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. 

(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.

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.