(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.

Advertisements

knowing myself

 

Oscar Wilde Be yourself, everyone else is alre...

Oscar Wilde Be yourself, everyone else is already taken up (Photo credit: symphony of love)

 

I was out running yesterday around my local park. It’s beautiful there. The weather was cooler – but just right for me and running in.

 

As I started my second lap, I saw a small child – about three years old and their caregiver. The child had no coat on, and long sleeves and trousers and seemed quite content – my running app tells me it was 18 degrees. But what caught my attention was the caregiver’s insistence that ‘you need to put a coat on. It’s cold and everyone else has one’. The child insisted they were not cold and the caregiver insisted it was cold and so the child needed to put a coat on.

 

Even at my slow speed, I was past this little dyad before I saw the end of that play out, but I imagine that not many three year olds win that battle. And it made me sad. For me, it’s a prime, and very basic example of Rogers’ organismic valuing process (our valuing system). The child is being told that its valuing process is incorrect (MUST be cold) and then (assuming this pattern continues throughout life) learns that many other things that it thinks are somehow ALSO ‘incorrect’. And before you know it, we have clients in our therapy rooms who don’t know who they are or what they feel, or what they like and need.

 

As trainees also – we are confronted with a LOT of things as trainees – from spending days (by the end of training) with each other in group process, trying to manage the way we feel in response to several people’s feels. Yet, when you are told something as basic as ‘You are cold’ and you do not think you ARE cold, how can you trust in yourself for the big decisions, when you ‘know’ you were wrong about the small ones? This follows on to our ‘experiential learning’ also – in may places throughout our training, we are experiencing things that are very different to what we have experienced in our lives so far. In my family, you didn’t talk about how you felt. That’s not going to get me far in counselling training (or in therapy). So in training I am constantly looking at theory, at conversations, and trying to ‘get at’ my feelings around these things, as well as trying to make academic theory make sense, so I am doing ‘double duty’ here (as I suspect, many people are).

 

But this not TALKING about feelings then often leads to not having them, because what’s the point of having a feeling if you can’t talk about it? – if as a small child, you are alone with that feeling, both good and bad. There is a difficulty then as an adult, when people say to you that as you use language like ‘gut feeling’ that you MUST then be having a feeling. In my case, it doesn’t SEEM like a feeling, it seems like knowledge, but just as the small child who was told they were cold, when they did not feel they were, I am told I have a feeling, when I do not feel like I do. I accept that other people in my position might experience this as a feeling, but at the same time, I think that I need to do much more work in my own therapy before I can get to that stage for myself. Unlike that child, I can choose to reject the assertion, and know that their experience of those words is just that, and mine is mine. After all, Rogers – proposition two: The organism reacts to the field as it is experienced and perceived. This perceptual field is “reality” for the individual. I think I just reached a new level of personal acceptance there.

 

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change”