Pride 2020

This year, I have left my annual Pride post until near the end of June (and on actual Global Pride day), as I have been taking the time to read, learn and educate myself over the global difficulties of the last few months. Pride is such an important event and it has coincided with a global pandemic and civil unrest- Black Lives Matters is such an important organisation and issue, and is intrinsically linked to Pride, also.

Although I identify as agender, this is not something that has caused me difficulty in my lifetime- an invisible difference, that only a few knew (now the world, may I add!), I wanted to really listen to the voices of the LGBTQA+ community, and the reality of the here and now, growing up with the difficulties a new generation faces. What better way to do this than to introduce a ‘guest’ for this blog- a 17 year old, Magdalena, an Autistic, Non-binary lesbian, studying at college, who writes thoughtfully on the effect of the history and what it means to be LGBTQA+ in the 2000’s. Thank you, Magdalena, for sharing your thoughts.


Identity, intersectionality, and self-reflection, or where we went wrong with Pride 

As a part of my English literature coursework, I’ve spent the past few months studying the gay culture and history of the 1980s. It seems strange to categorise time in such recent memory as history, but for the queer community, the 1980s were massively destructive. The rise of AIDs and the complete lack of accountability from any government means that so many members of the queer community are no longer with us. This has had a profound effect on how gay culture became fetishised within the mainstream in the early 90s and lead us to today’s ‘Rainbow Capitalism’. This Pride, I think it’s vital to take inspiration from the Gay Communities of the 1980s and re-politicise our identities.

To be gay in the ’80s was inherently political – life and love were ruled by legislation. For anyone out and proud, violence was common and expected, employment was tenuous, and family ties were often cut. There was absolutely no way to be gay in a socially acceptable way, and at most tolerance could be expected from cisgender heterosexual friends. But this had a stimulating effect on gay communities – to be an active member of these communities was to ally yourself with other similarly oppressed people.  At first, this was true within queer communities, but soon the complete disenfranchisement from systems of power led to more and more radical politics. Socialism and Civil Rights movements were common within queer communities (not to say that the gay culture within the ’80s was perfect, but that without any ties to bigoted systems of power often people would champion other marginalised groups).  A fascinating example of this is the Lesbians and Gays support of the miner’s movement. For more information, I highly recommend either the film Pride or this documentary made by the group in 1985; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHJhbwEcgrA

With this complete politicisation of identity in mind, I invite you to consider not only queer culture now, but also how the world views queer people at large. One could argue that queer people are now acceptable to society, and the fight for gay rights is over. This is patently untrue – a specific type of queer person is acceptable to society. These people check most of the following boxes: white, able-bodied, cisgender, skinny and either Christian or atheist. Money also helps.

A perfect example of this is Ellen DeGeneres – after she was forced to come out as a lesbian in the mid-90s, she became the most palatable queer person in the media. She was white, skinny, conventionally attractive and already established in the industry. Her talk show is now a staple of American TV, and she has become a household name. Ellen DeGeneres is also now one of the mega-rich; friends with George W Bush (who not only attempted to ban gay marriage constitutionally, but also started the Iraq war – killing an estimated 151,000 – 160,000 Iraqis in the first four years, most of whom were civilians), and is infamous within show business for her alleged terrible behaviour. The only thing that sets Ellen apart from the rest of the 1%, is that she is a lesbian – but based on the above behaviour, how much does she care about the queer community?

This post is not a strange and long call-out post for Ellen DeGeneres, but she serves as an excellent example of what I want to explain. As it becomes more and more acceptable to be queer (providing you are of course massively privileged otherwise), there has been a political shift within communities for us to moderate our behaviour to make other people more comfortable with our identities – we must become entirely non-threatening to be ‘accepted’. This is a step backwards for Queer rights – we cannot align ourselves with bigoted systems of power and present it as progressive. Support for queer people cannot be conditional, because by adding these conditions, we betray the members of our community who fight for us the hardest.

This modern marketing of queer culture harms trans and gender non-conforming people, people of colour, the disabled, and the poor within our communities. These are the people on the frontlines, making changes. The first Pride was a riot, and trans women threw the first bricks. To celebrate Pride, you cannot opt-out of the political side of being queer – to quote Adam Eli “Queer people anywhere are responsible to queer people everywhere.”  I urge queer people reading this to think about how they identify – not just their gender and sexuality – but who they identify with. Do you sympathise with the people upholding and profiting from bigoted systems of power more than those suffering? Do you identify more with the security of your whiteness than the queer community? Do you consider other people’s pain to be somehow their fault?  

Our identities exist within the context of the world around us, and so the question of identity is far more complicated than the mainstream media would have you believe. There is more to being Queer than loving who you love and being who you are because we must be queer in solidarity with others. This Pride, I invite you to remember our history as revolutionaries and support people who are suffering under the same system you are.


I also want to add to this post- that I will be discontinuing my Facebook page, both personal and professional, in the very near future. Why? You may ask- the answer is simple. Social Media can be used for amazing gains- the spreading of knowledge and information to society is essential, especially when the media and government is trying to twist our understanding of the current climate, and maintain the current untenable white supremacist, racist, homophobic and transphobic culture that black, coloured and LGBTQA folk experience on a daily, hourly basis. Part of the problem, I feel, is the lack of accountability on platforms such as Facebook, to actively manage and discontinue the spread of false information and hate speech. I do not feel that Facebook, in particular, has (or will do) an effective job of this, and I am voting with my feet. There are many forms of protest that one can take, the one option I have available to me is this; the ability to leave, to say no and to not buy in to the offensive, racial, homophobic and transphobic narrative that these platforms help to spread.

Until such a time as I feel the various media outlets, like Facebook, are listening to morality, I do not want to be a part of the machine, so I am removing my cog. Thank you for following this page, I am still active on Twitter (who are actively trying to address the bigoted, socially unjust narrative spewed by the likes of Trump) and my own webpage, www.wandahowell.com


As the black author Eldridge Cleaver said- “If you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.” 

Black Lives Matter

I have been watching, with horror, the events unfolding in the USA over the last week. To say I understand, would make me part of the problem; I don’t understand fully the pain of these communities, as I can never have the lived experience of a black person. I can listen, learn, empathise and I can help to educate other white people, whilst educating myself, as to why Black Lives Matter. #BlackLivesMatter

History, right up to the very present day, has recognised, and put central, white achievements, and the fact that as white people we do not realise it ourselves is a direct effect of our privilege. For me, just being able to walk to the shop or school, without fear, gives me that entitlement. If you are black, or a POC, this doesn’t happen – you cannot forget the effect racism has on our society because that effect is a constant in your life. I cannot imagine having to have a conversation with my young children, explaining what to do around authority to keep yourself safe and protected, because the majority of authority will be prejudiced against you, yet this is the reality of where we are today. There are no “good cops” and “bad cops.” There are no “racists” or “non-racists.” There is only a justice system so ingrained with racism that to try and separate the two is impossible. This is a blatant case of white people violently assaulting black people because of the systematic white-supremacy that runs deep within our society.

I have no words to convey my feelings over what is happening to black and brown people all over the world, but it HAS to stop. Now. This is unacceptable. To not speak up about this would make me part of the problem- now is not the time to be complacent, now is the time to show support, be vocal, be active. What started off as peaceful protests have been forced into violence by the very figures decrying protestors for their violence. I am not claiming ‘all lives matter’, because we live in a society where no one has to remind the people in power that I, as a white person, matter. I am shouting that #BlackLivesMatter.

June marks the start of #Pride month and we must also remember the role that the LGBTQA+ community have played in the BLM movement; starting with Black-trans activist Marsha P. Johnson proclaiming that “the streets belong to the people” as she, along with Puerto Rican-trans activist Sylvia Rivera, argued that Black and Latinx transgender youth living in New York City have a right to walk up and down streets without threat or harm from everyday folk or police officers (Green Jnr, 2019). Queer communities are inextricably linked with protests and riots, and with the struggles of others as well. To turn your back on people who are suffering from violence at the hands of the state but to celebrate your people’s fight for freedom and acceptance against the very same violence is an incredibly harmful case of ignorance and selfishness. I speak from what I know, and what my family experience, and I know that the power and empathy of the LGBTQA+ community must be extended to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement started with the murder of Trayvon Martin, 17, in 2012, but we need to remember everyone who has suffered, everyone who has died, both before Trayvon and after. As white people, we need to stand up to insidious racism and say ‘no more’. It is not the time to be quietly ‘not racist’- now is the time to be vocally ANTI-racist. 

  • Educate ourselves on the history of why Black Lives Matter- look it up, read about it for yourself. Don’t just go on what you have heard or been told; it might not be accurate.
  • Don’t put the responsibility of your education and action onto black people – to have to explain the history of your people’s oppression and defend your actions is exhausting – educate yourself using pre made online resources, from folks who have the time and energy to share.
  • Think critically about what you see and what you post. While the video of George Floyd’s murder is an important piece of evidence, and it will certainly have shocked many white viewers into action, be mindful of sharing this sort of video. For black people on the internet now, it is very difficult to avoid incredibly graphic footage of people being murdered for being black – the toll this takes on their mental health is huge. Prioritise constructive action and be mindful of how helpful to the movement what you post is. Would you be as comfortable sharing a video of a white man being murdered?
  • Recognise our white privilege- this is not a case of denying our difficulties, everyone experiences difficulties in life, the difference is that we don’t risk being murdered for ours.
  • Educate the people around you – share the experiences of black people, work to combat casual racism. But don’t make this all about you – Raise Up black voices, don’t speak over them.

https://www.change.org/p/mayor-jacob-frey-justice-for-george-floyd

https://www.gofundme.com/f/georgefloyd?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet If you can afford to donate to show your support

https://minnesotafreedomfund.org help with bail bonds to enable

https://blacklivesmatter.com

https://www.vogue.co.uk/arts-and-lifestyle/article/black-lives-matter-reading-list a really good list of books to read to gain more knowledge of what is happening and why.

https://www.newsfromnowhere.org.uk/books/DisplayBooklist.php?BookListID=372 A great list of Anti-racist books to share with your little ones.

References:

Green Jnr, D. B. (2019, February 6). Hearing the Queer Roots of Black Lives Matter. Retrieved from Medium: https://medium.com/national-center-for-institutional-diversity/hearing-the-queer-roots-of-black-lives-matter-2e69834a65cd

Mental Health Awareness Week 2020

Like all of you, I have been working from home, trying to educate the kids whilst working with clients, admin and writing my progression for my thesis- COVID-19 has kindly set me back a bit, like I am sure it has many of you! So, this blog is going to be short and concise… unless I end up waffling!

This week marks an incredibly unusual Mental Health Awareness week for us all, with everyone coping in the best ways that they can. The theme for this year is ‘Kindness’, but I would ask you “what do you think about when I say ‘kindness’?” I am sure most of you will think about being kind to others. However, particularly during these stressful times, what about showing kindness to yourself? Have you thought about that?

Most of us have an abundance of compassion for our friends, family and even strangers, but what about compassion for ourselves? When do we think about being compassionate towards ourselves? When are we actually compassionate towards ourselves? What do you think being compassionate towards yourself is? What should it consist of?

Being compassionate towards yourself is difficult- our brains are hard-wired to assess for danger at all times, and goodness knows we are in a dangerous situation right now, with COVID-19 causing concerns globally. Jobs, health, schooling and friendships feel like they are all at risk, and some may well be. Now is a really good time to start to be more compassionate towards yourself.

Being kind can consist of many things- volunteering, helping a friend, a random act of kindness or making a cup of tea for yourself because you have had a hard day. I guess I am thinking about the home-schooling parents here- wow, what a term, eh?? Congratulations for getting through it- it has been tough!

Helping others gives us an amazing sense of satisfaction and happiness, but it can be difficult to volunteer or help out whilst this current pandemic is happening. We do, however, have the internet to help! We can virtually check-in with people and see how our friends and family are. We could skill-share online- I could teach you yoga if you teach me knitting? Given that most of us are actually stuck home and cannot get out to help others, it feels to me that right now is a really good time to practice your kindness towards yourself.

When something goes wrong, or doesn’t turn out as you would have liked or expected, what happens next? What words go through your head? Are they kind words? Are they words you would use to a friend in the same situation? 

We use our Internal defensive behaviours to keep the self from experiencing difficult internal situations or emotions and can include dissociation, substance misuse, harming oneself, and constantly reminding oneself of one’s faults, flaws, and weaknesses.

External defensive behaviours are intended to help the individual avoid harm from others, and include blaming the self, silencing the self, being submissive and non-assertive, distrusting others, and keeping others at a distance (Gilbert & Procter, 2006)

So, If my friend failed their driving test, am I going to commiserate with them and support them or am I going to tell them that it isn’t surprising as they fail at everything and are totally useless? NO!!! So, if I failed my driving test, why do I have those thoughts about myself? This is what I mean about being compassionate towards yourself- ok, I failed the test, but it isn’t the end of the world. I can take the test again; I can take more lessons and I can get better. Everyone fails something at some point in their lives. 

Part of compassion is about being realistic- who are you comparing yourself to? There isn’t really much point in me comparing myself to Taylor Swift, is there? I am not under 30, a pop star or a millionaire, so the comparison isn’t fair to me. Even if my brain thinks it is!

Kindness starts with being kind to yourself, so it is just as import to recognise when you have given enough of yourself- feeling tired, overwhelmed or frustrated are really good signs that it’s time to be kind to yourself. Don’t overdo things- so many people in this pandemic situation have decided to learn things or bake things. If you don’t feel like learning something, just because others have, doesn’t mean you have to. Back to comparing again, aren’t we? Their situation will be different to yours, so maybe they have more time and energy to actually do new and different things. It is ok to have not learnt French, the guitar or how to make the perfect sourdough bread before we all go back to work, you know.

For support:

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk

https://youngminds.org.uk

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/

https://www.compassionatemind.co.uk

Reference:

Gilbert, P., & Procter, S. (2006). Compassionate Mind Training for People with High Shame and Self-Criticism: Overview and Pilot Study of a Group Therapy Approach. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 13, 353–379.

Peace in Your Time.

Hello Everyone, I hope you are keeping yourselves as safe and well as possible in these difficult times. As you all know, we are living through unprecedented times which can be scary and anxiety-provoking for everyone.

According to The Economist (unfortunately, a subscription is needed for this article), one-fifth of the world is currently under quarantine or lockdown. We are all in the same position, regardless of who we are and where we live. However, for some of us, this scenario has a lot more riding on it than for others. After all, the wealthy can afford to self-isolate without worrying about buying food or losing their homes and jobs.

In the USA, 6.6 million people filed for unemployment benefits for the week ending 28th March ALONE, which is double the week before, according to the BBC. This is a horrendous situation to be in and very frightening for people who are already struggling. In the UK, we are incredibly lucky to have a (reasonably) easily accessible benefits system and the NHS to support us- things we often take for granted.

There are some parallels between living in quarantine and living in a war zone; we live with a palpable sense of danger, even just going to the shop, and we have essentially lost our freedom, albeit for an excellent reason. There are also some suggestions within psychology that the impact of quarantine can lead to PTSD symptoms for some people. So, we need to acknowledge our mental health because we are ALL susceptible to struggle.

We know that at least 1 in 4 people will suffer from a mental health difficulty in their life-time, I wonder if the COVID-19 pandemic may well increase this. Our fantastic vital key workers and all frontline staff are striving and risking their lives daily; I can only imagine how scary this can be.

Due to our circumstances, we will be in quarantine until at least June 16th. Having been stuck in a 6×6 ft room in Great Ormond Street during our sons Bone Marrow Transplant (shout out to all the staff on the BMT wards there, especially Robin ward- thank you for working so hard and supporting everyone during what is a scary and unknown time!), we have ‘done’ quarantine before, so have some experience. The difference this time is that we are not the only ones who are quarantined- I don’t know if that makes this easier or not?

Some of the things that we did during our quarantine were dance, yes, dance! Just getting up and moving and having a giggle can break the tension and give you a reprieve from your current situation. I am not a good dancer, but that is half the point! To have some fun, do something different and to not be so serious. With what is going on around us, we need to have a break sometimes!

We watched movies- Sharknado was out at the time, and my word, did we laugh! Cleaning- even in our little room, with our one-year-old son, we turned cleaning into a game! Who could finish first, the floor is lava when mopping… just trying to be a little creative? Keeping in touch with our friends and family via Facetime/Skype/Whatsapp- I cannot stress how much this saved us! I missed my other kids and mum and dad at home, so seeing their faces every day, listening to their days and hearing their problems gave me a break from our own. We were even given paints by the Rainbow Trust charity, which brightened up our day no end.

We are now at home for this quarantine, and luckily, we have access to more things to keep us occupied! I’m not going to pretend the last three weeks have been easy for us as a family- I am working online with clients, the entire family is home and, we are all trying to share laptops and broadband bandwidth- it’s not easy when two of us are trying to Skype! Yesterday I also finished my taught element of my Professional Doctorate in Counselling Psychology (just the thesis left now), and the relief is unreal- one less thing to worry about in some quite dark times.

It is so important to practice your self-care still- what makes you happy? Do you have any strengths you can on which you could focus? We all have strengths, but do you know what yours are? Here is a website (if you like surveys and don’t mind registering!) that can help you find yours. By focusing on your strengths, and practising them daily, we start to get a better sense of wellbeing. Why? Well, if we are focusing on the things we do well, and we enjoy, we get positive feedback from this, which can make us do more positive things. Can you see the pattern? The thing is, we have to practice these strengths, which is something we often forget to do. When I took the test and found out my strengths, they were pretty obvious, but I would not have thought about them otherwise; our positives seem to be something we just take for granted, while we focus, and sometimes hyper-focus, on our negative areas!

So, if one of my strengths is to be kind, if I make my family a cake, I am going to get a sense of happiness and wellbeing from their positive reactions. I cannot stress how much we need to practice these! Some things we do, like breathing, we don’t think about and are just second nature, negative thought popping into our heads and things we don’t practice, but they still happen- why? Because our brains are developed to look for danger, so we keep a firm hold of those negatives and bring them out whenever we feel threatened.

Now, I am going to demonstrate an exercise so you can see what I am talking about and learn, if you want to, how to relax and calm yourself and feel just a little bit better. Imagine focusing on your positives. Get comfortable, sitting or lying down, preferably somewhere quiet, possibly tricky if your entire family are home! However, you can do this with your kids and partners- breathing and focusing can be beneficial for everyone.

Close your eyes, take some deep breaths in and out, relax your body. Feel your body touching the chair or bed, feel the rise of your chest and belly as you breath. You will have thoughts going through your mind, that is absolutely fine and will happen, even if you try not to! Picture yourself doing an affirmative act- just because we are in quarantine, doesn’t mean you have to limit your imagination to quarantine and your own home!

Maybe picture yourself helping your friends, doing a good deed for another, getting your work done and being praised, driving your car on a sunny day- yes, driving is one of your strengths (if you can drive), your strengths are what you make them and want them to be! Focus on what it feels like, the positive glow that surrounds you. What is your face like? Is it soft and smiling? What does that feel like? What about your voice? Soft, quiet and calming or irritated and loud? What is it like around you? Are there people? If you have done a positive deed, what do they look like and how are they talking to you? Smiling and happy? Stay with this and focus on the smiles, warmth and positivity surrounding you.

Now. When you are ready, open your eyes.

How do you feel? A little better? A little calmer? Ok, this might not last forever; you know, when your boss calls 10 minutes later or your toddler starts crying because you gave them the apple they asked for. But! We can always do it again- as many times as we like. We can practise this during the day, especially when we are feeling positive. Be compassionate and kind to yourself; if you are struggling with thinking of your strengths, go smaller! Positives can be things like making a cup of tea for your partner or cooking dinner for your family; these are choices we have, and when we make them, we are showing our compassionate side and how we care for others, and how others care for us. On our bad days, I tell my clients that even getting out of bed, having a cup of tea or brushing your teeth is actually an amazing achievement! Acknowledge that- times are tough, and we need to be gentle with ourselves.

What about if we get our brain stuck in a rut and just can’t get away from those negative thoughts or worry and panic? 

  • Firstly, the thing you are worried about- how likely is it to happen? What is the reality of your worry?
  • Secondly, what is the best-case scenario around your worry? What is the worst-case scenario? Generally, our expectations are not met with reality; it usually isn’t the worst or best case, but somewhere in the middle. Make a plan- best case scenario plan and worst-case scenario. Either way, you now have a plan and are prepared for whatever comes your way.
  • Finally- remember, you are a capable, smart person; you have got this far in life, so you have a lot of strengths and skills that you can utilise. Remember that a lot of these worries may just be that. Worries. Worries and thoughts can’t actually hurt you! 

Another thing you can do is to create a safe space for yourself: Make sure you are comfortable and close your eyes. Breath in and out comfortably and relax. In your mind, picture somewhere that is calm and peaceful, or somewhere you feel safe. Imagine what it feels like to be there. Is it warm or cold? Bright or dark? Busy or quiet? Are you on your own and if not, who are you with? Explore where you would like your safe place to be and when you need to relax or calm yourself (before a test? Job interview?) you can close your eyes and take yourself off, coming back peaceful and relaxed. 

I share this with clients all the time, but my safe space is a beach or a pool in a sunny climate. Laying by the pool, feeling the sun on your skin is incredibly relaxing, especially when you can also hear the gentle lapping of the waves in the pool or the sea. So, I take myself to this place when I want to be calm; I can do it for as long or as little as I like, and when I open my eyes, I always feel more grounded and peaceful.

Now, you may be thinking “But, my worry is a big problem!” Is it? What tells you that? Do you know the difference between a worry and a problem? Worry tends to be something that has happened in the past or something we think may occur in the future. Worry doesn’t have a fix to it, which makes it different from a problem. A problem can be resolved and has a solution to it. We may not be able to solve our problem at this moment in time but knowing that there is a solution can be very helpful and stop us worrying!

These are challenging times for everyone involved, try not to put pressure on yourself to do that new hobby or get that extra work done; yes, it can help us to feel better, but if we are trying to achieve the impossible, how is that going to make us feel? Pretty negative! We often compare ourselves to people- that’s natural, I guess, we are only human after all! But! Do you compare like for like? Or are you comparing yourself to someone who has more money, a bigger house, fewer pressures than you? Social media shows us the differences between our lives, and we can quite often be left feeling inadequate because of what our friends/family/celebrities post. Remember! People only post the good and the bad- it’s not considered ‘newsworthy’ if your day was just a normal one. But the reality is that we all have dull days and ‘normal’ days; in fact, we have more of them that we have amazing ones or hideous ones. Try to remember this.

Goodness, that’s a lot to remember to do, isn’t it? Looking after your mental health takes utilising some skills, time and effort; who would have thought that? Do you go to the gym? Exercise classes? Go for a run? Swim? Play hockey? All of this takes time and effort, doesn’t it, to keep your body in shape, so why do we think of our brain and mental health being any different?

If you were asked to run a marathon right now, you would try (maybe?!), and you would be out of breath, achy and sore; you would then take time out and rest, wouldn’t you? Well, we are in the middle of a pandemic, which is scary; surely, we need to take that time out to rest and look after our mental health too?

I hope you all keep yourselves safe and well- practice social distancing, stay in if you don’t need to go out. Remember, you may be ok if you get COVID-19, but there are some extremely vulnerable people out there who will not be if they contract the virus.

Social Justice League; Help Wanted!

So, another New Year has come around, and I wasn’t going to write another blog quite so soon (and certainly not about this subject). However, I have been thinking about the recent UK General Election for the last few weeks and what this means for the people of Britain; change won’t happen without voices, so here is mine.

I’ve thought a lot about how (and what!) to write for this post- I tend to keep my Politics to myself, but over the last few years, I have found that this has become harder and harder. Sigmund Freud liked to see the Psychologist as an empty screen for the client to project, transfer on to and work with. I think times have changed, significantly, and that level of work isn’t appropriate anymore. Working with clients’ needs depth, relational understanding, and empathy; if you were talking to me, and I didn’t answer, would you think I was listening or cared? No, probably not, so it feels more important now, with the election result, to raise my voice and make it heard. 

Regardless of who has been in Government- we can argue who started all of this until we are blue in the face- the fact remains that just over ten years ago, austerity measures were introduced to the UK populace. This meant that hundreds of thousands of people had their benefits removed, their Disability living allowance reduced (or wholly taken off them) and some were put on to the new Universal Credit system. All of which meant that they had no money for weeks, even months, allowing the pay-day lenders to step in and make life more difficult. Even the United Nations found that our Government, by introducing these policies, failed to uphold the rights of people with disabilities (UN, 2016).

Oh, but that’s only for the poor, right? Only for the people who don’t want to work or can’t work. I have no sympathy for them, right? They got themselves into this position; they can get themselves out. Why should my hard-earned taxes go to support lazy people? Ever heard yourselves saying this? Ever believed someone who was saying this?

When my son was born over seven years ago, I was fortunate that the austerity measures had not fully hit and were not implemented to the hilt. My son was born with a life-threatening illness that meant he needed constant NHS medical treatment and a Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) at the age of one; we didn’t even know if he was going to live or die for this first six months of his life. Every day became a gamble. With this level of stress and worry, my husband and I found that working became impossible (stays in hospital, appointments, tests, lumbar punctures etc.) and we had to do something we never thought we would ever do; we had to go on to benefits.

Being able to claim benefits saved us- we didn’t have to worry about paying our bills or mortgage, we had support and help, and we could concentrate on our son’s BMT and getting him better and looking after our kids. We even were referred to some community support teams and the WONDERFUL charity, the Rainbow Trust.

I dare say, if we were in the same position now, we wouldn’t qualify for benefits. Certainly not as much as we needed to keep ourselves afloat for the 18 months that we needed them for until we could change our circumstances, get back to work and back to our ‘ normal life’. 

My point is, you don’t know what is going to happen in life, which is why I believe passionately in social justice, community support and change. I do not think that the Government that has been voted in believes in social support; I do not believe that they will do their best to support the most vulnerable and in need in our society. So, it is up to us to do this. As a Psychologist, this is part of my job; it should be part of yours, as a member of society, too. Remember, we are conditioned to live in a community group; as I so often say to my clients, Cavemen wouldn’t have survived if they had had to hunt/cook/make clothes/look after children on their own.

There are many ways of supporting your community- volunteering, donating, supporting. Whatever it takes, it’s part of our responsibility, socially and ethically, to make a change. Think about the future of your children, your grandchildren. What do you want their lives to look like? An NHS to support them in times of need? A Government that cares and assists us in our time of need? In your old age? I’m not even going to mention the particulars of Brexit; I can’t even figure out what the general public understand about Brexit, but I don’t personally believe they have been sold the truth on it (see the last blog post!). 

I am deeply concerned about how we understand our society- we seem to be blaming the most vulnerable and unfortunate for our financial problems- if there were no benefits, we would all be better off. I sincerely hope that most people don’t believe the narrative that the 1% and media (owned by the 1%!) are peddling. Our problems stem from greed and commercial gain; we are interested in what we can get from life, not who we can support.

There are so many concerns we have nowadays- an inability to access services when needed, wages not increasing with inflation (which is essentially a pay cut, if you’re not sure why people complain about this) and the cost of living keeps rising and rising. The standard of housing we live in isn’t what we would expect, young people are terrified of never being able to get on to the housing ladder, and good jobs are few and far between. But forget about jobs for life- where’s the security that we need in life, to feel safe and comfortable? Is it really because of the benefits system, or is it because individual International companies and Billionaires do not pay their fair share of the taxes they owe? I’ll leave that for you to decide, and I would strongly suggest doing some research if you’re unsure.

I am not telling you what to think or feel, but the clients I have and have had come from a range of different backgrounds; rich versus poor, young versus old and different ethnicities. The common denominator is fundamental unhappiness in life that is often caused by the situation one finds themselves in. People’s social circumstances have a profound effect on their mental health (Harper, 2016); If you live in a flat, with awful neighbours, coming to therapy could make you feel better. However, if you can’t do anything about those neighbours, things aren’t fundamentally going to change, are they? So, it is of fundamental importance that we have the right social support, as well as the right community and governmental support. I cannot stress how important our community is in supporting us; as a community, we can affect change and make a difference.

This year I am committing to making a difference; I am committing to doing more with my community and more to challenge the political policies and austerity measures that have been and are going to be continually implemented. We are the ones who can make a difference; we are the ones who can create a more harmonious system (Fietzer & Ponterotto., 2015) ensuring that the hierarchy of society that we live in allows for more equality amongst the privileged and underprivileged. Is there anything (else?) that you can do?

With that, I wish you all a prosperous and healthy New Year; May you fulfil your dreams and wildest desires in 2020; taking care of ourselves and others. Happy New Year!


Fietzer, A. W., & Ponterotto., J. (2015). A Psychometric Review of Instruments. Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology, 7(1), 19 – 40.

Harper, D. (2016). Beyond Individual Therapy: Towards a Psychosocial Approach to Public Mental Health. The Psychologist, 29, 440 – 444.

UN. (2016). Inquiry Concerning the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Carried out by the Committee Under Article 6 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention. Retrieved December 1, 2019, from http://www.ochr.org/Documents/HRBodies/CRPD/CRPD.C.15.R.2.Rev.1-ENG.doc

Not Only Is Big Brother Watching, But He Is Whispering In Your Ear.

So, we’re nearing the end of 2019 and finishing it off with a bang, here in the UK we will have a General Election. This election isn’t about Brexit, despite what the media would like us to think, this is about our future, our children’s future and the future of public services such as the NHS and Education. These issues are hotly contested, and because of this, the coming election is a storm of emotions, sublimation, ‘fake news’ (thanks to Donald for that one) and mud-slinging from all corners. Your average election then, right?

The difficulty is that the media has so much power now; whatever is presented in the press via, video or audio, is immediately deemed the truth. We have all heard about how the Conservatives changed one of their CCHQ Twitter accounts during the recent Politically televised debates, calling itself ‘Fact Checking’ account, falsely debunking statements of truth. I am reasonably confident that if I were to behave in the same way, and someone made a complaint, I would no longer be able to practice!

This phenomenon, of hearing a ‘fact’ often enough that we start to believe that it is true, is called the “Illusory Truth Effect”. This phenomenon affects people in different ways, irrespective of your cognitive profile– how ‘smart’ you think you are, score, or come across. The more we hear a piece of information, the more we believe it; this is why precisely what we hear/see/read in the media is so important, if it is repeated often enough, we believe it. The response by Dominic Raab, the Conservative Party Foreign Secretary, on the BBC Breakfast TV Show was “no one gives a toss about the social media cut and thrust”. We know this is wrong, though, don’t we? How many of you get your news from Social Media now? That quick thumb scroll through Twitter while you’re picking the kids up from school, or on the way to your next meeting, or while having a cup of coffee- we all do it, and we all pick up information from it, to say that we don’t is deflective and obtuse.

I wonder if you have heard of the Cambridge Analytica Scandal? A story broke in December 2015 by a journalist called Harry Davies for The Guardian. The story gave detailed information of how the Cambridge Analytica company gained knowledge from (what, at the time, was believed to be) over 50 million Facebook US profiles, without their consent. Cambridge then used this data to enable them to advertise politically and to build a software program that has the power to influence and predict voting choices. All without Voter’s knowledge. The story finally broke in March 2018 when an ex-Cambridge Analytica employee turned whistle-blower, Christopher Wylie, who had been an anonymous source for an article in 2017 in The Observer by Carole Cadwalladr, headlined “The Great British Brexit Robbery”, went public.

So, did you know about this? Follow the links to learn more about the story as I don’t have time or space to write up here. You may ask why is this relevant to me? Well, the app created was called “This is your digital life” and gained consent (permission) from a couple of hundred thousand Facebook users to collect the answers to the data questions asked. All well and good, right? Yes, but what Facebook didn’t inform their users was that they also used the data and profiles for their Facebook friends in their online social circles. 87 MILLION of these profiles used without the owner’s consent. This meant that the data wasn’t just limited to users in the US, but all over the world, too. At this point, our story becomes more pertinent and of more interest to those of us in the UK.

Cambridge Analytica had links to another company, AggregateIQ (AIQ), who played a pivotal part in the 2016 Brexit Vote Leave campaign. AIQ accounted for 40% of the campaign budget for the Vote Leave campaign. Can you see where I am heading here? All of this happened, without your knowledge and even may have influenced how you voted at the time.

Coming back to the illusory effect, had you accessed your Facebook in 2016, or even your Twitter in 2019, you would have seen the information that you would have deemed to be tru, By the sheer fact that you had read it, and perhaps understood it published elsewhere, once, twice, three times.. how many times before you even stop questioning the data, never mind the source? I know, I know, life is too busy, it’s not relevant to you… so many reasons why this shouldn’t be an issue, but it is.

When do we stop questioning and start following? This journal article explains how even when we know a ‘fact’ is untrue, we still need reinforcement of the truth to enable us to ensure that we do not automatically accept the original ‘fact’ as the truth. That sounds quite complex, however if, for example, you have been told, or learnt, that a Goldfish has a three-second memory, Now, you hold that ‘fact’ as the ‘truth’ because you have heard it or been told it many times before. However, the truth is that goldfish have a memory span of about three months.. the Great Wall of China is NOT visible from space, despite what we were told as children; nowhere in the Bible does it say there were three Wiseman (just Wisemen!) and although 41% of US adults believe we coexisted with Dinosaurs, we actually missed them by 64 million years; all great examples of how the Illusory effect works! So, to mediate for these ‘facts’ we hold as the truth, we need to reinforce the true facts for us to override the incorrect facts. Simples…

My point throughout all of this, is who’s truth do we believe? Where do we get our information from? This isn’t just about politics, this is about how you live your life. It is about your narrative. Are people on benefits, for example, all lazy or cheats? No, it’s what you’ve read and heard over and over again in the media. The truth is that we all have difficulties in life, and we would hope that when we need help, it will be there for us. That help will only be there, if we look at what we are being taught and told and challenge it. It is easy to let sleeping dogs lie and go along with the Illusory effect; however, at the end of the day, is it helping you? Have you made the right decisions? Are they your decisions and not the decisions that the media/politicians/parents/work colleagues/friends want us to have?

We can only affect real change if we are informed about the decisions we are making and the choices we take; can you say that you are informed? Are these your beliefs, or the ones you have grown up on? Whichever it is, vote with your heart and your conscience; the Illusory Effect can be challenged, but only if you are open to it! As a strong proponent for Social Change, and an advocate for justice and equality, and maybe perhaps a little bit of the researcher in me, I am voting with my rational mind and with the policies in mind. I am voting for what is going to make my family, my children, my friends and my communities future lives better!

If you’re interested in finding out what my stance is, from a Counselling Psychologist in Training point of view, follows this link to a great organisation called ‘Psychologists for Change’. This organisation is a group of likeminded psychologists, psychology graduates, academics, applied psychologists and more who believe in applying psychology to policy and political action; trying to make all our lives better.


References:

Something is a miss..

Hi Everyone! I hope 2019 is faring well for you all! I have been remiss in my job of late- I have not updated my blog since the New Year. There has been a very good reason for this; last year, I had a loss in my family that was incredibly profound. It wasn’t my first loss, but it was my first loss as an ‘adult’, and it did hit me hard. Since then, as anyone who has experienced loss, I have been trying to figure things out and make sense of my, now changed, world. That’s not been an easy thing for me to do.

My first experience of loss was as a 7-year-old at school, my favourite teacher died of an asthma attack. I remember being so sad, but not understanding how something as simple as an asthma attack could kill someone. Being a young child, I quickly got over that loss and carried on with my life, back in my safe cocoon of knowledge that people don’t really die, unless for a ‘special’ reason. I carried on quite well for a few years and then experienced my first loss of someone who was personally important to me, as a young teenager- my Grandmother died (being that I am half Polish, she was my Babcia) and my whole world was shaken. Everything I thought I knew had been capsized.

A few years after, I lost my Grandad (Dziadek) and I think I was much better equipped to deal with that loss, as I had already experienced a loss that felt so huge, it would crush me. I can now see, with my Psychological training, that what I was experiencing was perfectly healthy! Had I not responded in the way I did, perhaps then there would have been something ‘wrong’, but we dealt with it as a family and we carried on. There is no ‘right’ way to grieve or process your loss. Psychologists and Psychiatrists have spent a lot of time trying to work out how our grieving processes work- Swiss-American Psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was frustrated by the lack of education that medical schools gave, in terms of the response to death and dying, so she started a series of interviews with patients, conducting her own research into the work that was already available, with regards death and dying.

1969 came and Kübler-Ross published her book, ‘On Death and Dying’  which published her idea that we go through stages of grieving, which she called the ‘Stages of the Grief Cycle’. Kübler-Ross initially assumed the stages to be linear, that is that one follows another, follows another, in order. However, later in life, she realised that the process was not linear, and that as individuals, we go through the process in differing stages, going back and forth as our own personal grief is processed. This kind of makes sense to me- I mean, we are all fundamentally human, so it would be sensible if we all reacted within some boundaries of a cycle, wouldn’t it? Or does that not account for our individual differences?

Kübler-Ross’ model does have criticism levied towards it, however. There are many reasons why the model might not be applicable; life is very different since KKübler-Ross created the model There is no definitive evidence that we actually pass through these stages; I use the model with clients to show that we all experience different reactions to loss, but that all of these reactions are part of a natural process. George Bonanno, a Clinical Psychologist at Columbia University in America has reviewed a number of peer-reviewed studies and journals and has come to the conclusion that we adapt and cope with trauma and loss through Psychological Resilience and some resilient people show no grief at all- but this doesnt mean they haven’t experienced the loss profoundly- this brings to mind an article I read about hypersensitivity, which would make an excellent blog post in the future. (Follow the links to read more about Psychological Resilience- it really is interesting!)

Whatever the theory behind grief and loss, we all experience it in our own way. For me, I felt the need to slow down my pace of work and to focus on the present more deeply. By doing this, it helped me to appreciate the here and now, rather than the what is going to happen in two weeks time, or the rumination on the past! Mindfulness, as always, has been a huge support for me. I guess this is my own personal resilience kicking in, acknowledging that there has been change in my life, and for me, change needs to be adapted to and worked with. Some changes happen quicker than others, I guess, and there are no rules as to how your own personal psychological resilience will kick in and work for you.


  1. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Death-Dying-Elisabeth-Kübler-Ross/dp/0415463998
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kübler-Ross_model
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Bonanno
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_resilience

Making Time for a Happy New Year.

Hello to all my followers and clients, past, present and future.

I hope you have all had a peaceful and relaxing holiday- I was so busy on the run-up to the ‘big day’, I ran out of time to write a blog post! Now, I know I am not the only person in the world to run out of time, despite how well I may plan! There is always some eventuality that presents itself, causing the best-laid plans to come a cropper!

With that said, we have to remember that there really is only a small amount we can actually fit into our everyday lives, yet we push ourselves for more. It’s human nature, we are striving to achieve what Maslow called ‘Self Actualisation’ within his Hierarchy of Needs Model, the idea that we reach self-fulfilment and achieving our potential in life. No pressure then, right?

I guess this is very fitting for the time of year- we are now moving into 2019, a new year, with new promises of achievement and potential to be filled. Make of it what you will, but remember, your happiness is paramount. We are only on this Earth for a short time, being happy and fulfilled, whatever that looks like to you, is one of the most important things you can do for yourself.

So, I guess it is left for me to wish you all a lovely evening tonight- enjoy the last day of 2018 or celebrate leaving the year behind! Whichever, I wish you all the very best for good health, peace and kindness in the New Year. Happy 2019, I shall see you on the other side 🙂

GI Conference, Day Two.

Day Two of the conference arrived and, unfortunately, I missed the keynote as I overslept (blame the comfy hotel bed, not me- honest!) but I did make it in time for one of the most interesting, culturally speaking, of the panels for me. Day Two was billed as the Youth Day, and so I was unsure of how much would be beneficial to me, however, as with everything in life, we can always learn something new, and Day Two was hugely stimulating in a way I had not expected!

Creating Trans Visibility Online’ was really interesting and was hosted by artists who were profound and challenged gender/queer stereotypes, making art and film that is inclusive in many ways.

CampbellX was the first presenter and they/he brought to life their experience of queer/trans media, in particular, the lack of a trans/queer narrative in ‘modern’ movie making. Campbell (and many others!) are working incredibly hard to redress this imbalance. I have to admit, I had never seen Campbell’s work prior to the conference, but I am slowly going through it (so little time in real life to achieve everything I want- I know you all feel the same, too!) and loving the work.

What Campbell is doing is bringing to life what it means to be a trans/queer creator and how this affects us all in terms of visibility, community and normalising it within our lives. Heck, what actually isnormal? Normal for me is everything from one end of a spectrum to the other end, but creators like Campbell are helping us to navigate the spectrum sensitively, accurately and in the most normalising way possible. I would highly recommend viewing any of Campbell’s work- Desire, Visibility and Studlife movie and others.

*Please do note, that I cannot possibly give the panellists, Campbell in particular, enough time without writing whole reviews and essays, and as we discussed in the first part of this review of the conference, this really is the TLDR; version J*

Fox Fisher and Owl(having been described as a nonbinary ‘power couple’) presented a video they had made ‘Josie and Poppy’ which depicts a young trans girl, in the present, discussing what it is like to be trans with an older trans lady and really shows the contrast and difference over time, in coming out. I really enjoyed listening to this panel- everyone was so informative. Fox and Owl are Trans campaigners, and (bless them!) have even had the misfortune to try to inform (and educate!) Piers Morgan, which is, let’s face it, an impossible task even for the calmest and most rational of people!

Fox and Owl work with media and film outlets, often for free, to help give advice about presenting trans/queer actors on television and film. Sadly, often their opinions and experiences are cast out as being ‘too out there’, which is a really sad response to the narrative of trans/queer people’s lives; how can you have a cis gender person tell you what your experience of being trans/queer is/should be. After all, how can you write and film a trans experience if you are cis, and coming from a heteronormative standpoint?

I hugely admire Fox, Owl and Campbell for the work that they have done, and continue to do; making media that shows the normalcy of trans/queer relationships and life, we’re taking greater strides towards inclusivity. The hard work and effort that goes into the work that Rights activist do is exhausting and, often thankless, but it is worthwhile and absolutely essential that it is done.

We were also shown a small amount of a campaign called ‘My Trans Body’ which shows trans people’s experience of what their bodies are like and how they feel in their skins. Again, surprisingly enough, we all have bodies- some are different shapes and sizes, some are different colours, some with tattoo’s, some scars, some people are fine with showing their bodies, others are a little more reserved. Guess what? That’s like everyone. A trans body is a normal body, so making this campaign is a huge step for helping anyone cis to understand that trans people are not defined by their bodies, but society wants our bodies to define us- we are all trying to be the person we want to be, psychologically and physically. I cannot imagine the strength, brevity and courage it takes to be in a campaign like this, and I am so blown away by the work involved. *I watched this again just now, and it is about the 10th time I have watched it and I stillhave goose bumps every time!)*

Our final panellist was Sascha Amel-Khier, the co-founder for the e-magazine Beyond the Binary. For many cis gendered people, nonbinary can be the most difficult gender expression to understand, the implication of which is that there is little attempt by mainstream media to represent non-binary at all. I can only think of a couple of nonbinary characters in tv or movies, and their representation isn’t positive. Sascha created Beyond the Binary in response to this void, to give representation for nonbinary people, accessible to all!

Sascha talked about the realities of starting up in media, and the difficulties in becoming visible on internet search engines when your demographic is not main-stream. In order to appear high enough in search results, contributors have to create drama in their narratives, as this is what has been defined as interesting by the search algorithms. It is not that creators of non-binary content want to drive their agenda with drama, but without it is difficult to reach their audience. In this way the media infrastructure is perverting the content in what should be independent spaces, creating a more adversarial environment than other wise exist, generating controversy in favour of understanding.

Social media can be quite brutal and the comments sections are an intense example – especially where there is controversy. Reading negative comments about yourself and who you are, every day, gets incredibly overwhelming. The panel shared their strategies for dealing with trolls and unkind comments, the general consensus was simply to block accounts and delete comments, but some choose to interact and use the opportunity to fight ignorance head on.

Sascha and the panel shared their experiences with, for example, the YouTube algorithm being transphobic and homophobic; considering some non-explicit content as offensive for being a trans subject, blocking content from users, based on gender – a protected characteristic.

It is well documented that trans teens often suffer from depression and isolation, many having little support from their family who are ill-equipped to support them with issues that they cannot relate to. If the media infrastructure had no barriers to strong positive trans role-models, many trans teens would be able to receive the support they need for figuring out their identities and how to live their own trans lives. The fact that currently, the infrastructure of social media squashes down the work of trans creators, when combined with the general lack of a platform means that fewer questioning trans people are getting access to the help they need and that cis people are being further enabled to ignore the trans community.

Sascha talked about their experience of being nonbinary, which was a hugely empowering talk to witness; Sascha described how being absolutely unapologetic about their gender, their experience is that this makes others acceptance of the ‘nonbinary’ descriptor more acceptable, and hence, normalises the gender debate quickly. Being able to be so unapologetic enables confidence and confidence makes everything so much easier, no matter who you are!

The final panel for me, was the panel that was run by Sascha, from the previous panel, which brought the discussion of trans spaces in our schools, something that is of particular interest to me. What made this panel even more relevant, was that trans kids from the age of 12-18 gave their experiences of being trans in schools today and two teachers who are trans and working in schools, both experiences being very different.

The personal stories brought to this conference were humbling and amazing; the strength involved to attend school, or work, when you’re going through such a big experience has to be exhausting. The panel asked one main question at the beginning of the session; “What one person made things better at school for you?”. I guess this can be extrapolated through gender and experience, but it is a very valid question. Who are you inspired by? Who are your allies? Who can you talk to or get support from? Who may be a challenge to talk to and therefore someone who makes things better becomes even more important. That one person can make a huge difference to your life.

There was a discussion around the difficulties of coming out at school; the fact that it is mentally draining, stressful and not straightforward for a lot of trans kids. Perhaps it may be easier to go with stealth, but the resulting anxiety and stress can be much more scary; the thought of being ‘caught’ or ‘not passing’.

The take home is that the support you have around you, and the allies you find along the way, will always be important in your life, however, you identify, but for trans kids, it can be almost an essential lifeline to cope with school, developing and growth.

I would highly recommend next years GI conference to anyone who wants to learn more; I came away from the conference feeling more informed and a sense of deeper understanding with regards to trans issues. Not to mention the people and discussion!

 

 

 

 

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!