‘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. 

Advertisements

(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.

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?

Being non-binary in binary places

 

 

Non-binary. What’s that then?

 

Non-Binary Genders are gender identities that don’t fit within the accepted binary of male and female. People can feel they are both, neither, or some mixture thereof. It might be easier to view gender as a 1-dimensional spectrum with male on one end, female on the other, and androgyne in the middle- but the reality is that gender is more complex, and 3-dimensional models with axes for male, female, and how strongly you feel attached to that gender identity have been suggested.” from the gender wiki

 

That, in a nutshell, is me. I have never really identified as ‘female’ and in fact, I’m quoted in a book that I’m not going to link to here that was published in 2006, saying that ‘I do not know what ‘woman’ feels like. I only know what *i* feel like’. At that point, I didn’t know that non-binary existed. I remember as a small child, thinking that I must be a boy. But that feeling faded a bit. I don’t feel female. I don’t feel male. And sometimes I feel like both together, or neither at once. Or – that’s not quite true. There are days when I am comfortable performing gender in one way, and some in another. Today I am wearing a skirt and presenting as you’d expect ‘a woman’ to present. There are other days when I am in jeans and a button-down shirt and presenting in a way you’d expect ‘a man’ to present. And days when I mix that up. Most of the time, my identity is stable. As non-binary. As genderqueer. As me.

 

But I am perceived (coded) as female. In mixed-gender places where people know my pronouns (they/them/theirs) they use ‘she’ unapologetically and without conscious thought (I hope). I hope, because everyone does it. Counsellors, trainees, workplacements, university, loved ones (at least my loved ones correct themselves. This helps), everyone.

 

I had a much more personal story written; the story of what’s happening with my placement. But I am choosing not to share it here, and instead, will share something I read on facebook the other day:

 

“When trans people say “respect our pronouns” we are not just asking you to shift your language, we are asking you to shift an entire paradigm around sex, gender, and race. It’s not enough to change one word when we are asking for the end of an entire worldview.

What we are saying is not just “this word makes me feel good,” but rather I demand the right to narrate my body and my history on my own terms in a system that is predicated on categorizing, containing, and criminalizing me.

When we say “respect” what we mean is fight like hell for me. What we mean is I wasn’t just assigned this gender at birth, I am non-consensually gendered every day and what are you going to do about that?

This is not an opportunity to be politically correct, this is an opportunity to stop being incorrect.” Darkmatter

I do not (yet) call myself trans. But I also recognise that strictly speaking, I am not cisgender; My gender identity is not congruent with the sex I was assigned at birth. But the lines above, they speak to me.

 

Never assume that you know someone’s pronoun. How we perform our gender does not necessarily have anything to do with our gender identities. You would pretty much always look at me and code me as female. sometimes I wear skirts. Sometimes I wear jeans. I’m still ‘they’.

I post this today, with trepidation. But why should I not be me? Anyone else with me (please feel free to comment and say it’s private and I won’t undo it – unless you’re a person who has automatic approval!)

Trainees, do you need a mentor? Reasons why you might…

 

English: A new and emerging symbol for Polyamo...

English: A new and emerging symbol for Polyamory, non-monogamous relationships, and LGBTQ individuals. The box unfolding into an open heart represents “love outside the box”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since we launched the mentor list two weeks ago, the response from counsellors volunteering their services has been phenomenal. We have over 20 counsellors on the list so far, volunteering their services, covering almost every flavour of LGBTQI, poly, kinky, sex-positive, non-binary, and ethically non-monogamous.

 

So I am guessing that there are people reading this who might benefit from a mentor but are wondering if this is right for them, or what the point is. I wanted to point out a few places where it might be useful to have a mentor to go to. Some of these are my own experiences, some are based on others’ experiences.

 

Firstly, if any of the above identities fit with you (or you THINK they might) and you’re not out about them, then a mentor with experience in that area might be able to help. This has so far been the biggest request from trainees – it seems we most want to talk to people (so far) about how to manage our professional and personal identities; how out do we want to be, etc.

 

If you are out, and things might mostly feel ok, then you might wonder why a mentor would be helpful. Essentially, sometimes, it can be useful just to have the ear of someone who has passed through a similar situation with similar concerns. Someone who can understand when you say ‘it really makes me cross that everything on parenting covers ‘mother and father’ and there is no considering for same-sex parenting’, or ‘I have to explain my identity to my class before I can have a conversation about something important to me’.

 

Perhaps you’re poly or otherwise ethically non-monogamous and have heard the comment ‘greedy’ (see also ‘bi’). These may have been presented as jokes, but they hurt (they’re called microaggressions. If this has happened to you, look it up – you will find some useful stuff). Or you hear ‘I don’t understand how you can love more than one person (or have sex with more than one person)’ or ‘but isn’t that cheating?’

 

Perhaps you’re trans or non-binary and in your class you hear jokes about a ‘man in a dress’, or you’re out as trans/NB and often misgendered or misnamed. You may be lesbian gay or bi and hear ‘that’s gay’ as a derogatory comment. As an L or G person it’s directly insulting. As a B person it’s insulting and also depressing, because you’re invisiblised (I think I made that word up). You might be kinky and be hearing a LOT about 50 shades of grey right now, about how BDSM is abuse; that you cant consent to it, or that something is wrong with you if you like it – especially if you’re the dominant/top.

If any of these feel like you, click here to sign up for a mentor. You won’t have to wait more than a few days before I get back to you with someone relevant.

 

Calling LGBTQIA+ counsellors and trainees – mentor list

Rainbow flag.Trans flag.Leather flag.Bi flag.Asexual flag.Intersex flag. Genderqueer flag. Poly flag.Bear flag.
(I’m aware that I’ve missed some flags, and that some are more contentious than others, but I wanted to put up a selection)

 

Do you identify as lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, genderqueer, pansexual, non-binary, asexual, intersex, polyamorous, ethically non-monogamous, kinky, or with some other alternative gender or sexual diversity? Are you a supervisor, therapist or a trainee?

As a psychotherapy trainee who identifies as queer, sometimes, I am glad of the opportunity to be able to talk with experienced therapists who identify in similar ways to me. I was recently at a Pink Therapy event and was part of a conversation where it was suggested that it might be a good idea to create some kind of mentor program to help trainees in similar positions. I’ve volunteered to organise it.

So,  for Pink Therapy I am co-ordinating a mentor scheme for those people who identify in the above groups (as well as others I haven’t listed here that are along similar themes – please let me know if I have missed yours out!). It will also hold supervisor details, so if you don’t wish to mentor but are willing to offer supervision, please also complete the form. This list is open to anyone working or training as a counsellor, psychotherapist (of any modality) or clinical or counselling psychologist.

 

If you’re in some way LGBTQIA or ‘beyond the rainbow‘ and are a qualified counsellor or counselling/clinical psychologist who could offer some advice/support to a trainee, or if you’re a trainee who could use some support from a qualified counsellor or clinical or counselling psychologist, or if you’re able to offer (or are looking for) supervision please go to this page to fill in the form that goes directly to me.

As a general rule it would probably be short-term via email, but it would be negotiable between you and the trainee/therapist you’re matched with.

 

I am maintaining two lists, one of mentors/supervisors and one of trainees. When trainees contact me with the type of person they feel they would benefit from talking to, I will send their email address to a relevant person and ask that person to get in touch. If you’re a ‘senior’ trainee (someone who feels they could mentor newer trainees), please feel free to ask to go on the mentor side. Click this link to get to the page with the relevant information or email me: rainbowoftranquility@gmail.com or leave a (screened) comment below.

 

Training mid-point

This is a "thought bubble". It is an...

This is a “thought bubble”. It is an illustration depicting thought. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

I was going to do a recap on the little of the conference I was able to attend, but I’ve just reached the mid-point in my training, and as that’s most present in my mind, that’s what I’ll be talking about. Conference recap next week!

 

So – half way. Kind of. Half way through uni classes. 2/3 of the way through this format (weekend meeting for 3 or 4 days at a time) and 1/3 of my way through cinical hours (at least in terms of dates – I’m behind in my hours).

 

Where am *I*?

I struggle with my course, a lot. I haven’t yet written about it here, because a lot of it seems to be relevant to me as an individual in particular, rather than me as a trainee in general. I’m also aware that my classmates read this (some of them, anyway) and I would suspect that some of my tutors do (some of those know I’m having a hard time also), and I don’t want to upset anyone, or come across as any kind of ‘passive-aggressive’.

I have spent the last three workshops pondering whether I was going to withdraw at the end of this year, for a year out. I’ve decided not to – at least for now.

Training has been far harder than I thought it would be. I feel like somewhere along this course, I have lost myself. I am full of theory, and knowledge about what a person-centred counsellor ‘does’ (or you know, ‘doesn’t do’). This recent weekend we had a conversation with our trainer who was talking about the ‘rules’ and his comment was along the lines of ‘who says you have to follow’the rules’?’ In some ways, I think it’s a fair point. In others, I suspect that *breaking* those (often unspoken) rules would soon land me in trouble with my supervisor. In losing myself, I’m aware that I am clinging tighter to the me that’s left. Don’t get me wrong, I don’tmind this losing myself in part – I have faith that somewhere along the line, I will find me. But it is disconcerting.

 

I don’t feel like I fit. Generally, I spend a lot of time feeling like a fish out of water; wanting to challenge things, wanting people to see a different side of things. I suspect this stems from having to be more critical of things in my general life; I was at a wedding yesterday. Someone I care about was making a ‘backs against the wall, lads’ joke. He did it without thinking, and with no malice intended. And that’s the problem.It was done without thinking and with no malice. That makes challenging it much harder (I didn’t) than if it was maliciously directed at me; but perpetuating that stereotype, that way of thinking is insiduous and also dangerous. I make these choices (to challenge or not) almost on a daily basis throughout all of my life. I think that I hoped that my training environment would be different and there is certainly a higher level of awareness and that’s great. But I still feel like I stick out somewhat when I challenge. Or when I don’t, but it seems like I am the only person who thinks it should be challenged. I accept and understand that there are areas that my classmates might have that are the same – where *I* am the person not doing ‘the right thing’, and I would love to learn more about that, but at present, I’m a bit of a sore thumb, in training at least.

The question then, is ‘do I want to be a sore thumb for another two years?’

In my everyday life, I have friends both online and offline who are part of ‘my’ community and who have a shared experience to a greater or lesser degree. I work alone (in that I am the only person who does my job and my boss works in a different office to me) so I don’t really come across it there, and I am about to change job (in actual fact, I’m starting a phd) with LGBT-related issues. My therapist is queer also. I’m so grateful for that. I’ve been through two other therapists in two years, and I chose them (rather than go to my current therapist) because I wanted that other experience. It was somewhat disastrous for me. Therapy now, feels somewhat like ‘coming home’. There is something in the quality of being met at *my* level that I haven’t experienced with my other counsellors (and believe me, I wanted to – they were somewhat cheaper than my current therapist! They didn’t in the end, prove to be ‘cost-effective’, however).

 

I was hoping I would get that in my course, and there have been moments of that, and this feels very ‘doom and gloom’. In truth it has not been all (or even ‘mostly’) bad, but it has worn on me. I am currently sitting with a big part of my identity that is unacknowledged within my class by and large. I have referenced it, but I’m not sure it’s been noted by anyone. In staying, I feel like I have no option but to ‘out’ myself next year (I have been in so many cloests that it’s not true…). I don’t want to. I don’t want no reaction, because that will mean I haven’t been received, but I don’t want a negative reaction either, so it feels like 2/3 of the possible reactions are negative. So I have that to go back to. I don’t know if these reactions are inside me, or outside. This is a bit of the problem with losing myself.

 

As a therapist – how have I improved? Well, I’m less nervous. I started my own counselling placement, and it has grown enough that I have asked another counsellor to work with me. I do two days, she does one. As a service we aren’t full, but we have 7 clients between us, with another three possibles on the horizon (which would then make us almost full). I have much less in my head about what to ‘do’, and I trust the therapy process a bit more. I know more now, what is ‘my’ response, and what is a true reflection. My clients tell me that their therapy is helpful, and that pleases me. I know that it is them doing the work; what their comments tell me is that i am not *negatively* impacting on them (or not much, at least!)

 

As a person? My partner tells me that I am more open to people now. That I don’t jump to sarcasm as fast as I used to. That I am more open to other points of views. I see this for myself – I used to be very definite about the views I had, and now I am much more likely to actively consider several views. I listen more. i *hear* more.

 

As a student? No idea. I have no idea if I’m improved or not. This is another one of my ‘lost’ problems, and I’m not going in to it here.

One thing that hasn’t changed for me is the knowledge that I definitely want to qualify. I have more of an idea of the client mix that I would like and I can see that having more clients would help me to be the counsellor/psychotherapist that I want to be.

 

I think this post is possibly the most confused one that I’ve ever written. It’s not altogether unhappy, but it possibly has more of me than most if not all of my posts so far.

Question for anyone who has got this far (and a medal!): If you experience a difference between yourself and your classmates (race, sexuality, disability, mental health diagnosis, class, etc), what is that like?