As a practice, we are proud to offer emotional support to our transgender clients. We are also proud to be a founding member of the Transfriendly global online directory of trans-positive businesses that transgender consumers may find useful,
As this is transgender awareness week, it feels timely to share some of the views and thoughts we have learned from counselling trans people. Unfortunately we don’t have any trans counsellors on the team, but some of us have an ongoing interest in attending seminars, training and reading to ensure that we offer a transpositive counselling service.
Here are my 3 top tips for working with transgender/nonbinary clients:
- We can check what pronouns the person uses, and stick to those. It’s not always guaranteed that we can guess whether someone sees themselves as a “she”, “he” or “they”, and in my experience, transgender clients do not mind being asked what they prefer. If we slip and use misgendering language by accident (which has occasionally happened, as for instance referring to a nonbinary client as an “uncle”) then we can apologise without making a huge deal of it, and move on.
- We can ensure that we respect clients’ experience of their gender identity, and of course never assume that transgender people are just caught up in a fad or a trend. Given how difficult it is to be transgender in the UK at the moment, we can safely assume nobody would take this up lightly, like a hobby. Being trans is a protected characteristic under the 2010 Equality Act. This means that discrimination, harassment and victimisation of transgender people is illegal. Unfortunately, these illegal acts are on the rise, and a survey of UK transgender people this year reveals that 85% of trans women have experienced transphobic street harassment, and 57% of transgender respondents had experienced transphobia on public transport.
- We can avoid pathologising trans people by assuming there is a backstory as to “what made you trans”? This kind of pathologising of gender and sexual diversity has been rife in the counselling and psychotherapeutic professions for decades, and has been far more damaging than helpful. There may of course be some exploration and reflection on early experience, looking back at early memories the client may have about feeling a different gender from the one they have been assigned.
Finally, I thought it might be nice to link to a couple of favourite books and resources to find out more about transgender experiences:
A thoughtful and readable paperback that discusses the difficulties facing trans people in the UK is Trans Like Me by C N Lester
Vogue columnist, Paris Lees's memoir, What It Feels Like For A Girl, is fast-paced and exciting story that reads like a novel
I love listening to podcasts, as this is something we can do while travelling or doing jobs around the house, and my top recommended trans podcast is called Gender Rebels This American podcast takes questions from listeners and discusses them with warmth and humour.