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.” 

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!