Psychotherapy and counselling are supposed to provide a safe space for people to explore what they really think and feel, especially around the things they struggle with. But what if this isn’t as easy as it sounds? My experience in working with people who identify under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella is that they have to choose who they can trust carefully, and trust comes well before opening up to someone.
This is usually because they’ve felt misunderstood, misrepresented, unheard, and hurt by others – all in ways that undermine and threaten a core part of their identity. In a world that is sadly prejudiced against those who are perceived as different because of heteronormativity, navigating life as a LGBTQIA+ person means being repeatedly challenged in ways that cisgender and/or heterosexual people aren’t. This is further exacerbated if we consider additional prejudices such as racism, and classism.
What is ‘Queering’?
The process of queering psychotherapy is one that I consider would benefit any type of person as it allows the individual to define their own terms to embody, and live by. This is in addition to being pro-active in welcoming and understanding the needs of LGBTQIA+ people. ‘Queering’ anything is to explore beyond the binary, re-create the world, and re-understand common words and practices.
Overall, this allows us to honour and respect an individual for exactly the person they are. The best-case scenario is that we can affirm, and celebrate them too. This applies to people of any sexual and gender orientation and expression including heterosexual, and cisgender people.
One example of queering is the notion of family, and that sometimes LGBTQIA+ people have to re-structure their place within their families of origin dependent on how supported and enabled they are in terms of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and expressions of these.
Sometimes this means not finding a place there, but it usually means re-configuring relationships. It can also lead to queering the meaning of ‘Mum’, ‘Dad’, and ‘siblings’ as part of this re-configuration. The same applies to the family we create for ourselves as adults whether we choose to have one, several, or no partner(s).
Gender and sexuality evolve throughout our lives. Therefore, I’m aware how much a binary understanding of these parts of our identities are experienced as restrictive. I’ve seen very often that people’s first response to feeling different is to feel distressed, and this is usually a product of the hetero- and cis-normative messages we receive from society (and internalised by the people in our lives) telling us to ‘be’ a certain way. The reaction that ‘I’m wrong’ or ‘This is a problem’ only serves to isolate, shame, and disempower.
My work with LGBTQIA+ people often focuses on much of the same themes as cisgender and heterosexual clients, although with an awareness that there is often more to navigate due to the constant re-evaluation of ourselves, our relationships, and the world. In many ways, there is a harder fight for a place in the world.
Added to this is the idea that LGBTQIA+ narratives are often centred around some sort of trauma which, although these should be given attention if present, risks being the defining factor of what it means to be LGBTQIA+. I appreciate there is a risk of this happening in the mental health system, which has long contributed to reinforcing the aforementioned damaging narratives. This is another example of being queer in a binary system, which is a difficult place to be.
How Psychotherapy Can Help
As a Psychotherapist part of my role is to support people to anchor themselves in what they feel is important, and maintain a sense of their truth when difficulties in mental health mean who we are takes up less space, and aspects of our selves are less enjoyable. This means making more space for our gender, and sexuality (and how these are expressed in ways that are meaningful to each person) in the process of re-integration of our selves, and our place in the world.
The reality is that the more we are ourselves, the better our mental health is. The better our mental health is, the better choices we make, and the better relationships we have. All of these things can then feed each other to create a balanced, integrated sense of self. Being able to speak your truth, however queer, is a significant step in being yourself.
Therapy Leeds is a LGBTQIA+ affirmative private practice offering counselling and psychotherapy services. For more information, and to book an appointment, get in touch. I’d be pleased to see how I could work with you.