes to you looking ‘like a man’, you’re going to have to potentially put away your ‘he’ and develop your ‘she’. You might get a genderqueer person who like me who uses ‘they’, or per, or xie, or one of the many other gender-neutral pronoun (or who, unlike me, doesn’t want a pronoun at all). If you’re going to be culturally competent working with especially the T of LGBT people, you need to know some people who are trans, have spoken to people who are trans, or have done some reading and training on the topic.

I’m sure that most people at the conference would have said that they were competent to work with LGBT people. Had I been a client, it could have done me a lot of harm. As it was, I’m used to it. It happens every day. It means that BAPCA was not a safe space for me, much like most other spaces are not safe. But for a client, it’s imperative that your space is safe. Ask yourself honestly – ‘could I consistently call someone ‘they’ without tripping?’ ‘could I call someone who would ordinarily be read as ‘a woman’ and who comes to my counselling room in a skirt ‘he’ without having an issue?’ Those are difficult things to do, because society genders us in to two groups. You’re stepping outside of it all to accept the client as they are, not as you want to see them.

Be the change you wish to see

i think I am probably going to do a couple of weeks on my experiences at the bapca conference. This one will be less about my personal experience and more about BAPCA.

Going back to ADPCA last year, I listened to some people say they didn’t feel safe with ‘some people’ at the conference. It seemed to be a long-standing thing and I had no idea who or what it referenced. As the ‘outsider’ (it was my first time) it engendered a feeling of unsafety for me, and also of rules that I didn’t know if I was breaking. I didn’t know if I was talking to the ‘wrong’ person, and I am concerned about my own safety with regards to who is safe or not to become close to.

At the BAPCA conference this year, someone was named in group as having had several inappropriate relationships where you might reasonably expect those not to happen (for example, as a counsellor, tutor, trainer, etc).  I have to be honest. My first two responses were a) relief that *something* was out in the open and b) a thought about whether that was (one of) who was being talked about last year. I don’t know the answer to that.

I saw the community rocked by this. It became clear that some people were on one side and some were on another. My question was about whether there was evidence- my concern was that as a ‘newbie’ I was listening to a narrative by one person about another person (who had chosen not to be present) involving other people (also not present) that I’d never met. It becomes difficult to make a judgement although I tend towards thinking that ‘a string’ of allegations leads to some important questions. I was told a statement was made by one person and that originally the BACP were approached with that. That’s enough for me. At that point, I have to say ‘I believe her’.

A different community I am part of had a similar conversation last year. A consent violation was alleged, and initially denied. Then, much like the Saville case (and seemingly every high profile case since), more and more people came out to say ‘me too’, over years, even (in my case) as the original victim was still being vilified publicly and privately. I know that because when I contacted them privately to say simply ‘I believe you’ that’s what I was told in return. Those consent violations had been happening for years. I had not known and I had been at very personal potential risk.

For me there is no fence to sit on. I must be on one side or the other, and it is unthinkable to me that I should be against a potential victim. It comes from personal experience. Seven years ago I experienced my own consent violation. Dealing with the aftermath literally nearly killed me- I was spiralling into suicide attempts, an eating disorder, a lot. I came out of it thanks to my family. My mum literally saved my life. But a few months later I started to hear rumours about myself from friends across the country (From Suffolk to Northamptonshire to the Midlands) that I was accusing the person of X and that I was lying. On finding the original source of the rumours, it was someone I had briefly met once and who after the fact had met him and they had become friends. And the reason I say ‘there is no fence’ is because the people who said to me ‘I wasn’t there, I don’t know what happened, so I can’t say for sure’ essentially felt like they were saying ‘I don’t believe your experience is true’. For them, my aftermath meant nothing (I gave up my job, my home, my life and moved across the country to escape).

I cannot be that person. All the consent violations I have mentioned are different- I’m not equating any of them. But they are all deeply personal and involve a misuse of personal and structural power.

So, I was glad that the ‘rumour’ had names and dates. But it meant that BAPCA was now falling apart. I went to the ‘what’s next for BAPCA?’ meeting and also spoke to a few people and it was clear to me that there was some unease around the CG and processes. At the meeting, I was trying to decide whether or not to stand for the CG, when my friend spoke to stand. At that point I decided that I could too. I had not wanted to be the lone voice, but felt sure then, that on a lot of things I would not be the lone voice. So I have been co-opted on to the CG. I also know of one other person who definitely wants to be co-opted, and one who is saying she does (but I’ve had less specific conversation with her), and I think that the four of us are a) very different people to each other, but also b) very different people to many of the CG and I hope that it will provide a balance in processes.

I don’t know if this will be a long-term ‘staying’ for me or not. I am undecided on many things, but I also know that I do have a chance to change things- so I will take that opportunity up.