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Bisexual Polyamorous Clients in Therapy

Posted: 7-21-21 | Stephanie Sullivan

A bisexual flag with a cost/benefit graph. The benefit line leads to the infinity heart symbol. This represents how psychotherapists should work with their bisexual polyamorous clients to understand costs and benefits of engaging in polyamorous relationships.

Before getting into this article, I would like to locate myself. I am a white, bisexual, able-bodied, ambiamorous, cisgender woman with anxiety and a chronic illness who has been in both monogamous and polyamorous relationships. As someone who identifies as bisexual, has navigated both polyamorous and monogamous relationships, and specializes in working with these communities, I believe that it is important for clinicians to understand the unique experiences of bisexual polyamorous individuals.

As an affirmative therapist throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I have worked with clients with marginalized identities who have been experiencing higher-than-baseline levels of anxiety and depression due to the pandemic. This has filtered into much of our work, even if their primary presenting problem was originally to navigate their sexual orientation or relationship orientation, or to navigate concerns within their relationships. COVID-19 has highlighted the fact that, as clinicians, it is important to recognize that our clients’ identities do not exist in a vacuum – just as our own identities do not exist in a vacuum. Therefore, it is always important to take into account the impact of both internal and external factors in clients’ lives while working with them – as well as how our own experiences may or may not come into the therapy room. 

Potential Benefits of Polyamory for Bisexual Clients

Bisexuality has been defined as “the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree” (Ochs, n.d.). Studies show that bisexual people prefer polyamorous or open relationships in greater frequency than people of other sexual orientations (Weinberg, Williams, & Pryor, 1994). One benefit of polyamory for bisexual people is: “polyamory and bisexuality propose a plurality of loves, both in the number of partners and genders thereof” (Anderlini-D’Onofrio, 2004). Polyamory can be a beautiful thing for many bisexual individuals who want to add diversity to their sexual and romantic lives with people of more than one gender. 

However, they don’t always have a “preference” in their partner’s gender; it is more about the people they are dating and how polyamory enhances their lives. In fact, 70% of bisexual polyamorous participants in one study did not care whether their partners were of the same or different genders at any one time (Weitzman, 2006). Their preference for polyamory, therefore, may come from the fact that more bi-identified men and women tend to believe that monogamy in relationships is less enhancing and more sacrificing than gay-identified or straight-identified individuals (Mark, Rosenkrantz, & Kerner, 2014). 

Bisexual Erasure and Strategic Identities

Polyamory offers an exceptional way to provide a buffer against bi erasure or invisibility and challenges the risk of falling into heteronormativity (Robinson, 2013). In fact, non-monogamy has been identified as a “strategic identity” to maintain bisexual visibility in the world (Klesse, 2011; Moss, 2012; Robinson, 2013; Weitzman, 2006). A strategic identity is an identity that serves a political, social, or interpersonal function. In this case, the function of polyamory could be visibility and support of bisexuality as an authentic identity. When bisexual individuals can express their identity more fully and be visibly bisexual, especially in the context of a polyamorous relationship, they also tend to have more: 

  • Freedom to have partner choices of all genders, 
  • Freedom to speak openly about the full range of their attractions and fantasies,
  • Opportunities for group sex, and 
  • Sexual and romantic enjoyment of different genders. 

Therefore, if bisexual individuals engage in polyamorous relationships, they can express their sexuality more freely – both for themselves and within the larger world. 

Potential Disadvantages of Polyamory for Bisexual Clients

There are also unique disadvantages to being both bisexual and polyamorous. These individuals may be doubly stigmatized as “confused” or “promiscuous” (McLean, 2011; Weitzman, 2006). They may experience prejudice and discrimination from both the gay and straight communities (e.g., prejudice from gay partners about other-gender partners; prejudice from straight partners about same-gender partners). This internalized stigma and biphobia from partners (either monosexual or bisexual partners) can also lead to potential increased rates of intimate partner violence. Turell, Brown, and Herrmann (2017) found that bi-negativity and the oversexualization of bisexual individuals was a risk factor for higher rates of jealousy and IPV. This risk was highlighted by bisexual participants who are also polyamorous. 

On an individual level, bisexual people may experience guilt about reinforcing the stereotype that “bisexual people aren’t/can’t be monogamous.” And, they may also experience their own or others’ misperceptions that same-gender relationships are somehow less important than other-gender relationships (Weitsman, 2006). 

As clinicians, it is our duty to challenge these cognitions if we have any of them; by reinforcing these stereotypes, we would be harming our bisexual clients as well. We can challenge our own thoughts and feelings through: 

  • Being curious about clients’ lived experiences
  • Identifying and being curious about our own reactions and expectations for our clients’ lives
  • Reading, following, and engaging with media created by bisexual polyamorous folx 
  • Educating ourselves about the reality of bisexuality and polyamory
  • Seeking supervision or consultation with another polyamory-affirmative clinician

Clinical Work with Bisexual Polyamorous Clients

Having explored the potential advantages and disadvantages of polyamory for bisexual individuals, clinicians will hopefully be better positioned to provide a safe space for their bisexual polyamorous clients. Helping bisexual polyamorous clients with their relationships may include talking about safer sex practices with many genders, assessing for biphobia, assessing and creating safety plans for IPV, as well as addressing any other clinical issues.

Clinical work may include an exploration of how competition shows up in their relationships (if it does at all). Some partners of bisexual individuals may take comfort in knowing that they are currently the only person of a particular gender that the person is dating; therefore, they may feel as though there is less of a risk of their bisexual partner leaving them. For others, they may be acutely aware that their body is different from that of their metamours’; therefore, they may be concerned about never being able to fulfill a particular role or sexual desire for their partner (Armstrong & Reissing, 2014).

In doing this work, affirmative clinicians should also be on the lookout for any potential biphobia or IPV within a relationship. Couples’ therapy or multi-partner relationship therapy is not recommended in cases where IPV is prevalent. 

Unique Stressor: A “Choice” 

Bisexual polyamorous people also often are asked to make a choice between a partner and their relationship orientation. This is because potential other-sex partners of bisexual individuals tend to have expectations of monogamy (Armstrong & Reissing, 2014). This decision is a frequent reason couples end up in my office: one person craves non-monogamy, while the other can only envision a monogamous relationship for themselves. This is not always related to one person having a bisexual identity, but it can be one aspect of mono-poly relationship experiences. When faced with a monogamous-minded partner, some bisexual individuals do end up feeling like they have to make a choice, and may explore their options in our office. Some questions a bisexual client may be struggling with are:  

  • Do I stay in a monogamous relationship, or do I go? 
  • What does this say about my identity? 
  • Am I being true to myself?
  • What will my community think?
  • Will I be rejected from bisexual spaces or polyamorous spaces? 
  • Would I be a “sell-out” for choosing a partner of one gender or choosing a monogamous relationship? 

Bisexual erasure happens to bisexual folx all the time; it is a weight we often feel, even if we aren’t expressing it. Therefore, an affirmative clinician should try to be aware of both the explicit and implicit choices that a client may be making when they are exploring the pros and cons of their relationship structures and how they are designing their relationships. While polyamory may help some bisexual folx combat bi erasure and be more visible, it also brings other difficulties with it. There is no one “correct” way to structure relationships, but exploring the various options, benefits, and disadvantages with bisexual individuals may help clients find the best choice for themselves and live more authentically in their life. 

References 

Anderlini-D’Onofrio, S. (2004). Plural loves: Bi and poly utopias for a new millennium. Journal of Bisexuality, 4, 1-6, doi:10.1300/J159v04n03_01

Armstrong, H. L. & Reissing, E. D. (2014). Attitudes toward casual sex, dating, and committed relationship with bisexual partners. Journal of Bisexuality, 14, 236-264. doi:10.1080/15299716.2014.902784

Klesse, C. (2011). Shady characters, untrustworthy partners, and promiscuous sluts: Creating bisexual intimacies in the face of heteronormativity and biphobia. Journal of Bisexuality, 11, 227-244. doi:10.1080/15299716.2011.571987

Mark, K., Rosenkrantz, D., and Kerner, I. (2014). “Bi”ing into monogamy: Attitudes toward monogamy in a sample of bisexual-identified adults. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 1(3), 263-269. doi:10.1037/sgd0000051

McLean, K. (2011). Bisexuality and nonmonogamy: A reflection. Journal of Bisexuality, 11, 513-517. doi:10.1080/15299716.2011.620857

Moss, A. R. (2012). Alternative families, alternative lives: Married women doing bisexuality. Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 8(5), 405-427. doi:10.1080/1550428X.2012.729946

Ochs, R. (n.d.). Bisexual: A few quotes from Robyn Ochs. Retrieved from https://robynochs.com/bisexual/

Robinson, M. (2013). Polyamory and monogamy as strategic identities. Journal of Bisexuality, 13(1), 21-38. doi:10.1080/15299716.2013.755731

Turell, S. C., Brown, M., & Hermann, M. (2017). Disproportionately high: An exploration of intimate partner violence prevalence rates for bisexual people. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 33, 113-131. doi:10.1080/14681994.2017.1347614

Weinberg, M., Williams, C., & Pryor, D. (1994). Dual attraction: Understanding bisexuality. New York, NY: Oxford Press. 

Weitsman, G. (2006). Therapy with clients who are bisexual and polyamorous. Journal of Bisexuality, 6, 137-164. doi:10.1300/J159v06n01_08

Check Out Stephanie’s CE Courses on working with polyamorous clients

 

Bisexual flag with 3 white unicorns in front. Underneath it says, "Multiplicities of Desire: Working with the Intersection of Bisexuality and Polyamory" Presented by Stephanie M. Sullivan, MS, LLMFT 3 CE Course" which is offered by The Affirmative Couch, an APA approved Sponsor of continuing education                           Geometric heart with infinity symbol in front. Underneath "Polyamorous Clients in Therapy: What You Didn't Know You Needed to Know Presented by Stephanie M. Sullivan, MS, LLMFT, 3 CE Course" which is offered by The Affirmative Couch, an APA approved Sponsor of continuing education                       People connected with dotted lines. Underneath it says, "Feminist Structural Family Therapy with Polyamorous Clients Presented by Stephanie M. Sullivan, MS, LLMFT and John Wall MS, ALMFT, 2.5 CE Course" which is offered by The Affirmative Couch, an APA approved Sponsor of continuing education

Black Gay Men and Crystal Meth: My Story

Posted: 5-25-21 | Jerry St. Louis, LGSW

Collage of two Black people cuddling, a Black person in a hoodie holding a rainbow flag, and a Black person laying down. This depicts the importance of treating substance use in Black Gay communities from an anti-racist and affirmative lens.

I am Black, gay, and a social worker. I work in a recovery center where I help individuals attain and maintain their sobriety.  I have had experience on both sides of the “social service” table, and my personal and professional experience has given me access to the elusive community of crystal meth users.

A friend of mine who experienced addiction once asked me to accompany him to a Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA) meeting. Upon our arrival, the room buzzing with conversation, I noticed that my friend and I were two of only three people of color in the space of about 25 people. When the meeting opened up the floor to share, the only other person of color present shared about a tough time he was going through and broke into tears. He was raw in the moment, and as much as I wanted to walk over and console him, I froze. No one approached him. 

I didn’t know what to do at that moment. So I waited until after the meeting and then I pulled him aside. He shared that this wasn’t the first time he had a breakdown or breakthrough in a CMA meeting, and that he didn’t expect comfort because no one had ever comforted him before. He went on to say that even in a room filled with people who share the same pain, he still felt alone. 

Racism: the elephant in the room

This is not unusual: within the larger gay community, I often hear stories of cultural difference–that in these spaces of “inclusion,” there is an elephant in the room that many refuse to acknowledge or address. Many of the white men in this room were on dating and hookup sites advertising their attraction to men of color; they plastered their desire for “BBC” (big black cocks) all over these apps, accompanied by the capital letter T as a silent signal to meth users. Why is it so difficult for these same individuals to console someone in an emotional state of need? Is it because they don’t see our value outside of the bedrooms? Wealthy white men’s fetishizing and desire of Black men‘s bodies while using is not uncommon, and they dangle crystal meth like a carrot hoping for a treat from their trick.

I remember being in these rooms and feeling afraid, embarrassed and mostly alone. These dark emotions fueled my desire to use so that I could lower my inhibitions and allow myself to engage in these humiliating experiences.  All for Tina. These sex rooms were eerily similar to that CMA meeting room, but here, the white men couldn’t keep their hands off me, nor anyone who looked like me.  When I finally crossed paths with those who shared my same hue and were also users, I discovered that we shared that same experience. That’s when I decided to look for help, which wasn’t easy.

Addiction as a disease of isolation for Black gay men

It can be difficult as a Black gay man who has suffered from addiction, whether current or in the past, to find community support. Black crystal meth users have a harder time because it is widely seen as a “white man’s drug.” The Black gay men with whom I have worked often express their fears of sharing about their struggle with addiction even with their friends. With the fear and shame of their addiction, most of these men succumb to one of the most dangerous symptoms of crystal meth addiction: isolation. 

Connection is a pillar in the Black community. Connection informs how we give and receive love,  how we communicate, and also how we feel valued. Connection bonds the value and friendships that we create with our chosen families. Chosen families are an essential part of the LGBTQIA+ community; they enable us to find the support and love that our biological families might not provide. Crystal meth addiction can be detrimental to these connections, forcing the men who use it to suffer in silence. They may not share about their addiction because of how they will be viewed, or for fear of becoming the subject of the latest gossip.

Unfortunately, that fear became my reality. I had reached out for help from someone I thought was part of my circle of support, only to end up being grist for the rumor mill. These experiences severed my trust in people, scaring me from looking for help. I was afraid of sharing more with old friends, for fear that they would repeat the same behavior. I also struggled with making new connections, afraid that they would somehow find out about my addiction and want nothing to do with me.

On being both client and service provider

It took some time, but I was able to connect myself with services; I credit my professional experience with helping me locate resources. My background in linking consumers to community supports like Medicaid and substance abuse programs became my reality. I was on the other side of the table, having been in the position of both client and provider. 

I am confident that many out there can maneuver beyond their addiction and locate the necessary support to begin their own journeys to sobriety. However, there are so many others who are unable or are too discouraged by the daunting process. 

Applying for Medicaid and enrolling in substance abuse treatment programs can be tasks within themselves. Fortunately, organizations like the D.C.-based Us Helping Us and Whitman-Walker Clinic offer streamlined services for MSM with crystal meth addiction, help with applying for health benefits, and much more.  In New York, there is the Ike & Tina meeting, which centers the experiences of Black queer and trans folx seeking recovery. 

But there is a tremendous need for culturally sensitive program models offered on a national level, along with greater accessibility of culturally cognizant therapists. Affirmative therapy provides safer spaces in which to unpack one’s life experiences, which is essential for anyone in or seeking recovery. My love for my profession plays an instrumental role in my search for the best way to support those with addiction. However, beyond this passion for the work that I do, my reach as an individual is limited. 

It is time to tailor, on a larger scale, recovery services to our clients’ cultural experiences and needs. Community and mental health providers must seek training specifically designed to address the intersections of addiction and culture. Continuing education is vital for any and all of us providing services to clients whose multiplicity of identities and experiences we recognize and respect. In addition to pursuing ongoing training to create a workforce rich in cultural humility, providers should engage in advocacy efforts to ensure the creation and funding for recovery programs that will meet our clients where they are and propel them forward. There is much work ahead for affirmative providers! 

In my third and final article in this series, I will explore the resources available to help practicing clinicians address the intersections of culture and addiction. 

“Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” –  James Baldwin

Reference

Lee, C., Oliffe, J. L., Kelly, M. T., & Ferlatte, O. (2017). Depression and suicidality in gay men: Implications for health care providers. American Journal of Men’s Health, 11(4), 910–919. https://doi.org/10.1177/1557988316685492

Learn More

The Black Gay Community and Crystal Meth Presented by Jerry St. Louis, LGSW 2 CE Course

Cognitive Hypnotherapy with Black Gay Men Presenter: Muria Nisbett, LCSW 1.5 CE Course

 

 

Decolonizing Your Practice with Trans Clients

Image of fists with trans flag and genderqueer flag colors in the air representing therapists decolonizing their practicing with transgender and gender nonbinary clients. The words gender liberation and decolonization are bold.

Decolonizing Your Practice with Trans Clients:

Actions Steps and Resources

As a reminder, my goal in writing this two-part series is to reflect on the ways in which TGNB-affirming* clinicians contribute to colonization (Part 1), while also offering, in this article, actionable ways of moving toward decolonization and gender liberation.

You may be familiar with what is now called the Multicultural & Social Justice Counseling Competencies (MSJCC; Ratts et al., 2016). The original elements of knowledge, attitudes and beliefs, and skills originated in 1992 (Sue et al.), and the most recent expansion added the emphasis of taking action

This model emphasizes that our work needs to transcend the clinical skills and interventions we have been taught. We need to engage in our own self-reflection, navigate the power dynamics that are inherent in every session, and better understand and advocate for change within the very systems that perpetuate the problems our clients are facing. 

As mentioned in Part 1, I believe that a clinician’s ability to wholeheartedly and effectively serve the TGNB population requires ongoing critical awareness, examination, and acknowledgment of the following: 

  • A likely skewed lens of the world
  • Your approach to treatment
  • How you operate around privilege and oppression (both personally and professionally)
  • The history of colonization and enslavement, as well as white supremacy
  • The ways in which you have benefited from various systems and/or internalized the intergenerational harmful impact of those systems

If you are unsure of how to transform your clinical work with TGNB people to work toward gender liberation with a lens of decolonization, here are some action steps and values you might find helpful: 

DIG DEEPER. 

History has its eyes.” Actively educate yourself, acknowledge, raise awareness, and work to change historical systems of oppression related to ability, race, gender, and body diversity. Aim to move beyond affirmation and “multicultural competence” to better understand your own colonized behaviors, as well as each client’s internalized transphobia and racism, and help clients move toward liberation. Antiracism Daily can be a helpful resource in this regard.

OWN YOUR ROLE AND RESPONSIBILITY. SAY THE THING.

We have a responsibility to acknowledge the impact of our racial and gender identities, the actions of our ancestors, our mistakes, our humanness, and our own innate strength and power; I recommend checking out Nora Alwah’s Ted Talk. We also have a responsibility to be authentic and transparent, and to believe what our clients tell us is their lived experience. 

Validate client experiences rather than attempting to empathize with an experience of oppression for someone with a marginalized identity you do not hold. Bear in mind that sometimes our clients may not feel able to tell us or ask for what they need, especially if they’re accustomed to making those in positions of power feel more comfortable. 

VALUE LIVED EXPERIENCE AS EXPERTISE OF THE SELF.

Decenter your privilege of the expectation of comfort from others. For those of us in positions of power/privilege, we become accustomed to systems and interactions being shaped around our needs, so it creates a dynamic in which those in marginalized bodies spend their lives making us comfortable (e.g., when Black people “code switch” in white spaces). Center your client’s feelings and experiences. Clinically, trust your clients’ awareness and knowledge about what they need and want. 

Professionally, seek opportunities to learn from those who have lived experiences with their own BIPOC and/or TGNB identities. Honor their lived experience without questioning their training, education, and competence. And pay them for their time! For example, Sonny Jane talks more about this.

PRACTICE SELF-COMPASSION AND CULTURAL HUMILITY.

Check your shame at the door. We improve with openness to being wrong, trying, failing, and doing better the next time. Following a mistake, shame can lead to inaction and avoidance due to thoughts of being “not enough” and fear of judgment. 

On the other hand, guilt allows us to accept responsibility, act to address the hurt our behaviors have caused, and learn from our mistakes for future interactions. You are imperfect, and that’s okay. You can still strive for excellence in TGNB care. Learn more about TGNB self-compassion.

USE A TRAUMA-INFORMED LENS TO HEAL, REST, AND SEEK JOY.

To effectively support TGNB clients, pay attention to both your and your clients’ minds and bodies using a trauma-informed lens. Bodies of all races carry the intergenerational trauma of our ancestors, and it is much more difficult to create a culture of liberation and internalized antiracism without first healing and resting our bodies. I recommend Resmaa Menakem’s book My Grandmother’s Hands; you might also check out The Nap Ministry on Instagram.

 Also, part of healing is uncovering moments of joy and pleasure, both for yourself as well as your clients. For example, encourage your clients to be on the lookout for gender euphoria, which entails experiencing a strong sense of comfort and/or joy during an imagined or actual moment of connection and authenticity in one’s gender identity, body, and/or expression. There’s more about this in Laura Kate Dale’s forthcoming book Gender Euphoria. Make sure to celebrate all of the tiny victories in addition to holding space for dysphoria and marginalization. For more information about this, I recommend Adrienne Maree Brown’s Pleasure Activism and Anneliese Singh’s The Queer & Transgender Resilience Workbook.  

“UNSCHOOL” AND ANTICIPATE A LACK OF CLOSURE. 

We may never achieve some predetermined maximum level of knowledge, awareness, and language expertise. But we can work to expand ourselves beyond the “schoolishness” of doing what we’ve been taught in Western and colonized systems of education and psychology. For example, Akilah Richards’ work examines unschooling as a path to liberation (2020).

BE PATIENT. TRUST AND VULNERABILITY ARE EARNED OVER TIME.

White supremacy, racism, anti-Blackness, transphobia, and colonialism have impacted the world for centuries. It is a naïve privilege to believe that the work of one person alone can break down the barriers. Safety is not universal. Trust has to be earned. 

Clinically, we cannot rush connection, courage, trust, affirmation goals, or growth without a cost to ourselves and/or our clients. It is not surprising that our clients distrust us at first; only if and when it starts to feel safer, they may slowly open themselves up to becoming more vulnerable. 

CONNECT AND NURTURE YOURSELF.

Connect with other social justice-minded professionals who espouse the values of anti-racism and anti-oppression, such as Inclusive Therapists and Joy and Justice Collaborative. Follow and support the work of healers who actively engage in the work, such as Alisha McCullough, Sonalee Rashatwar, and Haley Jones.

Communities that work together toward these shared goals create a sense of belonging and healing together. We also need to set and maintain boundaries to ensure we are appropriately recharging, checking in about our needs and wants, and creating an environment that best allows us to do effective work. 

CHECK YOUR VALUES.

Examine how true racial and gender liberation would serve you, rather than worrying about what it might “take away.” When this work feels hard, do you pull back or move through? Do your words, behavior, commitment, and expenditures stand in line with what you say you value? For example, consider the impact of supporting organizations such as Psychology Today that have problematic histories related to race, gender, and bodies.  

You might reimagine your practice policies, fees, structure, and paperwork when reflecting on the ways in which you are reinforcing colonization. For example, please see here and here for a discussion of sliding scales as a tool for economic justice. Also, I highly recommend considering the GALAP Pledge, in which mental health providers commit to offer free or insurance-based access to gender-affirming surgery assessments from an informed consent lens. 

Finally, consider whose voices are missing from your education, training, and ongoing work to improve your competence with marginalized populations. Are you centering yourself and/or those in positions of power, or pulling back to make space for marginalized voices? 

LEAN INTO DISCOMFORT. 

If you’re doing this work, chances are that you will often feel uncomfortable. Discomfort is not bad just because we experience relief when we move away from it. It is not others’ responsibility to make us comfortable, to lead us down the “right” path, etc. View discomfort as an opportunity to get curious (you might check out this radical anger podcast episode)! 

Consider that many people experience discomfort when first exploring the sexist and racist history of fatphobia, the harmful impact of diet culture, and the ableism inherent in much of our society. (For more information, see this writer’s related articles here and here; I highly recommend reading The Body is Not An Apology and Fearing the Black Body.) But the joy and grounding that comes from liberating ourselves and our clients from those harmful systems is worth the work!

Though most of my early knowledge and training comes from white Western ideas and people, I have grown the most from queer, fat, TGNB, and BIPOC intersectional mentors, thought leaders, educators, clinicians, and other healers. I am a radically different (and better) version of myself when I am in community with others who hold similar values of anti-racism, body, race, and gender liberation, and restorative/reparative justice. So I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to expand upon this article with the intense heart and body work that comes with decolonization, restorative justice, and liberation. 

*Note: For the purpose of this article, TGNB indicates transgender and gender nonbinary populations, though you may come across other “umbrella” acronyms. No acronym will fully represent all experiences of gender diversity, so when referring to individuals, you should always use whatever language feels best for your client. The use of BIPOC sometimes represents Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (i.e., non-white people), and at other times it represents Black and Indigenous people of color primarily (Code Switch episode, Meraji & Escobar, 2020). When discussing BIPOC communities in this article, I am referring to the Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color who experience ongoing marginalization and oppression in relation to the colonized history of the Western world, including the intergenerational impact from their ancestors. 

Suggested Resources

As a reminder, there are approximately two dozen recommendations and resources listed in Part 1 in addition to the ones below. These constitute just a sampling of the vast amount of information available, and my recommendations are based on my personal experience, growth, and perception of their helpfulness. Lean into what resonates, and know that there are alternatives for anything that doesn’t. 

Communities: 

  • GALAP Pledge (A group of mental health providers in the US who have committed to offering free or insurance-based accessible referral letters for gender affirming surgery). https://thegalap.org/ 
  • Inclusive Therapists (A mental health professional directory, community, & justice movement). [@inclusivetherapists]. https://www.inclusivetherapists.com/ 
  • Joy & Justice Collaborative (A healing and mental health professional community, education events, & justice movement). [@joyandjusticecollab]. https://www.joyandjusticecollab.org/ 
  • The Blacker the Brain (Thea Monyee´ of MarleyAyo LLC is building a community of multidisciplinary practitioners & creatives to decolonize mental health/healing/wellness work). [@TheBlackerTheBrain]. https://marleyayo.com/unlearning 

Media & Web Resources: 

  • Alwah, N. (clinician, she/her). (n.d.). Nora Alwah. [@noraalwah]. [Website, Instagram profile]. www.noraalwah.com 
  • Breland-Noble, A. (clinician/vlogger, she/her). (n.d.). Couched in Color with Dr. Alfiee. [@dralfiee]. [Instagram profile, YouTube channel]. https://www.youtube.com/c/CouchedinColorwithDrAlfiee 
  • Cardoza, N. (editor). (2020 – present). Anti-Racism Daily. [@antiracismdaily]. [Online newsletter, Instagram profile]. https://www.antiracismdaily.com/ 
  • Feder, S, & Scholder, A.  (Director & Producers). (2020). Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen [Documentary]. Field of Vision.
  • Finch, S.D. (coach & writer, he/they). (n.d.). Sam Dylan Finch. [@SamDylanFinch] [Website, Instagram profile]. www.samdylanfinch.com 
  • Hersey, T. (founder/blogger/coach). (n.d.). The nap ministry. [@thenapministry]. [Instagram profile; Blog]. https://thenapministry.wordpress.com/ 
  • Jane, S. (peer support/lived experience counselor, they/them). (n.d.). Lived Experience Studio[@LivedExperienceCounsellor]. [Website, Instagram profile]. www.livedexperiencestudio.com 
  • Jones, H. (LPC-intern & content creator, they/them). (n.d.). [@the_queer_counselor]. [Instagram profile]. https://www.instagram.com/the_queer_counselor/ 
  • McCullough, A. (clinician, she/her). (n.d.). Black and Embodied. [@blackandembodied]. [Instagram profile, Website]. www.blackandembodied.com 
  • McNeil, Toliver, M., Grinnell, M., & Wiltey, J. (Hosts). (2019 – Present). The melanated social work podcast. [Audio podcast]. Producer unknown. https://melanatedsocialwork.buzzsprout.com/ 
  • Melanated Social Work (clinicians/podcasters). (n.d.). [@MelanatedSocialWork]. [Instagram profile, Website]. https://melanatedsocialwork.buzzsprout.com/ 
  • Menakem, R. (clinician/author, he/him). (n.d.). Resmaa Menakem. [@ResmaaMenakem] [Website, Instagram profile]. www.resmaa.com 
  • Mullan, J. (clinician/author, she/her). (n.d.). Jennifer Mullan – Decolonizing Therapy. [@decolonizingtherapy] [Instagram profile, Website]. https://www.drjennifermullan.com/ 
  • Rashatwar, S. (clinician/lecturer/organizer, she/they). (n.d.). Sonalee Rashatwar. [@TheFatSexTherapist]. [Website, Instagram profile]. www.sonaleer.com 
  • Richards, A. (writer/coach/podcaster, she/her). (n.d.). Raising Free People. [@fareofthefreechild]. [Instagram profile, Website].  https://raisingfreepeople.com/
  • Taylor, S.R. (writer/poet/thought leader, she/they). (n.d.). The Body is not an Apology. [@SonyaReneeTaylor, @TheBodyIsNotAnApology]. [Website, Instagram profile]. https://thebodyisnotanapology.com/ 
  • Toler, M. (Host). (2020 – Present). Hearing our own voice. [Audio podcast]. Producer unknown. https://www.melissatoler.com/podcast 

References

Alwah, Nora. (2020, October 26). Reclaiming our power: Making ourselves seen [Video]. TEDxCU. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYi42ydUe7Q&feature=emb_logo 

binaohan, b (2014). decolonizing trans/gender 101. biyuti publishing. 

Brown, A. M. (2019). Pleasure activism: The politics of feeling good. AK Press. 

Cunningfolk, A. (2015, Aug. 11). The sliding scale: A tool of economic justice. Worts + Cunning Apothecary. http://www.wortsandcunning.com/blog/sliding-scale?rq=sliding%20scale 

Cunningfolk, A. (2018, Apr. 23). How to make the sliding scale better for you & your clients. Worts + Cunning Apothecary. http://www.wortsandcunning.com/blog/a-better-sliding-scale 

Dale, L. K. (anticipated, 2021). Gender euphoria: Stories of joy from trans, non binary and intersex writers. [Book preparing for print]. Unbound: United Authors Publishing Ltd. 

Gender euphoria. (n.d.). In Gender Wikia. https://gender.wikia.org/wiki/Gender_Euphoria 

Guenther, J. (2018, October 21). Psychology Today magazine loves white people: Especially beautiful and thin white women. Therapy Den. https://www.therapyden.com/blog/psychology-today-magazine-loves-beautiful-thin-white-women 

Hemphill, P. (Host). (2020 – Present). Finding our way. [Audio podcast]. Producer unknown. https://prentishemphill.com/new-page-4 

jackson, k. & Shanks, M. (2017). Decolonizing gender: A curriculum. [Zine]  https://www.decolonizinggender.com/

Menakem, R. (2017). My grandmother’s hands. Racialized trauma and the pathways to mending our hearts and bodies. Central Recovery Press.

Meraji, S.M. & Escobar, N. (Hosts). (2020, September 30). Is it time to say R.I.P. to POC? [Audio podcast episode]. In Code Switch. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2020/09/29/918418825/is-it-time-to-say-r-i-p-to-p-o-c

Ratts, M. J., Singh, A. A., Nassar-McMillan, S. N., Butler, S. K., & Rafferty McCullough, J. (2016). Multicultural and social justice counseling competencies: Guidelines for the counseling profession. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 44(1), 28-48. https://doi.org/10.1002/jmcd.12035 

Richards, A. (2020, Oct. 20). Raising free people: Unschooling our way to intergenerational healing. In Joy & Justice Collab: Empowered Learning Summit. [Presentation]. 

Singh, A. S. (2018). The queer & transgender resilience workbook: Skills for navigating sexual orientation & gender expression. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Strings, S. (2019). Fearing the Black body: The racial origins of fat phobia. New York University Press.

Sue, D. W., Arrendondo, P., & McDavis, R. J. (1992). Multicultural counseling competencies and standards: A call to the profession. Journal of Multicultural Counseling & Development, 20, 64-88. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-1912.1992.tb00563.x 

Taylor, S. R. (2021). The body is not an apology: The power of radical self-love. (2nd ed.). Berrett-Koehler Publishers. 

Tucker, M. (2019, June 19). At the intersection of fat and trans. The Affirmative Couch. https://affirmativecouch.com/at-the-intersection-of-fat-trans/  

The Allied Minds Collective (2020, July 31). Psychologist’s stance on the “vilification of Karens” exposes the inequities embedded within mental health care. Medium. https://medium.com/@thealliedminds.co/psychiatrists-stance-on-the-vilification-of-karens-exposes-the-inequities-embedded-within-c76a35622aee 

Tucker, M. (2019, November 22). Helping TGNB young adults build self-compassion. [Webinar Training]. The Affirmative Couch. https://affirmativecouch.com/product/helping-transgender-and-gender-nonbinary-young-adults-develop-self-compassion/ 

Tucker, M. (2019, November 27). Helping queer and trans clients navigate fatphobia during the holidays. The Affirmative Couch. https://affirmativecouch.com/helping-queer-and-trans-clients-navigate-fatphobia-during-the-holidays/ 

Tucker, M. (2020, Aug 4). Deactivating psychology today and moving forward. https://www.wholeheartedpsych.com/post/deactivating-psychology-today-moving-forward

Learn more about transgender and gender nonbinary affirmative therapy

with M. Tucker, PsyD (They/she)

Two hands making a heart; one hand has trans flag colors and the other has genderqueer flag colors to represent self compassion for transgender and gender nonbinary clients

Blocks in black and white saying stress above bloacks saying resilience in transgender flag colors representing gender minority stress and resilience in transgender and gender nonbinary clients

 

Affirmative Therapy: Crystal Meth in the Black Gay Community

Posted: 2-10-21 | Jerry St. Louis, LGSW

Collage of a black person near a chain link fence, two black people with their backs to each other, and a pair of hands holding another to represent how affirmative therapy can help alleviate suffering caused by crystal meth in the Black Gay communities

Crystal Meth & the Gay Community

Crystal meth has had a devastating effect on the gay community. Over the last 20 years, meth has grown into a catastrophic force, contributing to about 15% of all drug death overdoses (NIDA, 2019). Gay and bisexual men use methamphetamines at a higher rate than heterosexual men (Lea et al., 2017). As a result, it is safe to assume that a high percentage of crystal meth overdoses come from within the LGBTQIA+ community.

Crystal Meth & HIV

Further, crystal meth has played an instrumental role in the increase of HIV infection rates. “Crystal methamphetamine use is a large contributing factor to a substantial increase in risky sex behaviors and higher rates of HIV infection among MSM” (Molitor et al., 1998 p. 3). During use, the neurotransmitter dopamine floods parts of the mesolimbic dopaminergic pathway in the brain, which regulates feelings of pleasure (CSAT, 2009). 

Considered a club or party drug, crystal meth is often used by young adults and teenagers to stay awake (Dowshen, 2018). In addition, a common effect shared by gay and bisexual men during crystal meth use is an insatiable sexual appetite. Drug use can result in feeling sexually adventurous and experiencing a heightened sense of pleasure, stamina, and endurance that can last for days even without the user taking proper rest. In other words, crystal meth can produce feelings of confidence, power, and invulnerability on a psychological level. Subsequently, the aforementioned increased sexual desire can overpower necessary activities of daily living like bathing and going to work. 

Crystal Meth & Chemsex

While in this state, men who have sex with men (MSM) may engage in chemsex–taking any combination of drugs including crystal meth, mephedrone, and/or GHB/GBL while engaging in sex. Since the use of crystal meth lowers one’s inhibitions, meth is often associated with multiple partners, who may contact each other via hookup apps.

Crystal meth users may also engage in what is called “tinkle tweaking,” in which they store their own urine and try to recover un-metabolized methamphetamine from it to fuel another high (Wakefield et al., 2019). Another version of this is called a “booty bump.” One way to receive a booty bump is to dissolve a shard of crystal in water and put it into a syringe without the needle, then “bump” this solution of crystal into one’s anus. A version of this may be practiced during chemsex as well, but what users may not realize is that booty bumps can result in hepatitis, parasites, and other diseases (Frankis et al., 2018).

Crystal Meth & Black Men 

In the gay world, crystal meth has been known as a rural white men’s drug. However, Black men’s use of crystal meth has increased significantly. A study conducted by MSM in New York demonstrated that Black men reported use of methamphetamines at a higher rate than white men (Halkitis et al., 2008). Filter, a New York City magazine, shared that Black men experienced more hospitalizations for amphetamine poisoning, dependence, and “nondependent abuse” in the city’s public hospitals than did all white people (Blanchard, 2019). For example, Black men reported a higher rate of usage of methamphetamines than white men and less enrollment in treatment (Saloner & Le Cook, 2013). 

Moreover, research shows that those who enroll in treatment programs for substance misuse demonstrate a higher success rate in their journey of sobriety; obviously, treatment provides access to necessary behavioral supports such as counseling, and is linked to improvement in social and psychological functioning (NIDA, 2020). Statistically, if Black men are not seeking or receiving treatment, then they are at higher risk of long-term use or succumbing to addiction. Positive responses to treatment outcomes are, of course, dependent upon the appropriateness of the intervention, as both affirmative care and client involvement are essential.

Affirmative Treatment Facilities for Gay Black Men

Meanwhile, there are not enough affirmative treatment facilities for substance use treatment of Black Gay men. For example, of the eight crystal meth treatment facilities in New York designed for gay and bisexual male patients, seven of them are located in Manhattan. Therefore, this imposes severe geographical demographic limitations. Substance abuse is significantly more prevalent among those living in poverty, as are most of the risk factors for drug abuse (Nakashian, 2019). For instance, residents of Black neighborhoods are 7.3 times more likely to live in high poverty with limited to no access to mental health services, according to the CDC (Denton & Anderson, 2005). As a result, this forces those who are seeking help to search outside of their neighborhoods for treatment and services. Furthermore, traveling outside of one’s neighborhood can be intimidating and present a culture shock. Certainly, culture can play a dynamic role in patient and provider engagement.  

Need for more accessible mental health care

There is a great need for knowledgeable and accessible mental health care and substance abuse service providers who can treat Black gay and bi men using crystal meth. Culturally cognizant psychotherapists can help to increase awareness of use of illicit drugs amongst African American communities, and can also provide culturally appropriate services targeted to consumers’ needs (Harawa, 2008). Above all, providers who understand the cultural intricacies and experiences of Black men who use crystal meth can be instrumental in their recovery.

Being client centered 

In order to keep treatment for crystal meth and other substance use client-focused, affirmative therapists can draw on Rogers’ approach to treatment. Therapists must allow clients to use the therapeutic relationship in their own way (Client-centered therapy, 2006). Certainly, this means taking into consideration the client’s cultural background and personal experiences in creating an effective treatment plan for them. Crystal meth addiction clearly transcends racial and ethnic lines, making evident the need for further outreach and support to Black gay and bisexual men who are using. Further, specific assessment and risk reduction measures to address crystal meth use and sexual behaviors and roles among these community members are warranted. In short, crystal meth addiction is a disease that shows no cultural biases. As a result, mental health providers must ensure that our services reflect that.

Learn More

The Black Gay Community and Crystal Meth Presented by Jerry St. Louis, LGSW 2 CE Course

 

References 

Blanchard, S. K. (2019, August 8). Black New Yorkers Hospitalized for Amphetamines at Alarming Rates. Filter. https://filtermag.org/black-new-york-amphetamines-hospital/ 

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT). Substance Abuse Treatment: Addressing the Specific Needs of Women. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2009. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 51.) Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK83252/

Client-centered therapy. (January 2006). Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved December 28, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Client-centered_therapy

Denton, N. A., & Anderson, B. J. (2005). Poverty and Race Research Action Council analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. The Opportunity Agenda. Retrieved from http://www.opportunityagenda.org.

Dowshen, S. (Ed.). (2018, May). Methamphetamine (Meth) (for Teens) – Nemours KidsHealth. https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/meth.html. 

Frankis, J., Flowers, P., McDaid, L., & Bourne, A. (2018). Low levels of chemsex among men who have sex with men, but high levels of risk among men who engage in chemsex: analysis of a cross-sectional online survey across four countries. Sexual health, 15(2), 144–150. https://doi.org/10.1071/SH17159

Halkitis, P. N., & Jerome, R. C. (2008). A comparative analysis of methamphetamine use: black gay and bisexual men in relation to men of other races. Addictive behaviors, 33(1), 83–93. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2007.07.015

Harawa, N. T., Williams, J. K., Ramamurthi, H. C., Manago, C., Avina, S., & Jones, M. (2008, October). Sexual behavior, sexual identity, and substance abuse among low-income bisexual and non-gay-identifying African American men who have sex with men. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2574823/. 

Lea, T., Kolstee, J., Lambert, S., Ness, R., Hannan, S., & Holt, M. (2017). Methamphetamine treatment outcomes among gay men attending a LGBTI-specific treatment service in Sydney, Australia. PloS one, 12(2), e0172560. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0172560

Molitor, F., Truax, S. R., Ruiz, J. D., & Sun, R. K. (1998). Association of methamphetamine use during sex with risky sexual behaviors and HIV infection among non-injection drug users. The Western journal of medicine, 168(2), 93–97.

Nakashian, M. (2019, July 26). Substance Abuse Policy Research Program. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/research/2012/01/substance-abuse-policy-research-program.html

NIDA. 2019, May 16. Methamphetamine DrugFacts. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine on 2020, December 28

NIDA. 2020, September 18. Principles of Effective Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment on 2020, December 31

Saloner, B., & Lê Cook, B. (2013). Blacks and Hispanics are less likely than whites to complete addiction treatment, largely due to socioeconomic factors. Health affairs (Project Hope), 32(1), 135–145. https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2011.0983

Wakefield, L., Maurice, E. P., Parsons, V., & Smith, R. (2019, June 26). This is why people drink their own urine after taking drugs. PinkNews. https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2018/04/30/urine-drugs/. 

 

Therapists Facing Internalized Transphobia

Posted: 1-20-21 | Mikey Anderson

Collage of Artwork created by Mikey Anderson as they completed the exercises in the workbooks reviewed in the article

Moving Towards Trans and Nonbinary-Affirmative Therapy Practice

As psychotherapists, we know that transphobia’s pervasive social impact affects our clients and our own internal worlds. This results in transgender and gender nonbinary (TGNB) folx internalizing society’s gender-normative attitudes and lays the groundwork for them to develop negative attitudes about themselves and their communities, which can ultimately lead to poor mental health outcomes (Babine et al., 2019). 

I reviewed these resources for clinicians to help them address internalized transphobia; this term is used, for the purposes of this article, to mean phobia toward and discrimination against trans binary and non-binary individuals. In doing so, I encourage all of us to use our positions of power to educate community members including educators, employers, health care providers, and other support service staff who work with TGNB folx. It is incumbent upon us to help ensure that our clients are offered LGBTQIA+ affirmative care in every aspect of their lives (Babine et al., 2019). The resources listed in this article are a call to action to all providers offering care to the TGNB community; my hope is that we can consider these readings to create a more inclusive and gender-just world in which TGNB folx can live fully. 

This review comes from my perspective as a white, able-bodied, licensed clinical therapist and nonbinary art therapist. I encountered some difficulties in reading through these books because they hit close to home for me and in relation to the everyday trauma my TGNB clients face. I recommend that other TGNB therapists and clients working through these books take breaks and engage in self-care practices when needed. Fortunately, Hoffman-Fox has included a Self-Care Checklist on page xxxi in their workbook, reviewed in this article.

Interactively Challenging Internalized Transphobia Through Workbooks 

Transphobia is deeply rooted in a cis-hetero, capitalist, western settler-colonial political system, and it will take a much more organized response to address than filling out a workbook.  But we can start by addressing internalized transphobia in ourselves, thus moving towards challenging it on a larger scale. 

Exploring my Identity(ies): Interactive by Van Ethan Levy, LMFT

Written by a queer, non-binary, trans, AFAB (assigned female at birth), NBPOC (Not Black Person of Color) who uses the pronouns Van/they, Exploring my Identity(ies): Interactive asks clinicians to address their privileges, power, biases, and the stereotypes they have absorbed, and how these are intrinsically linked to internalized transphobia. Van engages the reader immediately by asking the reader “Who am I?” as a starting point to encourage vulnerability. This helps readers reduce shame and examine all the ways in which they have internalized negative messages about the TGNB community. 

The workbook offers clinicians actionable steps to confront and address their internalized transphobia by breaking down language in an interactive format. This allows them to deepen their understanding of the ways in which internalized transphobia impacts us and our clients on both individual and systemic levels (Soto & Garman, 2018). The book names how internalized transphobia takes hold of us via unconscious bias by absorbing messages from our cis-focused society that shames, criticizes, and dehumanizes TGNB people. These messages, some overt and some subtle, serve to exclude trans people from full participation in life and are especially harmful to TGNB people trying to live freely in our world (Lighthouse Inc., 2020). 

Levy (2020) closes the book by offering clinicians ways to be better allies. They challenge how our inflated academic egos are informed by the experiences of mostly white cis-hetero folx, rather than through the lens of the many marginalized TGNB folx fighting for their lives. The author recognizes that this is a lifelong practice for clinicians, and recommends approaching social issues with an intersectional lens. 

Brainstorm from Mikey Anderson explored the question 'who am I?' from the workbook Exploring my Identity(ies): Interactive. Exploring one's own internalized transphobia is essential to transgender affirmative psychotherapy.

You and Your Gender Identity: A Guide to Discovery by Dara Hoffman-Fox, LPC

Written by a white, queer, nonbinary mental health counselor who uses the pronouns Dara/they/them, You and Your Gender Identity: A Guide to Discovery offers affirmation to readers in a person-centered way, wherever they are in their own gender journeys. Hoffman-Fox breaks down the journey into three accessible stages: 1) Preparation, 2) Reflection, and 3) Exploration. In stage one, Hoffman-Fox (2017) speaks directly to removing the stigma of putting labels or diagnoses on ourselves, which one may find a healing experience due to the historical precedent of the DSM labeling TGNB folx with a “mental illness.”

Using this workbook, I felt as if I was creating my gender memoir, inspired by what Hoffman-Fox would consider “hands-off mentors”; this type of mentor is someone with whom you won’t be interacting on an individual or personal basis (Hoffman-Fox, 2017). I was excited to learn about this concept, as my own experience with hands-off mentors has led me to discover TGNB folx to whom I look up and relate. These mentors have assisted me in understanding my own nonbinary identity as well as my TGNB clients’ experiences. 

Stage two speaks directly to how internalized transphobia manifests in our internal world beginning in childhood, when the adults around us began to censor and police our genders.  The section breaks down such experiences by ages including childhood (ages 3 to 11) and adolescence (ages 12-17), with a reflection piece describing how some TGNB people experienced their gender at each age. Hoffman-Fox touches on the impact puberty has on young TGNB folx, and how this feeds into gender dysphoria and affects both their development and mental health.  For cis-hetero clinicians who may not have questioned their gender and who, unlike many TGNB young folx, experienced puberty simply as a rite of passage, this section of the workbook may be very eye-opening. 

In stage three, Hoffman-Fox encourages readers to reflect on how they feel about their gender in the present; the reader may take on an explorer role to deepen their understanding of their gender and gain agency in defining their gender identity through various questions. Hoffman-Fox notes the many barriers one may face in their gender exploration in terms of financial stability, relationships, resources, and health care, noting that no exploration process is right or better than another. It’s about tapping into the reader’s unique strengths and abilities (Hoffman-Fox, 2017). In this section, Hoffman-Fox offers the reader actionable ways to combat internalized transphobia by journaling and recognizing when one engages in internalized transphobia, reframing it to positive self-talk about one’s gender. At times I struggle with the idea that, by the end of this chapter, readers will unearth, gather, and digest enough information about themselves to gain a deeper understanding of how to define their gender identity (Hoffman-Fox, 2017). The author’s recognition of how one’s experience with their gender as a life-long multifaceted and complex exploration resonates more deeply with me. 

The Queer & Trans Resilience Workbook: Skills for Navigating Sexual Orientation & Gender Expression by Anneliese Singh, Ph.D., LPC

The third workbook I reviewed is The Queer & Trans Resilience Workbook: Skills for Navigating Sexual Orientation & Gender Expression by Anneliese Singh, Ph.D., LPC, a South Asian multiracial Sikh queer and genderqueer femme clinician who uses she/they pronouns. Singh’s workbook speaks to the crucial skills TGNB folx need to build resiliency skills to thrive in a trans- and queerphobic world that demands conformity (Singh, 2018). Singh’s workbook centers intersectionality with TGNB folx and speaks to myriad LGBTQIA+ identities such as same-gender-loving, asexual, omnisexual, monosexual, polysexual, and pansexual, many of which may get overlooked by clinicians as well as by the general population. Further, Singh discusses the importance of developing a sense of body positivity, which the other workbooks do not address. Singh describes actively valuing one’s body and with whom one decides to share their body (Singh, 2018). 

Singh’s workbook describes ten resilience skills for LGBTQIA+ folx to develop. A few of these skills include You Are More Than Your Gender and Sexual Orientation, Knowing Your Self Worth, Affirming and Enjoying Your Body, and Building Relationships and Creating Community. Each section offers a resilience exercise to encourage the reader to practice these skills, and many of the practices borrow from cognitive behavioral therapy with an added queer lens. One example is how to use positive self-talk to affirm one’s gender, and as a way to reframe negative thoughts about it. 

Too often we focus on the ideas of self-care with TGNB clients to heal and manage pain inflicted on them via micro- and macroaggressions from our heterosexist and transnegative society. But we may fail to offer actionable ways to build up resiliency, like assertiveness skills, to empower our clients to survive and thrive. When discussing self-care with our TGNB clients, we must talk about cultivating resilience and how to develop skills to build up their confidence, communication, and self-esteem to navigate life in the face of discrimination and adversity (Singh, 2018). This workbook speaks to gender liberation to celebrate, respect, affirm, love, and recognize the value TGNB folx across the lifespan bring to our society, along with the power of enacting mutual aid efforts, as a way to develop resilience and create stronger communities. 

Final Thoughts about Workbooks Addressing Internalized Transphobia in Clinicians

I found these workbooks to be engaging and useful, and I appreciate that they were created by clinicians who are themselves a part of our TGNB community. They share their own pain from having to navigate a cis-heteronormative society and the joy of experiencing gender liberation. Too often, books about LGBTQIA+ clients are authored by cis and/or heterosexual folx who are white/white-passing, of middle to higher socioeconomic status, neurotypical, and able-bodied. They come up with their own biased conclusions about our TGNB community members. 

At the same time, I do reflect critically on who creates these books. I recognize how the language used in these workbooks about affirming queer experiences comes from queer folx in positions of power. They may, at times, use too much vocabulary from academic circles, a stark contrast to the reality of  trans, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming folx who are fighting to survive (Levy, 2020). I wonder who gets to engage in these books, and who even knows they exist. Too often, TGNB folx–especially TGNB folx of color–are in constant survival mode, facing housing and food insecurity, compared to cis and hetero folx. Black trans womxn are being murdered at alarming rates each year. Are clinicians expecting TGNB folx to use workbooks in therapy, homeless shelters, or community mental health settings amid a deadly pandemic, one disportionately impacting BIPOC?

I note how my own position of privilege has exposed has me to the wonders of queer theory; I can see the benefits of these works in clinical practice with clients exploring their gender and internalized transphobia, which too often holds our TGNB clients back from embracing all the ways of being in our world. Each workbook speaks to the role that shame and guilt play in shaping one’s experience with internalized transphobia. Hoffman-Fox takes it one step further to break down shame and guilt and explore how each negatively impacts TGNB folx’ existence. Furthermore, shame and guilt together form a powerful force that perpetuates gender trauma in our society and leads our TGNB clients to isolation, censorship, and submission into a binary. Clinicians must work through shame and guilt with their clients across the gender spectrum because of the relentless grip this combined force can have on one’s gender identity. 

At the core of these workbooks is their commitment to combat transphobia and their demand for others to recognize transphobia–even if unaware of their engagement in it–which will get us closer to ending it (Levy, 2020). This means no more dead TGNB folx as a result of inequitable access to basic human rights created by a transphobic society. The workbooks can serve as a set of armor for our TGNB clients to learn how to experience positive self-growth (Singh, 2018) that helps them thrive and affirms their identity. 

To fully grasp and address internalized transphobia, mental health professionals need continuing education that includes listening to the stories created by TGNB community members outside of the academic sphere of clinical practice. This will help providers continue to develop more TGNB-affirmative therapy practices. In my next article, I will review memoirs from TGNB artists who speak to their lived experience of navigating a cis-normative society and recount the ways in which they have developed resilience strategies to address both socially imposed and internalized transphobia. Additionally, I will offer takeaways, resources, and further recommendations to address internalized transphobia.

References 

A Therapist’s Guide to Navigating & Overcoming Internalized Transphobia. Lighthouse. (2018). https://blog.lighthouse.lgbt/overcoming-internalized-transphobia/

American Psychological Association. (2015). Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People. American Psychologist, 70 (9), 832-864. DOI: 10.1037/a0039906

Babine, A., Torho, S. S., Fizpatrick, O., Kolodkin, S. R., & Daly, L. (March 2019). Dismantling Stigma in the Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Community. The New York Transgender Advocacy Group.

Hoffman-Fox, D. (2017). You and your gender identity: A guide to discovery. Skyhorse Publishing.                                                     

Levy, V. (2020). Exploring my Identity(ies): Interactive. Self Published.

Singh, A. (2018). The Queer and Transgender Resilience Workbook Skills for Navigating Sexual  Orientation and Gender Expression. New Harbinger Publications.

Garman, S. & Soto, M. (Hosts.) (2018-present) Transform: Beyond the transition. [Audio Podcast]. Stitcher. https://www.stitcher.com/show/transform-beyond-the-transition

Check out our Continuing Education Courses on Transgender Affirmative Therapy

Two hands making a heart; one hand has trans flag colors and the other has genderqueer flag colors to represent self compassion for transgender and gender nonbinary clients

Blocks in black and white saying stress above bloacks saying resilience in transgender flag colors representing gender minority stress and resilience in transgender and gender nonbinary clients

13 Signs You Need to Decolonize Your Practice with Trans Clients

Image of trans flag and genderqueer flags with fists in the air representing therapists decolonizing their practicing with transgender and gender nonbinary clients

13 Signs You Need to Decolonize Your Practice with Trans Clients: 

Paying Attention to Your Colonization-Connected Behaviors

This two-part series is intended to first reflect on the ways in which transgender and gender nonbinary (TGNB)-affirming clinicians perpetuate harm connected to colonization, then to present actionable ways of moving toward decolonization and gender liberation. I am a queer, white, able-bodied, and “cis-ish” person (i.e., I do not feel discomfort in my body or with she/her pronouns, though I struggle with the construct of “womanhood”). I am an uninvited guest occupying the land of the Narragansett & Wampanoag people in what is now called Rhode Island in North America (note: I strongly recommend learning more about Indigenous culture, e.g. the All My Relations podcast).

While social justice movements tend to focus on addressing the oppression of marginalized communities, decolonization involves a discrete and critical understanding of settler colonization and the movement toward reparation of land and resources (Tuck & Yang, 2012). I cannot discuss decolonization without acknowledging that I benefit from stolen land and resources as well as oppressive systems that are violent toward Indigenous and Black communities, including that of mental health care. MarleyAyo LLC (2020) defines decolonization as the “intentional repairing and reclaiming of ancestry, traditions, and values lost or violently disrupted by colonization and the transatlantic slave trade.”

 

“…colonization was a direct attack to our physical AND spiritual beings…they cut off a line to that ancestral knowledge and almost guaranteed that history would be lost.”  – Decolonizing Gender (jackson & Shanks, 2020)

 

The history of settler colonization has deep roots connected to white supremacy and racism, anti-blackness, transphobia, fatphobia, and essentially any system, community, or person that vilifies, criminalizes, punishes, rejects, and erases those who at first glance seem “different” (Morgensen, 2012). For additional context, you can learn more about the 4 I’s of oppression in this Healing While Black podcast episode. Also, consider learning about the characteristics of white supremacy culture, which can show up in any group or organization as a reflection of the attitudes and behaviors of all people (regardless of race)–for example, believing there is only one right way to do something. 

The construct of gender liberation expanded on the work of Ignacio Martín-Baró, a social psychologist who lost his life because of his revolutionary work; see Helping Queer Clients Become Their Own Liberators (Spector, 2020) for more details. Gender liberation involves shifting our focus from basic gender affirmation with the TGNB community toward liberation by addressing power dynamics, advocating for systemic and social change, and freeing ourselves and our clients from the systems of gender oppression (Singh, 2016; note: Anneliese Singh is a phenomenal speaker, writer, and researcher in this area–see also her TedX talk). This includes an awareness that the concept of “transness” itself is a historically white construct, meaning that gender fluidity and diversity existed and were accepted for centuries prior to settler colonization (e.g. A Map of Gender-Diverse Cultures; see also The Platypus Poem by J Mase III). 

I have chosen not to explore these constructs more deeply because a) individuals who have experienced that history and live it every day do not need an explanation, b) it’s not my place to tell their stories, and c) there are many other appropriate sources that do so (e.g. Adrienne Maree Brown, Rachel Cargle, & Alok V Menon). It is my responsibility to listen, learn, and do better to honor the voices, bodies, and land that have been telling the story for years and continue to do so. 

 

“Cisheteropatriarchy holds its roots in colonialism, and dismantling and unlearning these Western agendas forced upon us is a necessary action in the liberation of all oppressed peoples. If we are to obliterate white supremacy, a key component of that necessary project is recognizing and dismantling transphobia as an ongoing destructive phenomenon directly rooted in colonialism.” (Paramo, 2018)

 

Some clinicians may be completely new to these concepts and what this work looks like. Other clinicians may already be doing this work more intentionally. Still other clinicians may have no choice but to do this work because of their own personal experiences of marginalization, oppression, and intergenerational trauma. 

13 common forms of colonization-connected behaviors in your clinical work with TGNB people

To be clear, it would be toxic allyship to consider completing a ‘checklist’ as the way to do this work, given the need for decolonization to be a long-term commitment. Decolonization work is ongoing with the intention of returning land, resources, and opportunities to the populations from which they were taken, as well as supporting Indigenous and Black communities as they continue to navigate intergenerational and present-day trauma.  

Regardless, it may be helpful to reflect on possible warning signs of colonization-connected behaviors in your clinical work with TGNB people, including the following: 

1. Limited historical knowledge 

(e.g. relying on mostly white and/or cisgender people and systems to teach you what you need to know about settler colonization, antiracism and gender; understanding a lot about trans identities but less about working with BIPOC clients; having little understanding of how colonization, white supremacy, and fatphobia intersect with gender)

2. Exploitation of BIPOC and/or TGNB people 

(e.g. expecting BIPOC and/or TGNB experts to train/consult with you for free; asking TGNB and/or BIPOC clients to explain things to us; using before-and-after photos of TGNB bodies without considering the potential felt objectification and dehumanization)

3. Relying on diagnosis and “the written word” 

(e.g. doubting someone’s knowledge of their gender because of their developmental stage or another diagnosis like autism; noticing yourself getting bogged down by what is written in the DSM, WPATH manual, or trans guidelines; focusing on whether or not someone meets the criteria for gender dysphoria to accept their TGNB identity)

4. Performative/toxic allyship 

(e.g, telling yourself that you are anti-racist while rarely engaging in action steps that help you to learn, grow, and change in movement toward anti-racism; privileged ‘allies” jumping to judge others who make a mistake when talking about race/gender without inviting them into a conversation; expressing how important this work is but not being willing to pay for consultation/supervision/training to improve competence).

Deborah Plummer’s work talks more about how to take anti-racist allyship to the next level.

 

 “Achieving a healthy white-identity resolution and feeling racially secure enough not to exhibit racial superiority does more for eradicating racism than just being an enlightened ally.”  ~Plummer, 2020

 

5. Shame and shutting down

(e.g. feeling frustrated about how hard it is to to “keep up” with the movements and language; defensiveness and/or shame reaction when you make a mistake; dismissing or challenging a perspective shared by a BIPOC and/or TGNB colleague or client about their experience; feeling offended/hurt by a client’s decision to see a “lived experience” clinician)

6. Treatment barriers

(e.g. limited treatment access; high cost of full fee; not taking insurance or having an inaccessible sliding scale range; and/or requiring multiple sessions for a surgery assessment without transparency and collaboration)

7. Saviorism and lack of humility

(e.g. believing that if you don’t do this work, no one will; not seeking training/consultation/supervision when you have a growth edge, i.e. room for improvement; frequent signaling to your TGNB and BIPOC clients, colleagues, and friends the extent of your allyship)

8. Poor boundaries 

(e.g. taking on additional clients for extra money; not saying no to people because we feel guilty; not prioritizing our own self-care and work-life balance) 

 

“…it should not be forgotten that one of the privileges of whiteness is having a gender that is defacto more legitimate and more coherent because of the binary framework in which it necessarily exists.”   -binaohan, 2014

 

9. Colonized gender norms 

(e.g. making an assumption about a client’s desired gender destination; encouraging forms of social/physical expression that someone hasn’t asked for; using any language/identifiers for gender/body part/surgery etc. that the client hasn’t already expressed or without checking that the language feels okay for them)

10. Colonized race-related norms

(e.g. failing to acknowledge the impact of colonization; assuming that all clients desire and feel safe coming out in all spaces; being unaware of resources that are specific to BIPOC TGNB people; using research and clinical interventions that have not been normed on BIPOC people)

11. Colonized body and ability norms 

(e.g. reinforcing the racist history of fatphobia and diet culture by encouraging a client’s attempts at weight loss via dieting; focusing on client weight as a potential barrier to surgery rather than framing from the perspective of medical fatphobia and helping to advocate for client needs; making an assumption about a client’s health status based on their weight and/or eating habits; using ableist language, making assumptions about someone’s capacity to do something, or limiting communication and processing methods). Please see Fearing the Black Body (Strings, 2019). 

12. Time and outcome expectations 

(e.g. using language that suggests a “full transition” or “complete surgery”; assuming that trans men want to be masculine; finding yourself thinking that clients are moving too slowly and pushing someone to come out to their family and friends)

13. Insisting on comfort 

(e.g. having a shame reaction and apologizing excessively when you make a mistake or client provides feedback; mentioning how hard it is to keep up with the language; not bringing up racism or anti-Blackness unless the client mentions they are struggling with the sociopolitical climate; addressing your privilege in the room the first time and then not bringing it up again)

Decolonizing Mental Health is Hard: Take a Moment of Reflection

Notice what comes up in your body and how it feels as you reflect on the above examples. Did you notice any feelings of shame? Embarrassment? Discomfort? Denial? Guilt? Relief? Irritation? Uncertainty? 

After checking in with your body, consider how these examples are connected to your clinical training and approach to treatment, your knowledge of history  or lack thereof, and your worldview. 

I believe that a clinician’s ability to wholeheartedly and effectively serve the TGNB population requires ongoing critical awareness, examination, and acknowledgment of the following: 

  • A likely skewed lens of the world: past, present, and future
  • Your approach to treatment: personally, professionally, and systemically
  • How you operate around privilege and oppression inside and outside of the therapy room
  • The history of settler colonization, enslavement, and genocide; white Western education, research, training; and lingering medical and mental health care trauma
  • The ways in which you continue to benefit from and engage in the perpetuation of those systems that have caused harm or, for those who belong to historically marginalized communities, the ways in which you have internalized the impact of those systems

As you continue to move through this work, you will uncover the countless ways in which colonization is woven into the fabric of our personal and professional lives, which has a direct and ongoing impact on the oppression of marginalized communities. Those in power may seem to benefit in terms of resources and capitalism. But the psychological, emotional, and intergenerational impact of colonization affects everyone, not just TGNB, BIPOC, and other marginalized communities. We all will benefit by working toward racial, gender, and body liberation, as well as striving for decolonization through supporting Black and Indigenous communities to reclaim their ancestry, values, land, and rights. 

 

“If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”  – Taylor, 2017 (in How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective)

 

In the next and final installment of this series, I will further discuss actionable ways to begin transforming your work with TGNB clients.  I want to reiterate that this work is multifaceted and is not meant to focus on completing a list of “to-dos.” Rather, it is an opportunity to reflect on your practice and the ways in which you can continue to do better and to help heal the harm caused by our ancestors and our modern-day systems.

Please see below for an extensive list of resources created by TGNB folx and/or BIPOC* who expand on these topics. Another resource list will be provided at the conclusion of my next article as well.

*Note: For the purpose of this article, TGNB indicates transgender and gender nonbinary populations. The use of BIPOC sometimes represents Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (i.e., non-white people), and at other times it represents Black and Indigenous people of color primarily (Code Switch episode, Meraji & Escobar, 2020). When discussing BIPOC communities in this article, I am referring to the Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color who experience ongoing marginalization and oppression in relation to the colonized history of the Western world, including the intergenerational impact from their ancestors. 

Resources for decolonizing your clinical work 

Books: 

  • binaohan, b (2014). decolonizing trans/gender 101. biyuti publishing. 
  • Strings, S. (2019). Fearing the Black body: The racial origins of fat phobia. New York University Press.
  • Taylor, K-Y. (2017). How we get free: Black feminism and the Combahee River Collective. Haymarket Books. 

Podcasts:

Electronic print & audiovisual resources:

General Websites & Social Media Accounts: 

  • Brown, A.M. (writer/thought leader/podcaster, she/they) (n.d.). Adrienne Maree Brown.  [@adriennemareebrown]. [Instagram profile, Website]. http://adriennemareebrown.net/ 
  • Cargle, R. (public academic & writer, she/her). (n.d.). Rachel Cargle. [@TheGreatUnlearn, @TheLovelandFoundation, @Rachel.Cargle]. [Website, Instagram profile].  www.rachelcargle.com 
  • Mase III, J. (poet & educator, he/him). (n.d.). J Mase III. [@jmaseiii]. [Instagram profile, Website]. www.jmaseiii.com
  • Menon, A.V. (author/speaker/performer, they/them). (n.d.). Alok V Menon. [@alokvmenon]. [Instagram profile, Website].  www.alokvmenon.com 

References

Decolonization. (2020). By MarleyAyo, LLC. [Definition]. In Thea Monyee´ presents: The Blacker the brain – Free to heal – Decolonizing our practices. www.marleyayo.com

Morgensen, S. L. (2012). Theorising gender, sexuality and settler colonialism: An introduction. Settler Colonial Studies, 2(2), 2-22. https://doi.org/10.1080/2201473X.2012.10648839

Peramo, M. (2018, July 17). Transphobia is a white supremacist legacy of colonialism. Medium. https://medium.com/@Michael_Paramo/transphobia-is-a-white-supremacist-legacy-of-colonialism-e50f57240650 

Singh, A. (2016). Moving from affirmation to liberation as psychological practice with transgender and gender nonconforming clients. American Psychologist, 71(8), 755-762. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000106  

Tuck, E. & Yang, K.W. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, & Society, 1(1), 1-40. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/277992187_Decolonization_Is_Not_a_Metaphor 

Learn more about transgender and gender nonbinary affirmative therapy

with M. Tucker, PsyD

Two hands making a heart; one hand has trans flag colors and the other has genderqueer flag colors to represent self compassion for transgender and gender nonbinary clients

Blocks in black and white saying stress above bloacks saying resilience in transgender flag colors representing gender minority stress and resilience in transgender and gender nonbinary clients