Tag Archives: pronouns

Why pronouns matter

I attended a CPD event for therapists recently and it left me questioning (again) whether therapists have really embraced gender diversity. Do therapists really understand why pronouns matter?

The gender binary is culturally specific. It’s also related to the settler-colonial imperialist project to categorise people as superior/inferior (Barker & Iantiffi 2019). Essentially certain people in society make decisions about who or what is considered civilised or not. There were disastrous consequences for those who did not fit into the ‘superior’ categories. They they either had to deny who they were or face brutal attack and death.

Gender Identity – why pronouns matter

Pronouns are part of what reflects our gender identity. For cis gender people (those whose gender aligns with the gender assigned at birth) you may not have considered whether being referred to as she/her or he/him fits. This is where gender neutral pronouns such as they/them or ze/zir become important. It really makes a difference to the individual. For anyone who struggles with gender neutral pronouns such as they/ them, remember you will be using the word ‘you’ in both the singular and plural quite naturally so it simply requires a bit of practice and willingness to try.

This also means educating ourselves about the particular ways that gender diverse people are oppressed by therapists and society. Also that we are advertising that we work with gender diverse clients that we educate ourselves about the different pathways in terms of potential hormone and/or surgical interventions that might be available via the NHS or privately so that we are not relying on our clients to teach us, especially if we are working with those with gender dysphoria. This simply isn’t fair. 

There are demands on everyone to express their gender identity in certain ways otherwise they are not woman or man ‘enough’. In some instances, clients are told they are not even trans, bi or gay enough, such are the limits of understanding. I wonder, are we perpetuating this in the therapy or supervision room?

Gender diversity – why pronouns matter

Many therapists and supervisors, myself included, advertise that we are inclusive in our practice. What changes do we actually make to incorporate gender diversity? One change we have made in my practice is to label both our single-occupancy toilets as ‘All Gender Toilets ’. This way anyone of any gender can feel comfortable using them. For those of us outside the gender binary, as for many trans and intersex people, (Viloria & Nieto 2020) public toilets can be incredibly difficult to navigate. I have personal experience of being spoken to aggressively for using women’s, men’s, and toilets for disabled users. This generates so much shame simply from using a public toilet. Most cis-gender people will not have to consider this.

Other suggestions would be to make greetings inclusive. ‘Hello all/everyone/folks’ includes everyone. Whereas ‘ladies and gentlemen’ excludes those of us outside the binary. It is also outdated, patriarchal and class-centric language. I invite you to think about how you might react if salutes constantly excluded you?

Forms could be more inclusive simply by having boxes for pronouns and other genders. Computer systems updated to incorporate the gender-neutral prefix Mx are more inclusive. I invite you to think about how you might react if forms constantly excluded you? They may already in terms of ethnicity. How might you feel if forms excluded you in both of these areas?

Something else that can help is email signatures that incorporate pronouns, irrespective of your identity, as this will help normalise the use of diverse pronouns and at no expense of anyone using normative pronouns.

The power of apology

We all make mistakes. As long as we acknowledge and apologise (and learn from it). There is something incredibly empowering for clients to hear us apologise when we get something wrong like using the wrong pronoun; it can validate who they are. If we cover it up or hope they haven’t noticed that we just used the wrong pronoun, we erase them right in front of us. This erasure is so damaging and shaming.

Potentially perpetuating trauma

We need a greater understanding of the impact on our clients of being marginalised by the use of outdated, excluding language and knowledge. To not do so risks perpetuating previous trauma and feelings of oppression, which may result in internalised shame. Some of this work is potentially difficult and challenging. If we consider that, as therapists and supervisors, we may inadvertently add to the oppression of our clients in terms of their identity – be that gender, sexual, relationship, ability, race, religion, class or any other equally important aspect. But oppression is only lessened as we recognise and acknowledge our place/s of privilege in society. We also need to continue to reflect on what we do with this knowledge, both inside and outside of the therapy room.

Someone once said to me, ‘people are simply people’. Whether you’re a counsellor, psychotherapist or supervisor I would like to think that together we could be more inclusive. Also that we enable people to simply be people, wear whatever they feel comfortable wearing, using names and pronouns that they feel most comfortable with, doing jobs and hobbies that make them feel fulfilled, loving whoever they happen to love. It’s a vision I still hold most dear but fear we as a profession are not there yet.

Resilience and why pronouns matter.

Luan reflects on: their ‘why pronouns matter’ article, the resilience bank, paper cuts. They share the 5 things they do to maintain their resiliency.

Luan’s article ‘why pronouns matter’ is here to help bust some of the myths around gender diversity and to demonstrate how small changes in our interactions can have a huge positive impact on those with diverse identities.

As a psychotherapist and supervisor in private practice they reflect on their experiences within the therapeutic community regarding diversity, particularly gender, sexual and relationship identity. Their thoughts can be readily transposed to any area of diversity. Their aim is to offer some insights here into how we might better serve our clients, supervisees and colleagues. All examples are anonymised.

Whilst they recognise that change is slow within wider society they feel we have a duty as counsellors, psychotherapists and supervisors to be robust enough to challenge, be challenged and expand our knowledge and understanding, rather than live in a bygone era of oppression, judgement and ignorance. LGBT+ hate crime has increased by 78% in the last five years1. It matters to clients, supervisees and supervisors. Indeed it needs to matter for change to occur. Resilience and why pronouns matter.

“People are simply people”. Whether you’re a counsellor, psychotherapist or supervisor I would like to think that together we could enable people to simply be people, wear whatever they feel comfortable wearing, using names and pronouns that they feel most comfortable with, doing jobs and hobbies that make them feel fulfilled, loving whoever they happen to love. It’s a vision I still hold most dear but fear we as a profession are not there yet.

Resources

Inclusive progressive rainbow LGBTQIA flag

JK Rowling’s open letter

I have some thoughts about the recent media row between JK Rowling’s open letter and some trans activists…

Fear seems to be at the heart of the argument. Fear of difference, fear of the unknown, fear of harm and fear of erasure.

Inclusive language

In the initial Tweet, Rowling takes umbrage with the inclusive language “those who menstruate” which includes trans men and non-binary individuals who are not women but who may still menstruate. It’s hard (for me) to see why the inclusion of these groups seems to undermine a sense of ‘woman’ for those who were assigned female at birth and feel that’s the right category for them (cis-gender).

Rowling has clearly had some awful experiences in the past. However, she seems to be confusing all trans women (those assigned male at birth) as predatory and male as though these are linked. They are not. People of all genders can be predatory and abusive. Rowling talks about being ‘triggered’ and it sounds like she might need some additional support for that so she isn’t assuming all men are evil or trans women might want to harm her. One point she seems to miss completely is the vast majority of trans women feel shame around certain parts of their bodies. The last thing on their minds is to expose themselves others.

Binary thinking

It appears she is also operating from a binary male/female perspective in terms of sex which is long outdated and incorrect. Whilst the two most common categories for sex characteristics and chromosomes are male/female, there are also a number of intersex categories. This is aside from any sense of gender identity which is more of a felt experience rather than something that can be ‘tested’ for. What it immediately highlights is that sex and gender is not a binary system, much as it might be safer to think in these terms.

Equality for all genders

Far from eroding the category of woman, supporting equality for all genders adds weight to equality for women. First we need to widen the legal definition of sex so that intersex individuals are included rather than excluded. This will undoubtedly complicate areas of research where so much focus is placed on the binary sex marker. I have no doubt that what we’d see is simply variation within any given category.

JK Rowling’s open letter voices concern re safeguarding children as though by being more inclusive of trans rights we somehow make children less safe; this is simple scaremongering tactics based on her own fears. We are all entitled to our own opinion; we also need to understand the emotion behind the position. It’s no wonder Rowling feels so strongly given her early experiences. Trans individuals feel equally strongly because of the oppression they face day after day.

De-transition rates

Rowling talks about de-transition rates. There will always be people who find it wasn’t the right approach for them. Many of these might be non-binary rather than trans. The more support we can give these individuals the less regret we might see. However, the de-transition rates remains very low. Currently the system still favours those who transition from one side of the binary to ‘the other’ rather than enabling the freedom to simply be whoever they are with all their complexities. Rowling also talks about people transitioning rather than living with the oppression of being gay/lesbian. Surely our efforts need to focus on making it OK to be gay/lesbian rather than to further oppress a particular group?

Is it OK to disagree with Rowling? Sure. Is it OK to be hounded with death-threats? Quite frankly, no! She is entitled to her opinion. Whilst it’s one I do not share, behaving in an abusive way towards her simply feeds the negativity. It also confirms for her that trans women are indeed scary beings who want to harm her. As someone with such a high profile I do think she has a duty of care to better educate herself and to be more aware of the impact of her comments on those who face oppression. Her books have given many people the hope that love and respect will win in the end. Even though not a single character of hers was trans or non-binary.

Transition rates

JK Rowling’s open letter speaks about being concerned about the increase in people seeking transition. It is inevitable that the numbers will increase as people see that it is a possibility for them. Surely this is a positive step; to know that people previously desperately unhappy are now able to receive the support and interventions they require.

Rowling suggests she might have become a man herself “to turn into the son her father always wanted”. Like that’s the reason people are transitioning and would be supported by the health care system. The suggestion is that transitioning is an easy process! Perhaps she is not aware of the incredibly lengthy, and oft times humiliating hurdles that need to be overcome to arrive at a point of transition. Particularly if medical and/or surgical interventions are required.

The way forward

So, I’m left wondering what the way forward might be. We have a situation where some women are deeply frightened of being attacked by someone they have placed into a non-woman category. We also have trans and non-binary people needing safe spaces. Especially to go to the toilet and use changing rooms without being attacked. Instead of attacking each other, how can we work together with an understanding that both groups feel the terror of oppression and abuse?

I’m back to thoughts around fear and erasure. The way forward is surely in ensuring visibility and equality for all? In terms of equality, it might be difficult for women to think of themselves as both oppressed and privileged. Oppressed by men and also with privilege that trans and non-binary individuals don’t yet have. With greater visibility for women (including trans women) and non-binary people, there’s a greater sense of empowerment for all. It’s important to know where we have privilege and where we experience oppression. Together we are stronger.