GI Conference, Day One

*This has taken a little longer than planned to write- apparently ‘life’ happened while I was at the conference, but we’re back on track now! Also, I did not anticipate actually having so much to write, so I am splitting this article in two- below you will find Day One of Conference, and I hope to have Day Two posted by the end of the weekend!*

I have had the absolute pleasure to have attended the Gendered Intelligence ‘TransForming Spaces’ 2018 Conference in London last weekend. What I have experienced and taken away from the weekend will stay with me for a long time and require an equal amount of time to fully digest; to see where my place may lay amongst this, but I am excited to be a proud part of it!

For those of you who may not know much about the trans community, this blog will give you a small insight. Gender is not binary; by this, I mean that it isn’t as simple as just being ‘male’ and ‘female’. We know that gender is a spectrum, and different people identity in different ways along this spectrum; non-binary, trans, queer- however you feel. Cis gender means a person whose birth-assigned gender matches their gender identity; for example, I was born female, and I identify as being female. Laverne Cox, for example, was assigned male at birth but identifies as a female.

This is what GI does, and how the work they do benefits the LGBTQ+ Community as a whole. As a Counselling Psychologist in training, I work with people from every area of life, so part of my responsibility, to my clients (and to myself!), is to update and increase my knowledge about the world around me. I love training and find it so beneficial to my practice, but my favourite type of training is to listen to other experiences- their stories, their narrative.

The conference was really interesting, in lots of different areas, and I couldn’t attend every panel that I would have liked to, but that’s a small downside to the conference (or comic con!). What I did manage to attend, I found thought-provoking, motivating and useful and so thought that writing a blog post would be a great idea to share my experience.

Friday was the first day of the conference and the day I thought I was most interested in. As with most things in life, we really have no idea what is going on, until it happens, so I hadn’t bargained on Saturday being so informative and emotionally challenging, just as Friday had been! Don’t worry, I am not going to write essays, but give a quick round-up of the panels I attended. I know time is precious, and we all want the TLDR; version of events 😉

The Keynote speech was given by Dr Meg-John Barker and introduced us to the concepts of what space means for trans people. Turns out (which we will find out as we go through the weekend), that, surprise surprise, it means the same as it does to the heteronormative portion of society- safety, privacy, enjoyment and living a good life!

They also talked about how trans can be subject to a ‘moral panic’, particularly when cis gendered people feel their ‘space’ is being challenged. Dr Meg-John talks about this regarding how trans people actually change space and time, by being adaptable- like shapeshifters or Timelords (did you notice that Dr Who is ostensibly a trans person?). Dr Meg-John talked about the difficulties faced by the trans community, concerning space, but also the positive elements, too. Dr Meg-John is an enormously engaging speaker, and listening to them was a fantastic experience, opening up just what it is to be trans in Britain in 2018.

Dr Meg-John has written many books on sex, gender and relationships, and their website is certainly worth visiting for (a lot!) more information.

The first panel that I wanted to attend was based in Therapeutic content- ‘Responding to the needs of trans clients in the therapy room’ and how to ensure that my practice is trans affirmative- working with clients of all diversity and being educated with those diversities in mind. Luckily, my training has been based around diversity inclusivity, so I hope that my practice reflects this!

We also listened to Dr Igi Moon, Kris Black, Amanda Middleton and Serge Nicholson talk about Conversion therapy, and the detrimental effects that this has on LGBTQ+ people; in particular the insidious nature of the therapy. We believe Conversion therapy to be something that is planned and performed on you, whereas the reality is that Conversion is taking place every time an LGBTQ+ person’s experience is denied. Every time they are not listened to. Every time they are misgendered. These realities are so important for cis gendered people to understand. We don’t need to pathologize gender and gender identity- it’s not a medical, mental illness, it’s a human life experience. Who are we to question that? As Psychologists and therapists, we need to be mindful of the narrative and words we use in our therapy rooms.

There was a discussion around the MOU2 (Memorandum of Understanding Against Conversion Therapy 2) and a legal mandate to rebuke Conversion therapy. Mental health practitioners should, ideally, be members of a Professional body, such as the BPS or BACP, and (nearly all) of these bodies have signed up to support MOU2; the ethos is at the core of our Therapeutic framework; to hold our clients safely, non-judgementally, to allow space to explore their needs.

There was also a discussion on the protection of the words ‘counsellor’, and ‘therapist’- the term ‘Psychologist’ is a protected term, and cannot be used by anyone who is not a Psychologist. However, the term counsellor and therapist are not. Therefore, therapeutically, anyone could set themselves up as a therapist, so it is incredibly important to ensure the therapist you are attending has the right skill set for your needs. To this end, GI have their own therapist network (one that I hope to be able to join next year, following the mandatory training) to enable you to choose a therapist who is Trans affirming.

The next panel I attended was simply called ‘Toilets’. For any trans person, the mere mention of toilets can send terror into your heart, a reality that just isn’t there for the vast majority of cis gendered people. Cis gender know that we can go to the toilet, anywhere; pub, shop, school, work etc. However, for trans people, toilets are a place of unsafety and challenge. I cannot imagine having to hold my bladder for a whole working day, because there were no toilets, I felt safe using, yet this is a daily issue for Trans people. This makes me so sad; toilets were developed in 1820 and it took a further 40 YEARS to create public toilets for women, so in terms of health and hygiene, we seem to move very slowly as a species. This just isn’t good enough and we need to increase the pace, to make toilets accessible for everyone, regardless of gender or disability.

I was very fortunate to be able to hear Cara English talk about her experience with toilets, and what her experience has led her to create- Openlavs.com. An amazing idea and website for anyone who needs to use a bathroom when out and about and has no idea about ‘safe’ bathrooms- 48% of Trans people do not feel comfortable using a public toilet. Imagine if that was you.

Openlavs.com is a website that is being populated with Trans peoples experience of the toilets they use, so if they find a particularly good/helpful/safe toilet, you can add it to the website so others can benefit from your experience. This ties in beautifully with the presentation that came after Cara, which came from FaulknerBrowns Architects; as people, we want privacy with our toilets and changing facilities, not just trans people, but cis too. So, why not start to create integral toilets? Floor to ceiling height doors, maybe a sink in the cubicle. I know that I would genuinely appreciate this, and so would many Trans people. A privacy cubicle takes away a lot of the worry from a toilet- and what if we made them all ‘universal’ toilets, so anyone could use them? I know this is a change from what we are used to, but we need to find ways to manage the changes we are experiencing in the world, and this is a simple, straightforward change, that could change so many lives by its implementation.

The next panel of the day was ‘Safer Spaces for Young Trans People’, something that I feel very passionate about. GI have some amazing support projects for trans youth, and listening to the kid’s experience of the support they get, I felt genuinely happy and humbled, but scared and sad for our youth as well.

There has been a huge rise in children identifying as trans, which is also my experience in my practice. Kids have become more aware of the narrative of life and understand language and experience even more so- social media can help massively in this way, but also be equally dangerous, in some respects.

The aim of the GI youth groups is to enable and empower trans youth to be able to live their lives to the fullest, being their authentic selves. Something we all deserve to do, gender be damned, but it is something that is very hard for young trans kids. There is also a trans youth of colour group available; intersectionality occurs in both coloured and white trans kids but is equally treated with respect in the groups. I am not going to go into a lot of detail about the GI youth group and this panel; if you have a trans kid, or you are a trans youth, go ahead to the GI website and click here for more information. I believe in safety for our kids; if you have any questions, please do send me a message and I will do my best to answer or signpost you to a resource that can be of help.

My final panel, after a long day, was ‘Inclusivity in the Workplace’. I know I work alone, but this was a panel I thought would be helpful for my work with my clients, but also (when!) I return to the NHS! This panel was really interesting, and slightly more business orientated, but well worth the wait!

Emma Cusdin from AVIVA gave a presentation and led the discussion about her work, changing AVIVA’S policies, making it a more inclusive policy, not just for trans people, but all. The main policy change I picked up was maternity/paternity/parental leave. Their policy is hugely progressive for this day and age- anybody, regardless of gender, whether adoptive parents or natural, is entitled to the same amount of parental leave, which brings their policy into line with some of the more progressive European countries like Sweden.

This may seem like a small adjustment to you and me, but this is huge. It levels the playing field for all; if you feel that it doesn’t affect you, I promise you it does. We can all be marginalised in our lives, so the more we normalise and standardise our policies and ideals in life, the better it is for ALL of us.

Another impressive AVIVA policy is their policy for transitioning at work- there is set FAQ’s and guidance for all employees, making it very clear how to work with transitioning people. AVIVA have all gender-neutral facilities, and they have worked incredibly hard to degenderize their working environment. I love this approach, we really do not need further segregation in life- if we want equality in our working environment, it has to be equality for all.

Jules Lockett, from the London Ambulance Service (LAS), also talked at this panel, about how the LAS started their equality and gender-neutral policy. Jules said that they started the process a year ago and they now have all gender-neutral toilets for all staff. They also had very few issues from staff- staff were curious and asked questions, but overall, it was a positive experience, that went really well.

Both of these examples really excited me, regarding what can actually be achieved and of how accepting and understanding we actually can be. The future is certainly looking brighter, and it was a very positive way to end the panels for the first day of the conference!