Gender and Sexual Diversity – Our kids know more than we do

We are at the point of a revolution in social attitudes to gender and sexual diversity and it’s our children who are leading the way.

My 11 year daughter and her friends are absolutely up to speed with gender and sexual diversity terms and they all have a powerful sense of the right each person has to be an individual, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. You could expect that from a sex therapist’s child I guess, but her friends have been a far greater influence over her than I have on this issue. They are incensed at the gender associations of clothes, colours, names and sports. They explain to their gender binary fathers why people like Seann Miley Moore have a right to wear make-up and a dress even if they have male genitalia and that identifying as gender plural is legitimate. They have taken issue with their school’s 1986 Thesaurus which lists ‘abnormal’ as an alternative for bi-sexual. They challenge their peers when they hear the word ‘gay’ being used as a throw away insult and they grumble about the relationships in their school books all being heterosexual. They might get their terms slightly wrong occasionally – I heard them saying recently that they are pleased people can ‘transfer’ their gender, but it’s their sense that the option to transition is a good thing that matters more than having the exact right word to describe it. This isn’t something that is actively taught in their school. They are all at a standard state school that is neither progressive nor overly traditional. This is YouTube and social media lead and supported by some excellent children’s books on the theme of gender and sexual diversity such as George and The Art of Being Normal.

Further evidence of the change in thinking was in a conversation I over heard in a Costa in East London recently. A group of teenagers were talking about hypothetical relationship dilemmas. One such dilemma they considered was ‘would they continue to date a boy who dressed as a girl’. Responses ranged from ‘of course, what’s the big deal’ to ‘not if they nicked my clothes’ to ‘ depends how much I loved that person’. I didn’t hear one derogatory comment about the idea of ‘boys’ wearing ‘girls’ clothes. When I was in my 20’s I didn’t hear conversations like that, even in my right on, intellectual days at university.

Attitudes are changing and those of us who are currently identified as adults need to catch up. It’s one thing for our children to teach us about social media and technology – it’s quite another for 11 year olds to know more about diversity than we do.

Thankfully, for those of us working in helping professions, the leading counselling and psychotherapy associations are addressing this gap of awareness in their membership through the development of a Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy. As well as seeking to protect clients, this document commits it’s signatories to educating their members in diversity. At the moment the Memorandum focusses on sexual diversity but the next version promises to include gender, which is a much needed update to a much needed national agreement. Anyone who feels they are behind the curve can find excellent training events at Pink Therapy, who are experts in this field. Alternatively, a day or two in the company of 11 year olds will bring everyone up to speed!

Local Counselling Centre honours all gender identities and sexual orientations and we have specially trained professionals in our team who have the expertise to work with gender and sexual themes. Contact us today for a confidential consultation on 01462 674671 option 2 or email hello@localcounsellingcentre.co.uk 

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Introducing Joyce Corkin – Sex and Relationship Therapist at LCC

Hi my name is Joyce and I am one of LCC’s specialist sex and relationship therapists.

I  worked for the NHS in the capacity of Men’s Health Nurse for several years. My speciality is erectile function and associated intimacy problems. I have been asked by people what sort of clients do I work work with. The answer to that is simple – people like you and me.

Relationships are complex and when the Bells and Whistles are just not happening it can lead to unhappiness and anxiety. Sometimes  talking about what s going on in our heads, as well as the nether regions, brings a sense of understanding and renewed confidence.

When you have lost your mojo,  the complexity of relationships often makes it difficult to talk about it with our significant others..  . It can take courage to ask for help but there are practical as well as talking therapies, that can turn your problem around.

Why don’t you contact Local Counselling for a consultation? hello@localcounsellingcentre.co.uk www.localcounsellingcentre.co.uk

The Danish Girl – A Trans Therapist’s Point of View

 

I saw The Danish Girl last night on its first day of release here in the UK. The international hype had already lifted the film onto my ‘must see’ list and I was not disappointed. This is the big screen at its best, with a first class cast and a story told within the plot constraints and time limitations of a film on general release. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good romance or who has personal interest, or is just curious, about what it may be like to be transgendered.

What may not be clear to everyone is that, although based on true life, the film is taken from a romantic piece of fiction which was based on the autobiography of Lili Elbe. The film does not portray her transition as it really happened; nor, I believe, does it claim to do so, although it does follow the main elements of her adult life. I have no wish to disclose spoilers for those who may be considering going to see the film. However, I would advise to take it at face value, as a piece of beautifully portrayed romance and enjoy it for that reason alone. If you gain insight about what it may be like for a trans person to ‘come out’ to loved ones and to undertake the journey of transition then that would be a bonus. However, I add the caveat that the film is fictional and, more importantly, is a period piece set some 80 years ago, before society, and the medical profession itself, was willing to accept the possibility of gender dysphoria and all the pain and turmoil that living with this condition entails. The diagnosis of insanity or schizophrenia applied in the film was, I am sure, all too commonly used then for psychological conditions that the medical profession today takes in its stride and deals with sympathetically.

Being transgendered is not a new concept. Historically there are references going back to ancient Greece and beyond. Native North American Indians have the concept of two-spirit people where, for example, biologically male ‘warriors’ lived with and undertook the woman’s roles and responsibilities within the tribe. The Hijra caste of Asia is also recorded back to antiquity, including a rite of passage which involves the removal of the male genitalia. There are many other examples.

The gender roles are largely blurred in these situations, being neither fully male nor fully female. They do away with the traditionally recognised binary nature of gender and sexuality (male : female / man : woman) which is the accepted pattern in most of the world. Instead they incorporate the non-binary values of transgender, gender variance, gender queer, gender fluidity and many more terms in use today. The same reasoning also applies to sexuality with non-binary labels such as gay, lesbian, questioning, pansexual, bisexual and asexual. The list of non-heteronormative labels available for use today seems to be ever expanding. Is it any wonder that some people are confused and question their own gender or sexual orientation as they seek to fit in?

Today we have counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists and a whole raft of medical expertise and awareness available to people dealing with these difficulties. Society is becoming more accepting of difference, although it is acknowledged that this acceptance is not universal. Lili had no such help available to her and had to seek out whatever surgical intervention she could, which was in its infancy and was largely innovative, experimental and perhaps even bordering on illegal. Was Lili the first person to undergo male-to-female reassignment surgery? She is certainly the first recorded recipient of this kind of operation, having undergone surgery five times between 1930 and 1931. The next documented male-to-female surgery was carried out in the UK on Roberta Cowell (1951) followed by the more internationally famous Christine Jørgensen  who had her surgery in Denmark in late 1952. (As a point of interest, the first recorded female-to-male reassignment surgery was carried out in the UK during 1946-49 for Michael Dillon).

Reassignment surgery today is relatively commonplace and is carried out in many countries. Precise surgical techniques, excellent after-care and modern medication all ensure a successful physical outcome. Psychological assessment and support is also available for those who wish to explore their own feelings and self-awareness before considering whether or not transition and/or surgical intervention is necessary; this is very different to the early pioneering days of Lili and the others.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the film, which brought about many poignant and personal recollections for me in connection with my own journey. I would like to share one such moment (without giving away any spoilers). There is a short scene where Einar (Lili) and his then wife Gerda are practising walking in a more feminine way. They use a line of flagstones in an alleyway to ensure they take small steps, with the feet facing forward and that they walk in a straight line. This may not have been obvious to many others who were watching the film with me. However, I smiled to myself as that is exactly how I learned to walk with a more feminine style, except that I used the tiled floors in the London Underground: it worked!

If you would like help with gender or sexual concerns please contact us on our confidential email to access our specialist sex and relationship team – reduced cost options available.

hello@localcounsellingcentre.co.uk 

Call 01462 674671 option 2

 

 

The Pressure of Christmas

Oh no, It is that time of year again! I could have sworn it was only last week when I put last years decorations away, but no … it is here again, the Christmas madness. This matter was brought to my attention this week when my friend Sally popped in for a chat. She stomped in to my kitchen, dropped her bag on the floor and drinking a well-earned glass of vino, burst into tears. Between the sobs I heard about the numerous pressures of her life. Buying and affording presents for numerous family members, undertaking a very demanding work project, a heavily pregnant daughter who needed help with her older children’s’ childcare, a sick mother and “poisonous” father in law, a husband who works abroad and the problem of looking after all these folk and cooking Christmas lunch when she had a business trip to Scotland the week before the dreaded day. “And” said Sally “as if that is not enough, my sister has gone off to work in an animal sanctuary looking after monkeys in Costa Rica and I have her four adult children as well! I am so, so angry and jealous”.

The wonderful thing about friends is that you can move from this sort of despair to laughter in a very short amount of time. So within an hour we were both howling with laughter and joking about what we might wear for Christmas lunch so we looked fabulous, as we cooked this, “oh so perfect” Christmas meal. My personal choice would be a reindeer onesie …. from table to bed – perfect!

Sally of course is not alone, and for busy families everywhere Christmas can soon become a real trial if we let it take its own momentum. So here are some tips to get you through this busy period with a smile on you face and cheer in your heart.

  • For all you women out there, first sort out your outfit for the day! This need not be expensive. Supermarkets have great deals and charity shops have great finds at this time of year. It will make you feel in control and you will look fab. Make sure it is easy to wear.
  • Boundaries, boundaries and boundaries! Ensure you agree when folk are coming and going and stick to it. Guests, like fish, go off, so keep it short, fun and sharp.
  • Give everyone something to bring. Christmas is an expensive time and you do not have to shoulder all the expense. Delegate!
  • Give everyone a job, even the young and old.
  • Cheat! Of course we all love to look at the wonderful cooking programmes, and we all dream about “sashaying” around our Christmas table looking seductive like Nigella, but the reality is somewhat different from TV cooking. SO cheat a little – all the supermarkets let you do this easily. Don’t let their effort be wasted! Use it and do not feel guilt. If you get compliments just smile and take it.
  • Keep it simple. It really is just a Sunday roast tarted up a bit. Do not let your thinking make it more than this!
  • Give everyone a job.
  • Plan events and games. This keeps everyone occupied and stops family arguments.
  • Do not bother with all the presents. Every year, so much is wasted, unwanted or unused and so many of us run up debt doing it – madness isn’t it? Why not do a group donation to a local charity or buy yourselves a day out with friends and family. If you must do presents, why not just do a bran tub.
  • Plan a reward day for yourself after it is all over, perhaps a walk, spa day, cinema treat or duvet day … your choice!

Have a great Christmas!

The Dangers of the Office Party

Christmas is a fun time of year. All around us are images of people having fun, in perfect houses with perfect families. The reality of course is somewhat different. Many families are under financial pressure, and these pressures sometimes spill over into intimate relationships and put them at risk. The combination of relationship and family conflict, along with increased socialising and alcohol intake can be a heady mix, and make the world outside the family seem a seductive place. Nowhere is this truer than in the work place, and especially at the office party. By comparison to home, where the kids are screaming, the grandparents are squabbling, and adult siblings are adding to the tension, the office party is an oasis of calm and temptation.

It gives us an injection of glamour when we dress up, and we get a sense of our sexual self. For mums who have babies this may be the first time they have been out without regurgitated milk down their front for some time. Add a few Chardonnays to the mix and you are invincible, you can sing, dance and you are the life and soul of the party. You then notice the person you thought mildly attractive, is in fact a sex god and your resistance is lowered. A snatched moment of pleasure in a brief fling can leave in its wake great turmoil, particularly if the code of your committed relationship is monogamy. At best you have the embarrassment of going back to working with the Sex God, who has sadly returned to Mr Average. At worst, you are left coping with guilt at having broken the code of your relationship, as well as a traumatised partner who, if they find out, may be unsure as to whether they can handle the break in trust.

Remember no relationship is full-proof but there are some strategies that couples can adopt at this time of year and through the year to make this less likely.

* Do not ignore conflicts, always communicate, this is vital.

* Christmas can be a difficult family festival. Be realistic in your expectations of the season and keep your sense of humour.

* Maintain boundaries with others, have fun but keep the boundary clear.

* Take care with relaxants such as alcohol. We easily become a person who in the cold light of day we do not recognise.

* Do not be egged on by others. Some folk love to see others make a fool of themselves, do not be that fool!

If your relationship is under stress because of an affair, or any other reason, seek help in working through this. A Sexual and Relationship Therapist can be key in helping a couple recover. Relationships can recover and grow but it needs both parties to honestly appraise the relationship and work forward so the trust can be rebuilt.

Relationship Therapists can be found through Local Counselling Centre www.localcounsellingcentre.co.uk

Or contact Kathy Freeman on 01462 674671 option 2 or email hello@localcounsellingcentre.co.uk

Jo Coker

Introducing Lizzie Hill – LCC Letchworth Art Therapist Working With Children, Teenagers and Adults

Since qualifying as an art therapist in 2008, I’ve worked extensively in school and NHS settings, supporting children, adolescents and their family members through a whole range of emotional and mental health difficulties. My private practice at the Local Counselling Centre  in Letchworth builds on this experience and also gives me the opportunity to work with adults who would like to take a more creative approach within counselling or personal therapy.

One of the joys of art therapy is that it is accessible to anyone—of any age—because it doesn’t depend on having or using words to describe an experience. Having the option to be creative instead of, or as well as talking, means that clients are in charge of exploring things at their own pace… and often important things get said and noticed through the making process or image made. People don’t have to be good at art to benefit from art therapy… if the end result looks good, great, but that’s really a kind of bonus, because it’s more about the journey!

It’s a pleasure to help people recover, find new ways to cope, build resilience and learn more about their own identity. I also enjoy helping other art therapists develop their skills, by supervising colleagues and lecturing on the local art therapy Masters and Foundation training courses. I’m an active member of the British Association of Art Therapists, through which I keep tuned into and contribute to professional development and debates.

In my spare time I keep happy and balanced through yoga, running, cooking—and eating—interesting culinary delights, getting into the great outdoors and making my own art.

If you think you or a family member would benefit from art therapy with Lizzie contact us now hello@localcounsellingcentre.co.uk 01462 674671 option 2.

Grace and Frankie – Lessons in Love by LCC Clinical Director Jo Coker

As a relationship therapist I am often saddened by the complexity of maintaining a clandestine relationship within a primary relationship, and the trauma that is caused to all involved when it becomes public knowledge. So the other day while scratching around for something to watch on TV, I was delighted to happen upon the Netflix series Grace and Frankie, which explores this issue.

Grace and Frankie are two married women of 70ish – they do not like each other and they have always been rivals. They have both been married for 40 plus years to their respective partners, Sol and Robert who are divorce lawyers. The opening shows the two couples having dinner, during the course of which Sol and Robert come out to Frankie and Grace about their longstanding homosexual relationship and their plan to go public, move in together and marry.

Naturally, this is something of a bombshell and the series goes on to explore how life moves forward for the four main characters and their families. Grace, played by Jane Fonda, is funny, smart, sassy and sexy. She cannot understand why her husband would leave her, as she is the “full package”. The wonderful Lily Tomlin plays the very bohemian Frankie with an elegance and lightness of touch that rightly earned her a Primetime Emmy Award.

These two are thrown together by their plight and by the fact that they both take refuge in their jointly owned beach house. They could not be more different in their reaction to the unfolding events.

While their soon to be ex-husbands come out to all their friends, plan the divorces and their elaborate nuptials, Grace maintains a controlled, cool and elegant stance which is rather repressed. Whereas Frankie lets it “all hang out”. She takes to chanting, smoking dope, crying and making many pots of “vaginal lube” for the over 70’s. This she tries to press on Grace when she starts internet dating, giving her graphic instructions on the whereabouts of her clitoris and use of said lube that had me weeping with laughter!

The programme demonstrates beautifully the complexity of hidden sexuality and pain of leading a double life, as well as the inadvertent distress and trauma caused to others in this process. Grace’s husband Robert deals with this in a bullish manner, whereas Sol finds himself conflicted by his love and concern for Frankie and his delight at being free to be with Robert openly. The series also triumphs the deep relationship that Grace and Frankie develop out of this adversity, as they battle through the events that unfold and learn the richness of valuing and respecting their differences.

It is a wonderful study of the complexity of human relationships.

If you would like professional support on any sex, gender or relationship issue contact us now hello@localcounsellingcentre.co.uk 01462 674671 option 2.