Your questions: sexuality and gender identity

sharon-mccutcheon-579972-unsplashHere are some questions I get asked. If there are other things you think could be addressed on this page, please feel free to leave a comment. And if you choose to come for counselling, you can ask me all of these questions and more directly.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon.

Can I talk to you about issues of sexuality or gender identity?

Yes. You can talk to me about anything you choose. Sexuality and gender-related issues come up very often in counselling, one way or another.  If you want to make these the main focus of counselling with me, that is fine. And if that leads on to other issues, that is equally okay.  There is no rule that you must stick to one issue or another.

Possibly your cultural or religious background and identity play a part in who you feel you can be and how you can express yourself in terms of sexuality and gender.  Again, it would be quite usual to explore these in counselling.

What do you mean by sexuality, anyway?

I mean: how you think of yourself as a sexual or asexual person; who you choose to engage with sexually; your expression of sexuality in your choice of sexual practices; and how you identify yourself privately or publicly in relation to any or all of these.

What do you mean by gender?

I mean how you identify yourself in gender terms, regardless of what gender you were assigned at birth or what body you live in.  This might be in terms of the male/female distinction or the male/female spectrum; or as not on that spectrum; or as having fluid or not-yet-decided gender; or as having more than one gender; or as having no gender.

Will you really respect my sexual or gender identity?

My starting point is: “Who am I to tell you who you are?”  It is not for me to decide or place limits on how you view or identify yourself.  And I don’t feel the need to judge you for how you do this.  I also try to avoid introducing labels. What labels you decide to use for yourself and what identity you choose to adopt is a matter for you to decide (or explore).  That includes gender pronouns.

On a less personal level, the professional body (BACP) to which I belong  took a position in 2015 that it is unethical to try to change or alter someone’s sexual orientation through psychological therapies. I take this position too and apply the same thinking to gender identity also. The BACP’s latest good practice statement on sexual orientation and gender identity, effective from July 2018, can be found in our Ethical Framework (scroll down to section 22 on page 20).

What if you don’t understand something about my sexuality or gender identity?

No counsellor can have knowledge and experience of everything presented to them.  If you say something I don’t understand, I will acknowledge this and ask you about it.  That said, I do have experience of working with these issues both as a counsellor and in other professional roles.

It is also important to note that people sometimes use a word to mean very different things.  I may sometimes encourage you to help me understand what you mean by certain terms and what importance they have in your life.

Do you recognise the existence of  ridicule, bullying, harassment, abuse and hatred towards people on account of how they identify themselves?

Yes.  These are real and can have a huge impact on how we feel about ourselves and how we present ourselves to our family, friends, peers and wider society.  Counselling cannot make them go away, but it can help you manage your response to them. This may include ways of reducing the feeling of being isolated or unprotected and finding yourself sources of support.

Can I advise you on medical and legal processes around gender reassignment?

No. I am not a specialist in these issues and I do not advise my clients on these issues (or any other).  But we can explore what gender reassignment means for you, so that you can feel supported in looking into this and making decisions for yourself.