Tag Archives: gender and sexual diversity

Summer School Day 4

Ok so no preaching this morning! Day 4 was as inspiring and challenging as were days 1-3. We spent the morning considering sex and sexualities; how do difficulties with sex present in relationship counselling? What happens when a couple no longer has sex? What else might be happening for them? What happens when one no longer wants sex and the other does? Might it be different for gay couples, straight couples, polyamorous groups, bisexual people, asexual people? We did a fascinating exercise in triads, where two were asked to play out a scenario as a couple in counselling, and a third act as their therapist. We were given almost half an hour for the ‘session’ with our clients, and so it was possible to see movement and change happening even within the role play. I had the privilege to ‘counsel’ a gay couple in a 4 year relationship where their sex life had never quite got off the ground, and one of them was thinking he might be asexual but homoromantic. A third party had become involved for the sexual partner to have a ‘f*** buddy’. It was a profound experience for me to appreciate the dynamics and sacrifices involved for both men.

In the afternoon we had a visit from a consultant psychiatrist who works with children and young people struggling with gender dysphoria, that is, that they are unhappy with their gender and want to change. She explained to us the complexities of systems involved, from family, school, medical professionals, psychologists, to social services and counsellors, not to mention the young person themselves, with all the emotion and distress on all sides. I am glad to understand the process much more clearly, and both the safeguards and the empathy of the professionals.

So I am left with one big question.

What is the meaning and function of sex for an individual or a couple? Is it the same for everyone? Should it be? Any thoughts?

The ended with my first visit to a shop selling sex toys for women. We played!

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Summer School Day 3

This week is changing me on the inside. It seems to me that as humans we can feel intimidated by the things we know little about or have little experience of. The unknown can be scary; at the same time we feel drawn to it and hold back from it. We need not fear. Human is human; it just may sound different on the outside.

Did I mention yet how grateful I am to be having this opportunity to learn about the issues that GSD (Gender and Sexual Diversity) people face every day? So grateful.

Once again I am sitting on the 8.51 reflecting on Day 3, and preparing for Day 4. Each time I look inside of me to find what it is I am trying to articulate about the experience of this week, words fail me but I notice my heart thump in my chest because its import feels huge.

A young friend said to me yesterday: “in 2 particular subjects at during Year 9 (at secondary school) we were told where we should sit, rather than choosing our seat. I spent the whole year in both subjects sitting next to a really chavvy girl. I thought we wouldn’t get on, but she was really quite ok. We even had a laugh sometimes”. So long as we project ‘the problem’ into a group of people with whom we don’t identify, the problem is them, never us. Can we see and listen with open hearts and minds? This week I have met polyamory, kink, BDSM, transgender, gay and lesbian individuals. I set myself to learn as much as I could, and I find that these ways of loving so different to mine are not the problem. I am the problem if I meet labels rather than people.

So to Day 3…

In the morning sessions we looked at intersecting Identities; someone who identifies with several ‘labels’, perhaps a black or Asian lesbian might face very different challenges to a white middle-class lesbian. As therapists we need to listen to and take account of all the identities a client brings. In the afternoon we had presentations and did some practical work around internalised oppression. The external oppressions we considered on day 2 can become internalised – that is the external voices can be internalised and the client then experiences deep shame, as it hard to separate the two. Instead of hearing others say I am worthless, I say to myself I am worthless. We looked at ways of working with this deep difficulty in the therapy room.

It was an intense afternoon, in that we all did some personal work on our own internalised oppressions surrounding our own intersecting identities. Hmmmm.

So begins Day 4. My heart is strangely warmed… and I can’t help noticing that Ramadan has begun as I walk through Finsbury Park.

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Summer School Day 1 continued…

So how was the first day? Now I have had a chance to sleep on it, to process things a little it is time to write, while heading south once more on the 8.51 train for Day 2.

Well, it was almost overwhelming. 12 participants from 11 nations (now why does that feel so familiar?) identifying as almost every diversity of sexuality and gender under the sun: asexual, bisexual, lesbian, gay, men who love men (but don’t identify as gay), polyamorous, transgender (female to male), kinky, queer, oh yes, and one straight woman. I am so grateful for this opportunity to meet and become friends with, to learn from such fabulous individuals.

For the obligatory and necessarily useful ‘introduce yourself to us’ half hour at the start of the day, we wrote our name on the board since a great deal of what we are processing this week has to do with identity, and then we shared as much or as little as we wanted of the meaning or origin of our name. It afforded the chance to see and hear each individual as a person, as an assortment of identities, rather than merely sharing information.

Most of the remainder of the morning was given over to small group discussions with a plenary report back based on these questions: What do I want for my ‘self’ from this week? What do I want for me as a therapist? What do i want for society this week? Anything else? Rich discussion followed.

In the afternoon we had a lecture from Dominic Davies the founder of Pink Therapy, on the origins  of what started out as gay affirmative therapy, developed into LGBT therapy, then Gender and Sexual Minority Therapy, and is now becoming known as Gender and Sexual Diversity Therapy. We learned that linking together the vast array of sexualities and genders that can be identified, there are two common themes that emerge: hypervigilance to others’ reactions and prejudices; internalised shame and anger about being different in a hetero-normative world.

The teaching finished at 5pm and we had a optional ‘social’ programme, which yesterday was a visit to 56 Dean Street, an LGBT sexual health clinic run by the NHS in Soho, and a chance to experience gay and lesbian bars in the area, and to note their differences. I was intrigued that one lesbian bar has the usual loud music playing, but upstairs was a quieter lounge for women to sit and chat and get to know one another more.

I realised just how cloistered I have been and in some ways how naive and inexperienced I am. But during the course of the day I noticed a subtle change in myself, reminiscent of my first trip to Central Asia. “They” went from being labels, categories, types to being “thou” in the old use of the word, someone I know, respect, and identify with, a fellow human being with a whole lifetime of a story to tell, and with whom I have far more in common than I have different.

I feel rich.

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