A few weeks ago, I introduced some ideas pertaining to how to handle clients who are questioning their sexuality. (CLICK HERE TO SEE THAT POST!) I discussed how praising or being pro “coming out” is just as dangerous and being anti “coming out.”
The impetus for writing that post comes from a real experience I have had with a past client who was identifying as gender fluid. This meant that the client was not certain of his/her identity on a day-to-day basis. Some days the client felt like a boy and other days a girl… some days neither. This client did not want to be called she or he and really didn’t like the connotation of it, so the client asked to be referred to as “they.” The client would get upset with people when they did not use the proper pronoun and would get especially upset if they referred to the client’s true gender (even on days where the client appeared to align with his/her own gender). Mom was trying to be supportive, but was simply not used to calling the client “they” and the dad just did not understand. My client was getting therapy for depression and self-injurious behavior.
The media and many counseling/therapy trainings would tell you that this client needs to be affirmed for his/her/their identity and encouraged to stand up for what they feel is right.
Here is the problem. Affirming and encouraging differing gender identity will not address their depression and feelings of rejection. It will not necessarily make things better. And following their feelings may not be the best advice… especially teenage feelings! (I don’t know about you… but when I was a teenager, my feelings tended to get me into a whole slew of trouble I wish I could have avoided.)
When I worked with this client, I did not even focus on exploring his/her/their gender identity. As a therapist, I cannot decide how someone will identify his/her self. And just as it is not my role to tell someone what to do in their dating relationship, or their career choice, or how to spend their time and money… it is not my role to tell them how they should present his/her self to the world. The client can decide that on their own. As a therapist, my role is to help them see and think through all of the implications that will have and to help them explore whether or not this is the life they will want to lead.
Truth is: “Coming out” WILL result in difficult life circumstances.
Whether this is appropriate or not… difficulty will arise, and as mental health professionals, we cannot neglect our clients by making them think that all will be okay once he/she “comes out.” There needs to be a weighing out of stressors.
Will “coming out” and being genuine to your sexual feelings, but facing opposition, rejection from family, people referring to you “incorrectly,” being a minority, etc. be less stressful than denying yourself sexual expression? Or will not identifying differently than your biologically assigned gender be more stressful than the opposition and rejection?
I am assigning no weight to either of these. I, of course, have my own views, but ethically as a therapist, I cannot force my view.
Also, the excuse that society or family shouldn’t be opposing or non-supportive is NOT a valid argument to justify “coming out” and will NOT help your client face what they will realistically encounter. Please do not use it. They need to fully grasp that they will feel and openly face rejection. (Again, I am not saying that discriminating is okay, just that is does happen.)
So what are your thoughts on this? Are you curious to find out what happened to my client? Do you have questions? If so, please comment!! I will be sure to address your questions in a response… OR in Part III!
(Please keep in mind that there is no intent to harm and that respectful replies are appreciated.)