(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.

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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.

 

conference-going

The Asia-Pacific plenary session of the Intern...

The Asia-Pacific plenary session of the International Conference on LGBT Human Rights (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I went to a conference this weekend  (Emerging trans* run by @pinktherapyUK for those who want to know and I’d recommend pinktherapy conferences to anyone – they aim to explore the full diversity of human sexual/relationship/gender/sexual diversity experience that we might encounter as therapists).

 

It can be a daunting thing to do as a trainee – last summer as a first year, I went to the BAPCA conference. I wasn’t going to go to the BAPCA one – it was expensive, and I was a student. I was worried that I would be out of my depth. But when i looked at the site, they had bursaries available and on a whim, I applied for one. They gave it to me. I was nothing short of amazed, and then of course, I had to go – someone else had paid for me.

 

What both of the conferences (with their very different themes) had in common was just how friendly they were. At the BAPCA conference I didn’t have a ‘trainee therapist’ label, (at the trans* conference I could choose to give myself a label and i chose that one), but I felt free to speak as myself, as a trainee, and give my own experiences, which were well-received and I was treated with kindness throughout. It was the same experience this weekend; I was much less daunted, and much more secure (in part because I do have actual clients, and some of them have fallen into the category that was the theme for the conference – hence the interest!).

 

As a trainee who pays out a horrendous amount each month for my training, the conference was on the high side for me, but the experience of the first conference taught me that ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’ and so I asked if there was any way/concession for volunteers. Dominic kindly accepted me as a volunteer, and for half-price entry, all I needed to do at the weekend was to sell Pink Therapy’s 5GB memory sticks loaded with 400+ papers covering a range of sexual diversities (including LGBT, non-monogamy, BDSM and asexuality) to anyone who asked me for one. It wasn’t arduous – I have the memory stick already and have found it an invaluable resource. I got to see all of the seminars and missed nothing, whilst at the same time, having a great opportunity to talk to people from a variety of backgrounds about our shared trans-related interests, amongst other things.

 

People at conferences all seem to remember very well that they were trainees once, and they were absolutely kind. Both at this conference and at the BAPCA conference, I was able to meet people who had written text books that I own (in some cases my core texts) and have conversations with them ‘just like they were anyone else!’ (to quote myself last summer).

 

This summer is the ADPCA conference in Nottingham. I’m going. I also applied for one of the bursaries for that, and was successful. There is a pre-conference day, and then the conference itself. I shall be there for the pre-conference day, and the first full day of the conference, as it is my last training weekend of the year. Whilst sad that I will not get to attend all of it, I’m very grateful for the chance to attend those bits, and this time, I won’t be feeling so out of place as a student, as essentially, I know I’m guaranteed a warm welcome.

 

For anyone who wants to know what sorts of things happened at the BAPCA conference, check out the Online Events webpage. They filmed most, if not all of the keynotes from people like Gillian Proctor, Art Bohart, Stephen Joseph and Peter Schmid to name a few, and all of them are available in their library free to students. They have much more available than this and their library is well-worth a look.

 

Some of the other trainees I met at the BAPCA conference last year will be going to the ADPCA conference this year (the BAPCA conference will be on again in 2015 and I hope to be presenting – if you want to go, start looking out early for bursaries!), and we have – those of us still in contact – decided that we will meet and have dinner after the conference one night. If you’re a trainee and you want to join us, let me know!

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