Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Talking to Your LGBTQI+ Clients About the Election Results

While half of the nation and the rest of the globe is reeling at the results of the 2016 Presidential election, there is a general disbelief, shock, and grief that is all around us. However, at the same time, the other half of the country celebrates. For LGBTQI+ people and other minorities, it is one step further in complexity; these announcements can be impactful in other ways, even traumatizing. Regardless of political affiliations, one candidate wished to set back the clock and make LGBTQI+ people second class citizens. And America overwhelmingly supported that candidate.

For LGBTQI+ youth who are struggling and/or suicidal, this can solidify their negative feelings about themselves, about the type of life they can have, and about how others will view them. For LGBTQI+ people at any age, this is a scary situation; we have made so much progress within the last few years and we may very well lose the scarce protections and rights we do have. What can be particularly traumatizing for LGBTQI+ people is that while they are scared and horrified at this prospect, friends and family may be rejoicing publicly in the election of a person who wishes to take their rights away.

Today and within the next few weeks, as you are working with LGBTQI+ clients, the issue of the election is likely to emerge. Here are some suggestions on how to talk about this with them.

Allow people to tell their stories. What do these election results mean to them? How are they internalizing them? How are they dealing with family and friends who openly rejoice in a candidate who is determined to take away their rights?

Sit with these clients in their grief and fear. Listen. Don't try to minimize the impact of this election or look for a positive aspect with the clients at first. This is truly devastating.

Let them know that they are not alone. Half of the country is grieving and in shock. LGBTQI+ people and allies, people of color, immigrants, and all those with differences are experiencing this shock. We are united in our horror.

Breathe. We did not expect this. We believed we were making progress and gaining more acceptance. To see the electoral map, it can literally make it feel like you are surrounded by racist, misogynistic, bigoted, biased persons. Although that is not true, half of our country is clearly willing to tolerate misogyny, bigotry, and racism. That realization can cause LGBTQI+ people to shut down in fear and horror. Help the clients to calm - take deep breaths and find their grounding.

Empower people to use their voices. Keep people talking. As devastating as this was, keep people empowered and using their voice to communicate their experience. They do have a right to their rights. They are not wrong; the country seems to have gone crazy, but it is not LGBTQI+ people that are broken. Communicate how this election has impacted the LGBTQI+ communities. Always remember: we will overcome and we still have power, especially when we are united.

Tap into your support systems. Connect with clients and encourage them to connect to those people who support their rights, as well as those who are experiencing the same grief and fear. If you are in a school, hold a special meeting of a GSA; in any context, increase your LGBTQI+ support groups, and connect people to resources as we do in crisis counseling.

Do not disengage. As a counselor, especially one who may identify as LGBTQI+, it may be tempting to disappear, to grieve, and to be silent. We are afraid too. And we do need to take care of ourselves. However, we are also leaders and advocates. Our clients need us right now. Be present and vocal for them, so they see models of people who will fight for their rights.

Reengage your hope in humanity. Share hope, love, and peace. Find positive stories and news. Stay on social media and spread positive messages. But do not forget to take care of yourself as a counselor as well.

We will keep fighting. We have had a very successful last few years in terms of political change for LGBTQI+ people. We can move for change on many levels, and we get to vote again in 2 years, and then again in 4 years. The con artist and demagogue that is Donald Trump is likely to be revealed even to his followers in that time. We have made it through dark times before; my mentor Edward Zigler would always say, "In politics, whenever we have a sustained period of time where we progress quickly as a nation, it is followed by a pendulum swing back and we regress. But have hope, the pendulum always swings back and we move forward again." Oppression is part of our history and modern experience, for sure. But, don't ever forget that we are more than that and our ideals of equality and freedom WILL be realized as long as we do not stop fighting.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

All the Colors Under the LGBTQI+ Rainbow

Queer identities have evolved significantly, as has the acronym used to describe the community. This post is designed to help people become aware of what all those letters mean. I am including definitions for each letter from our book's glossary "coming out" in 2017 from the American Counseling Association.

Most people are aware of what the first part of the acronym, LGBT, indicates.

Lesbian – (adjective, noun) a female-identified person who is predisposed to emotionally, physically, sexually, psychologically, and spiritually bond to other women.
Gay – (adjective) a person who is predisposed to emotionally, physically, sexually, psychologically, and spiritually bond with someone of the same sex and/or gender. It is most often used to refer to males who are predisposed to emotionally, physically, sexually, psychologically, and spiritually bond with other males, as in “gay men”.
Bisexual/ Bi – (adjective) a person who is predisposed to emotionally, physically, sexually, psychologically, and spiritually bond with more than one sex or gender. Some use this identity to indicate bonding with both males and females, while others use this identity to indicate bonding with other gender identities beyond a male/female binary, including third gender, genderqueer, and transgender persons. The attraction or interest is not necessarily equally split among these sexes or genders.
Transgender – (adjective) 1) a person whose gender identity does not match their designated sex at birth. 2) an umbrella term for both binary (male/female) and non-binary (genderqueer) identities whose gender identity and designated sex at birth are incongruent. Some transgender persons will identify as genderqueer, whereas some may identify as a transman or transwoman. Some others will identify simply as a male or female.

Q has become the umbrella term to refer to the community as well. So rather than saying "the gay community" people more often say "the queer community" or communities.
Queer – (adjective) (1) a person whose gender identity and affectional orientation are not reflected in traditional heterosexual or gay labels and categories. (2) an umbrella term, used to describe the entire community of LGBTQI+ persons, as in the “queer community”. It reclaims a once derogatory term as an affirmative identity. Be aware, however, that some persons still find the term queer offensive.

The rest of the acronym may be less clear to people. There have been some new terminology as well as recognition of identities that have had little attention in the past. The order of letters in the acronym is also different depending on the context or community using it. 

Ally – (noun) a person who 1) has empathy for LGBTQI+ people, 2) provides support to a person or people who are LGBTQI+, and 3) identifies with a privileged category compared to the individuals or groups for whom they are supporting or advocating. (verb) as a member of a privileged category in relation to those whom they are advocating by 1) actively confronting bias and privilege both personally and within others, 2) believing that bias, prejudice, and discrimination against the LGBTQI+ population are issues that require social justice advocacy, and 3) participating in active advocacy for individuals and/or groups who identify as LGBTQI+.  For example, a heterosexual or a gay male could both be an ally for a transgender person.
Asexual – (adjective) a person who feels little or no sexual desire and/or attraction to other people and experiences a lack of interest in having a sexual relationship. It is recognized as an affectional orientation. Also known as “ace” within the asexual community.
Genderqueer – (adjective) a person whose gender identity is not reflected by the binary of male or female. It is also used as an umbrella term, similar to third gender and transgender, to reflect people who are gender non-conforming and/or non-binary identities. Genderqueer persons may think of themselves as a combination of male and female (e.g., bigender), no gender (e.g., agender), multiple genders (e.g., pangender, omnigender), genderfluid, or third gender. Similar to the identity of queer, it reclaims a once derogatory term as an affirmative identity. Be aware, however, that some persons still find the term queer offensive.
Intersex – (noun) a person whose sex development in utero differs from the expected sex presentation at birth, resulting in ambiguous or both male and female chromosomes, hormones, internal/external sexual organs, and/or secondary sex characteristics. A synonym of  Disorders/Differences of Sex Development.
Pansexual – (adjective) a person who is predisposed to emotionally, physically, sexually, psychologically, and spiritually bond with others, regardless of sex or gender. A synonym with omnisexual.
Two-Spirit(ed) – (adjective, noun) an indigenous/ Native person to the Americas who embraces a third gender, which represents both masculine and feminine spirit within one person. Their identity can involve both affectional orientation and gender variance. Historically, two-spirited persons were valued, respected, and honored for their spiritual and social roles within a tribe.
Questioning – (verb, adjective) a person who is not sure or is actively exploring their affectional orientation and/or gender identity.

There are about a thousand other terms, but these represent the most commonly used categories. If you have a question about a specific term, write a comment and we'll respond!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

That's Offensive Now? Why LGBTQI+ Terminology Changes!

This morning I corrected someone who used the term "a transgender." "That's not a noun", I said patiently. "The correct term is transgender person." The response I get from people when correcting language is anywhere from incredulous to frustrated to confused. Gender and affectional orientation are complex issues. Add on top of that that these terms change and once-accepted terms can now be considered offensive, people can be fearful of using the terminology and frustrated that it changes so often. I understand; the sheer number of terms and how quickly they change can be overwhelming. But, I'm going to explain in this blog post, why these terms are so complex and why they change so much.

Why Do These Terms Change??

First, we live in a world that is heteronormative (seeing heterosexuality as the norm) and cisnormative (having a singular gender identity that matches your designated sex at birth as the norm). Since researchers and clinicians live in this society, they use that lens to view differences. Terms that were initially chosen to describe LGBTQI+ people have been found to be lacking or incorrect. For example, it used to be a convention to refer to a transgender person's "biological or genetic sex," referencing their designated sex at birth (the phrase we use now). "Biological or genetic sex" is not actually accurate and reflects a bias against transgender people. Some transgender people may have "Differences of Sex Development" or Intersex conditions, where there sex chromosomes, internal sex organs, external sex organs, and secondary sex characteristics (face shape, facial hair, etc.) do not match in a binary male or female manner. For example, they may have XX chromosomes, have internal female sex organs, and external male sex organs, with blended secondary sex characteristics. "Biological or genetic sex" also assumes that only observable sex characteristics are "biological or genetic"; when, gender identity and brain physiology is absolutely biological and genetically influenced. Therefore, the first reason is that the way we see the world impacts our terminology. When research findings and other viewpoints enter our collective consciousness, we understand how previously used terminology can be incorrect. 

How We See The World Affects Our Terminology

The second reason that these terms change is because of the stigma associated with the LGBTQI+ communities. When a term is associated with a culturally devalued label, it can carry so much stigma that it needs to be changed, as it is commonly used in an abusive way. For example, individuals with intellectual and cognitive disabilities were once called fools, simpletons, cretins, idiots, and imbeciles, as clinical terms. Because of the negative stigma, these terms began to be used abusively, and eventually become outdated and need to be changed. The word carries so much stigma on its own, it becomes unsalvageable. The same thing has happened to the terms "homosexual" and "transexual," which are outdated terms that carry much stigma. This stigma can also show up in how people use a word; using an adjective as a noun is a common mistake. Saying "a transgender" is no more appropriate or correct than saying "a gay". Therefore, the second reason that these terms change so much is that they begin to carry stigma and begin to be used as derogatory terms.
Terms Can Become Stigmatized

The third reason that LGBTQI+ terminology is always shifting and complex is because it is based upon one's identity and subjective sense of self. The terms are just labels that will not fit everyone perfectly. Gender identity is on a continuum, therefore, someone could have a very specific term for being at a specific location on that continuum (e.g., femme, boi, agender, etc.). Also, because of intersectional identities (ethnicity, spirituality, etc.), gender identity and affectional orientation labels can be very specific to the person's other identities, such as BlaQ (someone who identifies as African American and queer) or Latinx (a person who identifies as Latin American and genderqueer). There are literally thousands (or more) of potential identity terms that encompass affectional orientation and gender. 

Terms Reflect Varying Identities

While there is no way that someone could know all possible LGBTQI+ identity terms, I suggest that when you are working with someone, as a counselor or otherwise, that you simply ask what term a persons uses and what it means to them. Do not expect that person to be a walking encyclopedia for you, however, especially when you have google. 

Our new American Counseling Association book coming out next year has a complete glossary in it, but there are also some useful ones online through the Human Rights Commission, It's Pronounced Metrosexual website, and within the ALGBTIC Competencies for counselors. We'll be addressing more terms in this blog as well, so stay connected!