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 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. 

Conference time!

it’s BAPCA’s person-centered conference tomorrow. I’m going and quite excited about it. It’s a conference on diversity and they are covering many areas that look interesting. I hope to learn a lot. 
I’ve asked them to put a space for pronouns on the badges and I hope people do use it. It would be amazing if I wasn’t the only ‘they’ present. We shall see. 
I’m also presenting at this conference, on kinky clients. It’s one of my pet areas so why not? It’s my first time presenting at a conference and I am somewhat apprehensive. I am just doing an ‘off the cuff’ thing because I think that’s how I work best at present, but I’ll be doing a conference write-up and will include some links in that for people. 
I’m camping, and happily for me, so are two of the people that I know best at the conference. I’m very excited!

Where to go?

I’ve been thinking about the direction to take this blog in. It’s been suggested to me that I blog around sexuality and gender, and on the one hand this really appeals to me. There aren’t many people out there visibly looking at therapy through an LGBT (or queer) lens, although I am sure that there are many people out there doing so less visibly.
On the other hand, it feels like a very personal thing to do. I would literally be outing myself all the time, in talking about lenses that affect me, and around training and therapy. I’m not a person who does a lot of putting their insides out (my partners will tell you that much also – also my therapist, I’m sure – were she not bound by ethics). So to take a risk and do that in a weekly blog feels like a big deal.
But yet, it’s alluring. Whilst at the same time, I don’t want to be the ‘expert’ on this, which might just be a lesson in my writing style. I tend to deliver authoritatively, when that wasn’t actually my intent, and people respond that way.
And again, I have the outness of ‘me’ to consider. Do I connect my blog with my studies (you can see from my twitter bio that I’m also doing a PhD; in a relevant area)? Do I name myself? I started off by definitely naming myself on my twitter, and then withdrew and changed that, and since then I’ve changed my actual name as well. But not for clients – there have been many decisions to make, and there will be more, I’m sure.
Can I be professionally but not personally me? Does a standpoint and an idea mean that it has to come from my personal lived experience? Or can it come from watching those around me and voicing their experiences (or my interpretation of those experiences)? What if clients find me? There’s a scary thing. I know some of my cohort follows me, and that’s strange (to know that ‘real life’ people are ‘watching’), and I would be ok I think, if they did. But I couldn’t be sure. I tend to write like no-one (except my training institution) is watching, otherwise I’d never write anything. I’m aware that sounds paranoid!
Right now, I can’t decide. Although I am tending towards not knowing what ELSE to do, except not blog. And I’m still new, and this is still new. It’s probably worth keeping and doing something with. Maybe?

Group process revisited

 

In the trainee facebook group I manage (but will be handing over soon as a ‘no longer trainee’), a conversation has arisen recently about process groups and acceptance. Coming out of that, and not directly relating to any one question I’ve been thinking through process groups.

 

All too often it seems to me, people in process groups are so keen to present themselves as ‘accepting’ that they do not question things. And when your tutor is in the room, of course – you don’t want to be perceived as judgmental or stereotyping etc. So when someone presents something challenging to us, there is a big temptation to say ‘yes – that makes sense’, even when it.. doesn’t. Even when we don’t get it; when we have questions.

 

I think about my own experience, part of what caused me to leave, where something about my life is on the surface accepted and no questions have ever been asked, but when I talked about the possibility of doing some training for the year below (as part of my make-up for missing two days when my dad collapsed and later died), a majority of the group seemed very interested in attending that.

 

It is a liberalist discourse, that says ‘everyone is equal’. And yes they are, individually. I am as equal as anyone else, but I identify with a lot of the ‘protected characteristics’ (disability, gender identity, sexuality) that mean that structurally, I’m actually NOT equal (by which I mean that there are more things stacked against me than the person who is straight and cisgender and has no disabilities – for a very quick one: people in civil partnerships are not AUTOMATICALLY entitled to the same pension rights as people in marriages). And the problem with a liberalist discourse is that because everyone wants to be perceived as being liberal, ‘acceptance’ is the name of the day. No questions are asked, thus, unless I (for example) keep putting myself out in to a void where no-one asks questions, and continually explain things for everyone, it is possible to make a lot of assumptions.

 

Of course, there will be some people in the group who get it and who are not asking questions because they will get it, but Dominic Davies’ (1998) paper echoes my sentiment:

 

“However, this avoidance of difference and denial of cultural variables can be very damaging for the therapeutic relationship. Clients may spend a lot of time trying to work out the therapist’s real frame of reference, and look for subtler signals of genuineness or incongruence. This detracts from the pre-condition of psychological contact (Singh and Tudor, 1997)”.

 

This I think, is similar for group process. It certainly rings true for me in my experience of the group.

 

Dominic (I did start by saying ‘Davies’, but I know Dominic, so this felt weird!) goes on to quote Tudor and Worrall:

 

“It is likely that if as therapists we consistently ignore or deny some of our feelings and experiences we will, out of awareness, communicate such unassimilated, or partially accommodated material to our clients”

 

And Rogers himself: “Rogers makes it clear that maintaining congruence isn’t always easy or comfortable and “includes being himself even in ways which are not regarded as ideal for psychotherapy.””

 

This suggests that it is healthier for all (especially when we will go our and see clients with similar histories), if a step can be taken by individuals in group process to say ‘actually – I don’t get it. I’d like to. Can you tell me about X’.

 

As one of my group once said to me (I paraphrase): ‘assume kindness’. It’s a mantra that has worked. I know that in group, I am working from a place of kindness and trying to understand, and assuming that others are (until otherwise told) helped a lot. Here – if you don’t get something or need more understanding, you can commit to doing some research (and nothing made me happier than when people said to me ‘I was reading this thing on gender’) and at the same time, you can express that you don’t get it. You will probably be much better accepted than if you supress that and the person at the side of you can see it, despite utterances to the contrary.

 

In short – it’s DIFFICULT to say in group that you don’t get something. It’s hard to stand out and be that person. But you will make a much better experience for the person who was brave enough to speak, to KNOW that they have been heard and that you want to engage with them, than if they speak and are met with a wall of what can feel like placation with no attempt at understanding. And – if you DO get it, say so. Say why. Let the person know you’re with them, don’t let them sit alone.

 

Reference:

Davies, D. (1998) ‘The Six Necessary and Sufficient Conditions Applied to Working with Lesbian Gay and Bisexual Clients.’ The person-centered journal [online] 5 (2), 111–120